Fade Chapter 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!


Book One: Evenfall See Evenfall chapter list.

Book Two: Afterimage
See Afterimage chapter list.

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Fade Chapter Four

Uploaded on 4/17/2011

"So, XRT-330, also known as Triple X, Liquid Sex and Slide significantly lowered your inhibitions," Doctor Shapiro was saying as he looked down at his touch panel.

Boyd shook his head slightly, his eyes narrowed and lips thinning as he stared out the window.

Shapiro looked up and saw Boyd's expression. He leaned back in his chair, tipping the touch panel up as he crossed his legs, his calf braced on his thigh. "Yes?" he said expectantly and Boyd looked over.

"You disagreed with my statement," Shapiro clarified.

Silence met the comment. Shapiro waited for him to speak but when he didn't, Shapiro's eyebrows twitched down. "Boyd, these sessions are for you to talk; not for me to make statements and you to silently disagree."

There was another extended silence after that. The distrust Boyd had felt earlier in the week hadn't changed. More than anything, his distrust of the Agency itself made him uninterested in giving them more intel to use against him. Shapiro watched him at length and then sighed, his mouth pulling into a frown.

"I dislike having to use threats in any form in a session but I've recently been reminded that I need to show progress in my reports. Today is the last chance you've been given. If you don't start working with me, I'll be forced to mark you as uncooperative."

Although Shapiro's tone was calm there was little doubt that such a mark on his report would result in Boyd's termination.

Boyd's eyes narrowed as they slid away. He gaze automatically fell on the compound that he could see through the window. Sin's old residential building rose in the distance. It was painful and yet every time he glanced out the window, it was the first place his eyes were drawn. He kept trying to look away from it and failing.

In truth, Boyd was more interested in focusing on that than he was in talking to Shapiro about topics that were meaningless. Topics that he was able to convince himself he felt nothing about when he didn't look at them directly but when he did focus on them the same collection of anger, betrayal, and resentment muddied his thoughts.

He didn't want to talk about any of this. It wouldn't change anything. It would only dig up all the issues and give him nothing for it in the end. But he knew as well as Shapiro did that he had to talk. He had to engage on some level or he really would be killed.

It was as simple as that.

His fingers flexed against the worn wood of the arms of the chair. The padding pressed against his back. There was the briefest moment in which he weighed the evils of the Agency against the promise he'd made all those months ago. The briefest moment in which he wondered if he could let the burn of distrust decide for him. But a flash of green eyes and the memory of a relaxing heartbeat beneath his ear brought a dual surge of frustration and resignation. His jaw shifted but he otherwise kept the darkness of those thoughts free from his stony expression.

At length, he spoke tonelessly. "Do you know why they call it Slide?"

"No," Shapiro replied. Although Boyd didn't look over he could see the man sit up a little straighter in the chair, anticipating a session in which Boyd actually interacted.

"Because people who are high on it are so loose you can slide right in and out of them," Boyd said mildly. He turned a golden brown stare onto the psychiatrist.

Shapiro watched him neutrally and made a note on the touch panel without looking down.

"So when you say I had 'lowered inhibitions,' you're wrong. I had zero. I would have done anything-- anyone-- for a release. An infant, an animal..." His eyes narrowed and shifted away from Shapiro's stare, settling instead on the blank wall. Reflecting the blankness of his expression-- a feeling he wished would translate into his mind. "It wouldn't have mattered."

There was a pause while Shapiro studied him. "Did you?" he asked neutrally.

A flash of memory-- deep reds on the floor and a stuffed chair at the side of the room. The world twisting confusingly and slightly muffled voices. Making no sense. Hands running along his body. Cloying smoke in the air clouding his vision. A woman's sultry laughter, sounding removed from his location. The distinct feeling of a hand pressing against his chest-- pushing him down on the bed. Clothes disappearing and legs being rearranged. Head dropping to the side and seeing the rest of the place for the first time.

A little boy across the room, watching cartoons.

His fingers shifted, a brief tightening against the chair's arms to complement the tense lines of his shoulders.

He couldn't remember much after the boy. Couldn't remember who he'd been fucking or even whether it had been a woman or a man. Still, it plagued him. Had he screamed with as much abandonment even with a child in the same room? How could that parent have done that-- to him, to the child, to anyone-- or had that person not been the kid's parent at all?

That memory mingled with so many others-- a muddled remembrance of harsh breath, feminine moans, excited male grunts, and his body arching in endless pleasure.

A voice that couldn't possibly be his.

"Not that I remember," was all he said aloud.

Shapiro nodded, his gaze unmoving as it seemed to burn into the side of Boyd's face. There was a pause, as if Shapiro was waiting for more discussion, before he spoke. "Please expand."

"On what?"

"The mission."

"It was a success," Boyd said impassively. There a crack in the wall he hadn't yet noticed despite all the times he'd stared at the same spot. "Further information is unnecessary."

There was a distinctly displeased air to the beat of silence that followed. "On the contrary," Shapiro said patiently, "it is very necessary. You've been avoiding this topic since we started. I didn't push it before because the more pressing issue was guiding you successfully through detox and giving you the opportunity to readjust yourself to the Agency. But now that you've had time, it's important that we go over this."

"Important for a promotion for you?" Boyd looked out the window, his eyes once more pulled like a magnet to Sin's building.

"This has nothing to do with a promotion."

"But it would help you, yes?" Boyd asked without care. "The more outrageous the stories, the more impressive it will be when you decide you've shown enough effort and can mark me reformed."

His gaze shifted over to Shapiro; emotionless. "Perhaps I should recant my earlier statement. One of the people who rented me took me to a stable. I didn't understand why I was there until he brought me in back. There was a half circle of people. They made a horse fuck me and placed bets about how long I would make it."

Shapiro frowned slightly, studying Boyd intently for a moment. "Did that happen?"

"Would you like it to have happened?"

Shapiro's lips pursed and his eyebrows furrowed between his eyes. "I'm not interested in fabrications, Boyd. I'm here to listen to you and to help with what truly happened."

"I don't need help," Boyd said firmly.

Shapiro paused briefly, as if he were about to say one thing and shifted it to another. "Then what do you need?"

"To be left alone." Boyd narrowed his eyes. "But you won't do that for me, will you?"

"You know I can't," Shapiro said unrepentantly. "Your mental health is important--"

Boyd barely suppressed the urge to scoff.

"--and as such it's important that we discuss what you've been through. Until I'm satisfied with your progress, you will be my patient. And in order for me to feel satisfied, we will need to discuss specific details and situations."

The silence on Boyd's end spoke volumes. A stony mask quieted his thoughts but his eyes didn't move from Shapiro. He watched the man closely, calculating what his motive was and how far the man would push it. How exactly Shapiro planned to use him and to what extent he would excuse hurting Boyd as being part of his job.

"I should think the report would suffice."

"The aim of the report was the mission overview and including information on Aleixo Forakis," Shapiro replied calmly. "As I'm sure you recall, you didn't include many details about your treatment itself. In order to properly help you, it's important that I understand what you experienced. This will also help me understand any reactions you may have. In addition, talking through it can sometimes help you deal with the repercussions."

"You don't need more details to know what happened. I was available for rent day and night and expanded my skills to marketing when Aleixo took me in. The end."

Shapiro studied him a moment and then skimmed some information on his screen. "The notes state that you exceeded expectations. You were to be noticed by Aleixo Forakis and be taken in as one of his slaves but you became his favorite and were even brought to his home base. This gave you unprecedented access to his wife and child, which ultimately gave the Agency a stronger hold on Aleixo. Is this correct?"

Boyd stared at Shapiro. "I didn't lie in the report."

"It sounds as though being his favorite afforded you opportunities you otherwise would not have had; opportunities that were very beneficial for the Agency. Yet it also made you more visible which made the execution of your mission more difficult."


Shapiro stared at him for a long moment, waiting for him to continue. When it became obvious Boyd wouldn't, Shapiro pressed, "As the favorite, what was your relationship with others aside from Aleixo? You mentioned marketing. What does that mean?"

For a moment, Boyd only stared narrow-eyed at Shapiro. He considered not answering. He considered giving a one line answer. He considered any number of options but then decided it was better to pick his fights. Who cared about unimportant details like this? Better to answer now and give the illusion of being cooperative so he could avoid topics he didn't want to discuss.

"If Aleixo wanted to sell the merits of Cyclone to a particularly high-end investor, he loaned me to them for a period of time that was proportional to the amount of money he stood to gain," Boyd replied in the same distanced tone he would relay facts from an article in a newspaper. "His wife Vika had free rein of me whenever she chose. And, like his personals at the other households, I was available for entertainment at exclusive parties and the occasional PR piece for the company."

Shapiro made a note. "PR?"

"Videos," Boyd said simply. "Pictures."

Shapiro took a few notes and then studied Boyd in silent appraisal. "For this session, let's focus on what you refer to as 'the palace.'" He looked questioningly at Boyd. "How is this in relation to 'the dungeon?'"

"They're just names the slaves came up with," Boyd said, lifting a hand briefly in a dismissive wave before dropping it to the arm of the chair again. He could feel the texture of the wood beneath his fingertips. Sitting here so calmly discussing that long year of rapturous hell felt surreal. "They're the same buildings."

"There is more than one building?" Shapiro prodded and Boyd's eyes narrowed as he shook his head. One wouldn't have been nearly enough for Aleixo's greed, he thought bitterly.

"There are seven scattered around Europe, Asia, and the US. I saw a few and they all seemed built with the same concept."

"Which is?"

Boyd settled an even stare on Shapiro. "High end, exclusive hotels owned by Cyclone. Decadence from the ground up and the opposite in the lower levels. Downstairs had rooms with too many slaves crowded in each, guards around every corner, isolation rooms for when people started to withdraw and became crazed..."

Shaking fingers ripping into the mattress; desperation making him tremble. His roommate Jada had to have a stash. Arms still aching from the guards' grips. Hunger for Slide gnawing at him relentlessly and intense fear when he wasn't finding a vial-- A sound in the doorway. Jada's smoky eyes narrowing and their furious argument--

"--I don't fucking have any, asshole! And even if I did, I wouldn't give that shit to you--"

The fighting. The guards.

The room.

Throwing himself against the door and screaming until his throat was raw. It hurt, it hurt so fucking much-- ripping him apart from the inside out. Tearing apart his organs, constricting his lungs. Fists slamming against the door; fingernails clawing at his own elbow. Looking around desperately for anything-- chemicals, cleaners-- anything at all to make it stop hurting so much--

Finding the place empty.

Shadows drawing in around him. Thoughts impossible to control. Panic taking over. Throughout it all, his own voice distant to his ears. Screaming furiously and desperately; begging them please, please, just give me a hit-- I can make more money, please--

"There was a doctor's office as well," Boyd finished, keeping his voice and expression even despite the chill he felt at remembering that time. It hadn't been until long afterward that he'd realized they'd purposefully withheld his regular dose of Slide out of nowhere in order to make him go into withdrawal. To show what happened if he ever disobeyed. "They kept the drugs there."

"So the palace was what the clients saw?"

"It was everything upstairs. We stayed in the dungeon, below ground. We were prepared on an individual basis for the clients and their preferences. We only saw daylight when we were servicing a client." Boyd trailed off, his expression darkening before he looked away, out the window. Sin's building, so innocuous for all the memories it housed.

He wished he could believe Sin was in there waiting for him.

"So the downstairs felt like a prison to the slaves?"

Boyd was silent for a moment before he spoke. "In a way." There was more he could have said but he left it at that.

Shapiro considered him at length. He jotted something down on the touch panel and then leaned back in the chair. "I'd like to talk about what was expected of you. As I understand from your report, you were involved with people who were accustomed to having their way. What did that mean for a typical session with a client? Specifically, I'm wondering whether you experienced violence as a form of control."

Boyd's jaw twitched but he continued to stare out the window. The world outside looked so simple and inviting. The few remaining leaves waved on the trees. The buildings he could see had come alive in the slowly dying light of the day. Reds and oranges warmed up the concrete greys and browns. Light cast from the setting sun behind thin clouds made everything look beautiful and delicate.

It was incongruous with the darkness he felt inside. The tension in the room and the shadows that were too deep.

He considered not answering but knew it would get him nowhere.

"Yes," was all he said.

There was a brief pause as Shapiro waited for more. "Could you expand?"

"Why?" Boyd turned sharp eyes on Shapiro. "Taking notes for the wife back home?"

"I already told you why I need this information, Boyd," Shapiro said patiently.

Boyd stared at him distrustfully for a long moment before he looked away again. His tone and expression were decidedly blank when he spoke. "For the most part I was treated well at Aleixo's because I was an investment."

"That isn't the question I asked," Shapiro pointed out. When Boyd didn't answer, he pressed, "Does that mean that you were not treated well at the palace?"

"I was treated appropriately for what I was."

"What does that mean?"

"I was a drugged up sex slave who could easily be replaced," Boyd said flatly. "What do you think it means?"

"I think it means you're avoiding answering this question for a reason." Shapiro rested the panel against the edge of the desk. "If you need some time to regroup..."

"Why should I need time?" Boyd asked, a spike of anger burning hot within him. It was just like the Agency to steal everything from him and then have the audacity to demand he perform for them a little longer by laying it all bare about what happened. "Do you think time will make it disappear?"

"It could give you the opportunity to heal--"

"Heal from what?" Boyd demanded, his tone turning mocking and hard. "Emotional scarring? Oh, but maybe the Agency is jealous. After all, fucking up the lives and minds of their agents is supposed to be their forte--"

"Boyd, we can take a break if you feel you need it but I am still going to return to this question as many times as I need to until you answer it adequately."

"What's fucking adequate to you?" Boyd shot back icily, leaning forward in his chair and feeling all the anger, resentment and bitterness swarm to the top at the same time. "Do you need me to draw you a fucking diagram? I was a nobody they hooked on a sex drug that made me incapable of anything but begging to be fucked. Incapable of telling anyone no. And then they sold me to people with power trips and said, 'Have at it! Just don't permanently break him. But hey, if you do, it's alright-- we have more.' What the fuck do you think happened?"

Shapiro studied him, seeming unmoved by Boyd's outburst. "I think that means they hurt you."

"Give the man a prize," Boyd growled under his breath. He sat back in the chair, crossing his arms and looking broodingly out the window.

"Was it a common occurrence?"

Boyd made an impatient, scoffing sound. "Does it matter?"

"Please answer the question, Boyd."

A muscle in Boyd's jaw shifted. He debated jumping up and stalking out. But-- I promise; if you die I'll keep going. His eyes narrowed.

"Some weren't like that."

"But some were?" Shapiro prompted.

"Yes," Boyd said shortly.

There was a significant beat of silence on Shapiro's part and Boyd continued impatiently, "Cyclone had an endless supply of Bowery kids to take in and fuck up. They didn't care about us other than as minimal investments. The penalty for taking a slave out of commission wasn't that strong, and killing one was hardly worse. Some clients just wanted sex and didn't want even a minor break in their privileges. They were careful. Others reveled in the high end promises Cyclone offered, of clean slaves and discreet services, combined with the free reign to do as they liked. Those clients were a large target audience for Cyclone, because Slide made the slaves open to anything and everything the clients wanted to do, and our low status meant no one cared if they exercised those rights."

His eyes were dark as he stared pointedly at Shapiro. "So, yes. The parts I can remember-- Some were. Some got off on hurting me. Some used the excuse to experiment with things they'd always wanted to try but were too wary to do themselves. Others liked to see how many people I could take at once. Or in a row. They made it into a game at some of the parties."

He remembered laughter and groans; people bullshitting with each other and shouting out numbers in the background. And, of course, the ever-present person recording it all so they could jerk off to it later.

He wondered if any of those videos would be leaked out to others in the end. He didn't even care anymore how public it became. There had been a time when he'd been a very private person but any hope of that and rights to his own body had disappeared long ago.

Shapiro nodded, his gaze unmoving from Boyd's face. "What was the process for a client to determine who they wanted?"

Boyd crossed his arms and leaned back in the chair. "They used the catalogue."

Shapiro's eyebrows drew faintly down. "What catalogue?"

"The one with our pictures when we were hard and high, with our stats and specialties written inside," Boyd said shortly. He added with his tone twisting, "The one they used to rate and review us."

"What do you mean by specialties or reviews?"

"They recorded what we were good at so clients could make an informed decision about what they felt like that night. Like perusing a menu at a restaurant. Would you like to know what mine said?"

Shapiro did not notice the mocking in Boyd's voice or decided to ignore it. "Yes."

"It said my impressive stamina made me ideal for weekend group rentals and that I could be loud. That I have the best mouth in Cyclone and I could cure impotence with my tongue alone." Boyd's eyes were cold as his eyebrows raised. An entirely humorless smile curled his lips. "One anonymous note recommended choking me to make me get off even harder and said they noticed I react especially strongly to being tied down. They said I was so enjoyable to play with that the next time they brought their friends."

There was a beat of silence in which Shapiro watched Boyd, who only stared back with hard lines on his face and an increasingly cold cast to his eyes. Shapiro frowned slightly; a subtle motion of his lips and the draw of his eyebrows.

"I see." Shapiro looked down at his touch panel and made a few notes before meeting Boyd's eyes again. "Was there anything else?"

Boyd's stare shifted and turned flat on Shapiro. The tense silence answered that question affirmatively while at the same time making it clear that Boyd had no intentions of continuing with the topic for the moment. After another beat of silence, Shapiro seemingly decided to move on.

"The results of your physical state that you are clean of any diseases," Shapiro observed. "Was that due to policies Cyclone adopted?"

Boyd looked out the window again.

A memory of Jun's voice, idly relaying a fellow slave's status. "He went to some party, something happened I dunno much about-- but they brought him straight to Amy and he never came back."

"Yes," was all he said aloud. Shapiro quirked his eyebrows and Boyd grudgingly continued, "Generally, protection was a requirement. Some paid more to not have to use it. Clients for the general populace were screened but that didn't always catch everything. Slaves who became too problematic due to a difficult or impossible to cure disease were taken somewhere and never seen again. The slaves called it Death Row."

"Do you think they were killed?"

Boyd shifted a steady gaze onto Shapiro. "I think the rumor that a snuff film director used them as actors is likely true. But I also think Aleixo would have capitalized on his investment and found other places to sell or use the leftovers. The same as he would have for me if I'd outlived his interest."

Shapiro's lips tilted down briefly on the edges. "Could you explain why you use those terms?"

"What terms?"

"You speak of yourself and others who were in your same position as objects."

Boyd's eyebrows ticked up. "Isn't that what I am? I was merchandise there but now I'm back to being a tool. It's nothing but semantics."

"You're a person, Boyd," Shapiro said not unkindly. "One who spent months hurting or feeling vulnerable. But it doesn't change that you're a person and you deserve respect."

Boyd snorted and looked out the window. "Whatever you say, Doctor."

There was a span of silence and then Shapiro apparently decided to switch tracks. "I would like to talk about Agent Vega."

Boyd shook his head, his eyes narrowing and jaw shifting, but he said nothing. The tension in his body skyrocketed at his lover's name.

"You left before we could fully discuss this before," Shapiro said. "I realize this is difficult for you but this is not a topic you'll be able to avoid before I clear you for active duty, assuming I do. I'd like you to engage now and save yourself the frustration."

Boyd let out a short breath, incredulity moving through him. Save himself the frustration? Unbelievable. Like some minor annoyance in these bullshit sessions was his biggest concern. His stare became a hooded glare out the window that couldn't seem to avoid Sin's building.

At least he couldn't see Sin's apartment windows from this angle. At least he didn't have to remember the times he'd stood at that window. The reflection of Sin's face as he'd come up behind Boyd. The powerful strength of those hands. The soothing rumble of his voice, vibrating against Boyd's back.

He was starting to forget details-- how long Sin's fingers were or the exact cast of his eyelashes. The quality of his voice when it was clear how much he loved Boyd--

"What are you thinking?" Shapiro's calm voice put in and Boyd felt irrationally angry with Shapiro for interrupting his memories. And for bringing the memories up in the first place.

"I'm wondering what my former love life has to do with you or the Agency, Doctor," Boyd said coldly. His eyes slid back to meet Shapiro's, the golden brown sparking hatefully. "What do you care? Shouldn't it be ideal to have a valentine with nothing to hold back for?" He lifted his eyebrows derisively. "I have it on good authority that I make a better fuck toy that way."

Shapiro was silent for a moment and then he set the panel down on the desk with a quiet slide. He sat forward, his fingers interlocking. "Boyd, as a psychiatrist who specializes in long term valentines my only concern is your recovery, both physically and mentally--"

Anger jolted through Boyd. He leaned forward, hands curling into fists. That repeated, preposterous claim that anyone at the Agency cared about his mental health after everything they'd done to him-- after everything they'd taken away--

"Bullshit," he cut in sharply. "You want to shove me through your regimen and claim me as a success story just like anyone else. You don't give a shit what I feel-- all you care about is me becoming stable enough that on assignments everyone can be sure I'll shoot only the people the Agency wants, and I'll bend over without question when the Agency needs it."

Aggravation burned through Boyd, making his tone raise furiously. "And you know what, Doctor? Mark me down as a goddamn success right now and let's stop these pointless sessions. Tell me who to fuck metaphorically or literally and I'll do it because I don't have a choice, but you fucking leave Hsin out of it."

There was a tense beat of silence and Shapiro's eyebrows lowered slightly. Hatred for the Agency, and for the man who represented it, made Boyd quake inside. He wanted to rip the Agency apart; he wanted to burn the place down and destroy everyone and everything who had taken away his life. He wanted the Agency to pay for what he was feeling and having Shapiro so calmly sitting there asking all these detailed questions was only making it worse.

"Agent Vega--" Shapiro started to say and suddenly it was too much.

"Shut the fuck up!" Boyd shouted, jumping out of his chair and slamming his hands on the desk. "You don't get to say his name-- none of you do! You all sat here destroying him bit by bit until you killed him and now you want me to play nice with your little games? You want me to tell you what I think or how I feel as if it makes a goddamn difference? You killed him! You sent me off to have my mind raped and you killed him while I was gone. What could talking about it possibly do to change anything?"

"I realize you're upset, Boyd--"

"Upset?" Boyd echoed incredulously, pulling back.

"--but as I've told you, my only concern is that you are in a healthy state of mind--"

"For being used by the Agency the way they used me there?" Boyd demanded furiously. "You want to make me healthy before you fuck me up more?" He shook his head, straightening and crossing his arms. He looked down at the doctor, his tone disgusted. "Forget it. I'm not the idiot who trusted you people like I did before-- so stop trying to treat me like one."

There was another beat of silence, Shapiro's perpetually neutral face watching him steadily. "You don't trust the Agency, or you don't trust people you thought you could-- like your mother?"

Boyd jerked back, his expression shutting off completely and his hands dropping to his sides. He felt like he'd been slapped in the face by that comment and he didn't know what to say. He didn't even know if he wanted to respond.

"Boyd, for over the last year, everyone who has had some measure of control over you has used it against you," Shapiro said calmly. "Your distrust of everyone around you is understandable but it is also unhealthy. Persistent and elevated levels of stress will only hurt you, and your fear of trusting others will only make it more difficult for you to grieve."

There was a long beat of silence, this time on Boyd's end. He looked down at Shapiro with a narrow-eyed stare. The man talked a good game but Boyd still didn't believe him. The people at Cyclone had talked a good game too. So had everyone in any position of power at the Agency. They all liked to act so earnest when looking at him-- saying the words they knew they needed to say while working their way toward their ultimate goal. Pretending they saw him as anything other than a pawn to control or a body to explore.

Boyd looked out the window again and crossed his arms, his gaze catching on Sin's building again. He stared hard at it, feeling frustrated and angry that Shapiro was still treating him like a naive idiot. Angry that the doctor kept trying to play this game when he had made it clear Shapiro should just be upfront about the way he wanted to use him.

He wanted to storm away. He wanted to give up on any of this and let Shapiro mark him as uncooperative. If they terminated him, he could let this pain go. He could stop hurting and stop hating and if he believed in an afterlife, he could believe he would be with Sin in the end.

But he couldn't die. Even without the promise he couldn't, because he still had to find out the truth.

It was the only way to finally understand what happened. The only way to stop clinging to the memories because they were all he had of Sin. Even though it ripped him apart to think of his lover he still couldn't help it. He couldn't stop himself from reaching out and out...

Like a moth to a flame he would die this way someday; burned by his own longing.

He tried to ignore the way his chest tightened. He just wanted this all to end. He wanted to be released from this. And more than anything, he wanted people to stop asking him all these prying questions about what was done to him and how he felt, and whether or not he was affected by Sin's death.

He wanted to forget his mother's face; so impassive as she condemned him to a year of being used. As she lied to his face. The panic and fear when he'd first realized on that mission that everything was going wrong--

It felt like she'd sold him, he thought with a sharp stab in his chest. It felt like the exchange of himself as goods for services had started that day in that office and would never stop again-- but rather than being upfront about it like Cyclone had been, the Agency pretended to take the moral high road even as they dealt in the human trafficking of their agents.

Shapiro was silent for a long moment until he let out a quiet sigh. "I'd like to talk more about this but unfortunately that's all the time we have today. As it currently stands, your downtime expires in about a week. How do you feel about that?"

"I don't care," Boyd muttered. He dropped his hands at his sides and looked over at Shapiro. "It doesn't matter." It was much more even the second time.

Shapiro studied him for a long moment, his gaze intense as if he could see through Boyd to the words kept silent in his stifled lungs. The psychiatrist looked down at his touch panel and made a few notes. "I think you need more time."

Boyd shook his head, beyond caring what Shapiro recommended or said. "Do whatever you want," he said dismissively and started to stride toward the door.

"Boyd," Shapiro said before he could leave and Boyd paused, looking over his shoulder at the doctor. "Next Wednesday. Same time."

Boyd narrowed his eyes but had nothing to say in return. Shapiro so far wasn't recommending him for termination, it seemed. He supposed he could hope for nothing else.

The day came quickly when he was supposed to go in for the unit meeting. He hadn't slept well the night before. In truth, he hadn't slept well at all since he'd returned, aside from the days when he'd used sedatives. That night he'd considered taking sedatives after he'd woken for the fifth time with barely half an hour having passed and hours still until dawn. But he hadn't wanted to risk oversleeping in the end.

He ended up sleeping just enough to whet the appetite of his weariness but not enough to provide him much respite. He finally got up with three hours before the meeting. He knew there was no point in trying to go back to sleep. He'd either toss and turn or, more likely and a worse scenario, he'd fall into a dead sleep and miss the meeting.

So he moved around. Made tea that still tasted like ashes dissolved in water and picked at food he couldn't make himself eat.

He got to the compound early but didn't want to sit in the room alone, awkwardly waiting for everyone to walk in one by one and potentially give him those sympathetic eyes. So he wasted time walking around, although he stayed away from Sin's building so nothing could distract him.

He still made it to the conference room a little early. When he walked in, he found Jeffrey, Owen and Ryan there, but Carhart and the two new girls weren't. He was greeted with three varying reactions that drove home how completely different everything was.

Jeffrey looked up and, at the sight of Boyd, tensed. His eyes narrowed and ran over Boyd once, taking him in, before he looked away and ignored him.

Owen was surprisingly awake and less unkempt than Boyd remembered. He wondered whether Owen had straightened up or whether Boyd had exaggerated in his mind the memory of Owen's state of dress. Regardless, Owen took Boyd in without much expression and a hand raised in a subdued hello.

"Good to see you, man," Owen said with a genuine-seeming smile but it was sober and there was something too serious in his eyes compared to what Boyd remembered.

Ryan just smiled slightly as Boyd walked around the table.

It felt surreal being in that room with those people. Walking to the same chair he always used to sit in. Knowing Sin wasn't going to come in after him and grab the chair next to him but still, somehow, expecting that he would. Still, stupidly, thinking how much he wished it would happen.

The chair felt heavy in his hand. Had it always been that way? He didn't think so. He thought it used to be lighter once; like the mood, his coworkers' expressions, and his own thoughts. It used to be easier to move. Or maybe his body had functioned better back then, not tied down by memories of a Was that would never become a Will Be.

He half expected to be grilled on the mission, or for someone to at least comment. But silence spoke louder than words as the four of them sat quietly. Boyd didn't really look at the other three but he could feel their eyes on him occasionally.

He wondered if Ryan had warned them not to mention the mission or what had happened with Sin. He wondered if instead they just didn't have the mind to ask anything. Or maybe they simply didn't care.

"I'm glad you're back," Ryan said after a moment. "It's good to have someone familiar..."

Boyd nodded and met Ryan's eyes before glancing at the other two briefly to include them in his statement. "I'm glad the whole unit didn't change while I was gone."

"It may as well have," the R&D agent mumbled, looking down at the touch screen laptop that sat in front of him. "Us three are the only ones the same."

Boyd didn't know what to say so he stayed silent.

Owen ended up breaking the silence with an optimistic, "Well now it's all gonna roll the other way. I've been waiting for you to get back. Maybe it means Emilio's coming back soon, too."

Jeffrey gave Owen a scathing look. "Based on what?" he demanded. "One member of the old team automatically means everything will revert?"

"I dunno, maybe," Owen said defensively, automatically leaning away from Jeffrey. "You gotta admit he's been there a long time so his sentence is probably about up." He frowned. "You don't have to jump down my throat about it."

"You make idiotic, baseless statements," Jeffrey said derisively. There was anger in his face that Boyd had never seen before. Although Jeffrey had seemed mocking or impatient in the past, the outright malevolence was new and it seemed to be especially strong when he was looking at Owen. "I'm tired of listening to it."

Owen's eyebrows dragged down and his shoulders were tense. He looked wary as he eyed Jeffrey. "If you're still pissed about--"

"I don't want to talk about it," Jeffrey cut him off icily. "Just shut up and stop talking when you don't have anything important to say. With you, that means you could practically be mute."

Owen's frown deepened and he leaned away further, watching Jeffrey with a mixture of wariness and disappointment. It was a guarded look somewhat reminiscent of when he used to look at Carhart, worried he was in trouble for falling asleep or missing a cue. After a moment he turned away, his face set seriously with subdued eyes.

"Alright, man," he said lightly with a shrug but something about the tone sounded a little forced to Boyd. "Chillax already." He tilted his chair back on two legs, balancing himself with one foot against the bottom of the table. He didn't quite meet anyone's eyes.

Jeffrey glared at Owen and then turned away and focused on a touch panel he had in front of him. He returned to ignoring everyone else in the room. Boyd wondered what that was about and looked over at Ryan to see if he thought anything of it, but Ryan didn't seem surprised.

"Things are a little tense lately," he said in the same barely-there voice. "It's all that bi--"

The words died on Ryan's lips when the door opened. He immediately dropped his gaze to his computer. There was obvious tension in his shoulders and he hunched forward, black hair falling around his face.

Boyd could only assume that the two people who walked in were Bex and Jordan. Their faces and long, thin bodies were identical but that was where the similarities ended. Their haircuts, makeup and styles were completely different.

One of the girls was maximizing her petite features to the fullest extent. Her lips shone with lip gloss, her round, almond eyes framed by long, likely false eyelashes. Her black hair was in long, loose curls that hung around her face in an obviously deliberate tousle. She wore black tights, sky-high stiletto heels and a pink tunic-like dress although it was so short, it may have been a shirt.

She had to be Jordan. The girl who was apparently an amazing valentine operative. With her looks and youthful appearance, it wasn't difficult to figure out why that was. She would appeal to many.

Her sister on the other hand was the extreme opposite. Despite the same body and face structure, she barely looked like her twin. It's possible Boyd would have thought Bex was a man if he hadn't known that she was an identical twin of a female.

Unlike Jordan, Bex wore skintight leather pants, tall platform boots and a wife beater that showcased her thin, sinewy frame. She somehow looked more flat-chested than her sister but it was possible that Jordan compensated with undergarments that made her look larger than she was or the Agency had funded surgery.

Bex's hair was shaved in the back and long in the front, falling over her forehead and half of her face. She wore no makeup, had apparently shaved off her eyebrows and despite the fact that the twins looked the same, her cheeks were more gaunt than Jordan's. Her severe expression took away any bit of femininity that would have existed in her.

Her deep brown eyes fell on Boyd immediately and a muscle in her jaw ticked. There was something about her presence that seemed angry, violent-- it was nearly reminiscent of the aura Sin had so often given off to people who were unfamiliar to him.

"Oh, hello there," Jordan said in a voice that was low and airy. She sat down delicately in the seat next to Boyd and turned her head to take him in very deliberately.

Her sister scoffed and dragged a chair towards her with one boot, sitting across the table and next to Carhart's position.

"Hello, Jordan," Boyd said with little inflection, looking over to meet her gaze.

"Your eyes are so beautiful," Jordan said, leaning closer. Her expression was strange-- nearly vacant but with intense, narrowed eyes and an indulgent little smile. "Like butterscotch. No wonder they say you're the queer version of me."

Bex's lips curved up into a smirk at that as she slouched in her chair, long leather-clad legs sprawled out in front of her.

Boyd's eyebrow nearly twitched at that but he kept his expression even.

"In what way?"

"Oh," she said quietly, thoughtfully. "I'd heard you're known for the way you look and your sexual habits 'round here. Back in Prague I was known for the same."

Jordan said it in such an amused, nearly proud sounding tone that it seemed as though she was missing the fact that she was basically admitting she'd been known for sleeping around. She also seemed to be missing that she was saying the same about Boyd.

Bex scowled darkly at her sister, all traces of amusement vanishing from her face. "Shut it, already. No one gives a shit about all the wankers that stuffed you."

"I see," Boyd said neutrally, his gaze centered on Jordan. "And what exactly did they tell you?"

Ryan was looking at Jordan with an obviously disapproving scowl but the woman seemed completely unaware. She didn't seem to realize that she'd even said anything offensive.

"I'd heard you volunteered yourself to be a valentine op. Most people loathe the status." She grinned as if they were in on a joke together, shiny white teeth making an appearance. "I volunteered for it myself back home. People used to say things about me too but it's all a load of bollocks. Some people like to negotiate in full body armor and I like to negotiate in my knickers. Ain't nothing wrong with it."

"Ah." Boyd watched her intently, trying to determine whether this was an orchestrated act to be insulting or whether she was serious. As far as he could tell, she meant it.

He shifted his stare to Bex and saw that she looked angry with her sister. She didn't appear to like that her sister was a valentine, or maybe just that Jordan apparently took such delight in it.

He turned his attention back to Jordan. He wasn't surprised that she'd heard that or, based on that, what assumptions she'd made. She seemed as though she actually may enjoy her valentine status, though, which was a sentiment he couldn't say they shared.

"I don't think we're as alike as you think we are," he said at length. His expression remained the default, unreadable neutral that he used when he didn't know someone well or was uncertain of their intentions. It was an automatic, guarded reaction that he felt no need to break.

Jordan just shrugged her dainty shoulders and flicked a few long tendrils out of her face. "I dunno. I'd heard you conquered Mr. Vega and supposed you must be something special in the sack. Loads of practice and all."

Boyd's eyes narrowed slightly. "I didn't 'conquer' him," he corrected, his tone cool. "He was my partner."

Before Jordan could say anything else, her twin's low voice cut in. "Don't pay attention to my sister; she thinks life revolves around arse, cunt and cock."

Jordan mumbled something inaudible, shifting minutely in her chair and crossing her legs at the knee. The strength of her sister's disapproving glare was enough to make her open the small purse she held and take out a palm panel without another word.

"But I do find myself wondering what it is about you that makes you fit to be where you are," Bex added, black glare turning over to Boyd. Her eyes flicked over him, taking him in and apparently not being very impressed with what she saw.

"Well good thing no one gives a shit about what you think," Ryan snapped. Boyd glanced at him and saw that the R&D agent was flushed red.

"Come off it, Ry-Ry," Bex drawled in her heavy British accent, using the nickname with exaggerated sarcasm. "Anyone's more fit to be here than he is. There's loads of people with more experience, more time put in, more skill-- why the fuck is he here and not Trovosky? Not Logan? Fuckall-- why not even Stevens or Blake?"

"Yeah, well why do you think you're so special to be here?" Ryan countered, his tone nastier and more hateful than Boyd had ever heard. "All your bimbo sister does is cause trouble and all you do is talk shit. We were a lot better--"

"Coming from some asthmatic little pissant who can't even pass a physical--"

"You just think you're something special because you've been Modified."

Jordan's head shot up up and she was visibly alarmed but Bex just looked dangerous.

"She is not!" Jordan protested.

Ryan smirked and leaned back in his chair. "Oh yeah?"

"That's illegal! She would never be able to get away with that. You're barking if you think they wouldn't notice."

Ryan didn't reply and he and Bex stared at each other evenly. She looked ready to lean over and rip his head off his neck but there was no fear in his eyes.

Boyd's eyes narrowed and he shifted forward casually, so if he needed to he could jump out of his seat and pull Bex off Ryan.

Since Bex was supposedly a super assassin, it wouldn't be surprising if she was Modified. It was a very dangerous, sometimes unstable way of modifying a person, usually involving animal gene splicing. It could permanently enhance a person but the long term consequences still weren't known. And it was highly illegal, which meant there was a large black market for it.

One of the investors for Cyclone was heavily involved in Mods and Boyd suspected a few of the slaves who'd disappeared during the sorting process had been sent off for tests.

"I suggest you back off of Ryan," Boyd said to Bex, his tone even but eyes flashing a warning. "And while you're at it, stop making assumptions without knowing what you're talking about."

Bex threw back her head and released a harsh laugh. Her eyes were glittering with utter contempt for Boyd.

"You're only here because of who your mum is. Everyone knows it. It's fucking blatant and just another reason why this agency is so dodgy. There's loads more qualified people to be here. What can you actually do besides bend over and take it in your arse? Are you a better fighter than the people I named? You got more experience? Been here longer? You wasn't even an agent when they kicked up your ranks and clearance. I heard you even fucked up in your rank 10 training. Fucked up so hard you probably shoulda been sacked then and there. But look, here you are. In this coveted spot in this elite unit while Hsin Fucking Vega is dead because you got him so fucking turned around--"

"Shut up!" Ryan shouted, slamming his hand against the desk.

"--that he ruined his life over you and got terminated like rubbish."

Fury made Boyd's vision go red and before he knew it, he was out of his chair and across the table faster than he would have thought possible.

The guilt over not being here for Sin-- the anger over all those missed chances and losing Sin and the uncertainty of it all-- the hatred due to the mission and the implication that he was only useful as a whore, the same sentiment shared by the people who had demeaned him for a year-- and more than anything, the accusation that it was his fault Sin died; that he'd fatally compromised Sin and caused the death of the man he loved more than life itself--

It all hit him hard and suddenly he couldn't withhold the violence he'd been wanting to unleash since he'd returned.

His hand snapped around her throat and he threw her off the chair. She twisted and flipped backwards, breaking his hold. She was phenomenally fast-- bracing herself immediately and kicking him violently in the solar plexus. He was thrown backward, the angle making him fly up and crash on top of the table.

A resounding crack filled the room.

Boyd felt his back scream in pain but he got off the table immediately. A crack could be seen in the thick glass of the table, going right through the holographic projector that was built into the center. Just as he was about to take out more of his aggression on Bex, the door opened and Carhart walked in. He froze in the doorway, cerulean blue eyes turning to each of them in incredulous dismay.

Jordan continued to sit on her chair innocently, thumbing through her panel as if nothing had occurred while Ryan glared at Bex as though Carhart hadn't even entered the room. Jeffrey was looking at Boyd like he was a complete idiot. Owen was watching Bex with a dark, hard stare.

"What is the meaning of this?" the General demanded in a low, lethal tone. He looked from Boyd to Bex coldly.

"My apologies, sir," Bex said, instantly apologetic and looking genuinely chagrined.

"What happened?" Carhart snapped impatiently.

Her response was bluntly truthful. "Me and the boy had words regarding his status here and his former partner. He got angry and attacked me. I defended myself and in the midst, he fell backwards onto the table."

Carhart's eyes slid from her to focus on Boyd.

Boyd held himself a little gingerly, his back aching. He tried to keep the cold glare off his face when he looked at Bex but he wasn't successful. He shifted his gaze to Carhart, still angry and unable to feel sorry for attacking her. He forced his expression back to the default neutral as best he could but he was so angry and shaken up that it didn't entirely work. His eyes were still hard and narrowed and his shoulders were all sharp angles and hard lines.

"I apologize, General," Boyd said stiffly. He made an effort to try to loosen some of the tension in his shoulders so he wouldn't appear so belligerent. "I felt provoked by comments she made about Hsin."

"I don't care what she said about him," Carhart snapped, barely contained fury in his voice. His gaze had hardened into a glare that appeared both angry and disappointed. "You will control yourself or you'll be gone from this unit. Do you understand?"

Anger burned hotly in Boyd. "Yes, sir."

"Get out of my sight. Both of you. The meeting will be rescheduled when I handle this mess."

Not wanting to be in the room anymore anyway, Boyd only nodded curtly before he left.

Continue to Fade Chapter Five...