Fade Chapter Seven

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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 7

Uploaded on 6/12/2011

Boyd didn't make it far from Marshal Seong's office when movement filtered into his brain and he saw Aisha walking down the hallway. Her head was held high and back straight; her body language seemingly casual. However, he could see the way her eyes flicked around quickly. With no one around, she came straight toward Boyd, her eyes locking onto him.

He was just about to speed up because he wanted nothing to do with Vivienne, even the woman's assistant, but Aisha closed in on him before he could. She placed her arm on his forearm and smiled pleasantly, briefly, as her fingers gripped his arm firmly. She tilted her head back toward Vivienne's office.

"Come with me."

His eyes narrowed. He wondered if she could feel the tension thrumming through his body. His fury had not dissipated with Jae-Hwa no longer in front of him. Going anywhere near Vivienne seemed like a terrible idea.

"This is not a good time," he said coldly.

Aisha seemed unmoved by his obvious reluctance. She smiled and casually jerked on his arm. "It's important. The Inspector ordered a meeting with you but you weren't answering your phone."

He considered pulling away and telling her he had a message for her precious Inspector: Fuck off. But he remembered Jae-Hwa's warning and even though he was still on downtime, even though there was obviously no love lost between the two women in charge of the Agency, he didn't want to push his luck when he was this pissed off.

Tension thrummed through his muscles before he relented and let her pull him along. Aisha looked relieved and smiled at him again. Her pleasantness seemed genuine yet it meant nothing to him. Lots of people had the ability to seem genuine even when they weren't. Even when they were about to do something terrible.

Aisha brought him straight to Vivienne's door where she swiped a card and the box on the wall flashed a green light. Aisha opened the door and Boyd walked in, closing off his expression as best he could. He couldn't keep the tension out of his body. The very thought of his mother brought too strongly to mind the memory of her expressionless face as she'd told him that where he was to be held on the mission was 'inconsequential.'

He knew his eyes must be glacial.

Vivienne was sitting at her desk, her laptop the only thing of note in view. She had her hands on the desk, fingers interlocked. She must have been waiting for him because she was already watching the door with that inscrutable expression.

Boyd walked in and sat down without needing to be asked. He could hear the door shut behind him. He wanted to get this over with as soon as possible.

She studied him for a long moment, her eyes narrowing slightly as she took him in. "You look a mess."

His eyes narrowed. Typical. Her first comment always seemed to be about presenting himself properly. He resisted the urge to tell her if she had a problem with his looks she shouldn't have sent him on that damn mission in the first place.

Instead, he stayed silent. It had been his best recourse for Jae-Hwa and would be for Vivienne as well.

When he didn't answer, she flicked her eyes distastefully away from his overgrown hair. She met his gaze evenly.

"I understand that you have been in denial regarding Agent Vega's death," she said calmly.

His eyes were ice cold but he didn't answer. He didn't even bother to ask how she'd known that. She always seemed to know everything except how to act like a normal human being.

A lot of the questions he'd originally had about Sin's possible death were gone now that he'd found what he had in the lab.

Logically, he knew further experimentation had to have been the end of Sin's life. He knew Sin wasn't coming back. But it was true that there was still a tiny part of him that didn't want to give up hope. That resisted even the amount of proof he'd seen.

Vivienne's eyes narrowed in return but the cold displeasure he expected to see wasn't there. She seemed strangely nonjudgmental for what he remembered of her.

"You must learn to accept it." She spoke without any particular intonation yet there was strength to her words. "It will do you no good to live in a fantasy world in which he is still alive. You will do best to cease questioning it and move on with your life."

"What the hell do you know about how impossible that is to do?" he snapped before he could stop himself. "Not everyone's a robot like you."

She stared at him for a very long moment. He expected her to be irritable with him for his attitude, or to lecture him about his lack of respect to authority. Instead, she simply continued to stare at him. There was something in her gaze that he couldn't identify.

A faint frown pulled at her lips and she flicked her gaze to her laptop. Her finger moved across the mousepad on the laptop, presumably to select items on the screen. Her nail made a soft clacking sound as she double clicked a few times. He couldn't see what she was doing and she didn't indicate what it was.

At length, she looked up at him again, turning the laptop so the screen was toward him.

"I am well aware of how you operate. You are unlikely to cease your investigation until you have exhausted every resource. I took the liberty of procuring what proof there was in order to encourage you to abandon this futile daydream."

Boyd continued to meet her eyes, not looking down at the laptop. The stubborn part of him said he didn't want to be the first one to break eye contact. In truth, he wasn't certain he wanted to see what was on the screen. He needed proof and yet he feared it.

Still, the larger part of him needed to know what had happened. For better or for worse.

He looked down and saw a surveillance video paused on a familiar scene: Sin's living room. He could see that it came from the cameras that had been installed by the Reapers.

There was a moment of silence and then Vivienne hit play.

It happened quickly. Disturbingly simply.

A number of guards entered Sin's apartment, fanning out like hunters preparing to trap a cornered animal. Sin walked out of his bedroom and saw them. His pale green eyes narrowed and Boyd wished there was sound; he could tell there was some sort of argument or at least words passed between them.

The guards approached Sin warily. Sin stood still, looking as though he didn't plan to fight. He seemed overall resigned by the situation; as if he'd been expecting this.

Yet when they moved closer, tranquilizer guns aimed at him and faces set in determination, Sin started to resist. He moved as if he was going to fight through them; as if he would find a way to live. They shot him with the tranquilizers, several at once, and Sin staggered. The tranquilizers must have been especially powerful because Sin fell back against the wall.

There was a moment, just the briefest of seconds where it looked like he was ready to resist further. But he must have felt the tranquilizers working through his system. He must have known he would have to fight the entire compound to escape, since once the order came down there was no end to the manhunt.

As Boyd watched, resignation returned to Sin's beautiful features. His pale green eyes went half-lidded. His hands were loose at his sides; fingers curled and no longer looking ready to fight.

He slumped against the wall and slid down, falling unconscious to the side within seconds.

There were a few seconds where the guards watched him suspiciously, perhaps expecting his high drug tolerance to kick in or believing he was faking it, but when he continued to lie there they moved in. They picked him up and dragged him out of the room.

Vivienne didn't say anything but before Boyd could comprehend how to react, she flipped to several short clips in a row. The guards dragging Sin out into the hallway outside his apartment. The guards taking him down the stairs and out into the courtyard in the dead of the night.

No one was around to see them start to drag him across the courtyard in a direction that could have been toward the Tower or the lab building. Boyd watched them until they moved out of screen into a deep black patch of shadow. The video stopped once they'd disappeared.

He continued to stare at the computer, feeling like he was a step away from reality. The room seemed faded around him, with all the color focused mercilessly on that simple laptop screen.

Vivienne did not click another video. She sat there silently and finally said in a subdued voice, "That is the entirety of the footage I was able to gather. After that point, they moved through the blind spots of the surveillance and, in all likelihood, entered the Tower through similar means. There are ways to access many parts of the compound without being seen if one knows the proper routes."

He couldn't look away from the screen. Shakiness buzzed along his limbs, down to fingertips that couldn't quite stay still. His hands twitched and tightened into fists.

His voice was quiet and strained when he asked, "Can I see it again?"

She didn't say anything. She pulled up the first video and sat silently as Boyd watched again, obsessively taking in every movement and nuance of Sin's. Every flicker of expression. Trying to read what Sin felt. Trying to gather any idea of what had gone through his mind.

But even with the high quality the screen was too small, or maybe it was simply that he wanted so badly for Sin to be life-sized and alive. All he could see was a moment where something changed, although what it was or why he didn't know, but it was when the guards moved in. When Sin had to have known without doubt that he was about to be terminated. Boyd watched the video and asked her to back up here or there so he could stare intently at his lover.

In the end, his initial impression remained the same: Sin had been resigned to his death. It had been just as Carhart had said; he'd known for a long time that this would be his end.

Boyd felt his mind buzzing and he dropped back into the chair, staring in shock at the screen.

Sin was dead.

He really, truly was dead.

The guards had come. They'd subdued him and taken him away. There was no daring escape in the night. No cover up for a magical disappearance that had taken the Agency by surprise. Even though the video cut out and he couldn't tell for certain whether they'd taken him to the Tower or the lab, it didn't matter. Neither was in the direction of an exit from the compound. Both paths led to the same end.

Either way, Sin was dead.

The words were immutable in his mind. He hadn't realized until he'd seen Sin collapse against the wall and he'd seen the guards drag him away that somehow in the back of his mind he'd still been holding out hope. Somehow, part of him had stubbornly refused to accept this reality he hadn't wanted to believe was true.

He'd known for so long and yet it wasn't until now that he could fully, completely accept it.

Sin was never, ever coming back.

He would never walk in the room again. He would never look at Boyd again. He would never touch him. His lips would never press against that sensitive part of Boyd's neck; a gentle caress of warmth and moisture that had felt so sensuous and comforting at the same time. Boyd would never again gravitate to Sin's body in the middle of the night and wake up with his bare skin flush against his lover's. They would never make love or banter or even have an argument over something stupid just because they could both be so headstrong.

Those vivid green eyes had been closed forever and he'd seen it, right there on the screen. He had, in effect, seen the last moments of Sin's life that he could ever see.

The world made even less sense around him than it had before. There was a buzzing in the background-- white noise in his brain that pushed sounds a step away and made his head feel like it was filled with cotton.

He stared at the laptop. At that unmoving screen. He was in too much of a state of shock to do anything else.

There weren't even any tears. Just a blank emptiness that had yet to be filled again.

Silence stretched in the office until he finally looked over at her. She was watching him with an unreadable expression but it seemed more neutral than cold.

"Why did you do this?"

She shrugged minutely and looked away, her gaze falling to the laptop as she turned it back toward herself. He couldn't see her eyes as she looked down and her expression didn't shift. "It does no good for you to wonder. Now that you know the truth of it, I expect you to focus more clearly on your job."

She spoke impassively, her tone as distant and removed as ever, and she continued to look down at the laptop. He couldn't tell what she was doing. It seemed to be taking a long time to close down a few programs.

He was silent for a long moment. The buzzing was growing stronger. He could have left but there was something he needed to verify. Something he thought he already knew but had to hear to be certain.

"Did you know?" His voice was quiet but there was an edge to it. "Did you know that Hsin would... That the Marshal would do that?"

"It was a very real possibility," she replied calmly. She finally looked up at him again but he couldn't read a thing in those sky blue eyes. "I had my suspicions."

His fingers twitched but he didn't look away from her face. The cotton head feeling was intensifying; like a swarm of insects taking nest in his brain.

"And my mission?"

"What of your mission?"

Even through the distance, he felt his shoulders tense. His eyes were hard. "Did you know what they would do to me there?"

She watched him evenly. "If you are asking whether I was aware of the prostitution ring and XRT-330, of course I was."

The world started to crystallize.

"And the duration you gave me? One to two months?"

"It was based on the absolute best case scenario," she said simply. "It was unlikely that timeline would ever be met. From the start, the assumption was that it would take closer to four months or longer."

His heartbeat sounded loud; an echo in the dried up, empty cavern of his mind.

It all felt so surreal.

He couldn't believe her. He couldn't believe that she'd actually done that. She'd lied even about mission parameters...

He heard himself asking the words he'd been wanting to ask, to demand, since he'd come back to himself in Europe.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"You would have been illogical and attempted to refuse," she replied without hesitation. She continued to watch him calmly, not appearing to see anything wrong with her responses or the situation.

"Illo..." He started to echo but couldn't bring himself to finish. His voice had grown quieter but it was a tense quiet; a tightly wrapped ball of silence.

"Of course, you would have been forced to go, regardless," she continued. She was watching him but did not see the anger that was coursing through him. Or maybe she did and didn't care. "For the efficiency of the mission and to deter unnecessary argument, I determined it was best to provide you with the information necessary for an understanding of the mission without providing superfluous details which would only distract you."

"Superfl--" Boyd cut himself off with a sharp shake of his head. The buzzing was a burn in his blood, in his body. Her words cut through every part of him to settle, like a necrotic weight, at the base of his stomach. "You sent me there knowing--"

He couldn't even finish the sentence.

There was no way to properly comprehend the repercussions of her offhanded comment. The knowledge that his own mother had sent him into that place, knowing what would be done to him and not telling him. Not giving him any indication of what to expect so he could at least prepare himself.

All in the name of efficiency of the mission.

He couldn't even be surprised. He'd known for a long time that she had to have known. Hearing her confirm it only verified to him that he couldn't trust her. He couldn't believe anything that she told him from now on. Who knew what manner of information she would keep to herself because she deemed it would be inconvenient to her if he knew?

He didn't understand her. He didn't even want to try anymore. She was alien to him and he realized he'd gotten to the point where it didn't matter anymore that she was related to him. If anything, he wished she wasn't. He would have preferred to be able to cut every connection with her if he could. But he couldn't.

Jae-Hwa seemed to think Vivienne had a thing for protecting him but he didn't know what to think. Even if she'd saved his life before, even if in the future he would appreciate being shown the videos because it let him have some sense of closure and could shut off that insidious hope, and even if some day later he'd think Kassian had been right that at least Sin hadn't known what was really happening-- at that moment, it didn't matter.

Sitting there having just watched his lover be dragged off to his death and having just heard how much his mother had known and how little she'd told him, in his mind she was the reason he never got to say a proper goodbye. She was the reason he'd had such a difficult time adjusting when he'd returned. She was the reason he'd been completely blindsided by Sin's death. She was the reason all he had now were ashen memories.

Her and her ice cold logic that forgot there were human hearts behind the pawns she moved on her chessboard.

He looked at her and he saw all the lies she'd ever told him; all the games she'd ever played. All the times she'd ignored him only to pull him out later to use him. All the times she'd hurt him because she'd felt he wasn't strong enough. Because he wasn't lining up with the reality she'd created in her mind.

And he realized he couldn't forgive her. Not this time. Maybe never again.

"I understand."

It may have been the quiet, resolute quality that made her look at him more sharply. Made her assess him silently.

He was finally able to look at her and see her for what she was. She was not his mother. She was not the Inspector. She wasn't even human. She couldn't be, not the way she acted. She was foreign to him, this woman who made decisions for others' lives offhandedly, as if it were her right. This woman who had alternately hurt and belittled him for most of his life and who always seemed to expect that he would come crawling back.

His throat closed and he couldn't have said anything more even if he'd wanted to. Even if he'd known what to say. Maybe it was the realization related to her or maybe it was the surveillance video playing in a loop in the back of his mind.

Sin getting shot with tranquilizer darts. Sin stumbling back. That strong, perfect body hitting the wall and sliding down. Slumping. Never moving again.

There was nothing else. There was nothing more.

Now all he had left was his resolution from earlier; to do what he could to prolong the life of the few people he trusted, until he was killed himself.

He stood and took a step back without looking away from her and somehow, in his mind, that cemented it. He was no longer interested in her explanations. He no longer wished to listen to her callous words wrapped in the guise of logic and efficiency. They worked at the same place and she was his superior so he had to be around her but even more than he'd felt before, he no longer wanted anything to do with her.

He started to turn and she went still. Neither of them spoke and some part of him had to wonder about that. About her lack of indignant demand that he would leave when she told him he could. As he turned his back on her and left, he wondered if he'd imagined the flash of uncertainty in her eyes. The doubt in the twitch of her fingers.

Or if that had been a lie as well.

The door made a tired squealing sound as Boyd opened it. The small tattoo parlor was just as he remembered it; dully lit in front with pictures of tattoos and designs on the walls. The simple white bed sheet covering the back room was pulled halfway to the side, allowing a glimpse of Jaz working on a man's shoulder.

She looked just as he remembered. A short, tight tank top that showed her midriff above baggy pants. Judging by her eyebrows, her hair was naturally brown but one would never know that based on her hair. She had bleached white blond dreadlocks that fell to her lower back even with most of it pulled back in a low ponytail. Mixed within the white, random dreads were vibrant purples, blues and teals. Her green eyes were dark and ringed with hazel. She was several years older than Boyd and had colorful tattoos adorning much of her body.

She glanced up, her gaze passing over Boyd dismissively before she returned to the tattoo.

"Twenty minutes," was all she said.

Boyd had to shove the door shut behind him. It caught for a moment before he could force it. He looked around the room and after a moment walked to the wall of photographs, many of which were years old.

Jaz always offered to take a picture of the tattoos she designed. It was a commemoration for people who may lose it later in the war-- amputated limbs, skin that burned off in uncontrollable fires-- and snapshots protected for the loved ones left behind. Not everyone took her up on the offer, and others who did took the pictures with them. Some didn't want a picture of the tattoo so much as the moment.

For the ones who wanted to be remembered when there was no one else to remember them, there was the wall.

Boyd walked to the back corner, searching the area from memory until he finally located it.

He and Lou sat on the bench smiling. Lou's grin was huge and they were each holding up their shirts to show the tattoos on their lower stomachs. Lou leaned against Boyd and looked unquestionably proud. Boyd looked at his younger self with the smooth skin and the hopeful, tentative smile and he wondered where it had all gone. That short-lived belief that there could be a future for him that he desired.

The belief that he could be happy.

His fingers brushed over the photograph and for a moment he considered asking Jaz if he could bring it home with him. The moment was gone almost before it began. Most likely he would be terminated within the coming months. He'd be lucky if he made it a year. Even if they didn't kill him, it was only a matter of time until he died on a mission.

His future was set down a path he couldn't avoid or deny. Soon, he too would be a ghost of the past. It was safer to leave the photograph here, where that hopeful point of both his and Lou's memories could remain untouched. The ghosts of their happier times could haunt this place and leave reality to the life Boyd couldn't flee.

He didn't pay attention to time. At some length, low voices moved behind him. He ignored them, looking at the different pictures although not straying far from his own. The squealing of the door shut out the world beyond with finality. Soon he felt a presence at his side.

"Looking for inspiration?" Jaz asked, pausing just behind him.

He stayed still, not answering at first. His gaze had strayed toward the old picture again. He couldn't look away from Lou's happy face. He kept wondering what it would have been like had their places been switched.

She started to say something but at that moment he turned toward her. Jaz looked at him and there was a moment where all he saw was irritation before startled recognition moved through her features. She looked at the wall behind him, at the picture he'd been hovering near like a parent by a dead child's grave, and recognition was soon replaced by surprise.

"Boyd?" she asked, her eyebrows shooting up. "That you?"

He shrugged and stepped away from the wall, not really knowing where he was headed but not feeling like standing near the picture anymore. Suddenly that time felt too personal to share. Even with the person who had taken the picture.

"Wow," she said blandly, looking him over. "Who knew you'd develop some style?"

"I need a tattoo filled in," he told her without preamble.

She raised an eyebrow and walked over to a sink at the back. "Nice to see you too," she said blandly. She cleaned her hands, taking the time to do it well.

He trailed behind her, stopping at the threshold to the back room. His gaze moved over the small area. It hadn't changed much, either. He could still remember sitting there with Lou. Pulling out their lists of Latin phrases and Jaz rolling her eyes at the 'lameness' they were presenting her.

"Don't you want anything cool?" she'd pressed. "Skulls, dragons-- hell, even a good tribal design is better than that."

She'd crouched over Lou's stomach, tattooing him while he'd grit his teeth to keep from making any embarrassing noises of pain. Boyd had sat at Lou's side, watching with great interest and steeling himself for his turn next. Lou had said something snide to her and she'd relented, a flash of a smile on her lips before it had faded away as she'd concentrated.

The words had formed slowly across Lou's stomach, dark letters of hope and promise arching near his hip bone. Boyd's fingers had twitched as he'd thought about how he'd wanted to run his hand over that pale skin. He'd felt Lou's stare on him until he'd looked up. He'd been met by an enigmatic look in those blue eyes he hadn't been accustomed to, then a scrunched face as Lou had looked away.

Jaz had started on the second word and had said absently, relenting on her teasing earlier, "Tattoos are personal. You need to get what fits you and ignore everyone else."

"You know," she said, her voice seeming abrupt in the silence. "Last time I saw you, Lou was dead and you looked half gone, asking me to put some pretty depressing shit on your back."

She turned the faucet off with the back of her wrist and grabbed a towel as she turned. Her eyes were dark and intent, taking him all in; studying him as if she could see through him to his soul. She dried her hands off, a frown pulling at her lips and faintly narrowing her eyes.

"I thought you were dead."

Boyd thought he may as well have been, considering the Agency's secrecy and stronghold on his life. "I've been preoccupied," was all he said.

She quirked an eyebrow and threw the towel to the side, walking closer to him.

"Preoccupied?" she echoed, stopping in front of him and staring him hard in the face. She scrutinized his eyes, his neutral expression, and shook her head. "It's more than that. You look cold. Your eyes are different. It's a little like when Lou died, only wrong somehow."

She raised both eyebrows and said flatly, "Some bad shit's gone down for you again, hasn't it?"

His eyes narrowed. "What does it matter to you even if it has?"

"Lou's what matters to me," Jaz said firmly, giving him a steadfast stare that was nearly a glare. Her back was straight and he got the impression she would have crossed her arms if she hadn't just washed her hands. "I loved that kid like a brother and he loved you like you were the only thing on Earth. I have an obligation to make sure you're okay if you come by my place and I'm going to stick to it."

Something about the way she said that tugged at Boyd's thoughts until it suddenly clicked. The memory of his first attempt at suicide flashed in his mind. Sitting in his room, covered in blood with splatters on the wall and the knife sliding out of his grip. Unrelenting pain and the blurring of the world around him. Wanting with every fiber of his being for everything to fade for good-- and looking up to see his mother.

He was so surprised by the thought that he didn't think to hide it from his face.

"Did you call my mother last time?" he asked incredulously.

"Damn right I did." Jaz glared at him although she didn't seem angry; simply stubborn as hell and with an attitude to back it up. "It took me awhile to track down some contact information but did you really think I wouldn't? You looked like you were ready to kill yourself. I thought I'd be able to help you if you stayed with me but it was like you didn't hear a word I said. The second you left I dug up the numbers Lou'd given me before."

Boyd stared at her in disbelief. Yet, it all made sense. He'd always wondered why Vivienne had happened to come home at such a convenient time when she had typically been gone for months on end. It had always seemed a little strange to him but he'd never known to question it because it had never occurred to him that Jaz would actually call.

Vivienne had never said anything about being alerted and part of him wondered why that was. It made him understand her even less because that meant she had specifically returned home, knowing he may die if she didn't. It wasn't something she'd stumbled upon and reacted to without thought. She could have easily ignored Jaz's phone call.

Instead, she'd come home to save her son's life.

Was it just because she hadn't wanted the word suicide related to her family? Had she simply wanted to ensure that if he died it was on her terms, not his? Or had there been some other, less conceivable answer? He couldn't believe it was for anything like love. The word hadn't been in the woman's vocabulary since his father's death.

It didn't matter, regardless. Even if she'd saved his life more than once she seemed to think it gave her the right to dictate what he did with it. And he was no longer interested in catering to that belief.

"So just so you know, if you have some sort of suicidal agenda going on here I'm not gonna let it slide," Jaz continued firmly. "You come into this shop, you better be prepared that I won't let you walk away and ruin all the hard work I just put into my designs."

Boyd watched her for a long moment and then shook his head, pushing his hair back and looking away. He felt bemused by the information and didn't know what to do with it. Everything to do with that time was so long ago that it didn't even matter to him anymore that Jaz had called on him. He supposed if she hadn't, he never would have met Sin.

More than anything, there was a faint wave of relief. He knew he could trust her to help him with the more difficult request; the one he hadn't wanted to deal with at the Agency. The reason he'd come here instead of going somewhere else.

Because he'd hoped their history, no matter how tenuous, would work in his favor.

"I won't try to kill myself this time," he said mildly. "I just want a tattoo filled in, like I said before." He paused and glanced at her sidelong. "And something else."

She gave him an unimpressed look. "Yeah? What's this 'something else' before I decide whether I want to spend time on your phantom ass?"

He studied her evenly before flicking his eyes back toward the main door. It was shut firmly and it didn't seem like anyone else was coming in. He decided to get it over with before they could be interrupted. He moved over toward the table she used for people getting tattoos on their backs and half-turned away from her as he said, "I need your help with something."

He leaned forward, pulling his pants and underwear down just enough to show her. On his right side, in the area that transitioned from his lower back to his ass cheek, a set of burn scars stood out in relief against his pale skin. Several angled lines went from large down to small.

It was a stylized tornado; Cyclone's logo.

Jaz walked over, her hands clinical as she ran them down his skin and she studied the scars. She quirked an eyebrow and looked up at him as he looked over his shoulder.

"You got yourself branded?" she asked, sounding as though she didn't quite know what to make of that, and Boyd shrugged.

"Something like that," he said, not wanting to get into the truth. "But I don't want that design anymore."

Her lips thinned and she looked down, eyebrows furrowing as she studied the scars more closely. "Well, I can see what I can tattoo over it..."

He shook his head and dug into his pants pocket until he could pull out a folded piece of paper. He handed it back to her. "I want you to burn that over it. Make it look like it said that all along."

She looked down at the paper dubiously. It had a single Chinese character on it and she frowned, looking between that and the stylized tornado. "What's with you and foreign words all over your body?" she asked rhetorically.

"I like it," he said blandly.

He left out that it was Sin's first name. If he was going to be branded by anybody, he wanted it to be Sin. Even if Sin was dead, it was better having his memory burned into him than spending the rest of his life having to remember those moments of panic when he'd first known for certain the mission wasn't what he expected.

The guards who'd overpowered him and held him down. Distrust and suspicion and a spike of fear as he'd seen Amy approaching with the syringe.

"What the hell is that?" he'd demanded sharply and she hadn't answered. She'd never answered. She'd simply prepped him and stuck the needle in the crook of his elbow.

That moment was still crystal clear in his memory: the deep red of his blood pooling beneath the clear liquid in the syringe. The thought running through his mind, Hsin was right, followed by, What will he do if I don't come back?

The second that had dragged out before Amy had pushed the plunger down. His entire body arching and jerking against their hands; the startled "Ahh--" escaping him.

Euphoria and mindless energy and, for weeks, nothing else.

He didn't remember being branded, although he'd later learned it had happened right after they'd forced Slide on him. It was a measure of how disturbing Slide was that he didn't even remember his skin being vaporized. He knew they hadn't used anesthesia.

He'd probably gotten off on it, he thought darkly. He knew he'd been aroused; the pictures they'd taken of him for the catalogue had been right afterward. He'd seen the pictures and he knew what he'd looked like. The dilated eyes; the parted lips and the color in his cheeks. Even in the picture it had been clear that there had been nothing but sex on his mind.

Some memories were clouded but he would never forget that first breathless, rapturous hit of Slide. That first taste of ecstasy that had burned him alive and had him begging for more.

Jaz's fingers pulled the skin taut and it snapped him back to the present. He closed his eyes and tilted his head down, his fingers curling. His hair shifted and fell forward, sheltering his expression. He couldn't even feel anything about the memory or the disturbing blanks elsewhere. Not anymore.

"The design should overlay decently," Jaz was saying in contemplation. She was all business now that the aspect of art had come into play. "It'll look a little wonky but if I make it super stylized, it should work well enough."

Her fingers moved away from his skin and she stepped back. He pulled his clothing back into place before he turned to look at her.

"I dunno if I'm all about this burning idea, though." Jaz watched him warily. "Why don't I just tattoo over it?"

"Because it won't make what's under it go away," Boyd replied evenly.

She frowned, scrutinizing his face, and then shrugged and turned away. She walked to the counter space at the end of the room and set the sheet of paper down. "You do realize it's one of the most painful body mods you can do."

"I don't care."

"Anesthesia won't be used and it's done slowly, bit by bit," she continued pointedly. "It would take hours."

"It doesn't matter."

"And it takes months to heal," she finished.

"You won't convince me not to do this, Jaz. I understand what I'm asking."

She nodded but still hadn't turned around as she gathered some supplies. "Alright. I know some scarification artists I can ask for you--"

"I want it to be you," Boyd cut her off, shaking his head. "I'll pay you extra if you want but it has to be you. I want someone I know I can trust doing it."

She paused, her shoulders somewhat tense and head moving just so, just enough for her to start to look over her shoulder but not enough for him to see her expression. She was silent for a breath and then it was all business again.

"Sit," she ordered, nodding at the chair nearby. He obeyed and she pulled a stool over until she was sitting near him. "So what tat do you need filled in?"

He held out his left arm, showing her the roughly sketched outline that he had on his inner forearm. The tattoo he'd tried to do himself while in the midst of the mission at Aleixo's, afraid he'd forget who he was and fully become Cameron.

He'd made himself a tattoo to remind himself of Sin no matter what he was doing; on his inner arm so he'd see it even when he was holding a dick he was sucking, or his arms were held down above his head, or his fingers were gripping a woman's hips as he slammed into her. He'd wanted something that could snap him out of the high no matter the sexual act.

It was the only thing he'd been able to think of at the time to give himself some reassurance that he could be strong enough to some day make it home. To return to some sense of normalcy. To some day again feel the strength of Sin's arms encasing him, and the support and relief that came with it.

"Homemade, huh?" she observed and Boyd nodded. "What'd you use?"

"Heated needle and pen ink," Boyd replied as he stared down at the dots that had taken forever to roughly outline the shape he wanted.

He'd never gotten to finish, anyway. Aleixo had found him one day and had demanded what he thought he was doing. Apparently his body hadn't been his to work on. It was alright to brand him or stick God knew what inside him but it wasn't okay to add to the tattoos already adorning his body. Not if it hadn't been Aleixo's idea first.

Aleixo had taken away the needle and pen and told him if he caught him at it again, there would be consequences. Not wanting to do anything to jeopardize the mission, Boyd hadn't ever tried to continue. Still, he had run his hand almost comfortingly along the lines whenever he'd been alone and had felt overwhelmed.

"There was no way I could properly finalize it at the time," was all he said aloud.

Her eyes narrowed in mild irritation and she turned his arm this way and that. "You know you can get an infection doing that shit, right?"

"I was lucky," he replied by way of acknowledgment.

She snorted but didn't comment. "So unless you want me to play a rousing game of connect the dots, I'm not positive what you were going for here."

He dug into his pocket with his right hand and pulled out the other sheet of paper. He'd drawn and colored what he wanted on his arm and held it out to her. She took the sheet and studied it, brow furrowing and eyes narrowed, her lips tilted down at the edges in thought.

He'd wanted something that could obliquely remind him of Sin; something that would be special to him in a way that wouldn't compromise the mission. Something he could potentially explain away as Cameron, but would remind him that he was Boyd. It had taken him awhile to settle on an idea, because nothing had seemed right. What he'd ended up with in concept was now painstakingly put to paper.

It was a drawing of a tree with the root system exposed. Tree branches wound around at the top, scraggly and circuitous.

He had used saturated colors. Great care was put into shading many of the leaves individually so it looked like a real tree hit by sunlight. The base color he'd chosen for the leaves was a brilliant green that was the closest color to matching Sin's eyes that he could manage. The roots of the tree interwove with a Celtic knot, making it difficult to tell where the roots ended and the Celtic knot began. Bits of root dangled at the end, making it look more natural, and he'd put imperfections in the bark to make it feel more realistic.

He'd drawn it remembering the shelter of the trees at the cabin. The peacefulness of their time together, away from the world. The safety of having Sin at his side.

Sin represented protection, safety, love, happiness... All the things he'd lost, and all the things he'd been terrified he would never regain.

The more he'd needed the tattoo and Sin's memory, the more meaning he'd placed on it: the idea of trees always coming alive again no matter how brutal the winter reinforcing that they could make it through anything, and the lines of the Celtic knot curling back in on themselves to underscore how every path he took led him back to Sin.

It became a visual promise to Sin that he would never stray. An unspoken message that he was committed to Sin for the rest of his life.

Now, he wanted it as a memento of a love he knew he could never recreate.

Jaz looked between the rough outline and the drawing and ultimately nodded.

"I can do this but I'd make a few minor changes, myself, so it'd look more like a tattoo and less like a drawing."

"That's fine," Boyd said dismissively. "As long as you don't change what it is altogether."

She nodded. "There's a lot of detail and colors, though." Her green eyes moved up to meet his. "It'll take more than one session."

"I assumed as much." He tilted his head toward the table where the other sheet of paper lay. "Maybe by the next session we can do both."

Her expression was unreadable as she shrugged. "Maybe. We'll have to see how long it takes me to get the chance to learn how to do it properly."

Boyd nodded, unsurprised by the response.

She frowned to herself and said, "Right. Well, we can do some of it today, at least."

She rolled her stool to the nearby desk, swiping a marker off it and returning to his side. She pulled his left arm until it was at a better angle for her to crouch over while she popped open the marker. Teal and white dreadlocks fell over her shoulder as she leaned forward, saying somewhat distantly in concentration:

"So this is how I think it should be done."

As he sat there watching the outline of the tattoo grow and when he later felt the familiar but welcome pain of the needle as the design formed in front of his eyes, he thought about the future. He thought about where he was now and where he would have to be tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that. He thought about coping and moving on.

All that mattered now was the last bit of defiance he could afford. He couldn't change that he'd been branded with Cyclone's logo along with all the other slaves, marked as their property so that between that and Slide he never would have escaped. He couldn't change his future at the Agency. He couldn't predict the missions he'd be sent on or what other issues could await him.

All he could do was mark Sin's name on himself as a last fuck you to the people who owned his body. All he could do was give himself a personal, constant reminder of the man he'd loved more than anyone and anything.

Going into the future, he wouldn't be able to afford even a single mistake or he would be dead. He couldn't let thoughts of Sin distract him or bring him down. He had to shove his dead lover's memory into the recesses of his mind; never forgetting him, but having to focus on the present.

It was a hard and painful realization to come to but he knew it was the only thing he could do.

There were people still alive who needed his help. He hadn't been able to do anything other than struggle to prolong the time until Sin had been killed and in the end all his efforts had been in vain. But with the situation the way it was in the Agency now, there were people who needed him there to support them. People who, like him, had a very short list of people to trust. People who he would do everything he could to keep alive.

He'd been too late for Sin. He'd been too weak for Lou. He'd been too young for his dad. They'd all lived and loved and fallen, one by one, leaving deeper imprints on his soul each time. He couldn't change their deaths nor could he change that Sin was now in the same category as Lou and his father. People who he would have done anything for, lost to him in situations where that 'anything' had not been enough.

He didn't know what lay in store for him tomorrow, or even hours or seconds from now. He didn't know how long he had to live-- how long any of them did. All he knew was he wasn't going to let the Agency win. They'd taken so much from him and there was still more they could take; still more they could demand and, ultimately, he would have to give.

He had been scared and alone and shocked and in denial but in the end he would live as long as he could scrape out his meager existence. He would protect those he could protect and do his best for those he couldn't. He would live when they expected him to die and he would do it all in the name of the people he'd lost.

He would do it to tell the Agency to fuck off and to show them how bad an idea it was to mess with him. He would do it to prove that even if they had control of his life, he would always come back and each time he would make himself stronger. Each time he would make it that much harder for them to win.

There was a lot he couldn't control but there was one thing he could: his stubbornness, and with that his resolution to fight back against the people who thought they could break him.

Continue to Fade Chapter 8...