Fade Chapter Five

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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
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Book Three: Fade
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Fade Chapter Five

Uploaded on 4/17/2011

The burning anger didn't leave even after Boyd had stalked away. He wondered how long it would be until he was brought in for the fiasco of the unit meeting and stayed on compound so he couldn't have to come back right away if he left.

He went up to the old library, thinking he could at least be alone for awhile, but Kaspar was in there and perked up when Boyd walked in. Kaspar looked like he wanted to get into some sort of completely pointless chit chat that Boyd was beyond uninterested in. Without bothering to say anything, he turned and walked right back out.

The fury was still there within him. A beast that prowled his chest and looked for the opportunity to strike.

He kept thinking about what Bex said. He kept thinking about Carhart's response and the possibility of being kicked out of the unit if something like this happened again. He kept wondering what would happen if Carhart did that. Would he be terminated or would they make him a full time, cross-departmental valentine? Would they do something else?

He ran through the meeting and scenarios over and over, the anger rising and falling as he alternately resented the situation and thought about where this could lead. He ended up wandering around the compound, waiting for the order to go to Marshal Seong's office. Every time a guard turned in his direction or answered a radio with a gaze sweeping by him, he expected to be flagged down and escorted upstairs.

After an hour and a half of wandering the compound feeling tense and on edge, he finally decided he wasn't going to wait anymore. And that being on compound was only making him feel worse.

He started to wonder whether she would care about this at all. Unless they were readying the three-man escort to catch him unaware.

He had just gotten to his car when he noted someone moving quickly toward him. He looked over, one hand on the top of the half-open driver's side door. He was at first perplexed to see Carhart's admin Brian coming toward him until it occurred to him it was possible the order was coming through Carhart's office rather than straight from the Marshal's. His expression closed off and he waited for Brian to arrive.

The man's caramel skin was speckled with sweat and his typically tidy suit was looking a little unkempt. He seemed to have jogged from wherever he'd been.

"Wait... a sec," he panted before holding up a hand as if begging a second to catch his breath. Within a moment he seemed to have composed himself and he wiped a hand across his forehead. "Sorry. I ran from the office."

Boyd watched him evenly, his eyes narrowed faintly. He didn't respond; he simply waited for Brian to say whatever he wanted to say.

"Killian's," Brian said vaguely only after his eyes had swept the area around them thoroughly. His mouth barely moved as he spoke. "Twenty minutes."

Boyd's eyes narrowed further and he watched Brian with outright suspicion. He didn't care about how covert Brian was trying to be. He could only assume this was some sort of meeting with Carhart but he wasn't even sure he wanted to play along.

He didn't want to see the General right away. He wasn't even sure he trusted the man. The General he'd returned to was not the man Carhart had been when Boyd had left. He didn't know what Carhart's motivations were anymore. For all he knew, he was the new Marshal's lapdog.

"Why?" he asked flatly.

"Ask stupid questions if you want but I don't have time to waste convincing you." Brian didn't seem very concerned with the outcome either way. "Go or not. It isn't my problem."

Boyd watched Brian with hard eyes for a moment and then looked away. "Fine," he said neutrally and stepped around his car door. He looked at Brian, pausing before he got in. "Anything else?"

Brian scoffed. "No, thank God." That being said, he turned and walked away.

Boyd got in his car and left. He could have ignored the summons but there was no point. He wasn't even curious about what Carhart wanted to talk about; he just wanted to get it over with. It didn't take him long to drive to Killian's Pub, a place he used to visit with Kassian. He half expected to see Kassian when he walked in but was unsurprised when he didn't.

He recognized some of the regulars and employees. Shirley, a waitress he was used to seeing there, wasn't present but the bartender Mark was. Boyd didn't pay much attention to anyone as he headed toward the back where he assumed Carhart would be. That seemed to be the booth of choice for conversations best left unheard.

Carhart was sitting alone with an untouched drink on the table. He was working on a touch panel. Boyd sat down in the booth across from him.

"What the fuck were you thinking?" the General demanded bluntly, not looking up from his computer.

"I was thinking I want to rip her fucking head off and everyone else's at the Agency," Boyd snapped, not bothering to hide the ire in his voice.

"I understand that you think your feelings are more important than anyone else's in the world," Carhart replied acidly, finally looking up. "But believe it or not, they aren't. I lost Hsin just as much as you did and I had him in my life a lot longer. So did Ryan. So did his father. You acting out because we accepted his death and struggled to move on months ago is immature and stupid. If you truly want to waste your life, do it outside of the Agency. Getting yourself killed inside will just hurt others more."

"Sorry I'm having such a hard time adjusting to the change," Boyd retorted furiously. "I'm not acting out because you people moved on. I'm trying to fucking cope with coming back from a year-long mission that was supposed to be a month, to finding out the lover I was supposed to move in with was terminated like trash. Right now I frankly don't give a shit what position it would put you in. It's hard enough trying to move on and if you try to tell me you got over him in two weeks without any problems I'm going to call you a damn liar."

Carhart just shook his head, his mouth drawing down. "That's your problem. You don't care. Forget about me. What about Ryan? You don't care if Ryan has to play a part in the investigation of your termination and he finally has the breakdown that's been coming for a long time. All you care about is that Boyd is angry and sad and he's going to make sure everyone knows it. Whatever your excuse is, your behavior is unacceptable. You think your grief is so much stronger than anyone else's. You alone loved him so you have the right to act this way. You don't. It's a new world here, Boyd. And you won't get the second and third chances that your mother and Connors afforded you."

"What the hell do you want from me?" Boyd demanded. He leaned forward, fists hitting the table and eyebrows dragging down. His eyes were bright with fury-laced grief. "Of course I don't want that but you've all had months to deal with this and you were there when it happened. It's not my fault I'm coming back a year later, thrown into all this at once."

His eyes brightened further and he was furious with himself for the sorrow that was already rising. Furious that the anger was already dissipating at the idea of hurting someone he cared about. It was so much harder when he wasn't angry. Everything hurt so much more.

"Is it supposed to hurt me any less just because you've had time to deal with it? Am I supposed to feel nothing about it just because our boss is ruthless?" He shook his head. "I don't understand why you seem to think I should get over him immediately. Am I not even allowed to grieve?"

"Grieving and attacking the new Marshal's personal favorite are two different things. One is accepted and was expected. The other is suicide. You're lucky Bex is not a completely cold-hearted bitch. She could have concocted a far worse version of events. She knows whose word would be taken."

Boyd's insides twisted and he was already starting to feel disheartened. Part of him could see Carhart's point and part of him still felt like it didn't matter-- nothing did. That part asked why he had to keep going anyway when there was nothing for him anymore.

But then he thought of Ryan, so furiously snapping back at Bex. He thought of putting Ryan through something that could break him down. He thought of Ryan being as wound tight and unstable as he himself was and he thought of Ryan lashing out. Getting in trouble too. Maybe even being terminated.

The thought just compounded the hurt he already felt inside.

He slumped forward, elbows on the table while he dropped his head into his hands. "She said it was my fault he died," he said quietly. "I didn't plan it. I just snapped."

Carhart's response was instant and furious. "It isn't your fault at all. That's a goddamn fool thing to say. I hope you don't think that, Boyd."

"I don't know what I think," he admitted, his voice thick and muffled, lost somewhere between grief and distress. He dug his fingers into his hair. His heart was clenching; his eyes starting to burn again even as he squeezed them shut. "I don't know anything anymore. All I know is I miss him so much I feel like I can't breathe. And it hurts every time I remember he's never going to walk in the room again."

There was a brief silence. Then, "He loved you very much, Boyd. And he seemed to somehow know that this would be his end for a long time coming. He always feared how you would respond."

Boyd grit his teeth as his heart ached. He could still remember Sin's firm voice, telling him to keep going. Sin's admittance that he had a bad feeling about the mission and those vivid green eyes watching him walk away for the last time.

The pain grew stronger and it hurt; it hurt so much. It was like breathing in fire that sucked all the air from his lungs even while burning the tissue from the inside out.

At the same time, he knew Carhart was right that his move earlier had practically been suicide. He knew how much Sin had worried he'd do something like he had when Lou had died. He knew that no matter how it hurt, no matter how much he wanted to lash out or give up, he had to keep going because he'd promised Sin he would. He knew he had to force himself to be stronger when he felt his most vulnerable.

He knew he couldn't afford a repeat of earlier. It was true it would only hurt the people left. And he wasn't stupid enough to believe that if he managed to get by without major consequences this time that next time would be the same.

His life was completely out of his hands and in the end it didn't matter how he felt because that was inconsequential. He had obligations and even if he had to find a way to force himself into feeling nothing to start out, he had to see it all through.

He knew all this, but what he didn't know was how he was going to manage it when it felt like he was being ripped apart just thinking about how much he loved Sin. When he thought about how much more he needed Sin now that he was gone.

"If I didn't know how much it hurts to be left behind, I'd wish I'd died before him." Boyd drew in a thin breath and finally looked up, dropping his hands. His eyes were bright and pained but somewhere within them, the set of his jaw, and the angle of his drawn down eyebrows, there was a spark of determination. "But I do know and I can't let him down. I can't make any promises but I'll do my best not to respond in the future."

Carhart exhaled slowly and sat back, raising his drink to his lips for the first time. "You can't expect anything from me within the Agency walls anymore. They're watching me. Watching everyone in a position of authority, your mother not excluded. They're waiting for us to do something to warrant demotion or worse. They know my history-- she knows I favored Sin and she knows I favor the people in my unit. Especially you and Ryan."

There was another pause as his cerulean eyes slid to the side, towards the door. They narrowed slightly. "Bex has a legitimate reason to be in the unit. But Jordan... I think she's just a spy. You may think Bex the worst of the two but truth be told, I trust her more than her sister. She has a one track mind that focuses only on strength, on being number one in her ranks. She says exactly what she means and what she's thinking. But Jordan is a manipulator. A master manipulator. Watch out for her."

Boyd thought back to the two women and he could see that. He still didn't know how much of what Jordan said was truthfully what she thought and how much was calculated. He let out a low breath and leaned back in the booth, his head tilting back against the seat. "How long until she leaves and Emilio returns?"

A sour expression crossed the General's face. "I just put a query in about that. Jordan is useless to me. She's good at what she does but what she does isn't relevant to what we do here. The Marshal couldn't argue with that-- Vega will be back in a few weeks. I suppose she couldn't be too nice by letting him out immediately."

At least Boyd wouldn't have to wait too long for some amount of normalcy to return. With Jordan gone and Emilio back, the balance may even seem in his favor a little more despite Bex's intense personality. He didn't know how Bex and Emilio were going to interact but he hoped to get Bex's attention off himself to make it easier to avoid further confrontations.

Even if he knew he needed to be more level-headed he also knew better than to expect that he could flip a switch and everything would be okay. There would be a transition and it would probably be painful.

Then again, with the tension that had apparently developed between Emilio and Carhart somewhere along the way, who knew if it would be better with Emilio back. Boyd didn't miss that Carhart referred to him as 'Vega' when he'd always called him Emilio before.

He nodded and dropped his gaze to Carhart's drink. He briefly considered ordering something and then decided against it, just in case the Marshal called him in suddenly to explain himself. It wouldn't exactly help his cause to lower his inhibitions around a woman he suspected he was going to like even less than his mother.

"Is there anything else I need to know? About the unit or new Marshal?"

Carhart shook his head briefly. "I don't really know. She's different with everyone. But she's watching. That's the most important thing. She's waiting to replace key players and bring in her own people or new blood that can be molded. She doesn't like the old standard and she doesn't like anyone who misses it."

He set the drink down and cleared his throat. "As for the unit, I'll have Brian bring a panel to your house. Study it-- be up on your shit by the time you come back. Don't give them an excuse, Boyd. Don't make me have to be a hardass with you. I need you in my unit. I need a field agent I can actually trust. Do you understand me? If you think we have problems with our little political world, that isn't anything compared to the other danger looming just over the goddamn hill."

Boyd drew his eyebrows down, his gaze sharpening at the ominous words. "What do you mean?"

Carhart brought his hand up to massage his forehead. He looked weary; wearier than Boyd had ever seen him. And for the first time he looked his age. "If I tell you this, Boyd. It's between you and me. No Ryan, no Kassian-- no one. I shouldn't even be telling you. Your mother and I have so far managed to clean up traces that it's happening. If the Marshal found out, I guarantee that both your mother and I would be dead within the hour of the news reaching her ears."

Boyd watched Carhart seriously. The gravity of this was not lost on him. A year ago it would have been hard for him to imagine anything resulting in Vivienne and Carhart's deaths, mostly because they'd both seemed above reproach. Not that they hadn't made mistakes but as for Vivienne, at least, he'd never seen nor heard of her having any consequences.

It was a little alarming to think of something so serious that word of it alone could jeopardize the lives of two of the highest people in the Agency. It was especially meaningful that Carhart was considering telling him.

There had been a time when he'd begun to wonder what exactly Carhart thought of him. When his and Sin's relationship had started to spiral downward and Carhart had told him to leave Sin alone, it had seemed especially underscored to him that ultimately Carhart had been thinking of Sin first. It hadn't been that surprising given their history but there had been a time prior to that when he'd felt like Carhart had cared equally about them.

Ever since those rockier times, he'd felt a little uncertain around Carhart; a little off balance.

When he'd returned from his latest mission and had been confronted with the cold-eyed Carhart, and especially after the disaster of the meeting earlier, he'd thought that with Sin gone Carhart had lost all trust or interest in him. He'd thought there was nothing left of the man who'd nearly felt like a surrogate father.

But after this conversation, he no longer questioned Carhart's loyalties. It was obvious he meant something to Carhart if the older man put him in the same category as Sin and Ryan; if he was going to tell him something not even Ryan should know. If anything, it showed he meant more to Carhart than he'd thought.

"What is it?"

"We have a traitor in our ranks." Carhart closed his eyes briefly and winced, eyebrows drawing together as if an especially bad headache was coming on. When he opened his eyes again, he looked even wearier. "Someone deep inside. Someone high ranking."

Boyd frowned faintly. A lot of people had already assumed the raid and framing had been inside jobs so the idea of a traitor wasn't, on its own, shocking. But the idea that the person was high-ranking was disconcerting.

"The person or people who raided the compound and framed Hsin?"

Carhart paused and his eyes dropped briefly to his cup. After a moment he picked it up and brought it to his lips, taking a long sip. "We've come to the conclusion that the raid is unrelated to the current issue. The raid seems to have been focused on murdering Connors. Apparently it was an extreme assassination."

Boyd's eyebrows lifted. "A rather sloppy one if it had so many unrelated casualties," he observed. "If someone like that is running around shouldn't they be cause for concern?"

"No. Unfortunately, we have more pressing issues than vengeance."

"Like what?" Boyd pressed, watching Carhart intently. He leaned forward, resting his arms on the table. "Is there more to the person who framed Hsin? I always thought it was far too convenient how the camera system went down prior to Monaghan's murder. Things like that and getting the drop on Hsin would take a skilled person who knows how the Agency works."

"Precisely." Carhart finished his drink and set it down. "And it's worse than that, Boyd. For over a year now, missions have been sabotaged. It started discreetly and was blamed on sloppy intel or unreliable sources. But we quickly realized there was more to it than that. Teams were sent out to locations that were empty because the targets received word in advance that someone was coming. Teams have been ambushed. And it's only getting worse. Whoever the mole is, whoever is feeding information to the outside, has gotten bolder."

Boyd's eyebrows rose. He'd had suspicions on smaller scales but nothing this large and interconnected. Nothing this calculated. He studied Carhart, not certain what he was looking for; all he saw was weary seriousness. Boyd's eyes narrowed and he ran a hand back through his hair, looking away pensively.

He saw now exactly why this was so serious. A mole was bad enough on its own. Having that person causing orchestrated havoc on missions was worse.

But for someone like that to be within the Agency, doing that for a year... Absolutely, Vivienne would be terminated. She would be deemed incapable if the powers that be knew she had been unable to stop that. And Carhart-- if he'd been involved and equally unable to stop it, then it would fall on his head as well.

"And you don't know yet who exactly it is?"

"No, or they would be dead. We have a short list of agents, captains and generals who have the clearance to access such sensitive files but so far we don't know who it could be. This person is good. Very good. He or she covers their tracks well. The easiest way to flush him out would be to start heightening clearance levels but that now has to be authorized by the Marshal and she would ask why. Our next step is to disinform but even that is tricky. If the Marshal starts spotting decoy missions, she'll be equally suspicious."

Carhart sighed and looked at Boyd with tired blue eyes. "I think we're fucked. But we're trying. Even then, it just keeps getting worse. Now agents are going missing from missions."

"What?" Boyd asked, caught off guard. "How long?"

"Too long. Months. Before you even left."

Boyd stared at Carhart incredulously. "How did that not get around? I never heard anything about it being a common event."

"Covered up. Written off as defection or termination. But now it's becoming too frequent. It's going to get harder."

Boyd shook his head, trying to take this all in. "What's their goal?"

Carhart gave him a grim frown. "I wish we knew. I really did. It's all so sporadic-- not that many of the groups are directly connected that have been involved with the missions. We can't even narrow it down based on country or affiliation. It's frustrating. Impossibly so."

Boyd released a low breath and sat back, his hands dropping off the table. His eyes narrowed, a pensive look that was reminiscent of the times he'd received especially difficult criteria for a mission. For the moment, all traces of the unstable man desperately missing his lover were gone as he focused entirely on this new information.

After a moment he frowned to himself and drew his eyebrows down. "Considering the gravity of this and how well you've both hidden it until now, why are you telling me this?"

"Because if I die, likely when I die, I want you to know why. And because you are one of the very few people that I trust implicitly. So please, try to be strong. I need someone I can count on."

Boyd searched Carhart's expression and couldn't help a mixture of feeling pleased and dismal. It was touching to know that Carhart thought that highly of him and trusted him that much.

It was emboldening to know that Carhart needed him. He'd been feeling so lost and alone since he'd returned from his mission. He'd been so unstable. Thinking clearly without the ever-present sorrow and anger clouding his vision, he had to acknowledge that this reminded him he wasn't on his own. He had Ryan and Kassian and, now, Carhart. Maybe he even had Emilio. There were people he could trust even if the rest of the Agency had gone to shit.

Even so, it was all overrun by a sense of impending doom. Even Carhart was expecting to die at any second. Even Carhart didn't trust the future. Even Carhart felt susceptible. It underscored the severity of the situation at the Agency.

He'd thought it had been bad before but it had been nothing like this. And to think it could get even worse...

Still, hearing from Carhart that he needed him to be strong gave him more reason to fight. It gave him more encouragement to be there not only as support for Carhart but for the others, too. Ryan and Kassian and maybe Emilio... they probably needed someone they felt they could trust just as much as he did. They needed someone to rely on. It was reassuring to feel needed.

"How long do you think it will be until you can't cover it up anymore?"

"I don't know. Hopefully it doesn't come to that. Maybe if it does, we can finagle things to make this revelation look recent if we have to. Maybe we can lead her to believe it happened under her own watch. Your mother is good at manipulating information to say what she wants it to say."

Boyd knew that almost better than anyone. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Be smart and keep your nose clean. I'm not telling you to forget Sin but don't let your grief win you over. Once that happens, they win. You'll be another agent who she can replace." Carhart shoved the cup away and started to stand, glancing at his watch.

"I have to go back before I'm missed. There is surveillance everywhere now. They watch the outside of my apartment so it isn't safe there to meet. Brian is one of the few people I trust-- he has his own reasons for hating the new admin and he is our go-between because she doesn't pay as much attention to civilian staff."

"Okay." Boyd stayed seated so they wouldn't be leaving at the same time on the off chance the pub was under surveillance or one of them had been followed. A thought occurred to him. "I installed their security system at my house before I left. I have cameras on the outside. I assume they may be watching those too now?"

"Yes. The good news is, most of the surveillance does not capture audio. But still-- be on your guard. And..." Carhart trailed off for a moment before shaking his head. "I know I'm putting a lot on you right now, Boyd. I'm sorry. But if you can, if you see him, keep an eye on Kassian."

"Is he still having trouble?" Boyd tried to think back to what Kassian had seemed like when he'd been over. He had been so upset about Sin, though, that he couldn't say for sure what Kassian's mood had been. He'd seemed relatively normal from what he recalled.

Another brief hesitation and it seemed that Carhart was reluctant to say all of his suspicions out loud. "I just think there is a strong possibility that she wants to turn him over to her side. She considers him good material-- one of the few highly ranked agents who has a clean record to date and shows no signs of defection. I'm not saying that it's wrong to obey orders, but there is a possibility that she will try to make him become her man instead of ours. And when that happens, there's one less person that we can count on. And unfortunately, Kassian knows a lot. He's also had his fair share of problems lately, and I cannot say how it affected him because he isn't giving anything away. I won't say more than that, out of respect for him."

Boyd frowned. Imagining Kassian not being someone he could trust or count on was a disturbing thought after all they'd been through. He wondered what Carhart was referring to and determined to visit Kassian the first chance he got.

"I will," he said seriously.

"Thank you." Carhart straightened his jacket and looked around again. "I'll send Brian over with a panel soon. Janus is active again and making moves. There's a lot to catch up on."

That being said, the General nodded at Boyd and made eye contact for a long moment before turning and walking away.

Boyd sat alone for a long period after Carhart left, mulling over everything he'd just learned and what steps he needed to take next.

It shifted his perspective and, in truth, helped him get his mind off the morass of pain and hopelessness he'd previously been feeling. It was still there but it no longer dominated every thought and action. He had the opportunity to think clearly, something he hadn't been able to do since he'd returned. He didn't know how long that feeling would last but he took advantage of it while it was there.

It took Boyd a few days to find out where to even begin looking for Ivan. He started at the Research & Development floor but for some reason it seemed like every time he visited the place Ivan wasn't in that day, or had just gone to lunch and couldn't be found at the cafeteria, or for one reason or another had simply seemed to disappear. He gathered that Ivan's routine wasn't very predictable anymore and it made it more difficult to track him down.

His frustration was further emphasized because he didn't want to be too obvious about his intense need to see the other man. They'd never been on particularly friendly terms so he couldn't keep coming by acting like he just wanted to catch up with an old friend when he barely even looked for Owen or Ryan or someone it would be more plausible for him to search out.

Luckily, he'd run into Kaspar early on and the quiet bookworm had learned how to be very discreet. He kept an eye out for Ivan without making it obvious and he texted Boyd simple information that would be meaningless if it was intercepted by someone. Cafeteria and working late and gone tomorrow were the sort of notes he'd send, never mentioning Ivan's name.

And since Kaspar was one of Boyd's fans, it made sense why he would occasionally seek Boyd out on compound. A puppy dog look on his face and a stack of books in his hands as always, and words under his breath when he drew close.

Strangely, Boyd felt safer relying on Kaspar for this than he did Ryan. He trusted Ryan completely, yet he knew if he told Ryan he was trying to find Ivan then the question would inevitably rise: Why?

Although Boyd could say he wanted to talk to him about the last months of Sin's life, which would be true enough, he didn't relish the half-unsaid lie resting within those words. The growing hope that Sin was really alive. That Boyd could track him down and find him and everything would be okay in the end.

A happily-ever-after ending he desperately wanted to hope could be his. If only he believed in Sin enough. If only he researched hard enough.

This wouldn't be the first time everyone accepted something of Sin and Boyd didn't, knowing there had to be hope for something else. Everyone had thought Sin had killed Bridget and Boyd had known he hadn't; he'd known if he just worked hard enough he could prove it to the world. Maybe this was another case. Maybe he could prove Sin was alive after all.

With a little help from Kaspar and a little bit of luck, Boyd was finally able to catch Ivan as he was leaving for lunch. Boyd casually moved in to walk at Ivan's side when the man passed him.

Ivan had changed a lot physically. He had never been a particularly robust man but now he was nearly bone thin. He had also cut his long ash blond hair off, leaving it in a buzz cut which made his emaciated state all the more severe looking.

The R&D agent barely even looked at Boyd as he continued walking. There were large headphones clapped over his ears and the muted sounds of music emanating from them.

Boyd watched Ivan from the corner of his eye, careful not to appear obvious for the cameras surrounding them. He couldn't tell whether Ivan knew he wanted to talk to him and was deliberately ignoring him out of paranoia that the Agency would know, whether he didn't particularly care for Boyd and felt no need to talk to him, or whether he didn't realize Boyd wanted to talk at all. There was no way for Boyd to strike up a conversation with the headphones there, and no way for him to get Ivan's attention without it being obvious.

He casually followed Ivan until he had to break away or else it would be apparent what he was doing. He headed toward the old library as if that was what he'd intended all along. He decided he needed to go about this another way. He didn't want to talk about any of this at the Agency anyway; he'd just been trying to contact Ivan without pulling up computer records.

When he entered the library he looked around and was unsurprised to find that he was alone.

He knew where the cameras were in the library and casually moved among the aisles, grabbing books off the shelves with great deliberation as if he were searching for specific titles. When he had a few, he moved toward the back of the room where there were some more secluded tables by the old computers that used to be used for submitting reports.

Those computers were mostly blocked from the cameras by the large bookcases; a fact Boyd knew from remembering the angle of the video from his incident with Harry in this same room. That, and Kaspar had long ago given him inside information on the library.

Boyd made sure to set the books down on one of the tables just within view of the camera but he made it look as though he hadn't done it on purpose. Then, he casually moved out of view so it would look like he sat down. He moved his hand into the frame to grab a book and then pulled the book closer to him. He waited a moment, eyes narrowed as he listened to the silence in the library. When he didn't hear any sounds indicating anyone else was going to enter soon, he quickly moved to one of the computers.

It took him a bit to get access to the information he needed. Although he had high clearance because he was rank 10, he still didn't have access to the directory of agent's homes. All he knew was Ivan lived in the Industrial District, which didn't narrow it down that much. He spent a few minutes with his fingers flying across the keyboard while he constantly looked over his shoulder.

He utilized information he'd learned in classes, from Jon, and from Ryan to do the search in a way that let him cover his tracks. It was one thing he wasn't out of practice with; he'd had to do the same thing at Aleixo's the two times he'd managed to check in with the Agency. Of course, he acknowledged darkly, one of those times he'd been caught in the middle of it but at least his computer work had never been compromised. His eyes narrowed and he dismissed the thought before it could go any further.

Once he found Ivan's home address and memorized it he immediately backed out of the system. He made sure he hid or deleted any proof of what he'd done and then logged out.

After that he sat down at the table again and started leafing through the random books he'd grabbed. He had some time to kill.

When Boyd stopped in front of the building, he eyed the number of heavy bolts on the main door. There was no way he would be able to bypass them without a lot of time, effort and tools that he did not have.

His eyes fell on the intercom that was installed next to the door. After only a brief hesitation he pressed the button, hoping Ivan was home by now.

There was no response from the other end of the intercom and after a moment, he buzzed again. A full minute passed with still no response and he was beginning to lose hope that Ivan had returned home.

He was just about to turn away and rethink his options when a voice emanated from the speaker.

"Why are you here?"

Relief mixed with hope. Boyd spoke into the buzzer. "I want to talk to you."

It was an obvious statement but he didn't know how much he wanted to say out on the street.

The pause this time was longer but eventually the intercom emitted a low beep and the light turned green.

Boyd opened the door immediately, before Ivan could rethink and change his mind. He walked into a dark corridor with a freight elevator in plain view. When the door fell shut behind him, it sounded especially loud and permanent. He didn't spare much thought to his surroundings as he manually pulled open the gates on the elevator. Since there didn't appear to be anything downstairs he could only assume Ivan was upstairs.

Another hallway opened up once he pushed open the elevator doors upstairs. He only saw one door, which was closed but had a hint of light spilling out from beneath. He walked over and didn't hesitate before he knocked.

The door opened nearly immediately and Ivan appeared in the doorway. His grey eyes were narrowed into slits and his mouth mashed into a tight, thin line. "What the fuck do you think you're doing, coming here?"

Boyd had expected that Ivan wouldn't be thrilled to see him, especially since Sin had told him how little Ivan liked him. "I want to talk to you about Hsin but I couldn't catch you at the Agency. I didn't know where else to find you."

Ivan stared at him incredulously. His jaw worked as though he wanted to say something but couldn't get the words out or else was restraining himself from doing so. In the end he gave Boyd another furious glare and stepped aside so that Boyd could come in.

When he did, Ivan slammed the door shut with more force than was necessary. The R&D agent strode by Boyd nearly immediately, putting an ample amount of distance between them, before standing in the middle of what appeared to be a large open space of an apartment.

There were no interior walls and not very much furniture. Just a section for a kitchen, a desk with a vast amount of computer equipment, a couch, a television and a mattress that lay on the floor. Along one of the walls lay a large whiteboard that was crammed full of cryptic blocky words that appeared unintelligible.

"Why should I talk to you about him?" Ivan asked coldly, some of his calm returning.

Boyd tried not to look around. He tried not to think about how Sin had been here in the past.

More than anything, he tried not to think about how in the back of his mind he could still hear Sin's words when they'd talked about places they could move. Maybe a loft in the Industrial District, Sin had said. He remembered his own comment about how the open concept would work for them and Sin's joke that maybe he didn't always want to be able to talk to Boyd anywhere in the apartment.

The hopes and dreams of that time seemed so fragile and translucent in the light of reality. His stomach clenched as he studiously avoided thinking about how much he really would have loved to live in a place like this with Sin.

Instead, he focused as much as he could on Ivan, on the cold displeasure aimed at him and the fact that Ivan truly had no reason to help him. Except for Sin.

"I'm not trying to dredge anything up but I just got back. I just found out," Boyd explained, trying to keep his body language as neutral as possible so as not to further irritate Ivan and risk having the man kick him out before he got any information. "I've been looking into what happened and some things don't add up. Ryan said you were the only one he spent any time with and I thought-- I thought you might know more."

He shook his head and added earnestly, "I'm just trying to understand how this all happened."

Ivan scoffed quietly, outright animosity pouring out of his thin frame. "Why would you think of coming to me, Agent?"

"Because you know more about rumors and half-truths than anyone at the Agency," Boyd said seriously. "And I'm coming up short with explanations as to why no one saw Sin disappear, no one saw his body, yet everyone accepts that he's dead."

This time the studious looking man released a sardonic laugh, and shook his head in what appeared to be dismay. Ivan looked away from Boyd and began cleaning the lenses of his glasses with the hem of his shirt as he spoke.

"Could you be any more arrogant? Do you think you're making some major discovery-- cracking open some case? Figuring out something that only you can see? Good thing for the rest of us saps that you came back from having your ass in the air for however fucking long. We may not have figured out the truth without you."

Boyd's eyes narrowed and a wave of anger swept through him that he kept in check. "I never said I was the only one," he said a hint tightly. "I'm following the leads, getting a lot of 'Give up, he's gone' with no explanation, and ended up here thinking maybe you'd have cared enough about Hsin to have looked into his death at the time. Maybe you know something I can't find out a year later."

"Maybe I have no interest in rehashing it with you," Ivan replied, switching to clean the other lens before placing the glasses back on his face. "I don't owe you shit, Agent. I don't even like you. I bet you didn't even cover your tracks. I bet you got followed here."

"I'm not an idiot," Boyd said evenly. "I didn't have a tail and I covered all my tracks. And I know you have no reason to tell me which is why I'm asking you. Tell me what you want in exchange for this information, but please help me on Hsin's behalf."

Ivan just scoffed and turned away, pacing over to the whiteboard. He stared at the cryptic scrawls that covered it and picked up a marker. After a brief contemplation he began marking some of the free space on the board, his hands flicking quickly to make the incomprehensible mark.

"How is it on his behalf? He's gone, in case you didn't notice. Don't come to me throwing his name around, claiming he would have wanted me to help you or that I should do it for him. You want help because you want to feel better."

Boyd didn't move to follow Ivan in case he would take offense to him moving further into his domain. Instead, he stayed where he was, keeping his expression upfront. "You're right. I do want to feel better. I want closure. But I also want to do right by him. Even if others have looked down the same paths I am now, I want to go as far as I can looking into his death to understand. He deserves to not be thrown aside and forgotten. He deserves to have his story told, no matter how abruptly it ended. If the Agency covered something up, then all the more reason it shouldn't be ignored. That's why I asked on his behalf. Because I thought you may have felt the same way."

Ivan finished a long scrawl across the very bottom of the board and stood up straight. He stared at it for a moment and carefully placed the marker back on the sill of the board. "And what exactly are you thinking was covered up?"

"I don't know yet," Boyd admitted, not wanting to say aloud just yet his theory about Sin leaving on his own. "But it's very suspicious that nobody saw him disappear even though most of the others were escorted away, and that nobody saw his body be brought to the incinerator. That at every step of the way, Marshal Seong's people were in place. The fact alone that she didn't broadcast his termination doesn't seem entirely to fit the rest of her choices. I think something happened that she doesn't want everyone to know."

Ivan turned to face Boyd again and crossed his arms over his chest. He was wearing an extremely oversized t-shirt that practically hung off of him, the collar dipping down to show collarbones that jutted out extremely.

He studied Boyd through his narrowed grey eyes, his face a mask of unkind hardness. In the past he'd shown his dislike of Boyd blatantly. Following Boyd and Sin getting back together, Ivan had never deigned to fully acknowledge Boyd again and if he had to, he'd done so with obvious rudeness. But this was something different.

There was pure contempt to the point of hatred written on Ivan's face. Although it was currently blazing out at Boyd, it seemed unlikely that it was solely directed at him. It was more likely that Ivan's hatred of the world around him had increased exponentially since the death of Sin and likely other people he knew.

"I'm on their list, you know," Ivan said flatly, uncaring. "They know I know shit about them. They know what's locked up in my head. I'll be dead before the next few months are out-- I know they'll find some excuse."

Boyd watched Ivan and didn't doubt what he said. From what he'd seen since returning to the Agency, no one was safe, least of all people like Ivan who didn't hide their opinions. "What do you know, Ivan?" he asked carefully.

"A lot." Ivan turned away again and crossed the loft, entering a kitchen area. He stood in the middle of it and didn't make a move to go one way or the other. "But all you need to know is, I don't think he was terminated."

Hearing the words Boyd had been thinking himself made his heart skip a beat. He had to force himself to keep his expression steady as hope suffused him. Sin really had escaped-- he could be waiting even now--

"He got away?" he asked, his voice a hint breathless. He hadn't meant to ask that; he'd meant to ask what Ivan thought happened, but hope and relief sidelined his words.

Ivan's expression immediately caused the hope to ebb away. His face slowly became blank, guarded, and he backed further into the kitchen as if to put as much space between them as possible. There was something strange about his motions and the way he held himself but Boyd realized it had been that way since he'd entered the apartment.

Whatever was going on with Ivan seemed to run deeper than contempt for everything in the world.

Ivan fidgeted slightly and finally stood still next to the bar counter.

"I think he died as a result of their experimentation."

Boyd felt like he'd been hit in the chest and for a moment his steady expression wavered. He could only stare at Ivan, the words running through his mind. He had to take a moment to understand them. To fully take in all of what that meant.

Ivan thought Sin was dead. Really dead. The discrepancies weren't hiding him being alive, they were hiding--

Died from the experimentation. That could only mean one thing; what he'd been looking into all those months ago, the fear he'd had about Sin's strength, his hearing, his speed...

"The Reapers," Boyd said, his voice sounding distant even to him. He tried to push aside for now the repercussions of what Ivan had said and focus instead on the moment; on finding out more information. He didn't know how long that would last before it caught up to him. His eyes sharpened on Ivan as he turned all his focus on the other man. "They did it?"

"I'm not sure. But I think they were involved." Ivan rubbed his hand through his short hair and looked out the window. "I think whatever they were doing to him went wrong and he died. I think they said he was terminated to cover it up. No one is supposed to really know about what they do to people. People talk but there's never any proof."

Boyd shook his head. "Why do you think that's what happened? Why not..." Why not believe he got away? "Something else?"

"Everything leading up to it." Ivan shook his head back and forth, the anger transforming his face again. "We saw each other somewhat frequently in the couple of months before he died. He was angry and lashing out at everyone, and he would come to me to calm down. To get away from the compound. He was afraid he would do something stupid and ensure his own death before you returned."

Ivan reached over the counter and began rotating a pepper shaker. "There was an incident-- he didn't follow orders on an assignment that he didn't agree with and we all thought he would be killed. He was issued a warning but nothing came of it. If they were going to terminate him, they would have done it then. But as always, he escaped the noose. They kept him on as they always did. I always had the feeling it was because of what they were doing to him-- the experimenting, the enhancements. They'd invested too much research and resources into his body to just hurl it into the incinerator like rotten meat."

Boyd hovered in the center of the room, not having moved an inch since he'd entered. His face was drawn, serious, and he looked away. He crossed his arms and frowned, keeping this all on a level of intellectual information. He had to think of it that way so he didn't get emotionally attached. So he didn't think about what they were discussing.

"I was doing research on the Reapers before I left," Boyd said. "I didn't get the chance to finish but I was certain of their experimentation. It was the only thing that made sense, considering..."

He trailed off, not wanting to remember Sin's extreme strength because that made him think of Sin doing things with his bare hands he shouldn't have been capable of doing. Which made him think of Sin's hands. Which made him think of those same hands sliding over his body, sometimes so gentle despite the power behind them...

He set his jaw, his eyebrows furrowing, and his arms tightened minutely against his chest. "I thought they'd been doing it to him for years. I don't know how many, but at least the last few, if not his entire time here. And if that's the case," he speared Ivan with a strong stare.

There was anger in his eyes but it wasn't directed at Ivan; it was at the Agency. The Reapers. The people who'd turned his lover into a guinea pig to poke and prod. "What do you think changed? They were damn insidious with the way they worked on him. Why would they suddenly make a mistake now?"

"I don't know." Ivan set down the pepper shaker and stared at it. "But something was going wrong with him. In the last month he was sick a lot and Hsin never got sick. He always had headaches, was always throwing up. He had no energy sometimes-- he could barely concentrate on missions. And it all started when they started calling him into the lab. They told him they were following up on his medication-- testing to see if he could continue without it. Doing probability simulations about whether or not he would relapse into mental instability without them. They claimed it was research for a potential long-term assignment but I don't think Hsin ever really believed it and I certainly never did."

Boyd looked away, his glare settling on the window and the darkness beyond. He imagined he could see the Agency all the way across the city, ghostly against the sky. Anger was becoming a constant backdrop to his thoughts. It was bad enough they'd been experimenting on Sin in secret all those years but then to make it more blatant, to make his life miserable... And for what? What the hell was their goal? What had they done to his lover?

"When did it start?" he asked tightly. "Before or after the new Marshal?"


Boyd nodded stonily, unsurprised by the answer. It was Seong. She was responsible for all of it. She'd had dozens of people killed. Then she'd taken the extra steps to play with Sin's life like it meant nothing, like he was a toy for her to toss around and discard when it broke.

He hated her.

He hadn't met her and he already hated her. He hated what she'd done. He hated her for hurting Sin, for fucking everything up at the Agency. He hated her for the control he knew she had over his own life, and how easily she could discard him as well.

But even with Ivan's opinion of what happened, even with that information backing up what he'd always thought about the experimentation occurring, it didn't fully answer his questions. He still didn't know for certain what happened.

And he couldn't rest until he'd explored everything. Because even if Ivan was certain Sin was dead, Boyd still didn't have proof. Maybe it was more likely he'd simply been killed as part of an experiment but maybe... maybe Ivan was wrong...

He didn't know. That's what it came down to. He didn't know enough yet.

Cold determination shone in his eyes; the sort of dead set seriousness he typically got when devising strategies for a mission. Which, in truth, he was.

"Do you have any idea what they were really doing to him?" he asked. "What their goal may have been?"

Ivan cocked his head to the side and peered at Boyd from behind the protection of his glasses. Once again he looked tense, wary and once more it was directed at Boyd. The tension had returned to his sinewy frame and he'd started fidgeting again.

The man seemed to go in phases. He settled down and seemed almost at ease when he was able to see what Boyd's intentions were, but as soon as the conversation took a path he didn't understand Ivan became skittish once again. His steel colored eyes skimmed Boyd's face as he chewed on the inside of his cheek, searching for... something. What, Boyd didn't know.

"I think you should go. I don't want to talk about this with you. I only said anything because I thought you were thinking like me. But you're thinking something else and I don't want to be involved. I'm gonna go about this my own way and I can't have anyone fucking me over before it's done."

Boyd watched Ivan more closely, although it was with more of a warily perplexed feeling than anything. "Ivan," he said in full honesty, "I won't fuck you over. I won't do anything to stop you or reveal whatever it is you want to do. I would never tell anyone what you said to me because I don't trust anyone at the Agency. What I care about is what happened to Hsin."

"No." Ivan said the word more forcefully although his low voice didn't rise. "You have to go. It's better for you anyway. You don't want to be seen hanging around me."

Boyd nodded, taking a step back to show he was listening. But he hesitated. Staring at Ivan, he knew this was the only person he could talk to who could give him any information on what Sin had been like, what he'd been feeling. No one else would know.

He couldn't leave without asking.

At that moment, the experimentation didn't matter, the Agency didn't matter, nothing mattered.

He wasn't Senior Agent Boyd Beaulieu, furious with the people who had destroyed everything. He was just Boyd, who missed his lover so much it felt like half his soul was gone, and who couldn't do anything other than search for scraps of information like they were pieces of treasure washed ashore from a shipwreck.

"I'll leave," he conceded, searching Ivan's face to try to see how amenable the other man would be. He cursed himself for not asking earlier, when Ivan had been more talkative. "But can I just-- Can I ask you one more thing?"

The guarded hope, the deeply buried desperation for answers-- it was probably evident to Ivan, who likely thought him pitiful. But he couldn't change how he felt so he didn't care.

"It depends on what it is," was the flat, impatient response.

"What was he like?" Boyd asked, forging ahead before Ivan could change his mind. "Mentally. Did he ever say anything about how he felt or-- or anything like that?"

Ivan graced him with another of his deeply suspicious and analytical stares before turning away. He walked to the edge of the kitchen and appeared to be staring at the wall. His hands rubbed up and down the sides of his jeans in a gesture that could have been nervousness. Boyd had never seen Ivan like this-- it was mildly unnerving. Whenever they'd encountered each other before, Ivan had always had a blanket of calm around him even in situations that would have caused anxiety in someone else.

It was possible that this was another change brought on by the new administration. Perhaps Sin's death and Ivan's own impending termination had kicked his paranoia into overdrive. Boyd remembered Sin briefly talking about the R&D agent's mental issues. He remembered Sin's reluctant admission that sometimes he thought Ivan really was paranoid-- sometimes he really did seem to think everything was too much of a conspiracy.

Maybe it was worse for Ivan now.

"He didn't talk a lot about how he felt," Ivan replied at length. "But that should come as no surprise to you. But what he did say, when he talked about it, was that he missed you. He was lonely without you, even when he was with me. He would stay at your house sometimes, towards the end, when he thought you would have returned and didn't. And he knew something bad was going to happen. He knew it from the start. He saw your mission as the thing that would finally come between you two for good although he couldn't explain why he felt that way."

Boyd pushed his hair back from his face, an absent gesture just to give himself something to do, and found his gaze straying across the apartment. Looking at the opposite wall because he couldn't look at Ivan anymore. He thought if he did, Ivan would certainly see the pain in his eyes. He would see that the information was welcome at the same time as it hurt to hear.

After he'd returned and when he'd started to force himself off the sedatives, he'd noticed some things in his house. Items that had seemed to be not quite where he'd normally put them. Things that were out of place. He'd thought he'd done that himself during the moments he'd been all but gone from his mind, a walking ghost amidst a too-stark reality.

Now he wondered if any of it had been Sin. Had it been his hand that had last touched that book? Had he walked through Boyd's house, reacquainting himself with the dusty belongings of a lover who was supposed to have returned weeks or months earlier? Had he picked up that drawing pad and flipped through it before setting it aside, or had it all been Boyd himself, mad with grief and completely unknowing of his own actions?

He thought of his bed and he imagined Sin sleeping there alone, the way he was now. It made his heart ache, a vicious squeeze of the muscle that he could feel out to his ribcage. He felt like they were two silent movies overlapping, the screen flipping and half-fuzzing out; the two of them walking the same paths but destined to never see each other again.

He wished even more now that he hadn't been so crazed with fury and sorrow when he'd first returned home. If he hadn't torn everything apart he may have been able to identify the things that still could have Sin's touch hovering near them like an echo.

He could have gathered them together as mementos of his lover; a sad little museum of mundane items suddenly made special.

He could still remember Sin's pinched face; the serious cast to those pale green eyes and his low, I don't want you to go.

It hurt even more to remember that night. One of the last nights they ever had together. It hurt to remember how freely he'd been able to touch his lover. It had been so simple then. Stand up and walk across the room. Reach out and pull him close. Breathe in his scent and try to ignore his own growing worries and fears about the mission that had loomed before him.

If only he'd known at that time what lay in store for him. If only he could wind back time and tell them no, no, he wasn't leaving that room, he wasn't leaving Sin's arms. They would have terminated him but wouldn't it have been better that way? The few extra days he could have scraped by, those precious few extra seconds he could have spent with Sin, would have been worth it. If only he'd known the mission would take everything from him.

It was getting harder to breathe evenly and he recognized the deeply gouging sorrow that was ready to engulf him. That too-familiar pain and hopelessness that would surely become as equal a master of his life as the Agency was.

Had Sin known this was how it would end?

Had he known that far in the future Boyd would be standing here, trying to keep the brightness of buried tears from his eyes? A pale attempt at protecting the vulnerability inside when in truth it was all through him, bruising as deeply and easily as his skin. Or had he thought Boyd would never return, had never made it past a handful of weeks, and he was the one left behind waiting desperately for a reunion that would never come?

He drew in a breath that he managed to keep mostly steady and he rubbed at his face briefly. His throat was clogged with emotions, with holding back everything that wanted to rise every time he thought too closely about Sin. Every time he imagined his lover and every time he realized that imagining was all he had left.

He nodded wordlessly. He turned toward Ivan again and hesitated briefly.

Part of him wanted to ask more but the larger part knew there was nothing more to ask. Nothing more to say. Sin had been lonely. Sin had missed him. He should have been here.

His own haunted desires from when he'd first returned were now reversed. He should have been the one able to open the door and smile at Sin. He should have been on the other end of a quick phone call. He should have been here so Sin never had to be lonely in the first place.

But all the should haves in the world couldn't change the truth. In the end there was nothing he could do except struggle between mourning his dead lover and wanting to believe that despite it all, despite any apparent evidence, there was still a loophole. Sin was a master of the impossible. If it was impossible he was alive, didn't that mean even more that he had to be?

The thought was strained and hopeful even in his own mind and he didn't want to be there anymore. Suddenly, Ivan's loft felt stifling. Or maybe it was his presence. Or maybe it was all the uncertainty and longing that seemed to hover around Boyd like a shadowed cloud.

He faced Ivan more fully. There was still a raw and quiet edge to his voice when he said, "Thank you." He paused, thought about how much Ivan had helped him in the end despite their dislike for each other, and added, "If there's ever anything you need from me..."

He trailed off, not expecting a response, and was unsurprised when he didn't receive one. Ivan was no longer paying him any attention. Whether the man was lost in his own thoughts or whether he was ignoring his guest, Boyd didn't know.

Whatever the case, he watched Ivan, wondering how far this domino trail of disaster would lead before it finally all collapsed. As he left, he looked over his shoulder one last time and wondered whether some day he'd look back on this moment as the last time he ever really talked to Ivan.

Life felt cheap and empty and more precarious than ever. As he shut the door behind him and walked toward the freight elevator, he thought about that and the fleeting, storybook happiness he'd once had with his lover. It was even more reason to start working on a plan that had been germinating ever since Ivan had mentioned the experimentation:

Break into the lab and, once and for all, find out the truth.

Continue to Fade Chapter Six...