Fade Chapter Eleven

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

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Slash (M/M), het (M/F) and graphic language, violence and sexual situations. Not intended for anyone under 18!


Book One: Evenfall See Evenfall chapter list.

Book Two: Afterimage
See Afterimage chapter list.

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Book Three: Fade
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Fade Chapter 11

Uploaded on 6/19/2011

The most interesting thing about the briefing so far was that Ryan had lopped off his curly hair. Of course, the meeting hadn't officially started yet.

The new team sat in their customary positions around the table; Ryan between Owen and Jeffrey on one side, with Bex, Emilio and Boyd respectively on the other. No one looked at each other and nobody spoke. Bex watched the door, waiting for Carhart to arrive. Emilio sat with his arms crossed over his chest and stared moodily out the window. Jeffrey ignored everyone and seemed to grow more distant by the day. He was looking at his palm panel but had it angled so no one else could see what was on the screen.

The tiredness in Owen's features had only grown more pronounced in the last few months; there were dark circles under his eyes. Pinched lines around his lips were starting to compete with the laugh lines he'd had before. Although he still leaned back in his chair, sometimes tipping back on two legs like he used to, his eyes were dark and often narrowed, and he seemed solemn. For this meeting he sat still, staring at nothing in particular.

That seemed to be the normal proceedings during briefings these days. The camaraderie of days past had gone with Sin and dwindled further with Bex's continued presence.

Ryan thumbed through his touch screen laptop with a pensive expression on his face. He was chewing on the inside of his cheek and looking exhausted. His hair was now cut quite short and neat, parted at the side and tucked behind his ears. The grey streaks looked more noticeable without the mess of corkscews and cowlicks. His indigo eyes also looked larger in his thin face.

"Ah ha," he muttered to himself, hunching closer to his computer.

"I like your hair," Emilio piped up randomly, his attention having been drawn to the skinny R&D agent.

Ryan gave him a startled look, obviously not paying attention. "Huh?"

"He said you look like less of a puff with your haircut," Bex said in her typically droll tone. "I'd have to concur."

Ryan frowned, giving Emilio a hurt look.

"Now do you really think I'd say some shit like that?" Emilio raised his dark eyebrows, giving Ryan a grin and a wink although they weren't as animated as they'd have been in the past. "She can't help translating compliments that way. That's how ugly people do."

Bex actually scowled at him. "Sod off, Vega. Fucking pretty boy."

"I bet you wish you were the pretty boy here. Then you could bone your sister with a real dick."

Ryan's eyes widened and he bent over his computer again. Despite his attempts to stifle it, a half-hysterical bark of laughter escaped his mouth. Bex observed him coolly for a long moment before shifting her midnight gaze over to Emilio again.

"Yeah? You might be fucking right."

There was a brief silence only interrupted by a softly uttered "ew" from Ryan.

Emilio's face broke out into a savage grin and he leaned indecently close to Bex. "I bet it just kills you that she begs for every cock that swings her way, don't it?"

She didn't reply and simply looked at him darkly, mouth curled into a sneer.

"I got more details than I needed from old Douglas," he continued, eyes running up and down Bex's front slowly and deliberately. "Said she came harder than a bursting levee. All over his desk."

Bex's mouth quivered and her nostrils flared as her fingers dug into the armrests.

Emilio didn't move an inch, despite the obvious fire building in Bex's expression. "He told her he had half a mind to share her with me. Just like old times, you know. But even if your dyke Marshal ordered me to, I still wouldn't touch that used up twat. Those lips have been wrapped around more poles than a fucking flag."

The reaction was nearly immediate but just as quickly aborted. Bex started to surge forward but caught herself, straining against the likely desire to bash Emilio's face in. And he didn't move an inch, watching her and looking like he wanted her to do it.

She took a deep breath and sat back.

"That's right, bitch. Know your place."

"Go to hell," she growled and turned her head sharply, staring at the door with eyes that were narrowed into hateful slits.

Ryan flashed Emilio a discreet thumbs up and the older man puckered his lips in return. Ryan reddened with a tiny smile and went back to his computer. Jeffrey continued to studiously ignore everyone around him. His eyebrows were drawn down and lips pinched. It almost seemed as though he hadn't heard anything anyone said.

Owen was watching the others but was mostly focused with dark, intense eyes on Bex. He rarely spoke anymore except when he was asked a question. There was never anything in his expression to show exactly what it was he was thinking but he seemed wary of her. Like he was keeping her in the corner of his eye at all times so he wouldn't miss any sudden movements.

Boyd lingered his gaze on Bex briefly, silently enjoying seeing her at a disadvantage for once. She was always the one making sniping comments at others or bringing up painful topics so it was good to see that scenario flipped.

Emilio was one of the few people in the unit who talked back to her, which was probably in part because he was in the best position to do so. Boyd still ignored her for the most part, partially out of a sense of self-preservation.

He glanced over at Emilio to show support but let his gaze slide by almost immediately.

Emilio was seated no closer than he ever was but sometimes it still felt too close. Their night of binge drinking was over two months in the past but the awkwardness still remained on some level. Although it had faded and it wasn't something they ever made obvious, Boyd could still feel a faint level of tension, especially when they were alone.

At that moment, Carhart strode into the room. He was wearing his thick jacket and didn't even bother to let his typically assessing gaze sweep over his team before he began speaking.

"Annadale Beach," he said sharply, resting one palm against the table as his fingers hit a couple of buttons on the panel. "Infamous college and party town of the northeastern seaboard, and full of liberal minded young people who are easily drawn into the propaganda of insurgents."

Carhart's cerulean blue eyes flicked up briefly as a holographic map of the small beach town began rotating above the table. It was only a couple of miles long and only a mile wide, with generous beach fronts and a moderately sized college campus domineering most of it.

"There's been a slew of abrupt disappearances from Annadale in the past seven months that have been recently linked to possible Janus activity in the area." He looked over at the R&D side of the table. "Ryan?"

"Yeah uh," Ryan sat up straighter and fiddled with his panel some more. "Basically, there has been a rash of abrupt withdrawals from Annadale University since the start of the semester in September and those withdrawals eventually turned into missing persons reports from the kids' parents when they never showed up at home or spoke to anyone again. Most of the disappearances were linked to a new school organization that had formed, called United For Change. Pretty corny, ha ha."

He glanced around the table briefly and shrugged when no one else seemed to find it amusing. "Anyway, the bulk of the disappearances occurred only a couple of months after the semester and generally stopped over the winter break. The general thought was that it was some kind of cult or something. Authorities down there also tried linking it to drugs-- there's this big Pandora problem down there."

"Ryan," Carhart said flatly, eyes narrowing with impatience as he stood staring down at the R&D agent.

"Okay, okay." Ryan fiddled with his panel again and an image of a young girl popped up. She looked to be in her late teens, had long auburn curly hair and vivid amber eyes.

"Two days ago the body of this girl, Leenah Crawford, washed up on the shore in southern Annadale. The body was badly decomposed which is why it had slipped out of whatever the killer had used to weigh it down. I have a source down in the Beach who's been keeping tabs on the disappearances and he linked Leenah's murder to that whole situation. Apparently back in October, an employee at the Blue Moon Diner, this popular hang out down there, witnessed something shady in the parking lot. He filed a really detailed police report and... well, that's basically why we're talking about this now. It speaks for itself."

An enlarged version of the report appeared, showing the text from the supplements. In the early hours of the morning on October 15th, the witness (referred to in the report as W/1) had overheard arguing in the parking lot. According to his statement, three males (one of whom was thought to be Thomas Rucker who disappeared around the same time as the incident) and the female who the witness said had been referred to as "Leens" argued about whether or not they should leave school to attend some kind of seminar.

Leens, or Leenah now that the witness had officially identified her with the police after her body was found, had insisted that the camp sounded like some kind of terrorist training or brainwashing camp and made several statements expanding on why. References were also made to indicate that the camp was associated with politics and changing the new administration of government.

The witness reported that in the midst of the argument, two other individuals arrived to pick up the kids. In the end, the three males (including Rucker, who was never heard from again) went with an unidentified blond woman and Leenah left alone. What had prompted the witness to report the incident was the fact that one of the men associated with the seminar or camp had followed Leenah into the darkness after she refused to go.

"And it turns out that this student organization, United For Change or whatever, wasn't even an official club. It sprang up at the start of the school year but the petitioners never actually went through the whole process of making it a legit club. It was a pretty informal process-- some paperwork filed with some signatures indicating interest, but there isn't a real trail to go back to who started it in the first place if it was even a student at all," Ryan said with a shrug. "Pretty creepy."

Carhart stood up straight and glanced at his field agents. "We have strong reason to believe that UFC was started by an insurgent organization who is using Annadale as a recruiting ground for young idealists whom they can brainwash."

"Smells like Janus," Emilio said, leaning forward to squint at the police report thoughtfully. "Ain't that how they started out at first? A bunch of young kids fresh out of college? At least, that's all who got arrested at the start when they were all new and sloppy."

"Right," the General said curtly. "We don't have proof that it's Janus specifically but it reeks of them. And lately, they have returned to recruiting on US soil full time. They like brawn but Janus has always been about recruiting intellectuals; thinkers. That's how they got as far as they've come."

Boyd's eyes lingered on the projection thoughtfully before turning to Carhart. "Do we have any intel as to why they would be returning to their old ways now?"

"We have an undercover who managed to make it into Janus' training camp. He was sold to them by Aleixo Forakis. According to the few reports the agent has managed to send in, he's overheard talk that they need people in key positions other than ones of combat. I can only assume it relates to their continued attempts to infiltrate the government from various angles. Where one fails, another must take his or her place."

Boyd's expression remained carefully blank, although his fingers twitched against the arms of the chair. He nodded and looked away, staring at the projection.

So it was true that deep cover agents, or one at least, had successfully made it through the ring and ended up with Janus. He wondered what that agent's life was like and how difficult it may be for him to resist any brainwashing. He wondered if that agent was wishing he could return home or whether he had gone into it expecting it to be over a year. He wondered if anyone had lied to him when he took the mission.

"So, what's the mission?" Bex asked, getting directly to the point. In that regard, she was like Sin. Like him, she never seemed very interested in the back story as much as the issue at hand.

Carhart lifted his shoulders in a shrug. "At the moment, there isn't a specific objective so much as recon in the area and specifically the school. Boyd and Bex will go down for a couple of days to observe-- show interest in admission to the school, take a look at current and newly appointed organizations. Get a feel for the area. What we do next depends on what we find. I don't believe that Janus is done in that area-- it's a hotbed for the kinds of minds they desire."

Bex pursed her lips together, not looking very thrilled. "Will there be repeat missions? Will we actually have to enroll in the school?" She seemed disturbed by the notion.

"There will be repeat recon missions throughout the spring and summer. I don't think Janus is stupid enough to pull the same move twice in the same school year but they may try again with new freshmen in the fall. What happens then depends on what you find during the next few months. If there are signs of Janus, one of you may be sent there for some time. If the trace appears to be entirely cold, then you won't. It's a delicate situation and we have to be proactive. If we wait for a source to tell us that students have started going missing in October again, our window will be gone for one of you to enroll."

Bex seemed to have relaxed slightly when Carhart said only one of them would be going. She likely figured Boyd would be the one, if any.

Boyd found that he didn't actually mind that idea. It may be interesting to go to college. There were worse undercover assignments and if he enrolled, maybe he could even take some of the classes he'd never been able to take before everything had changed in his life. It was strange to think about how he'd gone to college years earlier than his peers, then dropped out, and now could potentially be returning when people his age would just be graduating.

It could be nice to be given that sort of undercover assignment, because if he did enroll it may mean he could get a reprieve from some of the more taxing missions. Even just for a little while. Maybe, for a bit, he could even pretend his life was normal.

"In the event it comes to that point, I'll volunteer to enroll," Boyd offered.

Carhart didn't look surprised and he nodded in acknowledgment, momentarily not looking as severe as he usually did lately. But then his face morphed back into one of indifference and he looked from Bex to Boyd.

"So basically, I woke up for this shitty meeting for nothing," Emilio commented, giving Carhart a deep scowl. "Cute. Real cute."

Ignoring him completely, the General flicked the holograph off. "You'll be taking separate forms of transportation there and staying at separate hotels for the next two days. The deadline for Fall admission approaches in two weeks so you will go in the guise of students who are visiting the campus. Questions?"

"When do we leave?" Boyd asked.

"Two hours. Head to Unit 16 as soon as we have finished here."

Boyd nodded and glanced at Bex to see if she was going to ask anything.

"Are we to communicate at all?"

"Not in person. It cannot seem as though the two of you are working together."

Bex nodded, her lips still pressed downward.

Carhart looked at everyone again before nodding shortly. "See Cynthia at once." That being said, he turned and walked out of the room. There was only a brief hesitation before a scowling Emilio did the same.

When Boyd got to Unit 16 there was a flurry of activity as usual. By the time there was a chance to breathe, he was wearing slouchy, loose jeans with old tennis shoes and an over-sized flannel shirt. His hair was shoved back and he'd been given rectangular, black-rimmed eyeglasses that completed the look. They put a worn bookbag half on his shoulder.

For a moment he was alone in the room, staring at himself in the mirror.

The person he saw was a marked difference from the way he'd otherwise been dressing lately. The flannel shirt was long sleeved, hiding the faded scars from his attempted suicide all those years ago, as well as the newer scars at the crooks of his elbows from shooting up with Slide for a year. The vibrant tattoo on his left forearm hid some of those marks, as had the slow progression of time in the half year since he'd returned.

For some reason, he felt glad to be in the alien clothing and leaving for a completely unrelated town. It was somewhat relieving to have the chance to leave his current life so far behind.

He watched himself for a few more seconds, now focusing on the mission. He adjusted the way he held himself until it fit his cover Tyler.

The Agency had created the Tyler persona to be attractive for what Janus would want in a recruit. He came from a middle class family who'd been decimated by the war. His mother and siblings had been killed. His father volleyed between wasting the remaining money they on booze and on trying, when sober, to be as good a dad as he could manage. Tyler had to work hard for everything and had been disillusioned by the general state of society. He'd expressed interest in politics during high school, had been on the debate team, and was now considering political science as a major.

Boyd took all that information into account when he determined how to act.

When he left, he was already playing the role as fully as he would when he was in Annadale. The way he walked, the way he held himself-- he automatically kept it all constant so he wouldn't slip character when he was closer to his goal.

He made it down to the station with time to spare and even had his choice of seats on the next bus leaving for Annadale. He ended up along a window seat, putting his backpack carelessly on the empty seat next to him.

After the initial rush, people trickled onto the bus. Boyd ignored everyone, staring out the window at the grey terminal beside him. He could faintly see his reflection, dull from more than the lighting and the dirty window.

He didn't pay any attention to anything until he heard movement at his side and glanced over.

A girl was looking down at him, hesitating as if she wanted to sit down. He automatically moved his backpack off the empty seat and shoved it between his feet. She smiled gratefully and muttered a quiet, "Thanks," as she sat down. Her back was straight and she glanced around nervously. Boyd looked out the window again.

The bus left shortly thereafter, making a groaning sound as it rolled out onto the streets. Boyd watched the broken high-rises pass by and shifted until he was comfortable. With the route they were taking, it didn't take long for the desolate city to get left behind and some semblance of nature to wind its way into view.

The countryside flashed by, the leaves brilliant shades of green and yellow. One particular shade of green that was prevalent reminded him of Sin's eyes; of how vivid that pale color could be and how one look had been enough to make the world fall away around Boyd.

Not that any of that mattered anymore.

Sighing, Boyd looked away from the window and leaned back in the uncomfortable seat. The ride took a few hours which gave him the opportunity to start reading one of the political books he'd been given as a prop for his cover.

When he stepped off the bus he looked around, shading his eyes and thinking to himself that he may actually have to invest in sunglasses out here. Too bad his cover wore glasses.

Annadale Beach/ was like being in another world. It was trendy and clean and full of saturated colors, or maybe it just felt that way because the sky and air seemed clearer here. It wasn't the first time Boyd had been at Annadale Beach but it felt different now for some reason. Maybe just because he wasn't here at a highly stressful time like he had been before, in the middle of Level 10 training where he'd screwed up so badly that he probably should have been terminated.

His eyes narrowed faintly and he hiked his backpack higher on his shoulder, then pulled out a crumpled map of the city from his pocket. He glanced it over and started walking toward Drakes Common; an area between city center and the university and where Marabell Inn was located.

Annadale Beach had a small-town feel to it, with a lot of local shops and surprisingly friendly people on the street. The place wasn't perfect-- there were boarded businesses and some of the houses looked vacant-- but it did feel idyllic compared to the city with decimated wastelands never that far from view.

It didn't take long for Boyd to find the inn and check into his room. He was on the fourth floor, with a view from the window that just barely caught the ocean. It was deep blues and greens and on the whole looked inviting. Not that Boyd planned to swim; large bodies of water never sat that well with him. He'd been drowned enough that the idea of running out there alone and throwing himself to the currents was alarming.

He sighed and dropped his backpack on the floor as he looked away. He supposed that was one more thing that made him not-quite-normal. One more thing that wouldn't let him pretend to be a college kid with nothing more important on his mind than avoiding homework.

The room itself was decent. He'd been in better but he'd also been in worse. The double bed had an ugly, strangely Southwestern-themed bedspread and the lamps had light bulbs that were dim or burnt out entirely.

The bathroom was small but clean and there were sample bottles of haircare and body wash. There was also a lavender-scented bar of soap made by a company whose name roughly translated from French into 'the dirty little one.' He wondered if that had been on purpose as an ironic title or if they'd been going for something closer to 'the little room' and had missed an l.

He didn't stay long in the hotel room. The walk to Annadale University was relatively pleasant and only took about twenty minutes. When Boyd got there, he sat down in the courtyard for awhile, just letting the warmth of the sun soak into him as he watched people come and go.

He could tell when classes started and ended based on the wave of students that periodically inundated the area. Still, people were walking around at all times so he assumed some of them were skipping class or had days off.

A mixed group of Extreme Frisbee players were utilizing an expanse of vividly green grass. They were sweaty and several of the males had long ago tossed off their shirts. Some girls were sitting nearby, cheering them on between turning to each other in animated discussion. There were a number of young men in the area as well, paying more attention to the game than the notebooks resting next to them with pages fluttering in the wind.

He sat down on a bench and pulled a trendy political book out of his backpack. He'd been given it as a prop to attract the right kind of attention. He half skimmed the book and half paid attention to his surroundings.

The theme of the book seemed to be the usual propaganda about the degradation of the government, especially post-war, and the likelihood that it would continue in a manner that would be destructive for everyone if the right people didn't step forward. The book was just starting to get into what needed to be done to get the country back on track when he noticed someone approaching him.

"Hey, I just read that."

Boyd looked up to see a young woman leaning forward, her hands braced on her thighs as she peered thoughtfully at the book in his hands. She looked up at him when she realized she had his attention. Her hair was dyed a violent red and unnaturally dark black, and she had thick black eyeliner ringing her brown eyes.

"You a student here?" she asked.

He shook his head and put a bookmark where he'd stopped. He flipped the book closed. "No. Thinking about it, though."

She nodded absently, looking down at the book before she pushed herself to a stand. Despite the relatively warm day, she had on black tights and a short grey skirt, with a red shirt that had a giant skull and crossbones with a bow on it. The shirt fell off one shoulder, revealing a skinny black strap for her bra. Her boots were clunky and black and had more zippers and hooks than necessary.

"So you... go to school here?" he asked her somewhat dubiously.

She laughed. "Sure do. I'm poli-sci major, actually, even though you'd never think it." She gestured bemusedly to her choice of dress. "That's why I thought it was cool you're reading that, actually. You don't look the type to be into all that either, no offense."

He shrugged. "Well I guess appearances can be deceiving."

She grinned cheerfully and stuck out her hand. "I'm Zale, by the way."

"Zale?" Boyd repeated, automatically reaching out to shake her hand. She had a surprisingly firm grip.

She scrunched up her face. "Well, technically Azalia but it's a stupid name."

Boyd set the book aside. "Tyler."

Azalia smiled. "Hi, Tyler."

She dropped onto the bench next to him and leaned back on her hands, eyes tracking one of the particularly attractive men whose toned body was well complemented by a sheen of sweat.

"So you read Morrison's book?" Boyd asked after a moment, turning to watch her more fully.

"Yep. How far are you anyway?" She looked over and without asking for permission reached across him and picked up the book, flipping to see what chapter he was on. "Oh," she said with great meaning behind the syllable. Her eyebrows raised and she grinned impishly. "Just about at the best part."

"Yeah, until someone interrupted me and stole my book."

She laughed. "Sorry, sorry." She set the book back down on the bench between them. "It's good, though, seriously. I think Morrison did a good job following through with his analysis of the current regime and realistic expectations in the event of an upheaval."

"I read his other book and really liked it," Boyd said, sitting up straighter and regarding her with a bit of excitement. "You know, White Noise?"

"Oh yeah, I like that one too," she said agreeably. "This is better, though."

"Nice," he said appreciably. He looked down and picked up the book, his fingers curling around it as he set it on his lap. He turned his attention back to her. "So you're poli-sci?"

"And proud of it," she said cheerfully. "Even though lots of people seem to think we're posers, or too opinionated, or nuts." She paused, her eyes flicking skyward and lips pursing in thought. "Or I guess a combination of all three."

"So the classes are good here? I heard there was a great prof--"

"Larousse?" Azalia looked over with a grin. "She's awesome. She really believes in what she's teaching, you know? She's always figuring out new ways to get us all involved."

"Like what?" Boyd asked curiously, his thoughts immediately turning toward Janus.

"Like..." Azalia's face scrunched up in thought. She kicked her feet out in front of her, rocking one foot back and forth on the edge of the heel. After a moment she straightened slightly.

"Oh okay, so like one time she had the Social Mobilization class stage a coup. But the cool thing was, she'd split the class in half-- one half was basically acting as the guys in charge and they thought the whole thing was some experiment about the range of leadership or whatever. But the other half of the class was actually given all this information, like where they'd be and when and all that. So then she had it set up where the people in charge were really surprised by a sudden uprising by the other half of the class. And then it turned out there was a spy in with the dudes in charge who'd been leaking the intel so the next part was figuring out who it had been. There was extra credit if you got it right, 'cause the only person who knew was Miss Larousse since she'd been feeding the info to the commoners, so to speak."

"That's really cool," Boyd enthused. He raised his eyebrows in interest. "So did anyone guess right?"

Azalia smirked. "Poli-sci legend has it that it remains a mystery to this day."

Boyd grinned. "Maybe that person should've been in acting instead."

"Must've been dead good at it, that's for sure," she said with a grin in return. "It was real cool. I'm kind of sad I wasn't in that class."

"Did that happen a long time ago?"

"Nah," she said, waving a hand dismissively. "Maybe four years ago or something."

"Maybe she'll do it again."

"I hope so, or something like it. I take every class I can with her-- sometimes I wish she taught even more." Azalia shrugged and dragged her feet in closer, spread beneath the bench with her knees knocking together. "But she does other cool stuff now, too. She's fun. You should meet her sometime."

"If I get in, I'm definitely going to take her classes."

"Oh well you could probably do some other stuff too," she replied thoughtfully.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, some of her classes aren't entry level so you're gonna have to take them later, you know? But she used to be the prof sponsor for a few different clubs. So you could check into that and hang out with her and other like-minded peeps sooner rather than later."

"Oh really? What kind of clubs?"

She waved a hand. "A bunch of different ones, actually. It's depended on the year. For some reason, we're bad about creating a shit ton of different groups around similar ideas and then them falling through a year or three later. Seems to be the way it works here at AU. I think they're probably a little too liberal with their rules."

"So there aren't any going right now?" Boyd asked in disappointment.

Azalia glanced over, looking slightly startled, then laughed and shoved him roughly on the shoulder. "Jeez, man, don't go getting so bummed out. When you get here, there'll be some. And we have some now too but honestly I can't even keep track of them all, which is why I didn't really answer you more specifically. I don't really roll with the club scene-- at least, not that kind of club." She raised her eyebrows with a slight smirk.

Boyd shook his head, smiling slightly to himself.

"Anyway, if you check the second floor of Dayton you'll probably find your answer. There's a crapload of flyers posted there for like every group ever. Pretty sure there's probably a group there for people who love groups." She said it so dryly that Boyd had to laugh.

"Cool. Maybe I'll check it out." He put the book in his bag and glanced around. "Where's Dayton, anyway?"

She pointed to one of the buildings in the distance. "See that one that looks like it's got a green roof or something?"


"It's that one. A lot of the poli-sci classes are next door in Kirk so you could check out the classrooms too." She paused and drew her eyebrows together as she glanced down at her watch. "Actually, don't. I think they have classes in there this time of day. You'll look like a total noob."

Boyd smirked. "Gee, thanks. You almost didn't tell me that, did you?"

She smirked in return and stood. She raised an arch eyebrow. "That, my friend, will remain another legendary mystery among the poli-sci clan."

Boyd rolled his eyes. "These mysteries are getting lamer by the telling."

She laughed and shoved him on the shoulder again. "Fuck off, man," she said delightedly. "See if I regale you with poli-lore anymore." She glanced again at her watch. "Shit, I gotta vamoose. Art's soon and I didn't finish my homework. I'll see you around?"

"Hopefully," he replied as he also stood.

She flashed a smile. "Cool. Later, Ty-baby." She raised a hand in farewell even as she turned and started jogging in the direction of what he assumed was one of the dorms. Her heavy boots made a clomping sound that was strangely reminiscent of a horse running.

Boyd watched her go and then headed toward Dayton. What Azalia had told him was certainly suspicious enough. It sounded like if there was any professor who may possibly be involved in a Janus-like group or who would know where to find one, it would be Larousse.

True to Azalia's word, the campus board was right where she said it would be and was filled with overlapping flyers and scribbled notes about different groups.

Boyd didn't see anything that seemed suspect but he also wouldn't have been surprised if some of the groups had long ago taken their ads down. It was nearing the end of the last semester so there was no point in keeping it up.

The second day at Annadale University was fairly uneventful. He eventually managed to track down Janelle Larousse, who was more than happy to give him information on the various student groups.

She was enthusiastic about the idea of him joining Annadale University and when she learned he was interested in politics, she urged him to take her introductory course once he became a student. She had the air of a genuinely friendly woman. He wasn't able to determine from the brief time with her whether there was more to her than met the eye, or whether she was simply a very dedicated professor with nothing darker hidden.

He didn't hear anything about United For Change but he wasn't surprised. She did mention that there were a number of political groups. With some subtle questioning on his part she eventually commented on one that sounded a lot like UFC, saying that she figured they'd likely be around the next year but she hadn't heard anything concrete yet. She mentioned in passing that when the summer semester started in June, there may be more information.

Nothing else of note happened, and he ended up heading back to the Agency empty handed.

It wasn't until June that Boyd found himself back at Annadale University again. Even after a few weeks, and at the start of the school's summer session, there wasn't much of anything going on. It seemed that all leads to Janus had gone cold.

After determining there was nothing more to do for the mission at the university he returned to his hotel room. The fake glasses were starting to annoy him and he figured it wouldn't hurt to do recon without the Tyler cover in some other areas of the town. He changed back into normal clothing and swapped the glasses for sunglasses.

When he left Marabell Inn he had the vague intention to read on the beach. When he got there, he realized he was hungry and that he was right by Blue Moon Diner where Leenah had disappeared. He surveyed the parking lot where she'd last been seen alive.

Ryan hadn't been kidding when he'd called it a popular hang out. The parking lot was full of cars, with several bicycles by the diner and a motorcycle toward the back. As he walked closer, he saw people milling around in the parking lot, apparently finishing some discussion they'd started inside. He had to wait for them to move aside before he could even access the door.

There were a few people waiting just inside but when Boyd said he was there alone, he was led to a table immediately. The hostess left him with a menu which he started to peruse while she was already walking away. He heard her tell the group it would probably be another ten or fifteen minutes.

Boyd skimmed the menu, idly listening to the people talking around him in case he would overhear any leads. He didn't hear anything of note. That seemed to be the case in general with Annadale Beach-- a whole lot of leads that went nowhere. Either their information wasn't as good for this place as they'd hoped or Janus was being especially careful.

He ended up deciding on a sandwich and looked up for the waiter. He didn't see anyone in the area although there was one man who seemed like he may be the waiter except for the fact that he was idly leaning against the counter while people were trying to get his attention. Boyd watched the man for a moment, wondering if he was on break. Eventually he wandered over, taking Boyd's order for the sandwich but then leaving before Boyd had decided on a drink.

A waifish red-haired waitress was buzzing around the place, working that much more quickly to pick up the slack of the slow waiter. Boyd considered trying to get the waiter's attention to order the Arnie Palmer but then decided he'd have better luck with the waitress. She disappeared just as he was about to try to get her attention so he ended up sitting back in his chair and waiting.

The Employees Only door swung open in the back of the diner. He automatically glanced over to see if it was the waitress-- and froze with shock at what he saw.


The world stopped moving around Boyd.

The menu fell from nerveless fingers. His heart stumbled and skipped a beat. Everything lost importance around him; colors bled out and dulled into a blur. Every fiber of his body zeroed in completely on the impossibility of what he was seeing.

Sin was moving through the crowd, disappearing briefly here and there between people. Boyd was so taken off-guard by what he was seeing that at first he couldn't believe it was real. He was convinced he was seeing something he wanted to see. That maybe he'd finally gone insane and it was starting with delusions.

Time seemed to slow. Even through the white noise of the world around him, seven steps removed from the startled disconnection of his mind, he saw Sin sidestep one person only for another to bump into him. Sin looked down at her and she apologized.

Boyd's wide eyes took that in. She saw him too. She was talking to him. He was real. It was him, it was Sin--

That achingly familiar face he'd obsessed about and dreamed about and saw every goddamn time he looked over and saw Emilio with an expression too close to his son's-- Those pale green, almond shaped eyes; that olive skin tone; those lips he'd kissed so many times and that body, God, the perfection of that body he'd almost forgotten--

--He was alive--

Boyd was out of his chair without thinking. He hurried after that form, terrified that if he took his eyes off Sin he would disappear.

He burst out of the diner, half expecting to see no one out there and half terrified that would be the case. But the familiar lines of Sin's form were moving away and for a moment, for just a moment, he thought, That's what he looked like when he walked away. It's him. It's him-- God, it's really him--

All the questions that went through his mind didn't matter as he frantically ran after Sin. His knees felt weak, like they would give out beneath him. His pounding heart was a drumbeat from another world. The world was fuzzy; giving him a medicine-head feeling of dissociation.

He saw Sin heading toward the motorcycle and called out, "Hey!" without thinking.

Sin glanced over his shoulder, eyes focusing on Boyd. He stopped and turned entirely, eyes flicking over Boyd blankly. One dark brow arched slightly.


Boyd slowed to a stop as he came up to him.

The world was strange and breathless and hopeful. Flashes of memories with his lover assaulted him; those green eyes watching him quietly, those lips curving up in a smile, those fingers brushing against his skin and lighting a fire in their wake--

It was Sin.

It had to be him. Every nuance of his face, of his body, was the same. His nose, his mouth, his eyebrows-- everything was identical. It wasn't possible that someone else could have the exact same combination of features, down to minor scars he remembered on his face. Puckered skin that he'd run his lips and tongue and fingers over so many times he knew them by heart.

Sin's hair was longer than Boyd had ever seen it, tied in a low ponytail that trailed all the way down his back. He looked healthier, as though he'd finally managed to gain weight and have it stick to his lanky frame. The demons that had once haunted his eyes seemed largely to be missing.

The knowledge that Sin was alive, really alive and well in front of him, made every horrible and longing second Boyd had spent in the last year and a half have a reason. Elation soared through him, alighting his face with wonder. He felt drawn to Sin relentlessly; a current in the ocean that was as strong as the sea was old.

So many questions were on his lips-- how are you here, why are you here, why didn't you search for me, how long have you been waiting--

His lips parted and he stepped closer, starting to reach out--

But something was wrong.

Something very important.

It made him pause and look past the overwhelming relief. It made him look into Sin's eyes and not see all the flashes of memories of his lover, but rather see the man staring at him now.

Sin was raising his dark eyebrows and looking at Boyd skeptically. They stood close enough to touch yet there wasn't even a spark of recognition in Sin's eyes. It was as if he was looking at a stranger.

A stranger who was acting bizarrely.

Shock cut an icy trail through Boyd's veins.

He searched Sin's eyes intently, looking for some sign that this was a carefully orchestrated act-- that Sin was just pretending because the Agency was watching or he had to keep his cover or-- or, it didn't even matter why, Boyd just needed a reason why Sin was staring at him as if they'd never met--

But there was nothing.

Boyd could still read that beautiful face well enough to know that, without a doubt, Sin didn't know who he was.

That knowledge hit him with a nearly physical weight. It felt like every ounce of breath left him in one violent snap.

This couldn't be happening.

Was he going insane? Was this a dream? But he felt pain when his fingers curled into his palms.

This was real.

The wind blowing past them, warm against his cheek; the sun beating down and making his eyes partially squint as the sunlight seemed to burn through his pale skin. Even the feeling of the world twisting confusingly around him; ten steps removed and partially blurred. A susurration of sounds that had no meaning beyond backdrop to the words that struggled to properly form in his own mind.

He doesn't remember me. He doesn't know who I am--

It was impossible to believe Sin was alive or would ever forget him. Yet he realized that even though he was staring at his lover, he was staring at someone else.

A stranger.

When Boyd didn't immediately speak, Sin looked around briefly as if wondering if the possibly insane stranger belonged to someone nearby. He looked like he wanted to turn around and be done with this awkward encounter. A flash of impatience flitted across Sin's face and his full mouth twisted to the side.

"Everything okay?"

That expression was so familiar. The spark in those green eyes; the shifting of those lips. The slight tilt of those dark eyebrows. But no matter how familiar it was, everything that had been behind it was missing.

The connection they'd once had was completely gone.

Boyd's heart wrenched and he looked away abruptly, dragging a hand back through his hair with faintly trembling fingers. Shock and disbelief made everything seem utterly unreal.

The rest of his mind kicked in, scrambling for some sort of conversational topic so he could keep Sin here. So he could understand what was happening. So Sin wouldn't think him too strange and walk away. Maybe never want to see him again.

His agent side took over, automatically coming up with a story. A reason. A way to act to make this all seem okay. A way to deal with this as if Sin were a mark.

"Sorry," he said, smiling sheepishly and meeting Sin's eyes again.

He tried so hard not to think about how familiar those green eyes were and how much he wanted to walk those few feet and yank Sin into his arms. How much he wanted to hold him close and say all the things he'd wanted to say for so long and hadn't been able to.

"Do you know the area well? I'm new here," Boyd heard himself saying instead.

"Well enough," was the slow reply.

Sin flipped a stained apron over one broad shoulder. He wore a white tank top and a pair of black jeans with plain athletic sneakers. He looked somewhat relieved that Boyd was asking relatively normal questions but his eyebrows were still slightly drawn together as if he didn't know what to make of the situation.

"What are you looking for?"

"Well, I was thinking of getting a bike." Boyd tilted his head toward the motorcycle near Sin.

The entire conversation felt surreal. Even while he spoke aloud there was a desperate, disbelieving mantra filling the white noise of his mind:

It's him, it's Hsin, he's okay-- he's alive...

"I thought you may know where to get one. I don't like stopping at random dealerships since I never know if they'll rip me off. Did you get yours in Annadale?"

Why are you here, why don't you know me, what did they do to you...

Sin glanced down at his bike dubiously, his full lips twisting slightly to the side. In truth, it was pretty shabby looking. It was obviously old and had very little bodywork. It seemed more like a dirt bike than an actual motorcycle.

"My friend actually built this one. I could ask her if she knows anyone, though-- bikes are her thing."

Boyd was further surprised by Sin's casual mention of a friend. He'd never really had friends back at the Agency-- he'd tended to be the person on the outside, uninterested in spending time around people other than a very select few. If he'd developed friends here, he had to have been here for a long time.

Who was the friend? Exactly how long had Sin been here? Since he'd disappeared from the Agency? What had the Reapers done?

And if he didn't remember Boyd, did he remember the Agency? His father? Carhart?


"Does she build a lot of bikes?" Boyd asked instead.

Sin nodded and shifted a backpack off his other shoulder, pulling a faded baseball cap out and putting it on backwards. "Yeah. She's a mech geek. Anything electric gets her pretty jazzed. She has a few hulls of bikes and old cars in her garage that she plans to work on. I guess I could put in a word if you're interested but it might take awhile."

Boyd nodded absently. So many things were vying for his attention. The shine of the sun on Sin's hair. The nearly overwhelming urge to step closer, to touch Sin, to be near him and by him and with him and how could this be real, how could it be true Sin was here, alive and healthy and looking happy and talking to him--

"How would I find you?" He forced himself not to ask it too quickly. "If she's free in the future."

"I work here. I spend most of my time here lately so it shouldn't be too hard to track me down." Sin slipped the backpack back on after shoving his apron inside of it. "I'll ask her about it later. What's your name?"

"Boyd," Boyd automatically replied without it occurring to him to give a fake name. Maybe part of him wondered if hearing his name would trigger anything for Sin.

Whatever he'd been hoping, it didn't matter. Sin didn't even blink at the sound of his name.

"I'll let her know that someone is interested. Look for me here whenever you're around." He shifted the bookbag on and finally got on the bike. "I'm Danny, by the way."

"Danny," Boyd repeated, testing the name out on his tongue. It didn't seem right. Sin was Hsin, if anything. None of this was making any sense. "Got it." He glanced toward Sin's backpack, where he'd put the apron. "Are you the cook?"

The bike roared to life although it wasn't as deafening as Kassian's bike. "Yeah. I don't really know how that came to be but a job is a job, right?" Sin said blandly over the bike. He half-smirked again, obviously not too impressed with his job.

You were always a good cook, he wanted to say, remembering the times when Sin had taken over the kitchen to avoid any culinary massacres Boyd could have unintentionally created.

He swallowed all the words he wanted to say. He ignored the part of him that wanted to grab Sin by the arm and half beg, half demand, How can you not remember me? I haven't gone a day without thinking of you. We were lovers; we were partners. We were going to live together. Don't you understand what I've been through without you?

How can you look at me and not know me?

"Well, the food here's great," he said instead. "So at least you're good at the job you have."

Sin, or whoever he thought he was, just shook his head as if denying the praise. "Thanks. See you around." That being said, he drove away without a backward glance. As he sped off down the street, his black hair whipped out behind him.

Boyd stood there watching Sin until he disappeared around the corner. He thought about following him but with the looks Sin had already been giving him, and how caught off guard he was, he didn't want to ruin everything before it had begun.

Even so, once that familiar form was no longer comfortingly in sight, he felt a jolt of paranoia and fear. Had Sin really just been here? Had that really happened? Without Sin in front of his eyes, it seemed beyond impossible that his lover truly was alive. That he was okay.

But he was. He knew he was. He knew he hadn't imagined that.

Sin was alive.

Somehow, for some unknown reason, Marshal Seong had decided not to terminate him.

Walking back into the diner felt surreal. Everything had a new light to him.

This was now Sin's place of work. This was a building Sin walked into every day. His feet could be overlapping steps Sin had taken. This was a door Sin had touched with those long fingers. These were customers he served. These were people he worked with and what did they know of him? What was he like around them? Were any of them friends? Was it like Lunar had been for Sin in Monterrey? Was he happy here? Did he ever laugh and smile and have fun?

Boyd couldn't stop the churning questions in his mind and when he dropped back into his seat, he found himself staring at his food. Now it was food that Sin may have touched or made. Now when he took a bite, he wondered if he could taste Sin's influence in it; the ingredients he used and the way he prepared it. More likely, he was reading too much into it. Wanting to constantly reinforce to himself that he really had just seen his lover again.

That it really had all happened.

He remembered how unclear it had been which way Sin had been dragged; toward the Tower, or toward the lab. At the time, either had spelled death in Boyd's mind. There hadn't seemed a reason for Marshal Seong of all people to bother keeping Sin alive. But now he was convinced that this was why Seong's people had conveniently been stationed anywhere that a glimpse of Sin could have been afforded in his supposed dying minutes.

Now, the conspiracy Boyd had hoped so desperately to be true-- actually was true.

He wondered if that locked room in the lab that he hadn't been able to access had held the answers to this new mystery.

He was convinced that Sin had been brought to the lab, and maybe they'd done some new experimentation on him. The nausea Sin had been experiencing, the exhaustion... Had that been because of this, or had this been something they'd resorted to after something else had gone wrong? But Sin seemed perfectly healthy; more than Boyd had ever seen.

Why would they implant false memories or at least erase the old, then let him build a life in a peaceful place like Annadale? It was so incongruous. Neither Marshal Seong nor the Reapers seemed to be particularly benevolent people, yet in a way they'd given Sin what he'd always wanted: freedom.

What was happening? Why go to all the trouble of hiding Sin so well, and then put Boyd in a position to stumble upon him? Even if Boyd's presence was a good test of how well Sin's memories held, he could ruin the experiment. He could tell Sin everything, he could do any number of things, and all that work would be for nothing.

It didn't make sense.

It seemed like it may have been a coincidence instead; just a confluence of luck that led Boyd to finding his lover after so long. After all, if it hadn't been for that civilian's report, Boyd likely wouldn't have been assigned anything in Annadale any time soon that would have drawn him to the Blue Moon Diner in the first place.

Every track of thought that wound into analysis ended up cycling back to disbelief that his greatest hope for all those months turned out to be real.

When the waiter passed by and saw his empty glass of water, he paused to refill it. Boyd took the opportunity to look up at the man.

He needed more information. He needed to know what was happening and why, and what the potential risks were in moving forward. There were too many questions clamoring in his mind. Too fast of a heartbeat and too elated of a warmth spreading through him. Adrenaline was a reckless race that urged him to track Sin down immediately and tell him everything, get him to look at Boyd the way he used to; the way he should have all along--

"Hey, you know the cook here? Danny?"

The guy, Delsin according to his nametag, raised his thrice pierced eyebrows and nodded slowly. There was something hesitant in his sharply angled brown face and his dark eyes narrowed slightly. But he didn't seem paranoid. If anything, he seemed confused and a little exasperated. "Uh. Yes. Why?"

"I was just wondering how long he'd worked here."

"...Why?" Delsin was eyeballing Boyd suspiciously. "No offense or anything but that dude attracts more stalkers than a PD vial attracts these little snot rag college kids. It got kind of old so you can't blame me for wondering what the deal is."

Boyd made a conscious effort to ignore the excited part of his mind that could only think about Sin and seeing him again. He focused instead on the part of him that had been ingrained as an agent: the ability to step back and analyze a situation no matter the circumstances. The ability to gather information no matter the distractions.

"I just saw his bike out there and I'm new to the area so I was asking him where to get one. He said he'd maybe ask his friend but you know how that goes. People say shit to get you off their back all the time." Boyd shrugged and sat back in his chair. "So I was just wondering what kind of guy he is and whether I'd look like an ass if I ever actually tried to follow up in the future."

"Oh." Delsin relaxed and flashed a brilliantly white smile. He was handsome when his face wasn't defaulting into the severe expression that Boyd had noticed he wore around the diner. Unlike the waitress, Delsin didn't seem to go out of his way to get tips. It seemed to irritate him that he had to talk to customers at all.

"Well as long as you aren't planning to jump him behind the parking lot, it's all good." Delsin pointedly ignored someone waving at him across the room, obviously trying to get his attention. "Danny's a pretty stand up dude. He wouldn't have told you anything if he was just gonna BS you. He's really straightforward about shit like that. Like, he'd basically just be like fuck you no if he wasn't really going to do it."

"You've known him awhile, then?" It was so strange listening to someone be protective of Sin and even call him a stand up guy. That never would have happened at the Agency.

The guy across the room, who had the burly build of a linebacker, shouted over to Delsin impatiently that he wanted another pitcher. Delsin shot him a death glare and didn't move. The waitress took over Delsin's table without hesitation.

"Yeah. I guess like almost a year and a half? He got hired not too long after he came into town so around there. I didn't think he'd last this long," Delsin said unnecessarily, seeming perfectly fine to stand and chat and not actually do his job. "The Blue Moon usually attracts fucking flakes. Besides me, Kayla, and Danny, we see more turnaround than... than..." He frowned, looking for a comparison.

"Dels, move your ass!" Kayla hissed quietly as she hurried by them to fetch another pitcher.

"Eat me," he replied good naturedly before focusing on Boyd again. "Anyway, he's been here awhile."

"Oh, for some reason I thought he was from around here," Boyd said offhandedly.

"Nah, he came from around DC. He integrated pretty fast, though, so he's basically a secondhand local now."

Kayla rushed past again. "Seriously, Dels? Seriously?"

The tall man just shrugged, grinning at her back.

Boyd nodded, considering that. So if Sin thought he was from DC, he wondered how far back the fake memories went. Did he have an entire life he remembered there?

He glanced toward Kayla and the other customers, guessing that Delsin was going to have to leave soon. "So are there good times to find him here usually? Does he have any kind of set schedule?"

"He's here mostly every day," Delsin replied vaguely, not seeming as quick to give his coworker's schedule out. "He mostly opens up."

"Thanks," Boyd said, leaning against the table on his forearms. "Sometimes I get really busy so it's good to have a general idea of when to stop by so I'm not wasting everyone's time."

"Makes sense. Anyways, I should get back. Kayla's gonna flip out on me in a second." Delsin gave a half assed wave and started to back away. "Oh, right. Did you want a drink or anything?"

"No," Boyd said, his mind already far away from this conversation. Delsin nodded and grudgingly wandered back to his patrons.

Boyd stayed at the Blue Moon Diner for awhile, finishing his food and processing everything he'd just learned. He couldn't stop thinking about Sin the rest of that night, even when he went back to his hotel room.

Boyd remembered their time at the cabin, and how Sin had seemed to enjoy their bike ride through the woods. He wondered if Sin had felt drawn to getting a motorcycle for similar reasons; the speed, the maneuverability, the wind in his hair...

Was it anything like why he didn't like houses? He'd said he felt they were constricting. Did he choose a motorcycle over a car because of that or had it simply been a financial choice? Where did he live? Did he end up with a loft after all?

There had been a time Sin hadn't been able to answer the questions of what he liked and what he enjoyed... Could he answer those questions now? What did he do in his free time? Did he like to read still? Or work out? Did he have a lot of friends?

There wasn't a way to easily process the sudden knowledge that the lover he'd thought was dead for months was in fact healthy and alive. The relief he felt continued to suck away his breath and the tension in his shoulders long after he'd laid down to sleep. His mind continued to buzz non stop with questions, alternating between the whys and the hows and the what nows.

He was barely able to sleep that night, so distracted by excitement about seeing Sin again and analyzing every bit of information he had that he couldn't make his mind stop working long enough to relax. The next morning he woke up early. Finishing the mission took longer than he wanted and he quickly grew impatient, no longer caring to focus on whether or not Janus was recruiting at Annadale University when all he wanted was to see Sin.

As soon as he wrapped up his portion of the mission, he immediately returned to his hotel room, grabbed his bag, and went to the diner. He was on a schedule and had to get back to the Agency in time for a unit debriefing on the mission so he knew he didn't have long.

He ordered some food, sitting as far in the corner as he could so he could keep an eye on the entire place; watching for Sin. But for as long as he sat there and despite discreetly paying attention to every movement, he never saw Sin.

It was disappointing and Boyd lingered in the diner longer than was intelligent, pushing his departure even past the point that he should have left. He kept thinking: one more minute; one more minute and Sin would appear. One more minute, and he could see his partner again.

When he finally left, he had to speed all the way back to the Agency. Even blowing past the speed limit, it took four hours to get there. He barely had enough time to park his car and jog up to the conference room, and ended up walking in late.

Everyone was already there and seated and Boyd kept his expression casual and neutral; as if he hadn't just found Sin alive and well. He didn't look at the others that fully, wanting to give himself a little more time, although he did glance past Bex to see if there was anything in her expression to show whether she'd also run into Sin. He didn't see anything to imply she had but that didn't mean she couldn't be hiding it. Although, he didn't know why she would.

Regardless, he silently took his typical seat, dropping his bag onto the floor beneath the table.

"With all due respect, sir," Bex started off, lips pursed into thin little lines. Her sinewy arms were crossed over a black tank top. She had her usual leather pants and platform boots on as well. "These missions are a waste of time."

Carhart took that into consideration before glancing at Boyd. "I assume you didn't find anything, either?"

"Nothing concrete," Boyd replied, shaking his head.

"It isn't surprising," the General replied reasonably. "They're too smart to strike the same place twice in the same manner. It's likely they've moved on to another location."

Bex released a breath and ran her fingers over her half shaved head. "Oh thank God, no more of these missions then?"

Boyd's eyes snapped over to Carhart. He felt a moment of panic-- what if the assignments stopped altogether? How would he see Sin again? He couldn't find him after all this time and never see him again.

Carhart seemed to consider the question. "I'll send the two of you down again at the start of the fall semester and if there are no signs then, we will give up. There's a larger chance that something will be occurring when the majority of students will be in attendance as opposed to now."

Boyd relaxed as relief swept through him. He had an excuse to go back at least once, and depending on his schedule he should be able to find ways to get down there before then. As long as he went on his free time, he should be able to do it without anyone noticing.

The meeting was short and the rest of it passed with updates on a couple of previous missions. Although there was new information about Janus activity, there wasn't anything particularly damning that they could act on.

They were left in the exact same stalemate as always.

The most pertinent information was never in their reach; they never had solid intel on who the Janus leaders were and where they could be found. The hope was that continued questioning of Aleixo, as well as follow up on regular contacts and leads, would eventually land more solid intel. Aleixo's connections to people in high positions in Janus had been one of the reasons Boyd's more than successful mission had saved him from termination.

Boyd kept a discreet eye on Carhart throughout the meeting, trying to decide what he should do. His mind burned with the knowledge that Sin was alive.

Carhart looked the way he always had since Boyd had returned from his long mission: serious, reserved, and, in a way, tired. He'd taken on a lot of the stress of everything that had happened and, Boyd suspected, much of it had to do with Sin's death. And there was Emilio, dark and moody and sometimes seeming to lose all hope.

He knew it could make a huge difference to Carhart to know that the man he'd thought of as a son hadn't died. The buzzing, nearly palpable relief and happiness that Boyd had felt could be Carhart's, too. It could help Emilio as well, to know that the piercing regret of losing his son didn't have to continue to burrow deep into him.

He wanted to say something.

He wanted to wait until the meeting ended and tell them the incredible news. Tell them so that the weight could leave them as well. He thought about it, watching them discreetly and imagining how he would break the news.

But when the meeting ended and everyone else moved to stand, he couldn't make himself say anything.

It seemed dangerous enough that he knew about Sin. He didn't know what would happen if the Agency learned he knew about something that had to be top secret, above even Carhart's clearance. The risks only grew worse as he contemplated others knowing.

Even if he only told Carhart, the General could be followed or tracked by trying to find Sin. The new regime watched Carhart like a hawk and with how ruthless Marshal Seong was, Boyd was afraid of the possible ramifications. Not to mention there was the very real possibility that Carhart may think he was insane if he started talking about Sin being alive and well out of nowhere, particularly without proof.

Or what if Emilio found out? Even though Boyd imagined it would relieve Emilio to know Sin was alive, the blunt truth of the matter was that Emilio was far too unpredictable to trust with that sort of sensitive information.

Aside from giving Carhart some peace of mind, what would it gain compared to what could be lost?

There were too many what if's with too many possible consequences. When it came down to it, Sin had been fine in Annadale for a year. It seemed the best way to help him stay that way was to pretend he hadn't discovered he was there.

He stood, reaching for his bag with a dual weight on his shoulders. He felt Emilio and Carhart's presence at his back when he turned to leave, wondering if they would hate him if they ever learned of what he was keeping from them. But even if they did, he realized he didn't care so long as he didn't endanger Sin.

Continue to Fade Chapter 12...