Fade Chapter Six

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

The story contains..

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.

Interludes list

Book Three: Fade
See Fade chapter list.


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Fade Chapter Six

Uploaded on 6/12/2011

There was always somebody on compound; guards patrolling, staff sleeping, agents on their way to or from missions. There was always somebody to witness every mistake and every moment. But Boyd had discovered, after scrutinizing the lab building with more focus than he'd looked at anything in his life, that some places on the compound had curious blanks.

There were no cameras on or around the lab building.

On a compound where it sometimes felt like practically even the bathrooms were recorded, having an entire building in a dark spot was very telling. It wasn't obvious because most of the cameras on compound were well hidden. It had taken Boyd days to verify there really weren't any and when he had, he felt it made sense in a dark way.

This was the place where events occurred that even a secret organization wanted to remain hidden. This was the place where Sin had been taken, time and time again, until ultimately he'd never returned.

What had they done to him in there? How had they hurt him?

He spent a few days doing recon through subterfuge. As far as anyone else knew, he was reading or resting or aimlessly wandering the compound. During that time, he inadvertently learned bits about people he knew. A girl he recognized from R&D moved like clockwork every day across the courtyard, always pausing for a specific time frame by a particular tree and looking in a particular direction. He couldn't tell whether she was OCD or watching someone.

Another day he saw Jordan with her arm looped around General Hughes'. They were in a lesser traveled area of the compound and with the way she leaned against him and the glances he gave her, there was no doubt how intimately they were involved. The General of Special Operations was known to have been involved with female agents in the past so Boyd was unsurprised by the sight. He watched them just long enough to see if there was anything of use for his mission and, seeing nothing, he dismissed their presence and continued the recon.

Three days before his last day of downtime and the moment he'd determined he would break into the lab, he started initial preparations.

He had the perfect cover for the Artillery. Having been gone for a year, he had every reason to visit the Artillery and, more importantly, check in with Keira. Being an IT person who'd helped design and update the comm units, she was the person all the agents went to with emergency technical problems or malfunctioned equipment. Her desk was conveniently located in the main room of the Artillery's entrance area where she was most easily accessible for last minute help.

The day he went she was busy, with a line of three people waiting to talk to her and the person at her desk growing increasingly frustrated. She looked harried and unhappy. The picture she used to have on her desk of her and her girlfriend Jolene was conspicuously absent and she was wearing a necklace he didn't remember. As far as he could see, it was a simple chain with a plain silver ring on it and she kept unconsciously checking to make sure it was still there.

As he glanced around the lobby, an idea began to form. He casually walked by one of the unmanned security desks and palmed one of the unused security tags. His stride didn't break as he headed toward Keira's line. He stopped at the end, waited awhile before looking impatiently at his watch, and left.

That night, he studied the tag. Having been through the Artillery more times than he could count, he had long ago learned how the security worked.

The main entrance to the Artillery required basic clearance that anyone in the Agency had. The vault held all the items. In order to access that area, everyone had to pass through sophisticated detectors at security check points that were manned by guards. This was required for the entrance and exit.

The security tags were placed on all the items. They could only be deactivated by a device that the guards kept under close observation, which were near the security check points. The detectors also scanned for the materials present on a person. When the guards deactivated the tags they also entered the checked out items into the computer. As long as the agent gave over everything new they'd acquired, and the tags were deactivated, the detectors didn't go off on the agent's way out. But if the detector recognized that the person was coming out with something different than what they went in with, it would alert the guard.

After studying the small tag for a few moments, he pulled out his art supplies and got to work.

The next morning he returned to the Artillery bright and early. Keira was alone at her desk, for once without a line. She seemed distracted when Boyd walked up to her. He struck up a conversation about the comm units and she smiled faintly in greeting but it was strained.

For the most part, he kept his words as few as he'd been known to have since he'd returned. But within that, he chose his words carefully, and fluctuated his expression subtly between emotions. Within seconds, he knew how best to manipulate her; she was upset by something, and judging by the way she kept subconsciously glancing at the computer it was related to that.

He shifted his weight, leaning one hand against the desk while he waited for her to check on an updated security patch. Her monitor was just in view; letting him see that everything was minimized but the taskbar was visible. A minimized image was named after Keira's lover Jolene.

Although there were many possibilities for Keira's mood, Boyd suspected by her reactions that Jolene was dead. Given the clues from the previous day, he thought it most likely she'd died recently somehow; perhaps terminated or a byproduct of being an agent.

He didn't enjoy the idea of using her loss and Sin's death in a ruse but ultimately it didn't change anything. He would do what he had to in order to get the answers he needed.

When Keira finally finished updating the comm unit and ensured it had all the right accessories, she pushed it across the desk and leaned back in her chair. She had never seemed to have much of an opinion about him either way in the past, but today she was more talkative.

"A lot of things must have changed for you," she said, watching him somberly. "So much can happen in a year."

He nodded, putting the comm unit in his right pocket. Pushing his jacket back revealed the holster to his gun in a way that he made seem incidental.

"It did," he said quietly. He touched the holster and stilled. He thinned his lips before he cut the expression off abruptly.

"What is it?" she asked, brown eyes studying his face closely.

He grimaced faintly and shook his head. Straightening, he left some tension in his shoulders and pushed his hair back with a slightly agitated hand. "Nothing. Thank you for the help."

He started to turn but she shot her hand out, grabbing his forearm. He looked down at her as she stared up at him intently.

"You can talk to me."

He saw in her eyes, the draw of her eyebrows, and the tilted down edges of her lips that she was lonely. That she felt alienated by the way everyone went about their day as if nothing had happened. She was probably used to no one showing emotions when they came into the Artillery.

Or maybe it was simply that he'd been gone for a year and his abrupt return made her think too closely about everything that had changed for her in those months. Everything she had lost.

He hesitated, flicking his eyes over to the nearest guard, who wasn't paying any attention to them as he dealt with someone going through the detectors. Keira's face twisted briefly before she abruptly let go of his arm. Her dark gaze dropped to the desk, then flicked uncertainly to the sides. He suspected she was checking to see if anyone had seen their failed interaction.

Boyd's lips turned down slightly on the edges and he stepped closer to the desk. "It's my gun," he said heavily and she snapped her eyes up to meet his. "It was a gift from my partner."

He saw the way pain and sympathy flickered across her face.

"Did something happen to it?"

"No, thank God," Boyd replied, shaking his head. His hand rested against the gun in the holster; a comforting gesture. "I pulled it out for the first time since I got back last night, though. While I was cleaning it, it made me think about a lot of things."

That was true so the flash of disquiet didn't have to be faked. It had been impossible to pull out that gun, to dismantle and clean it, and not think about Sin.

Impossible not to remember the night Sin had given it to him, and the happiness he'd felt. Those pale green eyes and Sin's carefully laid plans; the way Sin had seemed so determined to make the night be perfect. The hesitant and then pleased tilt of Sin's lips when he'd seen how happy Boyd had been about the gift, and the gentle caress of those fingertips against his skin.

Keira seemed to understand what he was saying without words. She nodded and broke eye contact for a moment, her hand resting near the neckline of her shirt. It wasn't long before her eyebrows drew together and she dropped her hand.

"Jolene got me a necklace for our last anniversary. I can't always wear it. Some days..."

She trailed off but he knew she was saying. Some days it made her think too much. Some days it made her long too much. Some days it was too painful.

He'd felt the same way lately.

He was silent a moment and then sighed. He looked away with a faintly troubled expression, his eyes falling on the guard nearby who was now watching the lobby for any activity. Although the guard was not looking in his direction, the way the man's body was tilted told Boyd that he was watching them from his peripheral vision and probably listening to the conversation.

"I hadn't touched it since before my mission so I didn't realize I was out of ammo until last night," Boyd said pensively.

She nodded and straightened in her chair. "While you're here, you may as well get some downstairs."

He nodded in return, his gaze sliding to hover past the guard. "I think I will."

She smiled and quietly wished him good luck. As soon as he started to turn away, she had already returned to her computer screen. Her fingers brushed the touch screen and by the tightening of her eyes he knew she'd brought Jolene's picture up again.

The guard didn't pay him much attention as he headed toward the security detector. The tag Boyd had hidden on his gun predictably caused the detector to go off as he strode through.

The guard came over and ran a wand along Boyd's entire body. It only beeped at the gun and when the guard, Hollins his tag said, saw that it was the gun he seemed slightly perplexed. Boyd pulled it out, dismantling it and putting it back together in front of Hollins. He held it just right to keep the piece of tag casually out of the man's view.

Hollins asked all sorts of questions about it, asking where Boyd got it and verifying that it was on the list of weapons registered to Boyd's name. Because agents had to remain anonymous and nameless in society, all their weapons had to be registered through the Agency, as did images of bullets fired from the guns. That way, if a bullet was ever searched from an agent's gun by law enforcement or anyone else, the Agency would be alerted and could react accordingly.

"Leave the gun here," Hollins ordered after the questions were finished.

Boyd narrowed his eyes. "No," he said flatly. "I've lost guns that way."

"I'm not going to steal your precious little gift," Hollins said derisively. "Like I'd even want anything that freak picked out."

Boyd's expression stilled dangerously and he took a step forward. "Don't talk about him like that."

"What's it matter?" Hollins said carelessly. "He's dead, in case you missed the memo."

"You will be too if you don't shut up," Boyd promised darkly.

Hollins' expression flickered briefly before he snorted and looked Boyd up and down. "You couldn't take me down if you tried. I dunno where you went but you came back looking too strung out to do jack shit."

Boyd stared Hollins down. The hard lines of his expression and icy cast of his eyes were reminiscent of Vivienne. In his peripheral vision, he saw Keira watching from across the room; looking tense and ready to intercede if needed.

After a long moment Hollins looked away abruptly with a grimace that he quickly hid. He stepped back, waving Boyd aside. "Whatever; I don't have time for you. Just go get your shit and get out of here."

Keira relaxed, looking back at her computer although her back was visibly tense. Boyd slid the gun back into his holster firmly. His stare remained unwavering on Hollins until he turned and strode through the detector, ignoring it when it went off again.

Boyd went downstairs and for all intents and purposes he appeared to go about his business. He checked out a few of the rooms, lingering in one of them looking at tonfa. He knew there were cameras down there watching everyone so he made sure to appear completely casual, even when he stole the decoder and a pair of night vision glasses.

The glasses were easiest to steal, as it was a simple matter of swapping out some glasses he'd brought in. The decoder was a little trickier because he had to conceal it better. Being that he was still on downtime, he had no reason to check out a decoder and if he was caught with it he would have too much explaining to do. He would have to delay breaking into the lab or end up not doing it at all.

As far as he was concerned, neither of those were viable options.

In the room with the decoders, he dropped a device he was examining. During the process of bending over to pick it up, he palmed the most powerful and smallest decoder they had. The Agency had several of that model so one wouldn't be missed for a few days. He discreetly slid the decoder into his shoe on the side, where he had a piece of layered foil that interfered with the material scan. The decoder went inside the foil and he used the motion of grabbing the device off the floor to disguise it all.

Afterward, he continued about his business, taking his time to get the ammunition he needed and look around a little more. He emptied the magazine, as if verifying that he'd grabbed the right ammo after such a long time away. In the process he switched the location of the tag on the gun.

At one point several minutes later and in a different room entirely, he bent to tie his shoe. Using that to mask the movement, he quickly folded the edges of the foil around the decoder and slid it more completely under the arch of his foot in his shoe.

He stood and continued to walk around, having to walk carefully so as not to damage the decoder while also not giving away that anything unusual was happening. It was highly uncomfortable but the decoder's small size helped.

On his way out, Boyd went through Hollins' line. The detector went off again and the scanner had mixed readings, with the foil not fully blocking the material scan. The misread of the materials looked more like a glitch than anything so as expected, Hollins focused more on the detector going off on the gun. He looked more annoyed than suspicious.

Boyd stepped through the detector into the safety of the lobby and then pulled out the gun. He passed it in and out of the detector to show that it was what was going off.

"Let me see that," Hollins demanded, holding his hand out.

"I already showed you the gun," Boyd said flatly, his eyes narrowed and hand rested protectively on the weapon. "I'll take it apart again when I get home to make sure nothing's wrong with it that could be activating that."

"I don't give a shit about the gun," Hollins snapped impatiently. "I give a shit that it keeps going off when it shouldn't, especially since no one else's is. What kind of weird ass gun did your precious little boyfriend get you before he died?"

"I just told you I'd look into it," Boyd said coldly. "Maybe it's something to do with the detector. Did you even think of that or have you been too distracted thinking of new ways to be insulting?"

Hollins sneered. "Maybe you're right. Maybe it got switched to detecting skinny little faggots who need to choke on a dick." He glared. "Then I'd say it's working just fine."

Boyd's teeth grit and he took a step forward but at that moment, Keira said sharply, "Bill." She stood from her desk and strode over, her face set in partially concealed anger.

"Leave the gun alone," she demanded, her footsteps making harsh echoes against the floor as she practically stalked toward them. Boyd discreetly removed the tag from his gun and put it on Keira as she passed him.

"The detector could be glitching," she started to say as she passed through the detector. It went off and she stilled, jaw clenching as she glared at Hollins. "See? You know I don't have anything on me to make it go off."

Hollins rolled his eyes and seemed unrepentant. She shoved him out of the way so she could work on the computer. She mumbled about running some tests and Boyd stayed to the side, arms crossed and face set coolly as he stared into thin air. After a few minutes, Keira looked up.

"Try waving it through now."

Boyd did as she asked and the detector remained silent. Keira gave Hollins another pointed look, who made a sour face but otherwise didn't bother responding.

"These things are due for an upgrade anyway." Keira started to walk through the detector again and once again it went off. She threw her hands up in the air in exasperation and turned to glare at the detector, as if it was purposefully trying to anger her.

"Good thing you were here to fix it," Hollins said sarcastically.

"It probably just needs to be recalibrated," Keira shot back testily. "Cord this one off until it's ready. I'm going to let it cycle through some tests for now. I'll check back once the diagnostics are done."

Hollins looked put out but he followed through with the suggestion.

Keira started to walk past Boyd and he stopped her with a hand on her arm. "Thank you for the help," he said under his breath. He used the movement to palm the tag he'd stuck on her.

She smiled sadly at him and squeezed his arm. "I wouldn't want anyone touching my necklace either," was all she said. She met his eyes for one more moment and then turned and walked back to her desk.

Boyd left soon afterward. At home, he verified that the decoder was working and tested it a few times. Then he put it away until he was ready to use it.

The day he planned to break into the lab, he came in during the day as he had the previous week. His messenger bag was resting on his shoulder and he wandered around seemingly aimlessly at first.

An hour or so before it started to grow dark and there were fewer people around, he made his way to the more secluded courtyard where he'd spent a lot of time lately. He took a book out of his messenger bag, doing so where it would be seen on camera, and proceeded to settle down in view starting to read. He fidgeted a bit as if he wasn't comfortable. At length, he glanced up with a mildly irritable expression and gathered his things. He idly looked around as if searching for a better perch, coincidentally walking out of view of the cameras in the process.

When he was far into what he knew to be one of the blind spots, he settled down again and pretended to continue to read in case anyone was watching him in person. He let the time pass, flipping through pages and running his eyes down the pages as if he was actually reading. In reality, he was going through the mission in his mind one last time to determine if anything needed to change.

Long after it grew dark and the secluded courtyard was empty, he moved further into the shadows until he was in the hiding spot he'd found earlier.

He changed into all black clothing, including a mask that hid his face and most importantly his blond hair. He put on a different pair of black shoes than normal; a pair he'd bought specifically for this purpose that had thick soles that blended into the shoe. He'd done that not only because the shoes were absolutely silent, but also in case he was caught on camera. If they used software to estimate his height and weight to narrow down possibilities, at least it would mislead the machines by a few inches.

It wasn't foolproof and it was entirely possible they'd determine it was him anyway but he saw no reason to make it easy for them.

He wore gloves and the night vision glasses he'd stolen from the Artillery, so they wouldn't be able to see his eyes on any freeze frame. With such a unique eye color, it would have been another dead giveaway.

He then worked his way across the compound out of view of people and cameras until he was in the vantage point he'd chosen for watching the lab building.

He hovered near the building, waiting with eternal patience for the right circumstances. He watched the guards chat, watched a few opportunities arise and let them slip by because something didn't feel right about it, and hid more than once when someone could have seen him. Hours passed in a slow grinding of time but he didn't care. He watched like a hawk, letting the cramping of his body fall into the background as unimportant information, and finally he was rewarded with the perfect chance.

The two guards in back, Howlett and Mullins, were deep in the middle of a conversation. They were arguing about whether or not Howlett was an idiot for wanting to become an agent. Howlett was growing increasingly aggravated by Mullins' bland one line commentary until finally he stopped his rounds to turn on Mullins and furiously argue that he could make the cut.

The second the two were distracted, Boyd moved like lightning. He sprinted silently to the huge oak tree closest to the building.

His body was definitely not up to par with the way he'd been when he'd left but adrenaline pumped through his system, providing him with the stamina and strength he needed. Everything else was only a matter of his mind.

He scrambled up the tree, the bark rough and scraping underneath his gloved hands. It was difficult but he stretched and scurried and used the branches to pull himself up to the top.

The upper tree branch creaked alarmingly beneath his weight. He thought distantly that maybe it was good he was still underweight from the recent mission.

The night wasn't nearly as dark around him as he would have liked, and every shift of the wind moved the tree enough to potentially affect his footing.

He crouched down as he ran across the branch, his hands out at his sides for balance. The ground was a long, long way down; the green of the grass and rich colors of the crumbled leaves were not hidden in enough shadows to belie the distance. He knew if he fell he would at the very least be seriously injured, and more likely die.

The end of the branch came up quickly and he had to exert a burst of power on his legs as he leaped to reach the roof. His feet hit the flat concrete top and he rolled to disperse the momentum. He was back on his feet within seconds. He ran across the building, staying crouched and low and moving into as many shadows as possible. There weren't many so he had to rely on being fast.

The roof access was locked from the outside, which was expected, but the swipe pad was right to the side.

He pulled out the decoder and hooked it up to the pad, then ducked down and kept an eye out around him. There were too many buildings that were much taller than this one, with windows that gleamed ominously. Any number of eyes could have been on him without his knowledge so he was relieved to glance back up and see the high powered, top of the line decoder was already finished.

He had to run it through one more cycle because he'd noticed that anyone who entered after hours seemed to swipe their card as well as key in some code. They did it discreetly, oftentimes trying to hide the movement with their bodies. Boyd could only assume it was a precaution against tampering. Perhaps if he'd tried to open the door without the second level code, the alarms would have gone off. Or perhaps it was simply a fake out; he didn't know.

Whatever the case, the light on the pad flashed green. Boyd detached the decoder and hid it safely in his pocket. He was inside and silently shutting the door behind him in seconds. He took a moment to survey his surroundings and was unsurprised to find himself in an abandoned concrete stairwell.

He listened intently to hear if anyone was around and when there wasn't even the hint of an echo, and he didn't see a single glimpse of a camera, he started down the stairs. He didn't know what exactly he was looking for but he knew from what Sin had said that all the doors would automatically lock and that there were offices on the floor with the lab he'd been in. Sin had also mentioned on another occasion of Owen pressing him for details that he'd thought the lab had been on the fourth or fifth floor. So that was where Boyd headed.

He didn't see anyone on the way down which was fortunate. It was a little strange but at the same time, he'd gotten the impression from Sin that he hadn't seen many people either. When Boyd got to the door for the fifth floor he paused, listening intently for anyone.

It was a good thing he did.

A voice grew closer to the door and he barely had time to run up the stairs, grab the railing on the staircase going from the landing between fifth and sixth, and pull himself up to the next flight of stairs. He hit the steps and rolled to the side, bracing himself against the wall just as he heard the door abruptly open on the level below him.

"It's going as expected but I need more time," a man's voice said with obvious irritation.

Boyd went completely still.

That voice. It sounded vaguely familiar.

The man started to head downstairs with quick, thumping footsteps. "Then give me something better to work with," he snapped impatiently. "I need more resources if you want that timeline met."

Boyd cautiously peered over the side of the railing, able to see a glimpse of red hair and the man's features. Surprise and confusion shot through him.

Ethan Bruce.

A man he wasn't likely to forget any time soon. The former CIA operative who turned traitor and formed the bio-terrorist group Terra. The subject of the Level 10 training exercise in Annadale Beach that to this day plagued Boyd's record as one of his major failures. The man who he'd nearly let get away due to his distraction about Sin, and the man who had nearly killed him when he'd tried to catch him alone.

What was Ethan doing wandering around the Reapers' lab as if he worked here? The man had been anti-government to the point that he'd been aiming his attacks specifically at government buildings. He'd been into bio-chemical weaponry and was supposed to have been interrogated and, presumably, ultimately killed. Even if they'd turned him into a long-term informant, what the hell were they doing allowing him access to a place like this?

Suspicion made Boyd's eyes narrow. He could see nothing good coming from the confluence of that man's abilities and the secrecy of this building.

"That will work if I can't get anything better," Ethan was saying, his voice echoing dramatically in the silent concrete stairwell. Ethan made a few noises of affirmation and contemplation. His footsteps moved further away until Boyd heard the creaking of a door opening.

"Fine. But in exchange--"

The door swinging shut cut off the rest of his words.

Boyd waited a few moments before he silently walked down to the fifth level again and listened at the door.


So Ethan had been in there alone, late at night. Presumably working on some type of project. Boyd didn't like the idea of Ethan being anywhere near this place; he still remembered the slightly crazed look when Ethan had crashed the car they were in, and the same look afterward when he'd yanked Boyd out of the wreckage. He seemed the type to dedicate himself to his work or goals at the expense of all else.

A dangerous personality trait in certain circumstances.

But for all that Ethan's presence was perplexing, there wasn't time to worry about it.

He connected the decoder again and waited for it to flash green. Tilting the door open subtly, he looked up and down the hall as best he could before he verified it was empty.

He began his search, not knowing what he was looking for exactly but just hoping he would know when he saw it. There were a number of rooms, the doors all shut and locked. Some of them had a window into the interior. He didn't have the time to look around too well which was a shame because he wanted to know everything they did here.

The place looked completely normal. He had the passing thought that Owen would have killed to be here with him, maybe Ivan too, but they probably both would have been disappointed by how innocuous it was. Well, Owen would be. Ivan may have let it fuel his paranoia.

The rooms he glanced in mostly seemed empty, although most of them had tables with straps that, disturbingly, Boyd could tell were used to hold a person down.

Although he was glad there was no staff around it was making him paranoid. The level of clearance needed for this sort of place lent credence to Sin's comment about the small amount of personnel. Still, knowing that if he was caught it would be the end of everything before he'd ever gotten a single concrete answer... It was making him hyper aware of every tiny sound and shift in the environment.

He searched the entire floor as quickly as he could but didn't see anything that matched what Sin had described. He moved back out to the staircase, once again listening and waiting until he was certain no one was around, and then started into the stairwell.

He was just about to silently shut the door behind him when he heard a door open in the stairwell, followed by the heavy sound of boots.

"Nothing so far," a man's voice said gruffly from a level below. His steps were heading upstairs.

Boyd jerked back onto the fifth floor. He shut the door silently and ran down the hallway, hiding in one of the unlocked rooms. He barely had time to duck behind the open door and hadn't had time to shut it when he heard the door to the stairwell open. He held his breath and crouched down. His heart pounded furiously as he tried to make himself as small as possible. The rooms were all lit so he didn't have a good place to hide other than by shielding himself with the door. He found himself wishing he'd chosen a room that at least had clutter to hide behind.

The guard's footsteps were measured and echoed heavily down the hallway. Boyd could hear his weapons at his belt: the large flashlight to use for searching out activity or as a blunt weapon that bumped against the man's thigh, and the creaking of a holster that most likely held a gun, taser, or both.

Boyd himself hadn't brought weapons with him since his choices could help determine who he was if he was caught on surveillance. He hoped it wouldn't come to an issue where he had to steal one from someone or disable the guard and risk being seen.

He heard the guard peeking his head in the doors along the way. The guard came closer and closer until he stepped into the room where Boyd was hiding. Boyd held himself perfectly still, willing the guard to move away without being thorough and checking around every crevice. The moment seemed to stretch but in truth it had probably been just as quick as the other checks.

The guard moved back into the hallway and continued. Boyd strained his ears, listening to every footstep and every movement of the guard, waiting for him to finish on this floor and move on. The guard sighed heavily toward the end of the hallway and then his footsteps turned and started heading back the direction he'd come.

Someone must have asked him something on the man's comm unit because he said, "Nah. Boring as usual."

He paused and then continued wistfully, "Remember that time we caught Lena and Terry going at it in the basement? I was just thinking how much I'd pay to see that with Jenny. Tits that size-- What?"

The question was sharp and the man's steps stopped abruptly. He was silent for a long moment and then said with sullen professionalism, "Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."

He stayed still for another extended moment and then started walking, his footsteps seeming more aggravated due to the increased speed and heaviness. He continued down the hallway, blowing past the room Boyd was in. Just as he was nearing the door to leave the floor, Boyd heard him growl into the comm unit:

"Goddammit, Gene, that isn't fucking funny. Tell me when he's listening in. I'm going to kick your ass when I get back down there."

The door opened with a jerk and Boyd heard the guard saying caustically, "No, I still have a few more floors, genius. Some of us actually work instead of getting our buddies in trouble." The footsteps echoed in the stairwell and the door swung shut.

Boyd waited to be sure he didn't hear anyone else before he swiftly left the room. Judging by the conversation with the guard, it sounded like the guard was the only one doing the rounds in this area. Since he'd been heading upstairs and said he had a few more floors, Boyd determined that the guard must have already checked the fourth.

He checked the stairwell for noise or people and, when he verified it was clear, he ran down to the fourth floor landing. The decoder didn't take long to give him entrance to that door and he found himself in another abandoned hallway.

The fourth floor ended up being reminiscent to the one above and as Boyd moved further down the hallway, checking doors and seeing nothing, his stomach started to clench.

What if Sin had been confused by the floor number? How many floors would Boyd have to check to find where Sin had been held? What if any indications of where he'd been were long gone? Or what if it was all still there but any information on him had disappeared along with him?

He was just thinking he would have to reevaluate and determine if he could afford to check other floors when he found a glass door that, when he looked inside, looked like it led to an office. He quickly peered in from various angles and didn't see anyone inside, but this one seemed to match Sin's description more than the mostly empty office had a floor above.

He used the decoder, waiting impatiently even for the phenomenally fast device to work. He felt exposed standing in the middle of the hall, not knowing who used this office and whether they would be back. Whether the guard would decide to check this floor again after all.

Once the decoder was finished he went inside immediately, highly aware that there was no place for him to properly hide in there.

The place was in disarray, with reference materials everywhere. Some clothing was thrown to the side in the back which led Boyd to believe that whoever used this office sometimes spent the night. A computer was half-buried on the desk, the screen showing a file that was still open.

That was good and bad. Now he didn't have to take the time to try to hack in and access a profile. But it also meant the user of the office couldn't be more than ten minutes gone since there wasn't a screensaver. If they'd just run to the bathroom or outside for a smoke, they could be back any minute.

He took a quick assessment of the disarray and then moved to the computer. He minimized the file and went to work checking if Sin's information was on there. He had high hopes it would be. He remembered Sin mentioning spare clothing and this was the first place he'd seen that.

His fingers flew across the keyboard and screen as he searched more quickly and efficiently than he ever had before. It took a few harrowing minutes of searching different hard drives until he saw Sin's name on a folder. His heart skipped a beat, feeling like it shot up into his throat. His heartbeat pounded through his veins and he was hyper-aware of everything around him as he opened the folder. He looked around again, paranoid someone would show up suddenly, and then returned his attention to the screen.

The folder had a number of files; video as well as text. He clicked one text file just to be certain it was what he wanted. The font was tiny and filled the pages, with notes typed in the margins in some places. There were charts and the file was dozens of pages long, packed with information. He didn't have time to read it all but he'd anticipated that.

He pulled out a compact memory card and, keeping a close eye on the door, started to download the whole folder. His paranoia increased with every second that passed. Whoever was in this office had to be returning shortly. The second the download was complete, he closed down the folder and erased all signs that he'd been there.

He pulled up the file they'd had on screen and even thought to check the power setting to see whether he should put on the screensaver. It was set to twenty minutes, which was a relief since it would have been difficult to force the screensaver without evidence left behind.

He slid the memory card with the coveted information securely into his pocket and stepped away from the desk.

He was just about to leave when he noticed a skinny door in the back. He went over and peered in the window. A few touch panels were in there on a desk that looked completely locked down. A file cabinet sat in the back with a heavy duty lock. There was another lock on the door.

He wondered if there was something else in there on Sin. He pulled out the decoder to use on that door too but something made him stop; a very faint sound in the distance that made him think someone was coming.

He got out of the office immediately, not seeing anyone in the hallway. He shut the office door behind him and was starting down the hall when his heart nearly leaped out of his chest at the sound of the stairwell door opening.

He used the decoder on the first door he saw, throwing himself into the room just as he heard a man and a woman's voices echoing down the hall.

"--such bullshit," the woman was saying vehemently.

Boyd closed the door as silently and discreetly as he could so they wouldn't notice anything amiss. He expected to be able to hear them but he was surprised and disturbed to find that all sound cut off immediately once the door was shut.


So the people being experimented on would never be heard even if they screamed.

It occurred to him that he was now in a difficult position. Stuck in a soundproofed room, he had no idea where the man and woman were, and this door didn't have a window. He had noticed that not all of them did. He wondered what that meant.

He looked around the room. The lights were very dim so at first it was difficult to tell if anyone else was in there. But as his eyes adjusted, he saw that what at first seemed to be a pile of discarded items was the silhouette of a person lying on a table.

Boyd's breath caught and he went still, looking at the person and then flicking his eyes around quickly. His heartbeat was pounding so hard it was making his hands shift. Was someone else in the room? Was he going to be caught before he could escape?

No one else was there. The person didn't move.

Now growing disturbed by the idea of potentially being in the room with someone who had died from experimentation, Boyd hesitated and then cautiously approached the table. At first all he saw was that the person was strapped down with heavy duty restraints, and that IVs were going into his arms. It was a man, in good condition judging by the definition of muscle that Boyd could see on his bare arms.

When he drew closer, he realized with a start that he recognized that profile. He stopped near the table and stared down in surprise and confusion.


Eyes closed, chest barely moving, expression limp with sleep. He was paler than Boyd remembered, or maybe it was the lighting, and for as little as he moved it seemed he could be in a coma.

What the hell was going on here?

Boyd hadn't seen Cade for years; not since he'd nearly died when he was shot at the end of Level 10 training. He hadn't heard anything about Cade when he'd returned. He'd assumed Cade had recovered from his injuries or had been terminated long ago. What was the Agency doing with him, strapped down in a room in this secret lab?

Reaching a hand out, Boyd almost touched Cade but his fingers stopped, stilled, and curled inches from his former fellow trainee. He brought his hand back, staring down at Cade and then having to look away. He didn't see any paperwork nearby that gave him any information.

Although there were many questions that shot through his mind about why Cade was there and what was happening to him, he knew he wouldn't get the answers. They'd never been friends but Cade had saved his life once, and were their positions switched he would have liked someone to look into what was happening. He ran through a number of scenarios about waking Cade to talk to him or verifying that he was okay, but he had to take a few steps back from the situation and turn away.

There was nothing he could do.

He had to be in and out of here like a phantom or risk being discovered. Even if he could free Cade it would be pointless. They would find out someone had been here and all the work Boyd had put into planning and executing this mission would go to waste. He likely wouldn't even have the chance to read the files before he was caught and killed.

As far as that went, he didn't know why Cade was here. It was even possible Cade had nearly died and the Reapers were in the process of saving his life. Or that Cade had volunteered for something and if Boyd interfered he would only be signing his own death warrant.

He wondered if Ethan Bruce had been turned into a Reaper and that was why he was here. He wondered if the people in the office were Reapers as well.

Starting to grow worried that he'd stalled too long, he moved back to the door. Cade's presence was a heavy weight at his back that he had to ignore.

He ended up having to wait in there several long, heart-stopping moments before he dared use the decoder on the door, which had locked the second he'd shut it. The light silently flashed green and he very carefully cracked the door just enough to listen.

He could hear them talking but it was muffled and after a few moments he determined it was because they were in the office. It seemed as though the offices weren't soundproofed despite the fact the labs were.

That made him wonder, uncomfortably, whether Cade had had reason to scream at any point, and whether the lab personnel had continued an inane conversation undisturbed. His fingers twitched against the decoder. He shoved questions like that out of his mind so he could focus on the current issue.

This was very problematic. The office was almost directly across the hall with a full glass door. The walls were white and well-lit, and he looked every bit the burglar decked out all in black. It would be too easy for them to see him.

He had to wait. He opened the door enough to be able to be able to see through the crack that they were indeed both in the office. They kept sitting and turning so he'd be seen in at least one of their peripheral visions.

It felt like forever until the woman finally left the office, telling the man she was going to run downstairs for 'the vial.' Whatever that meant. Boyd had to close the door when he saw her turning to leave and he had to wait another sightless, soundless several seconds before he dared peer out again.

The man was in the office, facing away from the door. He was sitting at the desk in one of the few cleared off areas and kept looking back and forth between his touch panel and the computer file that had been on screen on the computer.

It was the best chance Boyd would get.

He slipped out of the room and shut the door silently behind him, sparing just enough time to glance around to make sure no one else was there before he sprinted toward the stairwell. He listened briefly but didn't hear the woman's echoing footsteps so he opened the door.

The stairwell was vacant for now but he knew that wouldn't last long. He ran as fast as he could while remaining quiet. He only heard footsteps one time. He threw himself to the side, not being able to tell where they were coming from in the echoing chamber, but he never ended up seeing anyone.

It wasn't long before he made it up to the roof access once again and out to the empty roof. He didn't give himself time to do much other than make sure no one was looking or in the immediate vicinity before he sprinted across the roof. He leaped off the ledge toward the tree.

For a moment he was in free fall, his clothing flapping against him, and then the branch came up at him alarmingly fast. He hit it hard. It creaked and nearly cracked, causing the whole thing to jolt beneath him. He slid to the side and nearly fell off before he was able to catch himself.

He hung there a moment, his heart pounding and fingers slipping. His stifled breath was harsh but then he narrowed his eyes and exerted a burst of strength to pull himself back up onto the branch. His arms ached and his body was shaky with adrenaline and overworking it after so long of being out of shape. He ignored it all, still focused on completing the mission.

He clung to the branch a moment, feeling it sway in the wind and, possibly only in his imagination, start to shudder. He was just about to scramble down the side of the tree when he recognized the faint sound of angry and panicked voices below. He looked down and nearly swore to himself when he saw Mullins and Howlett in the area.

Mullins was standing near the corner of the building, alternating between keeping an eye on the entrance and looking urgently toward Howlett.

"--telling you I can't fucking find it!" Howlett was saying, furious and panicked at once. His hand kept going to his side where the ID was supposed to be and he was looking around the area with a flashlight darting across the shadows beneath the trees.

"You're gonna get your ass killed," Mullins said, but there was a hint of worry mixed in with the irritation. "That's what you get for always skulking around over there."

"Fuck off," Howlett snapped. He swept the flashlight around in great arcs. "It has to be here. I don't know where else I would've lost it."

Boyd cursed his bad luck. Of all the times for Howlett to lose something in the area he often used for urination during his rounds, it had to be when Boyd was trying to flee. Now he couldn't climb down the tree without being seen.

The two guards hovered in the area for a bit. Mullins eventually said he was going back to the post and Howlett frantically searched the leaves on the ground. With the night glasses Boyd could see Howlett growing increasingly worried and terrified.

"Found it yet?" Mullins called out and Howlett shot back testily, "No."

Mullins snorted and said in irritation, "Just find it already and get back here. I'm not getting killed because you can't hold your piss for more than an hour at a time."

Boyd watched from above while Howlett swept the flashlight in increasingly fast arcs. The longer Boyd had to stay there, the more likely he was to get caught. He started imagining the guard from inside finishing his rounds on the roof. He imagined the guard looking over and seeing Boyd clinging to the tree, and the entire effort being wasted. Or anyone in the many windows that aimed in this direction from afar looking out on a quiet night and thinking he was the precursor to a new raid.

Would they simply kill him or would whatever unspoken thing they were doing to agents like Sin, possibly like Cade, happen to him too?

He couldn't afford to stay up here all night. His body was shivering in the cold, made worse by the sheen of sweat drying on him. It felt like ice layered his skin and froze his joints.

Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime, Howlett caught a glimpse of what looked to be a white ID peeking out between brown and red leaves. He snatched it up and Boyd could hear his relieved sigh all the way up the tree.

He was still looking at the ID when he walked back toward the corner, calling out, "Found it."

"About fucking time," Mullins muttered and Howlett disappeared from Boyd's view. Boyd didn't wait for the two of them to come back for further investigation.

He scrambled down the tree and dropped onto one of the patches of grass free of leaves. His legs nearly gave out beneath him but after a few stumbles he caught himself and darted across the lawn to his hiding place. He ran back to the courtyard he'd left earlier, making sure he stayed out of view of people and cameras the whole way. He changed back into his clothing and shoved everything into his messenger bag he'd left hidden.

He slipped back into the courtyard amongst the trees and, once he was in the area he'd been earlier, he mussed up his clothing and crushed some leaves. He dragged the leaves through his hair until some caught.

He was out of breath and his heart was hammering in his chest. His knees felt shaky and unreliable.

It was annoying that he was out of shape enough that he had to take a break, closing his eyes and lying on his back for a moment while the world spun dizzyingly around him. He felt uncomfortable and cold while at the same time the sheen of sweat hadn't quite left. The dizziness nearly turned to nausea and he had to clench his teeth shut to keep from chattering.

He waited just long enough to catch his breath and for the heat from his face to die down. He couldn't afford for anything incongruous with his cover story to stand out, yet he didn't want to linger in case they belatedly realized someone had broken into the lab.

When his heart had returned to normal and he could breath evenly again, he sat up.

He put the bookmark a few hundred pages further in the book that he'd supposedly been reading and held the book casually in his hand. He walked across the courtyard with a sleepy look, yawning as if he'd fallen asleep and was just now waking up. He looked around and glanced at his watch as he strode across the courtyard. He made a face and shoved his book in his messenger bag.

From there, it was a simple process of strolling across the compound, occasionally yawning and rolling his neck or shoulders, and looking around with half-lidded eyes. The guards didn't look at him twice when he left in the middle of the night since it was something he'd done often enough in the past two weeks.

Once he got home, he immediately went to his laptop and inserted the memory card. Anticipation was a second heartbeat pounding through him as he pulled up the folder.

The folder opened, showing the same mixture of video and text files. He ignored the video files at first and focused on the notes. He read through them voraciously, his heart clenching as the story unfolded.

Apparently Sin had been one of many who had been part of Project Zero, an attempt to genetically modify subjects to enhance their abilities and, ultimately, make them into superior soldiers. All the little things Boyd had noticed that Sin had been especially adept at made sense as he read through what they'd done.

It had started for Sin under Connors' administration. They'd begun the procedures about eleven years ago during the time when Sin had been locked up for the civilian incident. Everyone thought he'd spent the entire time on the Fourth Floor but when he'd been unconscious they'd transported him periodically to the lab building.

Sin had probably never known. From what Boyd had seen, the rooms in the lab were not dissimilar to some of the rooms on Fourth. During any times Sin had been conscious at the lab building, he had probably thought one white room was the same as any other.

He hadn't been the only one in the project. There had been others and according to the data, many of them had died from complications. Or, for some, the modifications hadn't worked. There were notes attached to the documents about possible reasons for why different subjects failed when Sin didn't.

In the end, they didn't have a good reason other than the natural fortitude of Sin's mind and body.

That four year span of time had been an opportunity the Agency hadn't been able to pass up. It had allowed them the freedom to work subtly at first on the experimentation, monitoring his progress through a variety of tests. It had continued in the background on and off but had mostly stopped by the time Boyd had come around. He suspected that was primarily because Sin was no longer constantly in their custody.

But even if they hadn't been experimenting on him, they'd still been monitoring him.

It sounded like at first they'd monitored him primarily through the cameras in the Agency and Sin's apartment. Boyd thought they must have had other ways of monitoring Sin because there were notes even after he had ripped the cameras down.

They'd apparently increased the modifications after Monterrey at Connors' orders. It didn't say why but Boyd remembered the way Connors had been and suspected the man had felt Sin was likely to die anyway so why not go all out? Why not try things they hadn't yet?

The six-month coma Sin had been in had been induced by the Agency. The notes showed that he'd been physically responsive months before his release and had even shown remarkable recovery rates. There was a mention of a time he'd nearly broken free before they were able to sedate him again.

After he'd recovered fully, they'd continued to watch him. There was a note added a few months later, mentioning Sin's illness and saying that the subsequent mental deterioration had been determined to be due to mission trauma, not Project Zero trials.

Although they'd continued to monitor him, that had been it. There were no more notations of additional experimentations after his return from Monterrey. They had determined that Project Zero had successfully turned Sin into the perfect soldier and, Boyd suspected based on the wording, patted themselves on the back for a job well done.

When he got to the last paragraph he simply stared at the screen. So much of it he had already suspected, so much of it didn't really come as a surprise, and yet...

And yet reading about it spelled out so clinically, noting things like stamina and strength and speed in relation to missions and other areas, made it impossible to ignore how this had all been a trial to them. Sin hadn't been a person; he'd been a lab rat. An experiment. A subject.

There were excerpts from mission reports, highlighting areas where Sin had done something seemingly impossible. Boyd looked back and saw more than one line from his own writing, even back before he'd known to question the things Sin did and he'd unknowingly included verification in the reports.

He saw references to Sin's stamina and strength in other areas, too; in training and even objectively mentioning sex. Boyd narrowed his eyes, wondering how they'd been able to obtain that information.

He didn't see anything implying new experimentation but based on Ivan's description it sounded like that was exactly what had been happening during the last few months of Sin's life. After determining Project Zero a success, had they moved onto another type of modification? A follow-up project that they'd thought they'd be able to do since he'd done so well in the first trials? Had that project been too much? Had there been unexpected consequences that he'd died from in the end?

If Boyd looked at this in terms of years, it looked like the only time in the last eleven years that Sin hadn't been subjected to experimentation had been during Vivienne's regime. Connors had started the experimentation and he had authorized the increased modifications after Monterrey. There had been a reprieve while Sin had dealt with his mental issues during Vivienne's administration and even after he'd become stable again, nothing new had started. Then, after Marshal Seong had arrived, it seemed the experimentation began again.

He wasn't surprised by the decisions Marshals Connors and Seong had made. The orders seemed to fit their personalities. He hadn't even met Jae-Hwa yet but he already knew it was nearly impossible that he would like her.

He had to wonder why Vivienne hadn't ordered anything, though. Had she not bothered with it because the program had been considered a success and there hadn't been any new innovations during that time?

He shook his head and flipped back to the beginning.

All those mistakes. All those lives lost.

Seeing all this, knowing the extent to which the Agency had played with Sin's life, it was even harder to hold out any hope that Sin was alive. He wanted to believe there was a chance still because there was no proof. No one saw him.

Yet the evidence was resoundingly against him. There was no question that Sin was gone. And there was no way the Agency would let him go. Sin himself had said he wouldn't flee without Boyd so there was no reason he would have left on his own. And even if he'd wanted to, based on what Ivan and Carhart said, there was no way he would have been capable of it.

No matter how Boyd looked at it, especially with these hateful files staring at him on the screen, it seemed that the most likely scenario was Sin had reacted poorly to new modifications and he'd died as a result. And the Agency, unwilling to admit what they'd been doing behind closed doors to their own agents, had made it all silently disappear.

His expression turned dark, strained, and his fingers curled. He could feel his stomach dropping and he was abruptly, vividly reminded of the rooms in Monterrey when they'd been searching for Sin. The first room covered in blood and the second one where he'd run through the hallways and skidded to a stop to find Sin there, lifeless and broken and cold.

Had it been like that?

Had they strapped him down like Janus had, only instead of ripping him apart to break him down they'd done it to build him up? Had he been awake during any of it? Had he strained against the holds and had he known what was happening? Had he been in pain; had he been in distress? Had he thought about Boyd at all, even a flash of longing or fear? Did he ever have the chance to regret that he'd never see his lover again?

Boyd's eyes burned and he hissed in frustration to himself, "Damn it."

He squeezed his eyes shut, his elbows against the desk and his face dropping into his hands. He pressed his hands against his cheeks, his eyes; rubbed his face harshly and drew in a shaky breath.

He tried not to think the thoughts that wouldn't leave him alone.

The fear that Sin really was dead. That the sparks of hope he kept trying to fan, to turn into fire that could burn away the lies, were getting snuffed out one by one. The fear that in the end this really was all he had to look forward to for the rest of his life. And the fear of accepting that.

He drew in another breath, this one bolder but harsher, and his face was set in determination when he dropped his hands. He still had more to look at. Maybe there was something in here that would be useful.

Maybe something that could show Sin hadn't died... or something to prove he had.

He wanted to stop this constant cycle of wishing so hard only to have the hopes destroyed. Even if he found proof that Sin was dead, at least it could give him some closure.

He closed down the documents and looked at the folder. He decided to go through the videos and double clicked the first file.

The video didn't have audio and it was of Sin in his apartment. Boyd glanced at the date, wondering how old this was, and saw that it was long after the cameras had been ripped down. Boyd looked more sharply at the image of Sin. How was this possible?

The video continued, recording Sin working out tirelessly. Boyd flipped forward and saw that it spanned hours and that even at the end when Sin stopped, he had as much energy as he had when he'd started.

When Boyd closed the file he simply stared at the screen for a moment. How the hell-- he'd never seen any cameras in there. That must have been what the notes referred to for more recent documentation. The Reapers had to have replaced the cameras right away based on the notes, only this time they'd made them so discreet that neither Sin nor Boyd had ever noticed.

He thought of all the times he'd been at Sin's, all the things that had happened, and he thought of it all being recorded. Monitored by researchers who took notes on it.

The thought was sickening.

He clicked on another similarly named file and was greeted with a video of him having sex with Sin. It had been at a time when he'd been healthier and had been working out more, not terribly long after they'd gotten back together and they'd had sex like each time would be the last.

He remembered that night. He'd gone to Sin's after a mission and he'd barely made it through the door before they'd been all over each other. They'd had sex multiple times, each time more intense than the last, with spaces in between where they'd started going about regular business but continually got sidelined. It had taken hours to finish dinner.

In the video, they were on Sin's bed. Sin was kneeling in the center but leaning back, his legs spread for balance and one hand reaching back to the headboard for support. His other hand was holding Boyd, who was facing him and had his head thrown back as Sin pounded into him. Boyd's hands were on Sin's shoulders but it was clear he was just using them for balance. A fact which was made even more obvious when he dropped one hand to start masturbating.

Although Boyd remembered it had started with his feet on the bed, somewhere along the way Sin had taken to fully supporting him, gripping Boyd's hip and holding him while Sin slammed his hips up against him. Boyd's thighs had started out squeezing Sin's body but soon his legs spread apart, wide open with his toes curling in mid air as Sin had the freedom to pound up into him as fast and hard as he wanted.

All of Boyd's weight was supported effortlessly by Sin's one hand despite the awkward position.

As Boyd watched, Sin's fingers curled against the metal headboard. The camera zoomed in as the headboard bent beneath his hand, deforming as easily as if it were malleable putty. The camera zoomed out and it was clear from Sin's expression that he wasn't aware of it.

The two of them were lost in the sex, both their faces flushed with desire, their mouths open as they'd no doubt been groaning or making noise. From the angle, Boyd could tell the camera had to be somewhere above the door to the bedroom, hidden in a crevice neither of them would have thought to look since they'd both been so certain no one was watching them.

Watching that, it hit Boyd how little privacy they'd had their whole relationship, even when they'd thought no one could see. He supposed they were lucky there was no audio on any of the cameras because who knew what they'd talked about? Who knew what things they'd said that could have gotten them in trouble?

It disturbed him how obviously objectively the Agency had viewed Sin's entire life. They'd experimented on him and monitored him and tested him. They'd taken notes on his behavior like he was a lab rat and they'd even kept videos of everything from mundane issues to private moments with his lover.

There had been a time when it would have disturbed him to no end to know someone had a video of them having sex and kept it in the files as an addendum illustrating Sin's strength. Now it was just another example of how he'd never had any control or privacy. The times when he'd believed that Sin and he could make it had been nothing but optimistic dreams.

The theme of Sin as a guinea pig only continued as he watched the other videos, clicking one by one through them as he watched Sin on surveillance from missions, the compound, and, he discovered, clips from what appeared to be tests in the lab. Those seemed to be hand held camcorders which was a relief because otherwise he could have been recorded in the lab. Everything showcased some extraordinary feat of Sin's, all grouped together in a nice little package.

The hours stretched as he looked through everything and soon he could see the faint rays of morning light peeking beneath the shut door to the office. He only realized then that he'd spent all night looking through the information. All night going through the videos and, for some, watching them repeatedly.

It may have been a masochistic tendency or it may have been pure, unadulterated longing. Whatever the case, he'd found himself obsessively watching the surveillance from Sin's apartment. Remembering what he'd been like. The expressions, the mannerisms, the movements...

Although it was probably good that there hadn't been audio, he found himself wishing there had been. He could have heard Sin's voice. He could have closed his eyes and let that deep voice wash over him. He could have believed for a precious few seconds that Sin was there. That it wasn't a recording playing over his speakers.

He could have believed that Sin was just in another room-- out in the hallway, the bedroom, the living room... Waiting for Boyd to return. Waiting for more of those wonderful mundane moments to continue. The kind he missed so intensely now.

But there was no sound and even if there had been, Sin wasn't there. He knew he couldn't keep telling himself Sin was alive out there somewhere, waiting for him. Miraculously having escaped the Agency without their knowledge and hiding out for his lover's arrival.

It was a hopeless thought, he knew. And one he still couldn't entirely erase no matter how much he knew he should. No matter how much, in truth, part of him wished he could.

Eventually he fell asleep, exhaustion overrunning his mind and pulling him into a fitful slumber slouched at the desk. He didn't know how long he slept but it felt like barely any time had passed before he was abruptly woken. It took him a moment of confused eyes darting around before he realized he heard his phone ringing in the other room.

He unraveled himself and barely made it out in time to pick it up. It was a secure phone call from the Agency, telling him to be in the Marshal's office in an hour.

Seong Jae-Hwa's office was relatively nondescript. Her furniture was mostly sleek with a hint of antiquity. Her desk was a simple table; there weren't even any drawers. Behind her was a single file cabinet with a heavy duty lock. She didn't have anything on the desk at the moment but he could see the wires for where she would probably normally plug in her laptop. Her chairs looked as though they had been around awhile, perhaps even picked up at an antique store, but they were sturdy and served their function well.

She had some pieces of art on the wall, mostly modern-styled abstract with contrasts between black silhouettes in the foreground with saturated colors and curves filling the background. But he didn't see any personal pictures. She had a bookcase that was about three-quarters full, which at a glance seemed to be mostly nonfiction, especially on topics of military history.

Her office was a study in mild contrasts; just enough to seem off-putting but not enough to be jarring. That impression spread to her as well.

She looked to be probably in her fifties. Her black hair was spiky and styled in an offhanded way that fell partially across her forehead. Her eyes were dark brown and studied him intently. She had a jagged scar that crossed her cheek and cut through her lips on her left side, along with another scar that cut through her left eyebrow and went across her upper eyelid. Most likely she would have lost her eye if the wound had been even a few centimeters lower.

She wore a deep blue button-down shirt with the first few buttons undone; leaving the shirt open enough to give her a casual air but not low enough to be unprofessional or flirtatious. Her black pants were fitted and of a firm material like denim, but slightly faded. The black jacket she wore open over her shirt was pseudo-military style, with double rows of buttons and brocade across the front. Her clothing as a whole seemed comfortable and business casual.

She was completely unadorned except for a possible flash of silver beneath the shirt-- maybe a necklace. He couldn't even tell if she wore any makeup; if she did, it was subtle. She wasn't androgynous and yet there was a faint air of masculinity to her. Within the first few seconds of meeting her, he couldn't imagine her ever wearing a dress.

"So," Jae-Hwa drawled as she leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms and looking him up and down. "I finally meet the infamous Boyd Beaulieu."

She tilted her head and dragged her dark eyes back to meet his. Despite the casualness in her body language and the near boredom on her face, her eyes were sharp. Calculating.

Boyd didn't respond. Jae-Hwa's lips thinned and she waved him closer.

"Sit down."

He walked in and sat, keeping his expression completely neutral and back straight. He sat perched forward in the seat slightly, his back not touching the back of the chair by about half an inch cushion of air. He was determined not to show her even the faintest flicker of emotion throughout this. Even if he hadn't received warnings that she would be watching him, he could tell she was. A scrutinizing, expectant look that she didn't bother to hide.

He wondered if the timing had been coincidental with his break in at the lab or whether she knew what he'd done last night. He should have been more terrified of the idea but he couldn't bring himself to fully care. The severity of the information he'd learned only underscored to him how much control the Agency had. If she planned to kill him, there was nothing he could do about it. Rather than feeling resigned to the fact, he determined to not let that uncertainty make him react in a way that would damn him even further.

"I hope you don't plan the rubbish you pulled on Bridget," she said bluntly, staring evenly at him. He didn't respond and she quirked her eyebrow pointedly. "Well?"

"I have no such plans," he said tonelessly.

She scrutinized him for a long moment before she nodded curtly. She leaned forward, her arms resting against the edge of the desk. "I've no interest in wasting my time. Your performance has been questionable in the past but of late you've had successful missions. Particularly the Forakis mission. I didn't expect you to return from that one."

The way her eyebrows lifted just so he could easily read her expression. She didn't seem interested in hiding her thoughts the way Vivienne did; she just left them clear on her face.

If he hadn't already had an idea, Boyd knew at that moment that she didn't like him. The feeling was bound to be mutual.

"I've read your report and the doctor's notes so we won't be having a debriefing as normal. For the record," she continued firmly with hard, dark eyes that bore into him, "I don't play these piss ant games you've seemed to enjoy with previous administrations. When I ask you a question, you bloody well better answer. If I issue an order, I expect you to obey. This isn't Girlguiding."

"Yes, Marshal."

She stared hard at him for a long moment, studying everything from his posture to his expression, before she finally leaned back in her chair.

"Now. Hsin Vega."

It was said calmly but with great weight and Boyd felt his shoulders and stomach tensing. He didn't want her so much as thinking his name. Not when she'd probably been the one who had gotten him killed.

"I've reviewed your record closely." She picked up a touch panel from her desk and tilted it toward her. Dark eyes tracked along the screen for a moment before her lips lifted faintly in distaste. "Vega this, Vega that. Mummy this, Mummy that."

She looked up at him through her eyebrows. "There are far too many notes in here about you and some manner of cock up. And through it all, two common factors: your mother and Vega."

When he once again did not answer, her eyes narrowed. "What are you thinking? Answer me."

"I'm not quite sure what you mean about my mother," Boyd said after a moment, not wanting to get into anything about Sin.

Jae-Hwa snorted. "Don't play dumb with me, boy. Even ignoring her bias from the start, you'd be dead ten times over if it hadn't been for her whinging. She likes to play at being a big girl who's unaffected by it all but it's clear as rain from both your records that she's here to cock up any investigations that don't go her way. Including those about you."

Boyd stared at her evenly. He didn't know what all Vivienne allegedly had or had not done but when it came down to it, he doubted he had anything to do with it. If she ever did anything that appeared to be in his interest, it would only be because it was even more so in hers.

Jae-Hwa raised her eyebrows. "You don't believe me? You didn't truly think all those times you acted the child and got away with it was because it was in the Agency's best interest?"

She raised her hand in front of her and began ticking points off on her fingers.

"The botched mission in Canada where a known negotiator ended up dead, supposedly refusing to negotiate. Infiltrating the Detainment Center and releasing Vega. Defying direct orders to relinquish him when you were caught. The fiasco in Monterrey that created an international witch hunt and pressured the government here. The mishap during rank 10 training. Outright stating on a recording that the Agency didn't matter and purposefully failing a mission to bring Vega back to the Agency. Breaking Vega, once again, out of custody during the investigation into my agent's murder."

Jae-Hwa's eyes narrowed and she stood, dropping her hands to the desk. She hovered; a dark shadow cast across him. "Oh yes, I'm quite certain you were involved. Your mother has all manner of explanations but I know you had a hand in it somewhere. And these are only the times I've been able to gather; I've no doubt there are more."

Her eyebrows lowered, darkening her eyes. "All times when your termination could have, did, or should have come up... and was avoided, miraculously, as if some god shone on you. Do you know what that tells me?" She leaned forward and didn't wait for him to answer before she continued flatly, "It tells me you're a liability."

Boyd stayed silent and still in his seat. He didn't think she was taller than him but at that moment she seemed to be. As slight as her body frame was, she seemed larger; like an animal that could inflate to intimidate predators.

"It tells me your loyalty isn't to the Agency above all else," she continued darkly. "It leaves me to wonder whether it's with the Agency at all."

There was nothing he could say to that so the silence stretched. It was a ringing lack of sound that made even the shift of fabric seem like an echo in a cave. Her gaze felt like it drilled straight through him, and the fact that he didn't know exactly what she was looking for only made it feel more uncomfortable.

Still, his expression remained unmoving; his body poised and still. He waited for her to tell him whatever she'd likely already determined long ago and met her eyes directly.

At length, she straightened her back. Her lips curled down. She sat back down and leaned back in the chair, still watching him until she looked down at a touch panel she picked up. Her fingers shifted along the screen with expert flicks that were likely changing windows. The silence stretched again before she finally spoke.

"I can tell you one thing. If you hadn't done such a bang-up job with Forakis, I'd have had you terminated the second you stepped foot back on compound."

She didn't look at him directly but he could tell she was watching him. When he remained as stony-faced as before, unsurprised by the information since he'd had the impression he wouldn't do well in the new administration since Bridget's interview, she shifted. She continued flipping through the panel.

"It's obvious from your file that you were quite taken with your former partner. Hsin Liu Vega," she said his name almost thoughtfully. She crossed her shin across her other knee and tapped the panel against her leg, her foot rocking idly. Her eyes hadn't moved from the panel.

"I've reason to wonder if you're a bit mad to have been so obsessed with him given..." She waved a hand idly. "Everything." Her eyes flicked up to meet his. "Of course, it seems he must have been a bit cracked as well to have reciprocated, yes?" She tilted her head slightly, studying him relentlessly. "Do you suppose it would have gone anywhere had your dream played itself through?"

Boyd's jaw shifted before he could stop himself. His expression didn't change but his eyes narrowed; some of the icy anger toward what had been done to Sin and himself in the name of the Agency rising at her words.

Her lips twitched, this time in a slight smirk. "You do then, don't you? You believed in all that rubbish about eternity and love and the like." She let out a short scoff that sounded genuinely amused. She dropped her feet to the floor and tossed the panel on the desk. Her arms crossed and rested on the desk, the brief amusement leaving her face as quickly as it came.

"You'd best forget all that, then. No matter the state of your poncing heart, I'll expect results the same as I expect from any other agent. You're barely back in town and already causing trouble in his name. I hear you were speaking of him when you decided to attack Agent Hunt." She looked at him pointedly, asking without words for confirmation.

Boyd was coldly silent for a brief moment before he said, "Yes."

"Yes, well, he's dead so get used to it." She must have caught the flicker of anger in his eyes because she turned that dark stare onto him and raised an eyebrow. "Look at the spine you grow when he's mentioned. Are you resentful? Especially as it occurred while you were gone?"

He stared at her for a long moment and couldn't stop his eyes from narrowing coldly. He knew there was no way to fully hide his resentment over the situation. She said she'd seen Shapiro's notes. She had to know how angry he was over the whole thing even without knowing he knew about the lab and the fury that was there on Sin's behalf for the experimentation.

But knowing those things-- knowing what had been done to Sin-- only made the anger in him burn hotter. His jaw shifted and clenched.

"Yes," he ground out.

She watched him idly before she arched her eyebrows. "Huh," she said as if his response were very mildly of interest. She leaned back in her chair, looking relaxed and calm.

"You may have worked on your penchant for lying but not near enough on your outbursts or we'd not be here."

There was a long stretch while Jae-Hwa scrutinized him more thoroughly than she had yet; looking at every part of him. His eyes, his expression, his body language...

She was searching for something.

Perhaps she was judging how close he was to snapping. Perhaps she was determining whether she could find reason to order his termination before he was out the door. Knowing those were very real possibilities, he kept everything inside.

At great length, Jae-Hwa leaned forward. "The question I've come to ask myself," she said conversationally, "is whether you're of use now. You've become quite the adept valentine but I've no need for a full-time nancy. You've returned to the Janus unit by default, but will you be useful in that position or shall I begin searching for somewhere else to place you? Assuming, of course, that doesn't end up being the incinerator."

There was a long stretch of silence in which Boyd didn't move or speak in response. She quirked her eyebrows, looking unperturbed. "With plenty of reason to have you terminated within the hour you may be asking yourself why you're still alive."

Boyd could tell by the look in her eye that she wanted a response. He didn't want to speak to her more than he had to so he simply nodded. He had to admit, he did wonder that. She obviously felt there was more than enough reason to terminate him. In truth, he couldn't even argue against her evidence.

"There are three reasons. And I'll tell you them so we're clear." She ticked off a finger for each point. "Your knowledge of Janus makes it easier to use you in Carhart's unit than it is to replace you. Until we've finished getting everything we need from Forakis, it's of no use to me to toss you out with the rubbish. There is always the slight possibility we may need you for follow up or leverage. And lastly, your outburst was expected."

Boyd's eyes narrowed slightly. "Follow up?"

"Highly unlikely but a possibility nonetheless," she replied with a dismissive wave of her hand.

"Are you referring to another mission as Cameron?" His tone was sharp.

Jae-Hwa watched him for a long moment until a smile slowly grew on the edges of her lips. The expression hovered there while she leaned back in her chair, her boots making thumping noises as she kicked her feet out in front of her. "That bothers you."

"Of course--" he started to say angrily but stopped abruptly. His mouth snapped shut and his jaw shifted, his expression darkening.

Her smirk grew wider. "You were just thinking to yourself how you don't want to do that but you'd do it if you had to, weren't you? No matter how you don't like the idea. Because you've no choice and you would have to submit."

His stony silence was answer enough.

She let out a sound of amusement and sat up in the chair. "Yet you didn't even whinge at me," she mused. "They must have taught you a little obedience over there. And to know your place."

Boyd's eyes turned ice cold and his expression cut off completely. He could feel the tension inside him like rubber bands constricting his muscles tight to his bones. The fury he felt rose drastically but even then he knew to shut down and keep it inside rather than to lash out like she probably wanted.

In that moment with her relaxed knowledge of how much power she had over him, he wanted to shoot her. His fingers clenched against the arms of the chair. He understood completely why Emilio had wanted to kill her.

Her eyebrows shifted upward and she only seemed amused by him. After a brief pause her expression lost all humor. "Since you missed my opening statements when I arrived, know that I don't give second chances." Her voice was unyielding and her eyes were flat. There was no question that not only was she being utterly serious, she would also follow through on any statements she made. "I consider your pathetic background to be your first infraction, and I'm ignoring your attack on Bex as Shapiro warned that something was likely to happen."

She looked at him pointedly. "That is the extent of your pardon. I will not cater to your mood like the others did before me. The next mistake you make that causes even a fraction of a problem for me, it's over. I couldn't care less what woeful story you have as explanation. I'll have you terminated so fast you won't have even the chance to think goodbye. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Marshal."

"Good," she said curtly. "You've two weeks to become useful again. If you aren't capable by then, you're done."

Her narrow-eyed stare and her tone were more than enough to be a dismissal. He watched her a moment and then stood, not wanting to be in the room any longer than necessary.

"Beaulieu," she said sharply.

He paused at the door and looked over his shoulder at her.

"Bex and Jordan are my trusted agents. You are not. Bex is the team leader. You are not." Her dark eyes drilled into him. "Don't forget that. Under normal circumstances, your attack on her would've been worthy of termination. Try that again and you'll find I follow through on my word unlike your weak-willed mum ever did." She barely paused before saying curtly, "Dismissed."

She looked down at the touch panel and started flipping through screens, already ignoring him.

He didn't waste a second leaving the room.

Continue to Fade Chapter 7...