Afterimage Chapter Thirty-Four

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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-Four

Uploaded on 4/25/2009

Carhart shoved Emilio back into the conference room and stepped in, slamming the door shut behind him. He could do nothing for a long moment but inhale deeply as he tried to get control of himself but even then he couldn't help turning on Emilio with a furious glare.

"What the hell were you thinking?"

Emilio leaned against the table, rubbing the back of his head with a wince. His mouth was turned down in a dark scowl and his stiff posture screamed frustration. "I didn't fucking know he was going to be in here, okay? Don't start your shit with me."

Carhart shook his head and took another deep breath, trying to ignore the fact that he wanted to do nothing more than yell at his former partner at the top of his lungs until Emilio finally got what Carhart had been telling him for years; that he couldn't do whatever the hell he wanted, that some day there would be consequences.

But this was the first time he was seeing the other man in nearly two decades and he couldn't bring himself to rehash old arguments just yet. So instead he just sighed heavily and crossed his arms over his chest, studying Emilio closely, taking in the fact that he really hadn't changed much in nearly twenty years.

Instead of looking to be in his mid-forties, Emilio didn't look much older than early thirties; he and Sin could be brothers instead of father and son but that wasn't too surprising since Emilio had barely been fourteen when Sin was born.

"That was a really bad move, Vega," Carhart said evenly, shaking his head and dragging his gaze away from Emilio's face. It was hard to look at him, the man who had once been his best friend and partner, and not feel a large amount of resentment and bitterness. He'd hoped to get all of it out of his system before Emilio had actually been released from his cell, before he was inducted into the unit, but Vivienne had stopped Carhart from having any contact with Emilio until she was sure the man hadn't turned on them.

Emilio just shrugged silently, his eyes finally lifting to Carhart. His gaze skimmed over him idly, taking in how he'd changed, matured, how he looked jaded and hardened; how almost every trace of the naive twenty-five year old with the big blue eyes had vanished.

"He's been in a bad way lately, Emilio. You couldn't have--"

"I just fucking told you I didn't fucking know!" Emilio growled, standing up straight and glaring at Carhart. "The bitch at the desk told me your meeting didn't start for ten minutes and even then I didn't know it was with him. Jesus Christ, Zachary, lay off my ass already. I don't see you in twenty years and the first thing you do is nag me to fucking death but I guess at least some shit didn't change."

Carhart glared back, facing his former partner evenly. "Well, maybe if you put more thought into your actions, I wouldn't have to nag you. Just the fact that you're waltzing all over the compound is stupid. He lives here, you know; he could have run into you."

Emilio shook his head incredulously, looking at Carhart as if he was the biggest idiot in the world. "So what, dude? What's the big fucking deal? If I'm going to be working with him chances are he would have figured it out at some point anyway unless you were gonna tell the fucker that the Agency found a way to confer with the otherside and I'm some really good-looking fucking spirit. I don't even see why you didn't tell him already, anyway."

"Because--" Carhart broke off and looked away, angry glare drilling a hole into the wall beyond Emilio's head. "Because I still wasn't sure whether or not you'd be terminated. I was kept out of everything, if you didn't notice. I didn't even know you were off the Fourth until you came busting in like the thoughtless jackass you've always been."

Emilio made a face and sat down in one of the chairs, resting his elbows on the table and leaning forward to massage his temples. He looked tired and worn out and it was no wonder considering the Agency had put him through months of intense interrogation. There had been a point when Carhart had wondered if there would be anything left of Emilio when they were done.

He watched as Emilio ran his fingers through his hair and saw that some of them were adorned with tattoos. He watched his former best friend and couldn't help but allow some of his initial anger to drain away.

After a moment Carhart sighed and rubbed a hand across his face, exhaling slowly before turning his gaze back on Emilio. It was hard not to feel awed to be in his presence after so much time. It was like seeing a ghost, seeing someone who was supposed to be dead and had been in Carhart's mind for years.  

There had been times immediately after Emilio had disappeared that Carhart had wondered if they would ever find a body, if they would ever find his killers, if he'd ever gotten a burial. Those questions had haunted him for nearly ten years before he'd finally been able to let it go and now...

"Why didn't you tell me?"

The words were out of Carhart's mouth before he could stop them and Emilio looked up at him, his expression morose. Carhart was relieved that Emilio wasn't putting on his joker facade.

"I couldn't tell you. You know that, Zach."

"Why?" Carhart demanded angrily, bitterly. "You didn't trust me? After everything we'd been through, you thought I'd go running to Connors?"

"That's not it at all," Emilio replied tiredly, sitting back in the chair with a heavy sigh. "I wanted to tell you, man. I really fucking did. I wanted to tell you about Connors and I wanted to tell you about Hsin but I couldn't. I fucking know you, I know how you are. You never would have let it rest-- if you knew I was underground, you would have tried to find me or contact me or something and I couldn't risk you getting me killed."

"Why thank you for that vote of confidence," Carhart replied irritatedly, continuing to stand above Emilio as he glared down. "I just don't understand why you had to always go at everything alone. I was your partner, your friend, and you just didn't give a shit. You just let me think you'd been murdered for years but I guess you didn't care about what that would do to me."

Emilio leaned his cheek against one open hand and stared up at Carhart. A slight smile found its way onto his full lips and he looked at the general tiredly but the smile was still genuine. Carhart knew it was; even after so long, he still remembered all of Emilio's mannerisms.

"I cared. I actually worried about you, bro. I saw how hard you took your wife's death and I wondered if you'd revert back into being an antisocial freak again if you thought I died," Emilio admitted. "If you'd just crawl back into a hole and think everyone sucks and dies and that it's not worth getting close to anyone and all of that shit."

Carhart dropped the other man's intense gaze, as uncomfortable as he'd always been with Emilio's uncanny talent of reading him.

"I actually worried about you more than I worried about Hsin."

Carhart's gaze shot back to Emilio and his glare returned. "How could you do that to him? That poor kid-- do you know how psychologically ruined he is? Do you know he's had more than one breakdown? That he hallucinates? That he hears your voice in his head calling him a goddamn murderer?"

"Wha--" Emilio's eyebrows drew together, handsome face twisting in bewilderment. "I don't know what the hell you're talking about. He said the same thing-- that he killed me. How was I supposed to know he thought that? Do I look fucking psychic to you?"

"He said he shot you--"

"Yeah, he did shoot me," Emilio interrupted impatiently, waving a hand to prevent Carhart from speaking again. "Connors' boys came to take me out and Hsin spazzed and killed them. I came up on him and he shot me too but he didn't realize it was me. I don't even remember much after that, bro. I remember opening my eyes sometimes, seeing a field, feeling someone dragging me-- but next thing I knew I was waking up in a friend's attic. They found me half-dead dumped with the agents who came to cap my ass."

Emilio looked away briefly, his eyes faraway as if he was remembering that night. His lips pressed together, eyebrows drawn down as he absently ran his fingers over the fabric of his pants. After a pause he shrugged stiffly, his tone slightly darker. "I thought maybe he was dead for awhile. That something had happened to him, that Peter came back and killed him. It bothered me more than I thought it would. I can't really explain it, dude. I wasn't a good father at all, I know that shit now even if I didn't know it then, but... I don't know, it was just like..."

Emilio trailed off and his expression closed up as he flexed his hands, shifting agitatedly, uncomfortably; a mannerism that reminded Carhart of Sin. "Forget it."

"No, finish what you were saying," Carhart encouraged, sitting down next to Emilio. He leaned forward, frowning. "Just help me understand, Emilio, because it's really hard to take in right now. It's hard to understand why you did the shit that you do to him."

"Oh yeah?" Emilio's gaze finally returned to Carhart but this time his eyes were narrowed slightly, his expression was cool and all traces of his vulnerability and regret were gone. "I've been wondering the same shit about you, bro."

Carhart sat back defensively, thrown off guard by the cold tone of Emilio's voice. "Excuse me?"

"Yeah." Emilio's expression turned into a full-on glare, dark eyebrows lowering over his intense green eyes, shooting sparks. "A collar and a cage, huh? What is he-- a fucking dog?"

"Fuck you," Carhart snapped and looked away, although he was unable to hide the flash of guilt that crossed his face. "You weren't here. You didn't know what it was like."

"Well, enlighten me, General Carhart," Emilio said, his voice a low, angry growl that grew stronger and more agitated as he spoke. "I mean, after I found out he'd made it back here, that he was an agent, I thought he was safe 'cause you'd have his back. I thought you'd do that for me but no. Not at all. You just helped them fuck his head up even more than it already was."  

Emilio stood up as the anger seemed to totally consume him, his movements stiff with tension, his jaw clenched as he stared at Carhart. His mood swings were as bad as ever and they occurred just as radically.

"They wanted to kill him, to keep him locked up in that cage forever!" Carhart snapped, not meeting Emilio's gaze. "I only thought of the collar so they wouldn't keep him in that fucking box. Or would you have preferred they keep your son in a drugged daze for the rest of his life because he's so claustrophobic that he tries to kill himself when they put him in there totally conscious?"  

"Maybe he would have been better off if they did terminate him," Emilio replied coldly, not looking away from Carhart's face. His gaze was steely and unrelenting. "It would have been better than turning him into a fucking circus animal. At least he would have had some peace."

Carhart stared at his boots, unable to meet Emilio's stare, unable to hide the shame that he was sure was blazing blatantly on his face. He'd known for years that he'd failed Sin; he didn't need Emilio to remind him.

"Things were better for awhile," Carhart said quietly after a moment. "He was happy."

"I know. With that blond kid. Boyd. I know all about it." Emilio snorted and rolled his shoulders as if he was trying to work away some of the aggression that had built inside him.


But now that was over with. Sin didn't turn to Boyd anymore and Carhart had no doubts that Sin wouldn't be turning to him anymore either. The look Sin had speared through him had nearly stopped his heart. Carhart had no delusions that Sin had taken his silence regarding Emilio as anything but an absolute betrayal.

Emilio cleared his throat and rocked on the balls of his feet, rolling his neck and cracking it loudly. "Anyway, I need to find Hsin. I don't want to deal with him socking me in the face and throwing me into walls anymore or I may have to terminate him myself."

Emilio shook his head. "Fucking threw my ass into a wall. I'm still not really clear on how that worked out. There's a freakin' dent in that wall now. Tell me, Zach, how is that possible."  

Carhart shrugged. "How is anything he does possible? He's incredible. Always has been."

Emilio looked at Carhart sharply, eyes narrowed, and didn't respond for nearly a full minute before asking finally, "Where would he be?"

"I don't know. I doubt he went home. Maybe Boyd's house but I'm not even sure about that. He goes to Willowbrook Park sometimes. Sometimes he sits on the damn roof of the Tower. I honestly have no idea and you can't stray far so I doubt you'll find him."

Emilio grunted and gave Carhart another long look before turning. "We'll finish our discussion later, Zachary. I'm not done with you yet."

Carhart just scoffed quietly and didn't stand, feeling no need to play the part of general in front of Emilio, feeling no desire to mask how dejected and guilty and pathetic he felt at that point. Emilio would see through whatever front he put up, he always had; and he'd always known that he had the ability to reduce Carhart to an embarrassed-- and in this case, ashamed-- mess with only a few words.

Emilio had been right; not much had changed.

"Well, I have some questions for you too, Vega."

"Can't wait."

With that, Emilio turned away and left the conference room.

Carhart stared after him silently and didn't move to stand up until quite awhile later.

Boyd glanced at his watch and pushed himself away from the wall when he saw that he'd been waiting for four hours already. At some point, he had to acknowledge that Sin wasn't returning to his apartment tonight, and the calls to Sin's phone had all ended in voice mail.

He glanced at the guard, who had been giving Boyd the occasional odd glance.

"Let him know I stopped by if you see him."

The guard nodded and Boyd didn't wait for further response before he walked down the stairs. He stopped by the gym again, just in case Sin was there now, but he still couldn't find his partner.

Although Sin had only disappeared several hours ago after storming out on Emilio, Boyd still felt worried about the lack of response; Sin had seemed angry enough that he could do something reckless, which would never end well.

The entire situation was surreal.

Boyd still couldn't believe that he'd actually seen Emilio; that after nearly twenty years it turned out the man had been alive all along and apparently hadn't once considered letting his son know he hadn't died.

Boyd still didn't know exactly what had happened the night Sin thought he'd killed Emilio; obviously a gun had been involved but Boyd held no doubt in his mind that it must have been some sort of accident. He knew Sin never would have intentionally killed Emilio, especially not with how it had been eating at him.

Yet if it was strange for Boyd then this had to be life-changing for Sin. The fact that Boyd hadn't known where to look for Sin other than the gym and Sin's apartment made it more difficult. He wanted to find Sin, to talk to him about this if Sin wanted; to just give Sin someone to rely on. But two hours of searching the compound and four hours of sitting by Sin's apartment finally caused Boyd to decide to go home; to try again tomorrow.

After this much time, he didn't believe Sin would do anything rash overnight and maybe it would be easier to find him in the morning. He'd left Sin another voice mail saying he was looking for him so at least Sin knew Boyd hadn't just walked away without a second thought.

Nearly another half hour had passed by the time Boyd got back to his car and drove home. As he turned onto Magnolia Lane and parked in his driveway, movement caught his eye. Relief rushed through him as he he noticed a dark figure sitting on the swing on his front porch. Boyd slammed his car door shut behind him and quickly headed toward the house, shadows half-covering the man who was slumped down in the swing, legs stretched out in front of him as he smoked. Green eyes glinted faintly in the dim light as they turned toward him.

"Hsi--" Boyd started to say but, at the same time it occurred to him that the posture was entirely too relaxed for the situation, the smell of marijuana drifted past him.

Boyd stopped in his tracks with a narrowed stare, his body language going from pleased to closed off in an instant. What the hell was with the Vega men and not only suddenly knowing where he lived, but showing up unannounced as well? For all that Boyd would have welcomed a surprise visit from Sin, he wasn't interested in seeing Emilio and he couldn't fathom why the man had decided to stop by his house.

"What are you doing here," Boyd said flatly.

Emilio exhaled, blowing the sweet-smelling smoke in Boyd's face as he replied almost lazily, "You should try being more friendly, chico. I could get in a lot of trouble for being here."

Something nagged at the back of Boyd's mind as that low, deep voice drifted through the darkness but Boyd was too irritated to give it any thought.

"What gave you the impression that I care?" Boyd asked with slightly raised eyebrows, crossing his arms with a strong posture as he watched Emilio steadily.

Emilio didn't reply right away and it was obvious that he was sizing up Boyd, the situation, and calculating the pros and cons of his next move. It was tense and the moment was charged. As Emilio stared into Boyd's eyes unflinchingly, it was obvious that he wasn't even sure about whether or not he wanted to deal with the younger agent; that he wasn't entirely thrilled with the attitude he was receiving.

But then Emilio just shook his head and took another deep hit before stubbing the joint out on his tongue. He tucked the joint into a side pocket of his loose black pants and scoffed softly. "You don't know anything about me, boy. Don't start talking out of your ass just yet. At least invite me in first."
Boyd stared at Emilio, a portion of his initial irritation somewhat quelled by Emilio's reaction. Boyd didn't particularly care what Emilio thought about him but if the otherwise flippant man was clearly debating this interaction in his mind, and especially if Emilio could get in trouble for coming over, then there was probably a good reason. It didn't change his opinion of Emilio but it did cause him to give the man a chance.  

"Fine," Boyd said evenly as he turned and walked inside the house, leaving the door open behind him. He flipped some lights on as he went inside, casting pale light across the living room.

Emilio pushed himself off the swing after a moment and followed, not looking very concerned with Boyd's attitude any longer as he took in the interior of the house almost in boredom. In that brief moment on the swing, Emilio's entire demeanor had changed; it was as if he'd decided how he wanted this to play out and had taken on a specific role for the encounter.

Instead of tense and dangerously moody, Emilio looked calm and nearly relaxed, despite the fact that he'd just gotten out of what had apparently been months of Agency interrogation and a failed first meeting with his son.

None of these things appeared to weigh on Emilio's mind anymore. Despite the fact that the evidence of his intense interrogation was shown in his slightly underweight frame and the way his olive complexion looked peaked, Emilio gave the impression of being entirely nonchalant, of not having a care in the world. "So this is where all of the action goes down with you and my boy, eh?"

Boyd pushed the door closed behind Emilio and turned toward the man, eyes narrowed slightly. How would Emilio have known that, unless Carhart told him? But that seemed odd; there would be no reason for Carhart to bring something like that up, especially when he knew Boyd and Sin weren't sleeping together anymore.

"Why would you say that?" Boyd asked somewhat suspiciously.

Emilio smirked at Boyd and crossed his arms over his chest. Some kind of intricate tribal tattoo encircled one forearm; it had a variety of lines and circles of varying lengths and widths which encased exotic-looking symbols and shapes. The tattoo caught Boyd's attention slightly but he returned his attention to Emilio's face, not wanting to get distracted.

The older man's dark eyebrows arched over intensely familiar green eyes, which were currently twinkling with what appeared to be genuine amusement. After a brief silence he shook his head and snorted. "I know you're blond but you can't be that stupid."

Boyd's eyes narrowed further and at first he only felt suspicion at the comment but then his gaze automatically dropped to the tattoo again. Something about the placement of the tattoo was familiar but he didn't know why at first, or why an indefinable aspect of Emilio and his body language was nagging at the back of Boyd's mind. He had never met Emilio before and he'd only heard a few stories of the man so at first Boyd thought maybe it was just mannerisms that overlapped with Sin's or the fact they looked so alike.

But Emilio's comment gave Boyd pause and as he stared at the tattoo, he abruptly realized where he remembered seeing it before: in a darkened tunnel in Monterrey.

Boyd's gaze snapped back up to Emilio's face as disbelief briefly struck him silent.

It seemed impossible, but the more he thought of it-- that low drawl of Emilio's voice, the fact that Emilio knew about Boyd and Sin's sex life, the tattoo, the way he acted around Boyd as if they'd met before-- it all led back to Lo Más Chingón.

As that realization swept through Boyd and he thought back to Chingón, he finally understood why Chingón's had been the way he was; his American accent, the fact he could tail even Sin without him knowing, maybe even the reason he gave Boyd that tip about Laguna de Sánchez and why he let them through when Sin was hurt. It actually made sense in some fashion but for Boyd, who was still surprised to know that Emilio was alive, it was another shock for the night.

Boyd stared at Emilio as a mixture of surprise and wariness moved through him quickly. "What the hell?"  

"What the hell, what?" Emilio asked dryly, walking into the house casually. "I can't figure out if that's a question or a statement."


Boyd stared at Emilio, trying to reconcile the fact that the man he'd met back in Mexico-- who had surprised Boyd in the alley, who'd managed to remove everything from that warehouse in less time than had seemed possible, who had blocked the exit in the tunnel and who'd so casually strolled toward the van and peered inside while Sin had lain there dying -- had all been Sin's father.

That while Boyd and Sin had sat in that apartment talking about Sin's life, while Sin had been finding it difficult to think of his father -- all along, Emilio had been across the city. All along, Emilio had been tailing them.

All along, Emilio had known they were there.

Boyd had always disliked Emilio due to the stories but he hadn't had anything against Lo Más Chingón. The fact that Chingón had let them through so they could save Sin had always been something Boyd was grateful to him for. In a way, Boyd had almost been entertained by Chingón by the end of it all; by the cat and mouse game and how, despite the man's reputation and profession, Boyd had felt that he could take Chingón at his word.

To know that they were the same person... It shifted enough in Boyd's mind that he still couldn't quite figure out what to say.

"You-- How long?" Boyd finally managed, not even caring at the moment that it would be incredibly obvious to Emilio how caught off-guard he was.

"How long what?" Emilio walked into the kitchen and seemed unimpressed by the white walls and complete lack of decoration as he pulled a face and shook his head to himself.

"How long were you Lo Más Chingón?" Boyd clarified, following him. "How long did you know we were there?"

"I can't reveal all of my secrets just yet, chico. But I will say that I knew the guys in 4FF before I joined the Agency. They're my buddies, mis hermanos. Comprendes?" Emilio turned to Boyd again and continued, "But 4FF didn't form until shortly after I got out of the Agency. I have to make money some kinda way, you know."

Boyd stood near the wall, watching Emilio closely with his arms crossed as he tried to take this all in. Now that they were in a well-lit area and it was a less chaotic situation, it really hit Boyd how similar Emilio and Sin were in ways. It was disturbing to Boyd, in fact.

So much was the same-- that aristocratic nose although Emilio's was a little bent, they stood the same with their shoulders back when they were trying to intimidate someone, the way they both smirked mockingly, the quick witted-sarcasm that seemed to come with being a Vega and that intense, scrutinizing, hawk-like stare. Most of all, they shared those same brilliant jade green eyes although Emilio's were less guarded, his expressions more animated.

It was bizarre seeing those eyes on someone else's face. It was even stranger to see those eyes red-rimmed from the effects of marijuana, to smell the aroma of the drug wafting off Emilio and to see all the similarities of their features so close up while also being able to spot so many differences.

In truth, the differences were what felt jarring to Boyd.

He could see the small scars on Emilio's face, the fact that his lips were slightly less full than Sin's, that Emilio's eyes weren't almond shaped and were actually wider, more expressive, that his build was more solid, lacking the lankiness of Sin's frame without looking bulky.

Emilio was Boyd's height, which was odd to Boyd after years of looking up the several inches to meet Sin's eyes. And his voice was so drastically different that it was incredibly bizarre to hear it coming out of such a familiar face; Emilio's voice wasn't as low and his language lacked the near perfection of Sin's way of speaking. Emilio spoke in a deep drawl, slang peppered in, and he seemed grammatically incorrect more often than not.

For Boyd, it was like watching a skewed version of Sin; like seeing Sin in a dream with details that had been forgotten and blurred from the reality they'd been taken.

It was off-putting to Boyd and despite how much he'd disliked Emilio from the stories, it was difficult not to look at that face, at the tiredness and guardedness of those eyes, and not remember Sin several months ago when he'd been exhausted and nearly overwhelmed by the demons in his mind.

It was difficult to look at Emilio and not see aspects of Sin; which, grudgingly for Boyd, made him feel some sense of compassion for everything Emilio had probably been through recently if he'd just been released from Fourth. Boyd saw Sin in Emilio and couldn't help feeling a little more open-minded in response.

But then Boyd remembered how Emilio hadn't exactly done Sin many favors in life with the way he'd raised him, and he thought about how casually Emilio had dismissed the surprise, betrayal and anger Sin had shown -- he thought about how Sin's guilt and depression may not have been so debilitating if only things had happened differently when Sin had grown up or if Sin had realized he hadn't murdered his father... He thought of Emilio tailing them and having more than enough opportunities to talk to his son...

And he didn't feel quite so bad for Emilio after all.

Instead, he considered what Emilio said about 4FF. That certainly explained the close-knit group and why it had been so difficult to get any information on Chingón. He remembered Sin's comment about Emilio's connections with Triad and Boyd put that in context with Mexico.

"Your group was unusually effective with smuggling goods; even assuming you found your friends immediately after you disappeared, it takes time to build routes and a reputation. And the fear the locals had of even hinting at your name..." Boyd's eyes narrowed slightly, thoughtfully, as he asked, "Did you use pre-established routes from the drug cartel or are you or your friends still in it?"   

Emilio just shrugged, enigmatic smirk back on his lips. "Maybe. And maybe not."

Boyd studied Emilio for another moment, not particularly surprised by the evasiveness. Emilio and 4FF had been quite successful in Monterrey and Boyd had gotten the distinct impression that the group operated out of more than just that city. It made him wonder why Emilio had given that up; he'd disappeared from the Agency for nearly two decades. Boyd didn't know if the administration had been aware of his presence all that time but he doubted it.

So why return when Emilio probably hadn't needed to; when he likely could have stayed away for his entire life? The only thing Boyd could think of was that the Monterrey mission may have been the first time Emilio had seen Sin in a long time. Maybe seeing Sin so hurt in the back of the van had changed something for Emilio... maybe it was possible he wasn't quite as self-absorbed as Boyd's impression had always been from stories.

"Your group was certainly successful and I doubt your relative monopoly was likely to end any time soon," Boyd said, his tone observational and somewhat curious. "Why did you come back?"

Emilio tilted his head to the side and considered Boyd for a long moment as he chewed on the inside of his cheek, fingers absently toying with the hem of his shirt. It was yet another similarity he shared with his son; he fidgeted the same way Sin did.

"I just felt like it. I missed scraping at the feet of higher powers and not being my own boss," Emilio said after a while, lying blatantly and not even trying to sound believable.

"Was it because of Sin?" Boyd pressed, not knowing whether Emilio would respond but needing to ask the question anyway.

Emilio arched one dark eyebrow and smirked again. "Maybe. Maybe not."

It was clear that Emilio had no intentions of answering any of Boyd's questions, so Boyd just pushed himself from the wall and walked over to the counter where a pot of cold jasmine tea was sitting from earlier that day.

"Why are you here?" Boyd filled the tea kettle with water but didn't turn on the stove; he just set the kettle to the side and turned around to look at Emilio again. "Don't you have a son to look for?"

Emilio adopted an innocent expression and looked away casually, lifting one shoulder in another one of his shrugs. It was like something a child would do, an exaggerated motion that seemed to imply either complete confusion or innocent nonchalance. "I thought Hsin might be here."

"Well, he's not," Boyd said simply. "I was looking for him, too."

"Why isn't he here?" Emilio asked shrewdly, eyes narrowing at the younger man as his gaze returned quickly. "Who better to run to in one's time of need than one's manlover slash partner?"

"We aren't together anymore." Boyd's eyes narrowed and a hint of an edge briefly crept into his voice at Emilio's choice of words; this wouldn't be a 'time of need' and Sin wouldn't need to be 'running to' anyone if it hadn't been for the way this had all happened. And Emilio didn't seem interested in really even acknowledging his part in it all. "If anything, this is probably the last place he'd go."

Emilio stared at Boyd hard for a stretch of time and the cocky, wise-ass attitude seemed to slip once again as a hint of frustration showed through his expression. "Well, that's great."

"I don't know where to tell you to look, either," Boyd said after a moment. At least it seemed there was something else to Emilio other than what he'd so far been showing, and even if Boyd didn't like the man, it was probably a good thing that Emilio was trying to find Sin. Sin had never disliked Emilio the way Boyd had and it would probably help Sin to talk to his father, provided that Emilio didn't agitate his son further. "I've exhausted my resources which is why I returned here. Usually he's at his apartment or the gym but I can't find him anywhere and he won't answer his phone."

"Fine." Emilio pushed himself away from the counter and with a smart-ass half wave, started to leave the room.

"Emilio," Boyd said suddenly and it was clear from his tone that he wanted the man to wait.

"Boyd," Emilio parroted, stopping to look at Boyd over his shoulder.

Boyd watched Emilio more seriously for a moment before sighing and looking away, dropping his hands to rest against the counter behind him. "Listen. I don't know you and I'm quite aware that you have no reason to care about what I think. But Sin never thought ill of you; despite everything, I think he always looked up to you. He was always... grateful to you and he didn't see anything wrong with the way you raised him. I heard stories and I didn't agree with him but I wasn't there. Still, if you were dead, you couldn't have helped how it all ended. But now..."

His honey brown gaze slid over to Emilio again and Boyd found it at once disconcerting and odd to be saying this aloud to someone who looked so eerily similar to Sin; to know that the man he'd always believed to be dead was in fact standing in his kitchen, perfectly healthy and alive.

It was even worse imagining what this must all be like for Sin, who had believed in Emilio despite everything. Boyd's eyes narrowed slightly, his gaze sharpened, and his expression turned more resolute. "I just don't understand... Why did you leave him?" The unspoken question of, 'why did you hurt him like that?' hung in the air.

"What the fuck is with this question?" Emilio wondered out loud, shaking his head and rolling his eyes upward at the ceiling in exasperation. "None of it happened the way it was supposed to. It's not my fault he went batshit crazy and nearly killed me."

Boyd drew his eyebrows down slightly, not knowing what Emilio was talking about exactly but not wanting to ask too many questions at once. "How was it supposed to happen?"

Emilio sighed tragically and walked further into the kitchen until he was standing directly in front of Boyd, almost too close to be entirely normal or comfortable. He crossed his arms over his chest again.

"We were supposed to go underground together."

Boyd met Emilio's gaze steadily and he stayed still, not backing down from Emilio or his proximity.

He didn't fully understand what that meant but he didn't feel it was his place to ask Emilio about details of that night. There was too much Boyd had already learned about Sin's life from other people; it was only right to ask Sin about this instead.

Knowing only that Sin thought he'd killed his father and that a gun had been involved, Boyd was still highly confused as to why Sin would have slipped into an episode as Boyd assumed he had, what had even been happening. How had Emilio planned to go underground, had he been alone with Sin, how had he survived..?

A number of questions raced through his mind but he didn't ask any of them; instead, he focused on what only Emilio would be able to answer.  

"But after he shot you, it never once occurred to you that he'd think he killed you?" Boyd pressed, although there was nothing accusatory in his tone. "That you could bring him underground with you later, or at least somehow tell him you were alive so he wouldn't worry?"

"Why bother?" Emilio asked with a shrug. "He could take care of himself, and the Agency inducted him into their fold so as far as I knew, he wasn't in any danger. What would have been the point of endangering his life by hunting him down and dragging him off with me so then Connors would track him down and have a reason to wanna cap us both?"

"But you had eight months in Monterrey to tell him you were alive," Boyd said stubbornly. "Did you honestly think he didn't care about what happened? Or did you just distrust him after years of being with the Agency?"

Emilio scoffed at that, rolling his eyes in exasperation. "What difference would it make? He's a grown fucking man, he doesn't need me in his life, I was never some great parental figure, and when I saw him in Mexico he seemed to be doing just fine until the end. What would he have gotten out of me showing up and announcing I was still around after twenty years? Maybe if I'd have known he was all traumatized from thinking he killed me I would have but I didn't so whatever." Emilio shrugged and didn't seem too apologetic or remorseful over having kept his survival from Sin.

Boyd shook his head, not entirely able to argue the point at least from Emilio's perspective but that really only explained the end of it all. It didn't seem to Boyd as though Emilio cared enough about how he'd affected Sin in general.

Boyd remembered Sin telling him once that the training had been good; that he would have been worse off without it. But Boyd couldn't understand why, and even if Sin felt he'd needed some sense of discipline and training for whatever reason, Boyd still didn't think it was right for Emilio to have taken a child and to have taught him nothing but how to kill. Emilio could have at least instilled some sense of self-esteem in Sin; he could have taught Sin to be human or at least that it was alright if he was; that it was okay to feel emotions or have faults.

Instead, it sounded to Boyd like Emilio had basically hardcore trained Sin on a whole range of skills and left out the most important parts; the parts that would have let Sin be more balanced in whatever way he could have managed with the shitty life he'd been dealt.

"Doesn't it bother you that you took a child and trained him to be an assassin, fucking him up in the head because of that?" Boyd watched Emilio evenly, his gaze steady and intense on Emilio's face. "You say he wasn't in danger because he was in the Agency but it's not like this is a good life. You had to have known that with what you'd taught him, he'd just be used at the Agency until he was killed in action or there was nothing left for him to give. If he'd had at least some brief sense of normalcy in his life or had been taught it was okay to just be human, maybe he wouldn't have been in such a difficult position."   

"He was fucked up before I even got him," Emilio scoffed again, raising an eyebrow.

He rocked back on his heels, tilting his head to the side and never shifting his intense stare from Boyd's face. It was invasive and penetrating and Boyd could see where Sin had gained the ability to look right through people in such an intimidating way. "I got a crazy ass kid with mental problems and anger problems and who'd already killed before the age of eight. He creeped me the fuck out so I dealt with him the only way I knew how 'cause that's how I grew up and that's what I knew."

With Emilio watching him so closely, Boyd doubted the flash of confusion he felt was entirely hidden from the older man. "What do you mean already killed?"

"His mom was a little bit touched, you know?" Emilio tapped the side of his head and crossed his eyes. "She tortured the kid until he had enough and killed her. Can't blame him but still, poisoning your mom ain't the most normal conclusion for a eight-year-old to come to, am I right?"

Boyd was sure that the surprise he felt was evident in his eyes and slightly raised eyebrows; he'd known Sin's mom had definitely had issues and he'd known that as a result, Sin had been abused. Although he knew that Sin's mother had died, he'd never once thought to suspect that Sin had killed her. It had never once crossed his mind to think that Sin would have thought of, let alone been capable of, murder at such a young age.

As much as he could understand why Sin would have wanted to get away from that place, he had to agree with Emilio that it wasn't a normal conclusion for a child.

Even though they'd grown up in completely different environments, when Boyd had been eight it had never once occurred to him to kill someone else, let alone actually go through with it. And if poison had been involved, that wasn't a spur of the moment decision-- that took cunning and planning. That took intent. That took intelligence to acquire the poison and the capability to follow through, to know fully well that he was about to kill his own mother.

Boyd looked away from Emilio's gaze, mildly disturbed by the information.

For the longest time, he'd always seen Sin's violent outbursts as explainable, as reacting to immediate threats. He'd thought it had all stemmed back to Emilio's training and the misguided treatment of his young child.

Knowing what he did now, it partially made Boyd have to look at Sin in a new light; to acknowledge that even from an early age, even before Emilio had arrived, there had been something off about Sin. That for all that Boyd had defended him for years as just reacting violently to negative experiences, in this case Sin hadn't blindly lashed out in anger and hurt someone because Emilio had made it so he hadn't known any other way.

Even so, it didn't mean Sin was any different of a person now than he'd been before Boyd had known this. Boyd couldn't imagine being a vulnerable child in the position Sin had been, so he couldn't judge Sin's decision without knowing what sort of desperation that could make a person feel, or to what lengths he himself would have gone to escape.

He tried to remember what Sin had told him about his mother but at that moment the main thing that stuck out in his mind was Sin's comment that he'd wanted to be taken away; to be protected and saved by a father he'd never known.

"What was he like?" Boyd looked over at Emilio again. "When you found him."

Emilio narrowed his eyes at Boyd and made a long 'hmm' sound before shrugging his shoulders and walking around him, heading to the refrigerator. He threw it open and looked inside as if it was a completely normal thing to do. "He was odd. He just sat around and didn't talk and when he talked it was like he was trying to figure out what I was up to or what I was gonna do to him. I could relate to a kid like that but he was still fucking creepy. Even when I went to pick him up from Hong Kong, all the bitches at the parlor were terrified of him. You shoulda seen it-- all of these grown women scared of a scrawny little boy."

Emilio slammed the door shut abruptly. "You're mad boring, chico. Even your food is boring. You should do something to be more interesting-- get into hard drugs maybe."

"How did you know to get him?" Boyd asked rather than responding to the side comment. "Were you even aware you had a child?"

"Yeah, I knew." Emilio turned and leaned against the fridge, crossing his arms loosely over his chest and raising his eyebrows at Boyd. "I had a little love affair with his mom for a few months. I even got all affectionate towards her. Maybe started thinking about long term plans, takin' her out of that shit hole and what not. We kept in touch but after awhile I knew it wouldn't work out."

He said it so simply that for some reason, it seemed almost callous. "So I stopped going to see her. I felt bad about knocking her up so I told her if she ever needed anything, she could call me. 'Course I changed my number later on so that didn't work out too well for her..."

Boyd was honestly surprised that Emilio had been even that interested in Sin's mother; given Emilio's personality and Sin's mother's profession, Boyd had always assumed it had all just been a fluke and Emilio wouldn't have thought twice about her or the baby. He drew his eyebrows down slightly and crossed his arms at his chest, studying Emilio. "If you changed your phone number then how did you know when she died?"

"Well..." Emilio trailed off mysteriously for a moment. "See, the whole reason I met her is because my people were doing business with the Triads. I had connections with the people who owned the brothels down that way. The old lady who ran that parlor knew my connec' and got in touch with him. She said she woulda just thrown Hsin out on the street but she was afraid of what would happen to her if I found out."

Boyd's gaze was intense on Emilio, watching his expression, his movements. The contrast between Emilio and Sin continued to seem strange, even down to the fact that Emilio was giving away as much information as he was. In his place, Sin probably would have stared blankly at a person he barely knew asking such personal questions.

"What would you have done?"

"I dunno, really.." Emilio shrugged. "It's not like I never gave a shit that I had a kid with her. I didn't even change my number just to be a dick. She just never contacted me really and so I didn't think twice. Besides, I knew they could find me if they wanted to and look-- they did."

"Hmm." Boyd scrutinized Emilio, golden brown eyes serious and thoughtful, his expression neutral. The conversation was interesting, if a little bizarre, but he didn't know what to say to that.

Emilio stared at him for a moment before asking abruptly, "So why aren't the two of you gay together anymore?"

Boyd studied Emilio closely, not particularly surprised by the sudden topic change, then turned on the stove to heat the teakettle. He wondered whether he should answer and how much he would even say, but he thought it was better Emilio for to find out now rather than grilling Sin about it.

"We had a lot of problems," Boyd said finally. The burner turned on and Boyd firmly pushed the lid down on the kettle, then turned to look at Emilio again. "It got to the point where it was fucking things up."

"Fucking didn't seem to be something y'all had a problem with down in Mexico," Emilio smirked, waggling his eyebrows at Boyd. It was impossible to tell if he was taking this entire situation lightly, as a joke, or if he felt something more but was masking it with all the bullshit. He was giving Boyd a half grin but his eyes appeared more intense and they lacked the glint of genuine humor.

Boyd watched Emilio sidelong, scrutinizing his expression and body language. Emilio had a way of almost throwing a person off; Boyd couldn't tell when he was fully serious or not and his moods seemed to shift erratically. Then again, the unpredictability wasn't particularly surprising knowing now that he was Chingón.  

Still, there was something about the way Emilio said that which made it seem like more than a baseless comment. "Why do you say that?"

Emilio gave a languid shrug, lips curling up at the side slightly. "Didn't I tell you I followed you around? When I got word Hsin was in my city, I got too curious. I wanted to see what he was all about and what his little friend was all about. I may have even followed you home a time or two or three."

Boyd's eyes narrowed slightly. "You heard us?"

"You're lucky the whole neighborhood didn't hear you, chico." Emilio raised both eyebrows, giving Boyd a knowing smile and a wink. "But I actually saw it with my own two eyes and I gotta say, something serious must have happened to make the two of you give up such enthusiastic fucking."

"You-- what?" Boyd's eyes widened as he was caught off guard enough that his neutral expression shifted, became more incredulous. He dropped his arms to his sides, barely paying attention to the rest of the sentence in light of the new information. The idea of anyone watching them have sex was disturbing and rather embarrassing, and Emilio's wording made it sound like he'd more than just seen part of it in passing. "You actually watched?"

"Yeah, sure, why not?" Emilio asked, still smirking at Boyd.

"Because," Boyd said blankly, feeling highly disturbed and thrown off. His posture wasn't quite as stiff or challenging as it had been before; he was too distracted with thinking about what Emilio would have seen; what he would have heard. "Well, for one thing, he's your son and he looks a lot like you."

"What's your point?" Emilio didn't seem too impressed by this statement. "I'm hot and so is he. It was like watching a porno starring a younger version of myself."

"Wow." Boyd continued to stare at Emilio, eyebrows rising just slightly in disbelief.

Despite the fact that he didn't want to think about it too closely, his mind almost automatically ran over the times he and Sin had fooled around, wondering in something akin to paranoia which of them Emilio had witnessed.

It was disturbing to know the man had seen them; that he had actually sat there watching his son fuck another man or be fucked, and that in the process he'd seen what had been incredibly private moments for them. That he probably knew what Boyd looked like naked and aroused, what sort of sounds they made, what expressions they had, had probably watched them come...

The concept was invasive and made it difficult for Boyd to keep his expression neutral.

Just as it occurred to Boyd to wonder if Emilio had just been watching or if, considering he spoke of it like pornography, he'd been doing something more, the tea kettle suddenly whistled behind him.

Boyd more than welcomed the distraction, immediately turning toward the stove and flipping off the burner. He took a little longer than necessary to move the kettle to another burner as he tried to regain some sense of equilibrium, to not show Emilio any more than he probably already had exactly how the knowledge bothered him.

"Well, for future reference, don't ever watch me again," Boyd said evenly, tone firm. "Even if you just watched because of Sin, if you get the chance again, don't. You shouldn't even be watching him."

"I'll keep that in mind in case I ever decide to listen to other people's wants and desires."

Boyd shot Emilio a sharp, somewhat exasperated look but decided not to comment. "What are you going to say to Sin when you find him?" he asked instead, wanting to get off the topic of his sex life.

Emilio shrugged carelessly, the same smirk playing on his well-formed mouth although his eyelashes lowered over his eyes slightly. "If you and him aren't even on good terms, what do you care?"

"We don't have to be involved for me to care." Boyd turned toward Emilio and gave him a more serious, unrelenting look reminiscent of the expression he'd had in the Monterrey tunnel when he'd stood between Sin's battered body and Chingón. He put aside the feelings of disquiet at the knowledge of what Emilio had seen and focused solely on the present instead.

Despite the stubborn strength of his body language, his tone remained informative. "I don't know what it's been like for you lately, how you usually interact with Sin, or even what you know. But it's been extremely difficult for Sin lately and he's been in a very vulnerable state. I sincerely hope you'll at least do him the favor of taking that into consideration when you see him."

"Well..." Emilio let the word roll off his tongue slowly, tilting his head to the side as if he were considering his actions very carefully. "I had planned to smack him in the face and tell him to stop crying like a bitch but maybe you're right."

Boyd continued to watch Emilio evenly for a moment. He knew Emilio was being sarcastic but Boyd didn't rise to the bait; he just nodded instead. He'd only brought the topic up because he wanted to make sure Emilio knew ahead of time that Sin had been in a difficult position, just in case it would affect his talk with Sin.

"I hope it goes well," Boyd said calmly, and he actually meant it, although that was only for Sin's sake.

Emilio stared at him for a brief stretch before giving another one of his languid rolling shrugs. "Who knows."

He said it in a calmer tone and for a moment he seemed to be more serious but then he reached out and slapped Boyd on the back with more force than was necessary. "Have a wonderful night, blondie. It was nice talking to you but I can't waste my time chatting here forever."

Boyd rocked slightly with the movement and watched Emilio for another moment, his expression mostly unreadable, before he turned to the stove and poured the water into the teapot. "Goodbye."

"Adios, chico," Emilio replied and hesitated for only the briefest of moments as he stared at Boyd before turning and walking out of the room. Seconds later, the front door could be heard slamming shut firmly in the outer room.

Continue to Afterimage Chapter Thirty-Five...