Fade Chapter Thirteen

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

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


Book One: Evenfall See Evenfall chapter list.

Book Two: Afterimage
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Fade Chapter 13

Uploaded on 10/10/2011

An appointment with Carhart had Boyd leaving Annadale early the next morning. He paid for the room at Oceanside Resort for the rest of the summer so he wouldn't have to worry about accommodations no matter how last minute he visited. He swung in Blue Moon Diner for some breakfast and to see if he could get one last glimpse of Sin, but his former partner was nowhere to be seen. Disappointed but not surprised, he left.

As he drove back to Lexington, he went over part of his plan.

He had to devise a strategy for how he was going to hide his trips to Annadale in the future. This time, he'd had known consecutive days off. But even on a day off he could get a call to come in within minutes for a sudden mission. At four hours away on a good day, that would be impossible. If he was late enough times he would tip them off to something happening. Or, a worse scenario, Jae-Hwa would decide he was too unreliable and use that as a reason to have him terminated.

He kept one hand on the wheel and reached into his pocket for his work phone. He checked it, scrolling down the list of recent calls and texts to make sure he hadn't missed anything. Nothing. No new missions, thankfully. The meeting would still be on for the designated place at the designated time. He flicked his gaze back to the road and tossed his phone to the seat.

Brian remained their go-between on setting up the meetings, contacting Boyd through untraceable or discreet means. They'd taken to switching up the location of where they met, so it was never predictable. They tended to meet around food or other casual settings so they could have a way to blend in and an excuse for the meeting if it ever came up with the administration.

When Boyd got to the city, he headed straight for Jezebel's.

In the years since he'd last visited her, Jezebel had turned her tiny little art into an actual ice cream parlor. Somewhere along the way, a few of her patrons had finally taken the time to help her renovate and move into a previously rundown building.

It was called Sweet Lynette's, named after Jezebel's dead daughter, and the main room was large enough that there were a few small tables with chairs around them. They were scattered around the room in areas to allow for private conversations that weren't easily overheard by others. Boyd suspected Jezebel had done that on purpose. She'd always been especially aware of the privacy needed during times of grief and recovery and she'd likely wanted a place where people could come and relax.

The walls were a warm buttery yellow color and there was a counter along one side, containing a refrigerated area with a plastic window so patrons could look in and see the flavors of the day. She offered free samples with little spoons and all her prices and specials were handwritten on old chalkboard signs hanging on the wall. He didn't even know where she'd found that material; few people bothered with handwritten signs anymore when it was easier to use digital signs that took less effort to change. He knew even less how she got it up on the walls when she was confined to a wheelchair and missing a few limbs.

He got to the ice cream parlor before Carhart and sat down at a table. He decided against getting ice cream immediately, mostly because he got there fifteen minutes early and it all would have melted by the time Carhart arrived.

He had one of his sketchbooks with him and, after sitting doing nothing for a few minutes, he decided to pull it out to pass the time. He absently sketched the people around him and the inside of the store while he waited. It didn't take long before that bored him and he thought back on everything Jezebel had ever said to him about her family.

Sin was at the forefront of his mind, the way he had been for months but especially in the last few weeks since Boyd's impossible hope had come true. It made him think about how lucky he was to find out that a loved one was still alive, which led him down a path of wondering what Jezebel's daughter would think if she were still alive and saw the shop her mother had made for her.

He flipped to a new page and started on a drawing of Lynette and her children sitting in the parlor, crowded around one of the tables on the other side nearest the counter. A sign with "Sweet Lynette's" written on it was visible in the background at an angle, and Lynette and her children were grinning as they licked ice cream in their cones and off their hands.

He was just about to finish it when he saw movement at the door and looked up to see Carhart walking in. Boyd set the sketchpad aside as Carhart came over.

He was dressed casually in very dark blue jeans, scuffed work boots and a flannel shirt. His blond hair wasn't combed as neatly as usual and he had on a pair of aviator sunglasses. The General looked youthful and relaxed which was a direct contrast to how Boyd knew him to be feeling on most days.

"Hello, Boyd," Carhart greeted him.

"Hello," Boyd replied. "Did you find the place alright?"

"Yes. It's an interesting choice." Carhart sat down and looked around, removing his sunglasses. Dark circles lined his cerulean eyes. "How did you find out about it?"

Boyd slid his gaze away from Carhart to absently rest on Jezebel as she wheeled back and forth behind the counter, helping a customer. A large, genuine smile lightened her wizened face.

"My friend Lou and I ran across her years ago. This shop was only built recently; she used to have a cart she sat by throughout the year." He looked over at Carhart. "She used heaters but sometimes I thought she'd end up freezing to death, especially at her age."

"She seems like a tough old lady. She looks well past the expected living age of our generations."

Boyd nodded, feeling a wave of fondness for the old woman who had always been kind to him. "She is. She has to be around ninety now." He paused, looking down at his sketchpad before flipping it closed and setting his pencil on top. "To tell the truth, there were times I wished she was my grandmother, and wondered whether my real grandmothers were anything like her."

Carhart turned his level stare onto Boyd. "Do you actually know any of your family other than Vivienne?" he asked suddenly, as if the question had never occurred to him.

Boyd shook his head. "I only ever knew my parents. My dad's family died soon after I was born and all I know about the other side is that one of my maternal grandmothers died when I was young. I think the rest must also be dead."

He thought back to the boxes he'd found in the attic and the albums Kassian had found when he'd helped him sort through it all. "I've never seen Vivienne's side and only found out I may have had an uncle on my dad's side a few years ago when an old photo album resurfaced in the attic."

"That's unfortunate. My own parents passed away before the war even started. I was raised primarily by my aunt and uncle although we lost touch entirely when I joined the military."

It was interesting what topics seemed to come up in these meetings. Boyd had never heard much about Carhart's family and outside of a setting like this, he doubted he ever would have.

Sometimes, for reasons like that, he appreciated that Carhart had reached out to him with this new mission when he had. Without that and the support from Kassian and Ryan, Boyd thought it was likely he would have gotten caught in a downward spiral. One that would have prevented him from lasting the months it took to steady himself again and find Sin.

"Do you ever keep track of them now?" Boyd asked curiously.

He knew a few agents did that even though they weren't supposed to. For some people, they didn't realize how much they appreciated the connections they'd had until they were in a setting like the Agency where the very act of rekindling them could potentially be fatal for loved ones.

"I used to in the early days. They have long since died, my uncle of cancer and my aunt of old age. They had children but I wasn't ever really close enough to them to warrant looking them up. They were older than me when my own parents died. I barely even remember them anymore. Sometimes it seems like my old life was some long forgotten dream."

Carhart frowned slightly but he seemed puzzled more than upset.

"Why did you lose touch when you were in the military? Were you not close?"

The General focused on him again and a slight smile warmed his expression. "It's hard to say. My parents died suddenly in a freakish tornado. I was their only child but still a burden to my aunt and uncle when they had to take me in. They were poor people. Alcoholics. White trash, really. They didn't really want me there but they weren't mean about it. Just unable to support me. I only figured it out as I got older that they couldn't wait for me to turn eighteen."

Carhart didn't seem bothered by what he said; if anything, he simply seemed thoughtful.

Boyd nodded. In truth, he could identify with that a little bit since Vivienne had never really seemed to want him either, but at the same time it would be hard to lose both parents out of nowhere and end up with relatives. He supposed they were both lucky that at least someone had supported them until they could support themselves.

"How young were you when the tornado hit?"

"Twelve." Carhart shook his head and rolled his shoulders slightly. "It's strange thinking back on it all now. I haven't thought about my parents in years."

Boyd leaned against the edge of the table, watching the older man thoughtfully. Carhart had been with the Agency for a long time; it had to seem so bizarre to think back on simpler times.

Even for Boyd, it was sometimes strange to think about what his life had been like before the Agency; when he'd been a civilian and he'd been largely oblivious to everything around him. That time seemed like ages ago, before he'd ever hurt anyone let alone killed them. Back when his partner in bed hadn't sometimes been assigned to him and when he'd been able to pick up and leave whenever he'd wanted.

Sometimes it seemed like such a shame that he'd wasted so much of that freedom confining himself to that depressing house. Especially times like now, when he wished he could move to Annadale and find a way for Sin to include him back in his life.

"Do you ever wonder what it would've been like if you hadn't ended up here? Or do you ever regret joining?"

Carhart smiled humorlessly and folded his sunglasses into his shirt pocket. "I don't know what I'd be doing. But regardless, I now regret it every day."

Boyd watched Carhart and not for the first time wished there was a better retirement plan at the Agency; one that didn't involve death or constant surveillance to the point of paranoia for the person involved. He could imagine Carhart settling down for a normal life and, in that fantasy world, he liked to imagine he could stop by once in awhile to talk. He imagined being able to come to places like Sweet Lynette's without there being a mountain of weight behind all their words and actions.

He drew in a breath and let it out quietly, trying not to sigh. It was always disappointing having to be mindful of the reality they all found themselves tied to, and now his mind was switching to more serious topics. Like finding a way to see Sin without putting him in danger, and talking to Carhart about everything that had been happening at the Agency.

He looked over and saw that there were no customers at the counter and Jezebel was rinsing off the scoop. If they stayed seated for much longer, they would start to stand out as some of the few people in the shop who weren't currently eating ice cream or looking at the signs as if debating from their chair what kind to get.

"I suppose we should get something to eat," Boyd said.

"We do look odd sitting here."

Boyd pushed himself up to a stand. "I haven't been here since she added all the flavors but I can at least attest that the raspberry with dark chocolate is good and not too sweet."

Carhart followed him to the counter and looked slightly dismayed by the assortment of types. "I have no idea what to get."

"So many friends nowadays, little Boyd," Jezebel piped up cheerfully as she rolled her wheelchair closer to the selection of ice cream.

Now that he was closer to her, Boyd saw that in many ways she was just the way he remembered her. White hair that was short and wavy, skin that was so translucent that pale blue veins could be seen through it, and wrinkles on every inch of her. She was thin to the point that her veins stood out in relief and her fingers were bone thin between her knobby knuckles.

Despite that she didn't look frail. It may have been her personality. Or it may have been the layers she wore: the long wispy white shirt over a shapeless black tank top; a long denim skirt that dipped down over her missing leg that ended at the thigh; and one open-toed sandal for a shoe. She'd painted her nails a deep pink on her only foot.

More than anything, although he could tell she'd aged she still had the feeling of being younger than she had any right to be. One of her arms was missing from around the elbow but she still used the stump to hold items against her torso, and when she smiled with her pearly white dentures she seemed genuinely happy. Her hazel eyes twinkled with mischief and seemed as sharp as someone a quarter of her age.

She turned her attention to Carhart, taking him in with those eyes that always seemed to see and understand more than was said. She smiled at him in welcome. "What's your name, son?"

Carhart blinked at her, appearing taken aback at being addressed in such a manner. "Zach," he replied after a moment, smiling at her kindly.

Her smile grew and she nodded sagely. "You look like a Zach. I'm Jezebel but you can call me whatever you like, dear. I answer to it all." She waved her hand idly and chuckled. "I've lived so long I've heard names that'd make the hair curl right on that handsome little head of yours."

"I'll call you whatever you want to be referred to as, ma'am," Carhart replied politely, as if he wasn't really sure what to say in response.

"Oh, bless your heart, you called me ma'am." She chuckled and looked over at Boyd. "You learn something from this one, now, you hear? You used to be such a sweet boy. Always saying please and thank you..."

She trailed off as if reminiscing and he felt a wave of comfort. The familiar way she treated everyone had always felt welcoming to him.

"Yes, ma'am," he said and she grinned at him.

"Now," she said, patting her knee with her good hand and moving her amputated arm as if she had a hand on that as well. She looked at Carhart with an intent, thoughtful manner. "Do you prefer coffee or hot chocolate?" She said it as an either/or question.

He stared at her and shot Boyd a baffled look. "Ah... coffee."

Boyd gave Carhart a slight, encouraging nod. He forgot to warn the General that Jezebel did this with everyone the first time she met them.

Jezebel nodded at Carhart. "Coffee's a real pick-me-up. I prefer hot chocolate, myself. Nothing quite like liquid chocolate warming the soul." She smiled impishly. She watched Carhart with a kind expression and relaxed body language. "What about pie or cake, darlin'? Any kind."

The General was looking more and more baffled by the conversation. He'd likely come with the intention of talking shop about traitors and death plots, not comfort food. "Apple pie."

"Is that so?" she asked, smiling slightly with her eyebrow ticking up just enough to give her an intrigued look. "What about your favorite color?"

There was a slightly longer pause this time before Carhart admitted that he didn't know. "Green?"

Jezebel considered him at length, her eyes taking in every part of him while her lips tilted up in a small, enigmatic smile. After a moment, she nodded to herself and started wheeling backwards so she could turn herself in the direction of the ice cream.

"Well, Zach, you seem like a real solid man. Strong and traditional but sweet and with a kick, just like your favorites. And for that..."

She rolled her wheelchair to the end of the ice cream selections and grabbed the ice cream scoop. She put two large scoops of vanilla ice cream in a paper cup. It had thin swirls of strawberry and a slightly pale yellow in it with pieces of nuts and fudge. She set the ice cream scooper to the side and carefully held the cup against her chest with her amputated arm while she rolled herself back over to Carhart. She held the ice cream up to him with a serene smile.

"Here you go, son. Banana split swirl. A little something to put some pep back in your step. Those kind blue eyes of yours, they need to be smiling more than they're frowning."

Still looking uncertain and slightly uncomfortable, Carhart took the ice cream and thanked her warmly. He seemed to be grateful for her kindness although he clearly had no idea how to respond to it. "How much do I owe you, ma'am?"

Jezebel scrunched up her face and waved her hand dismissively. "That little rascal must not have told you. Don't you go worrying about paying for anything. First time's free for everyone here at Sweet Lynette's. Especially for sweethearts like you."

Carhart opened his mouth as if to disagree but he seemed to sense that it was a lost cause and stopped. "That's very generous. Thank you."

She smiled again and looked at him as though she would have patted him on the arm if she'd been able to reach him.

"It hasn't been my first time for years and you still never let me pay for it, Jezebel," Boyd pointed out, his eyebrows lifting.

"Oh, you." She waved her hand dismissively. "You're like family. You can eat for free."

She rolled herself toward the ice cream again and automatically started to scoop out another type of ice cream without asking him what he wanted.

"Isn't everyone like family to you?" He tilted his head toward her handwritten signs. "Don't tell me; someone else wrote those signs and put them up out of your reach so you'd actually generate some income."

She laughed, her eyes twinkling. "Maybe you're a little right, maybe you're a little wrong," she said lightly. "These old bones will never say."

Boyd shook his head but didn't reply. He waited while she finished scooping out the ice cream and rolled over to the counter where she held it out to him.

"Something a little different to mark the occasion. Black tea ice cream. I made it thinking of you."

Boyd's eyebrows twitched up as he accepted the ice cream. He hadn't seen her since months before he'd left for the mission. It had been around two years by now.

"How did you know I'd be back?"

"Oh, you know," she said with a tricky little smile. "Live long enough and gut instinct starts steering you true."

He gave her a clearly disbelieving look and she burst out with a laugh that rang through the small shop. A few of the patrons glanced over with small smiles. She shook her head and dropped her hand into her lap.

"So skeptical," she murmured, sounding amused. "If you must know, I thought of strange kids like you who want ice cream that isn't terribly sweet. I was hoping you would show when I had it on trial run and here you are! Wish for it and it will come true."

It was such a positive comment that Boyd shook his head to himself. In a lot of ways, he was too realistic to be optimistic like that. But then, he'd wished so hard for Sin to still be alive and well, and somehow it had happened.

He knew it had nothing whatsoever to do with what he'd wanted or what he'd wished, and that it would have been like this regardless of if he'd ever discovered the truth. But standing in Jezebel's old-fashioned ice cream parlor with her smiling at him kindly, it was hard not to believe that with enough hope, any dream could come true.

"Thank you," he said, and since she watched him expectantly he took a lick of ice cream. It was a strange taste but one he didn't mind; like a slightly sweeter version of the teas he enjoyed. He suspected that once he got over the unexpected taste, he would really like it. He smiled at her more genuinely and answered her unasked question. "It's very good."

Her smile became a beam and she chortled to herself, slapping her hand on her thigh and seeming immensely pleased. "I told Isaac, I said someone would like it and here we are. I was right! I can't wait to tell him..."

Boyd didn't know who Isaac was but he suspected he was one of the people who had helped her create the little parlor.

"My tip for being right, then," he said as he held out more than enough money for his and Carhart's ice cream as well as a generous tip for each. She tried to wave away his attempts like she always did but Boyd wouldn't let her.

They went back and forth in that manner twice before Boyd finally quirked an eyebrow. "You know I'll win if it's a game of wills."

She chuckled to herself and finally relented, letting her hand fall to her lap. When she spoke, it was almost to herself. "Such an incorrigible child. What would your father say?"

Boyd gave her an odd look as he tossed the money on the counter. "I don't know. Why would you ask that? You didn't know him, did you?"

Jezebel smiled and shrugged, glancing down at the money as she picked it up off the counter. "Oh, you know. Just an expression."

She opened the old register that was sitting by her. She put the money in and closed the drawer, looking up at him with raised eyebrows. "Is that better, little Boyd?" she asked with the same bright teasing as always.


He watched her a moment and then decided whatever that had been about wasn't important enough to linger. He thanked her again for the ice cream and looked over at Carhart, meeting the man's eyes briefly before the two of them headed back to the table and sat down.

"I'm tempted to allow myself to be distracted but I won't," Carhart said, shaking his head and sitting back in the chair. He studied the ice cream in his cup, holding a spoon in one hand. "I'm going to have to cut to the quick. I need to be back in thirty minutes."

Boyd nodded, unsurprised by the information. He took a bite of his ice cream, finding that the taste was already growing on him. Ice cream was perhaps an odd choice considering the gravity of the discussions they typically had, and yet in a way that helped provide further cover.

"I need you to keep an eye on Kassian," Carhart said without delay. His cerulean eyes flicked around as he said the words.

Boyd watched Carhart closely. In his mind, he ran through the last time he'd seen Kassian. He didn't remember anything seeming out of the ordinary. "Why?"

"Jordan is becoming an issue."

Boyd's eyes narrowed faintly. His distrust of the twins had grown as he'd come to know them better. Even though Jordan had transferred out of his unit months ago, Boyd had watched her enough to have come to agree with Carhart's sentiments that she could be trusted less than her sister. Bex was a bitch as far as Boyd was concerned but she was predictable to some extent.

With Jordan, he could never fully be certain what the motivations were behind her words and actions. Maybe it was because he'd already been warned about her so he knew what to look for, or maybe it was simply that he'd grown used to seeing more and more manipulative people over his missions and especially during the mission at Aleixo's. To get high enough in that sort of cutthroat hierarchy, a person had to be manipulative on multiple levels; physically, mentally, and emotionally. And Jordan, as far as Boyd was concerned, was the best he'd seen yet.

"What happened?"

"Jae-Hwa assigned him a mission recently. Jordan was his partner on it. The mission is of little consequence-- it did not require two rank 10 operatives. The important part is that it required them to pose as lovers for several weeks." Carhart narrowed his eyes slightly, his mouth turning down in a frown. "Originally Agents Liang and Blake were slated to go but it was changed before the order went down the line. Jae-Hwa wanted Jordan and Kassian on it together."

Boyd's eyebrow ticked up. Jordan was probably the best valentine the Agency had and given Kassian's personality and the fact that Carhart thought Jae-Hwa was trying to turn him...

"You think she's using Jordan to seduce him and get him sympathetic to her goals or administration?"

"I think she's trying," Carhart replied, twirling his spoon in the cup with a scowl. "She's exploiting Kassian's two major flaws: his need for companionship and his desire to help people. Jordan is fully capable of providing the first and he only has to glance at a superficial profile of her to learn that she has been a victim for most of her life until she was recruited. Even if he doesn't trust her, he'll pity her and it could sway him."

Boyd's eyes narrowed at that and he let the spoon rest on the edge of his cup. He'd be damned if he let Jordan and Jae-Hwa take advantage of Kassian like that; at least, if he had any say. Kassian was at heart a good person, and after everything he'd done for Boyd there was no way he could stand by the side and let him potentially be hurt or betrayed.

"I'll do what I can," he said seriously. "But it seems particularly ruthless to send a valentine after one of our own. Do you think Seong's that desperate for him or do you think it simply worked in line with the way Jordan already operates since she seems to target high ranking people on her own?"

"Well," the General studied him, pursing his lips together for a moment. He looked reluctant or at least hesitant to continue. "Well, Boyd, there is a very highly classified portion of valentine operatives who are used for agents in special circumstances. It has always been that way but it's a rarely used tactic."

Boyd stared at Carhart a moment, the ice cream forgotten in front of him. He couldn't entirely be surprised; considering how he thought it was a ruthless thing to do, it was no wonder that the Agency would do it.

Several questions ran through his mind immediately. Was that why Jordan thought he'd tamed Sin; that he'd been assigned him? What relationships had been nothing more than an assignment? What happened at the end of the assignments? Why would they ever do that to someone?

Valentine assignments could be hard enough depending on the mission but having to do it to a coworker who a person would also never be able to leave behind? That was cold. Agents had enough issues with trusting anyone as it was; they should at least be able to rely on their fellow agents. Even if there would likely always be times that an agent had to lie to another agent to protect themselves from termination or breaching confidentiality, the relationships formed between them should never be a mission itself.

A memory resurfaced, from his session with Bridget Monaghan when the new regime had just been putting out its feelers.

"Bridget asked me about Thierry, whether I'd seduce and kill him, and I didn't-- I thought it was all theoretical. Do you think--" He cut himself off and frowned, his eyebrows drawing down. Remembering himself saying yes, he would. "Will I ever have to do that?" It came out more dismayed than he'd intended.

"If I answered with a definite no, I would be lying. But it's unlikely. It's known around the compound that you were with Sin. It's unlikely anyone would buy that you're suddenly romancing random agents."

Boyd nodded, relieved by the thought.

"In any case, Jordan is a very peculiar girl. She was desensitized to sex at a very early age and used it as her primary weapon and means of income until she was recruited," Carhart went on, going back to the point. He didn't seem in a hurry to actually go into detail about her past. "If I believed nymphomaniacs truly existed, I'd think she was one. That is actually why this situation is even trickier. Since their mission, I have heard word of she and Kassian being seen together on more than one occasion. She is impossible to read so I can't tell if she actually wants him or if this is a part of a preconceived plan."

He spooned some of his ice cream and ate it thoughtfully, gaze shifting to the street outside of the small shop. "Another twist is that she and Bex have been at odds regarding her behavior. They got into a heated argument that ended with Bex striking her sister recently. According to witnesses, the cause was Kassian. The twins are very close-- I assumed that Jordan would have informed her sister if it was merely a mission but that makes it seem otherwise. Then again, this could all be an act. It's impossible to know which is why I'm asking you to watch out for him. If you have to, you can tell him that they may be watching him closely."

Boyd frowned as he considered that information. Even if it turned out Jordan had the best of intentions and it wasn't really a plot, he still couldn't help distrusting her and thinking that she was bad for Kassian to be around regardless.

As for Bex, she didn't typically seem the type to get involved in acts. Then again, everything he knew of her could be an act. They could have carefully orchestrated it all so that situations like this and fights that were overseen could lend credibility to Jordan's supposed interest or feelings.

He looked down at his ice cream and started eating it again, although it did make him think about how even just a few minutes ago he'd been feeling much more optimistic than he was now. It seemed like every time he thought too hard about the Agency and everything it represented, he got discouraged and disgusted.

"I'll meet up with him as soon as I can, and I'll make sure to keep an eye on him," Boyd assured Carhart.

"Good." Carhart pushed his bowl away and moved to stand. He had finished more than half of his ice cream and a bemused smile crossed his mouth as he glanced down at the bowl. "I suppose it would be odd if I took it to go to my meeting. Such a shame."

"Zach, wait," Boyd said quickly, before Carhart could leave. It was one of the rare times he'd ever called Carhart by his first name. He said it without thinking, feeling urgency and a hint of panic at the idea of Carhart leaving before he could talk. "I have a favor to ask."

The General stopped and glanced at him, looking faintly surprised. "What's wrong?"

Boyd searched Carhart's expression, hesitating only briefly. "Lately, I've been thinking about Hsin a lot," he said, making it sound like an admittance. He didn't like playing on Carhart's sympathy but this was the best way he'd determined to get forewarning without giving away too much information. "I've been spending time at the cabin on my off time but it's a few hours away. I was hoping, whenever possible, I could get more warning before briefings so I have the chance to get in on time."

Carhart looked down at him for a moment and released a low sigh. He reached up to rub a hand across his face. "I understand, Boyd. But I can't make any promises... you know that things can crop up in a moment's notice. And I can't show such blatant favoritism at this point."

The older man frowned and stared at Boyd for a breath longer before saying, "When is your next session with Dr. Shapiro?"

"In two days," Boyd replied, his eyebrows drawing together. "Why?"

There was another brief pause before Carhart gave him a significant look. "Perhaps you should admit to recurring bouts of strong depression and anxiety. Nothing that affects your missions but something that strikes you when you're in the city and on the compound. Perhaps something that affects you when you're in surroundings that remind you of the past. Commenting on a desire to get away from the city from time to time wouldn't hurt."

Boyd took that into consideration and nodded. If Shapiro thought Boyd was struggling with his issues, and knew Boyd may be leaving town or even recommended it as personal trips, it would be helpful. Then he had a legitimate reason even if he got a mission straight from Jae-Hwa. It was a good solution, especially since even on downtime a mission could come out of nowhere.

The fact that Carhart knew to suggest that underscored how well he knew the system.

Sitting there in the comfortable ice cream parlor shop looking at Carhart, for a moment Boyd really wanted to think of Carhart as his father. As the type of man his father would have been, and as such, someone he could tell the truth. For a moment, he wanted to confess so he could see what Carhart thought, and so they could work on it together.

The idea lingered in his mind for only a moment before he pushed it away.

This was a mission now and he had to treat it as such.

He couldn't second guess his earlier determination because he knew in truth it was the right decision. Sin's disappearance had been so highly classified that he had to wonder if even Vivienne knew about it. Talking about it to anyone would be the height of stupidity, just opening it up to the possibility of something going wrong. Until and unless he came to a point where he couldn't handle this himself, bringing others into it was a risk he couldn't take.

All it took to reinforce that thought was the memory of Sin's lips lifting in a faint smile and those green eyes being clear of the demons that had nearly destroyed him at the Agency.

Nothing was worth risking Sin's safety. He couldn't let anything interfere with gathering more information and determining what was the best course of action.

Maybe at the end of it he would be in a position to be able to share the truth with Carhart or someone else. But until that time, with the ruthless efficiency of the current administration, it was disturbingly possible that sharing the truth about Sin would be as equally detrimental to Sin's health or life as it would be to his own and the people he told. For all he knew, if Jae-Hwa got wind that he'd told Carhart, she would use that as an excuse to go after Carhart as well. To terminate one of the few people in power who could be trusted to help the agents below him.

Not to mention, until they knew who the mole was and how they gathered their intel, it was even stupider to risk the information somehow being overheard or intercepted. That would only put Sin in more danger as a civilian who didn't even know there was a shadowy underworld let alone to protect himself from it.

No, if the Agency determined that classified information had been breached, if they decided it warranted termination, then he would be the only one to fall. Not Sin. Not Carhart. Not anyone. He would take that burden on himself and weather any consequences that came with it.

He was powerless in so many ways but he could protect them from fallout from his own actions, at least, even if he couldn't protect them from the littler pains his white lies would leave behind.

Forgive me, he thought to himself even as determination steeled his resolve.

"Thank you," he said aloud. "I'll do that."

"Keep me informed." Carhart nodded at him and turned away, slipping his sunglasses back on. He smiled at Jezebel and thanked her again before exiting the parlor.

Boyd leaned back in the car and set the binoculars on the passenger seat. He was starting to get a headache. He hadn't realized how dizzying it could be to stare into binoculars at small points across the street until he'd had his first surveillance.

His comm set buzzed quietly in his ear as Emma's voice came across. "Anything yet?"

"Nothing," Boyd replied. There was a soft breath of frustration in his ear. He rubbed at the bridge of his nose and sighed. He and Emma had been doing surveillance in separate cars for hours now and it was getting tiring. "How long do we have to sit here?"

"According to my CI we shouldn't have to wait more than another hour."

"Assuming we have the right man," Boyd muttered, his gaze absently tracking a woman darting across the street and jogging into a nearby condo building.

"Assuming," Emma agreed and then fell silent.

Boyd stretched as best he could, his back aching furiously. A few pops accompanied the motion. He wished he could get out of the parked car and walk around but that would only draw attention he didn't need. He reached down to pull the lever so his seat could fall back a few degrees. Rolling his neck again, he kicked his feet out in front of him until they hit the pedals.

For several minutes Boyd sat quietly, watching the condo building with the expensive restaurant on the first floor. The upper class area of Maryland's edge had been one of the few areas fully rebuilt following the last bombings. Boyd found it to be ironic that a Janus agent was thought to frequent a place like this, considering they took such issue with the government and its unfair distribution of wealth.

"What was your mission anyway?" Emma asked curiously.

Her voice seemed so abrupt after the extended, nearly meditative, silence that it startled Boyd. He frowned, shifting in his seat and restlessly picked up the binoculars again. His vision blurred as he swung the binoculars around until he could center them on the main entrance to the restaurant. The world came suddenly into sharp focus.

"I can't say," Boyd replied neutrally. There was a short pause before he added, "Sorry."

Although that was partially a lie.

She was working cross-departmentally with him on this after her confidential informant had tipped her off to the whereabouts of Joachim Davis, whose name was on an Intel watch list. She was high enough clearance that she had access to the name, even though judging by the comments she'd made earlier she didn't know who he was. All she knew was Boyd may know the man and that was what needed to be verified.

If he'd wanted to, he could have given her a short, if somewhat vague, idea of what the Aleixo mission had been about. That Aleixo had ties to upper levels of Janus and claimed one or two of the higher ranking people had stopped by his place in the past. At this point Aleixo was proving his worth and the worth of the intelligence he could provide.

There hadn't been any pictures of Joachim Davis, who never seemed to use his real name and instead relied on a laundry list of aliases. Eventually the Agency had been able to determine that a man who may be Joachim had some amount of connection to Janus, and they were now verifying whether that man had a connection to Aleixo. Once that was determined, they would dig into the man's movements further.

Since Boyd didn't feel like getting into any of that or having to field what was and wasn't confidential, he used the excuse of higher clearance.

"Of course," she said easily. She was quiet a second and then spoke again. "I'm sorry for asking; I know rank 10 missions are a secret..."

Boyd frowned slightly as a black limo pulled into the valet area in front. He shifted the focus of the binoculars until he could watch the driver get out and walk around to the back door.

"I've been debating whether I would try for rank 10 again next time it comes up," Emma said thoughtfully.


Boyd watched the driver open the door. A woman stepped out, wearing a blue dress that screamed money to Boyd even from across the street. The driver shut the door and Boyd sighed, dropping back against the seat again.

"Yeah," Emma said, unaware that Boyd's attention had wavered from the conversation. "I've been thinking about it. There are some opportunities in Intel that I can't follow at my rank. On the other hand, rank 10 seems like it's very stressful. And some of the things that people give up..."

There was little doubt she was thinking of Pat and his kids.

Boyd was silent at that, debating saying anything that could be construed as being anti-Agency in the event the conversation was overheard or recorded. He watched the limo drive away while the woman walked into the restaurant. After a moment, he spoke into the comm unit.

"It seems like a rank that works best for people who have nothing to lose. Among other aspects, you have to be ready to drop everything at any moment or go on an extended that could potentially last years and could test your resolve..." A red car slowed and started to turn down the valet drive. Boyd turned the binoculars on it. "Your situation may not work well for that. Not to mention your personality."

There was the sound of a bemused release of breath. "I can't decide whether you're being sweet or insulting," she said lightly, amusement in her tone.

Boyd's lips lifted slightly on the edges. He refocused the binoculars as the red car stopped and the valet started to walk over. "You know what I'm saying."

"I do."

The door opened and a man stepped out.

"I have something."

Emma instantly sounded more alert. "With the red car? He does seem to fit the description," she added, answering part of her own question.

The man was turned away from Boyd as he spoke to the valet and then tossed him the keys. Boyd's eyes narrowed and he subconsciously leaned forward, willing the man to turn around. Boyd rolled down his window and set the enhanced microphone just outside, angling it to aim at the man while hiding it from view with the side mirrors. At least he could try to get audio.

"Do you recognize him?"

"I'm not certain. I have a bad angle."

There was a beat of silence. Boyd was going to be irritated if after all this waiting he missed the chance to see the man and would have to risk entering the building.

"Come on. Turn around..." Emma's voice urged quietly in his ear.

As if responding to her wish, the man stopped abruptly and turned around. "If a woman with long hair comes back with the slip, she can take the car," he called out to the valet. His voice was perfectly clear through the enhanced microphone.

The valet paused as he was about to get into the car and nodded. "Yes, sir."

"Wow," Emma's bemused voice was saying through the comm unit. "I wish that always happened."

The short exchange afforded Boyd a perfect view of the man's face. He zoomed in, studying the strong jaw and slightly too large nose; the thick eyebrows and the dark hair swept back from his forehead. He searched the hazy and not so hazy memories of his mission, and vaguely remembered standing back during a meeting or two that Aleixo had had with the man.

It was the combination of his voice and face that made him certain.

"I know him."

"Yes!" Boyd could hear the grin Emma must have on her face. "See? A little good old-fashioned surveillance works wonders even when technology fails us. No DL photo, no booking photos, no photos anywhere? We'll still track you down..."

Although Boyd wasn't as excited as Emma was, her good mood was somewhat infectious. And he had to admit he was glad to not have to sit in the car for another hour or two. He continued to track Joachim and noted that he was about to disappear into the building.

"Orders are still to leave him?"

"Yep," Emma answered absently. He suspected she was sending a notification back to the Agency as she spoke. "Verify and track. Check that your guy didn't lie about the name and who this is, and that my CI didn't lie about his location. That's the third verification for both our people-- they're now officially CRIs." She paused and mused, "I don't think I've ever had a double CRI upgrade like this before."

Boyd doubted Aleixo cared that much about being upgraded from a confidential informant to a confidential reliable informant. Then again, since it meant he got to live and his family would remain untouched, maybe he did.

Tossing the binoculars into the back seat, Boyd was glad to be rid of them for the moment. He reached outside the car and removed the microphone before anyone could notice it. Once that was in the back seat as well, he shifted so he could readjust his seat into a driving position.

"Are you going to be okay alone?" Boyd asked her as he reached for his keys.

He was impatient to leave now that his part was over. Although they could have had Emma send him a photograph to verify, since the man had connections to Janus it was determined it was better for Boyd to be there in person. Especially since some of Boyd's memories were still muddled enough that they thought he may need to hear the man's voice.

"I'll be fine, thanks," Emma assured him. "I'm starting to get into the zone. I'll switch off with Jenny later and can call for back up if I need it. But since I'm just tailing this guy for awhile, it should be okay."

"Alright." He started the car. "I'm going to remove my comm. Call my cell if you need me."

"Will do," she replied.

Boyd turned off his comm unit and tossed it onto the seat with the rest of the equipment. He put the car into drive and eased onto the street, merging with traffic. He was too close to DC to miss this opportunity.

He had memorized the addresses in Danny Cruz's fake history so he didn't have to check anything as he navigated his way through the country's capitol. Like many of the larger metro areas in the US, only certain sections had been fully renovated. As it was in Lexington, New York City, and everywhere else Boyd had seen, it was primarily the upper class and financial areas that had been touched.

He stopped at the hospital first and first hid all the high tech equipment. When he walked inside, he found the waiting area to be half full and the only nurse on duty at the desk to be in the middle of an extended conversation. He stood in line, pulling out his personal phone and flipping it open to check for any messages. Tech hadn't sent him anything. Neither had Sin. He was disappointed, even though there wasn't really a reason for Sin to contact him.

He flipped the phone closed with one hand and put it back in his pocket, turning a bored expression on the room. He had to wait ten minutes but finally made his way up to the desk.

"Can I help you?" the woman asked, sounding as though helping people was the last thing she felt like doing at the moment.

Boyd leaned against the counter. "I think so. I'm applying for a job and they need my birth certificate. They sent me here, I don't really know..."

The woman flicked her gaze along him. "Year of birth?"

"1997," he lied easily. There was no point in giving his true birth year.

She shook her head and sat back in her chair. "All our records were lost in the war. We don't have anything earlier than 2000."

Boyd dragged his eyebrows together. "But-- what am I supposed to do now?"

"Check the courthouse. They happen to have copies of some of them. You may be in luck."

Boyd sighed heavily and pushed himself away from the counter. "Fine," he said sullenly. "Thanks."

The woman was already turning her gaze from him to the person behind him in line. "Can I help you?"

Boyd walked away with a frustrated frown, carrying the character all the way to the car.

So that explained the hospital.

As he had suspected, the Agency had purposefully chosen a hospital that didn't have the old records so Danny Cruz's existence could neither be proven nor disproved. Boyd left the hospital and headed next to the mental institute that had been listed as where Danny had been sent.

He parked in a commercial parking lot about halfway there and dug around in a bag he'd stored in the trunk. He pulled out a short black wig he'd taken from Unit 16 and put it on, stuffing his long blond hair beneath it. Next he switched out his wallet for one he had hidden at the bottom of the bag. He finished the look by replacing his over shirt and shoes with ones that were much higher quality and brand name and then threw a few extra items beneath the passenger seat.

When he was finished, he put everything back into the bag and put it in the trunk before he continued driving.

It didn't take him long to reach the mental institute or find a parking spot. He walked into the building, checking for a help desk. A sign over an open doorway led him to another room.

A young man sat behind the desk, his short brown hair messy. He glanced up as Boyd walked in with a worried furrow to his brow, his eyes darting around.

The man, whose tag read Joseph, frowned. "Yes?"

"I'm trying to find my brother." Boyd walked closer the desk and stopped, shifting his weight. "I really hope you can help me because I don't know what else to do..."

Joseph's frown only deepened. "Is he a patient here?"

"I don't know." Boyd's voice lifted slightly in frustration. He ran a hand back through his hair and shifted his weight on his feet. "I don't know where he is."

"Shouldn't you check with the police then?"

"No, I mean--" Boyd grimaced and dropped his hand at his side. "All I know is he was institutionalized in DC. I've checked everywhere else and he isn't there. This is the last place he could be."

Joseph's eyebrows dragged together. "That's strange. Why would you know that and not where?"

Boyd sighed heavily. "I'm getting so tired of telling this story," he muttered under his breath. His voice rose back to a normal speaking level. "It's a long, stupid story. Basically there's inheritance at stake and the people in charge in my family don't want him involved. I'm the only one who cares. I need to find him before something can happen."

"Like what?" Joseph asked, giving Boyd an odd look.

"I don't know," Boyd said with a frown. He heard a door open in the distance and distractedly glanced over his shoulder out toward the main lobby area. His frown deepened and he returned his attention to Joseph. "Probably nothing dramatic like I made that sound, but I don't know for sure. My family has too much power for its own good sometimes. And with my brother being the black sheep..." He trailed off worriedly.

Joseph stared at him for a long moment, his expression somewhat suspicious.

"Look, I can show you my ID if it helps."

Boyd pulled out his wallet and tossed a drivers license on the desk. It was one he'd made in the days following his latest trip to Annadale, specifically created for when he would have the chance to look into Danny. He just hadn't expected that opportunity to come so soon. The picture showed him wearing the same wig he wore now.

Joseph looked down at the ID and picked it up. "Travis Cortright?" he read aloud, frowning at the license and then flicking his gaze up to Boyd's face. "Never heard of your family."

"You wouldn't," Boyd said bitterly. "We're West Coast money. That's why they shipped him way the hell over here where no one would know us."

"Hmm." Joseph studied the license intently for a long moment, seemingly debating Boyd's story. In the end, curiosity must have gotten the better of him because he slid the license back to Boyd and reached for his keyboard. "What's his name?"

"I don't know," Boyd said with a grimace.

"What?" Joseph asked incredulously.

Boyd ran a hand back through his hair, looking highly uncomfortable. "Look. I know how this sounds but the thing is, my brother's a little..." He paused, glancing around with his hand lifting in a helpless gesture. His hand dropped as he met Joseph's eyes again. "Well. Crazy. He uses a ton of different names."

Joseph was staring at him like he was an idiot and Boyd rushed on quickly, "But even though he changes up his last name he usually uses a variation of his first name."

Joseph sighed and looked back down at the computer. "Well, that's okay, I guess. I can search first names too. What is it?"


Looking relieved, probably because there were only so many variations on the name, Joseph nodded and typed something into the computer. "Do you know when he would have come in?"

"Not exactly," Boyd said with a heavy sigh. "This is so irritating. I'm sorry I don't have better information, but I was lucky to even get what I did..."

"Do you have a range at least?"

Boyd gave him longer than the years Danny Cruz's history listed him as being present at the institute. Joseph frowned and was silent for a few minutes, alternating between typing something into the computer and flicking his gaze along the screen. "There are a few possibilities."

"Really?" Boyd asked in surprise. He straightened and looked at Joseph in relief. "No one else had that. What are the names?"

Joseph hesitated, frowning down at the computer before looking up at Boyd. "I'm not supposed to release private information."

Boyd deflated against the desk, bracing his hands on the edge and dropping his head between his arms. "You're killing me, man. I really need to know this. Please. I need to find him."

There was a pause that made Boyd look up. Joseph was watching him with a calculating quality. "How much is it worth to you?"

Boyd watched him a moment and then glanced around for cameras. He didn't see any and returned his gaze to Joseph, who shook his head minutely as if to verify they weren't being watched. Boyd casually put his hands in his pockets and shifted his weight.

"A lot."

He palmed a wad of cash from his wallet and hid it in his hand as he rested his arms on the desk again. Joseph discreetly took the money and quickly counted it under the desk where it wouldn't be seen. Boyd hadn't paid attention to how much he grabbed and noted as Joseph counted that it was over $300. That seemed to please Joseph immensely, who likely wasn't paid much in this position. He wrote something down on a sheet of paper and slid it over to Boyd.

He skimmed the names Joseph gave him, noting that there were five Daniels, Dans and Dannys who had been admitted during that time. Including Danny Cruz. Boyd read them over and then sighed and shook his head.

"It could be any of them. I can't tell with that alone." He straightened and slipped the paper into his pocket. "Are there any orderlies who have been around that long I can speak to? Maybe who'd remember him if I described him?"

"Hmm." Joseph shoved the money in his pocket and leaned back in the chair. "Rich has been, I guess."

"Where can I find him?"

"Go out front," Joseph said easily. "I'll get him out there for you."

"Thanks," Boyd said gratefully. He discreetly slid more money across the desk. Joseph took it immediately. He was already counting the additional money as Boyd left the room.

Boyd walked out front and sat down on one of the benches that would be partially blocked from the cameras by the landscaping. To make identifying him even more difficult, he casually kept his face tilted away from the cameras. He didn't have to wait long until an older man came out and hovered near the smoking area. He pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and hit it to get one out. He glanced sidelong at Boyd, put the pack back in his pocket, and pulled out a lighter.

"I hear you're looking for someone," he mumbled around the cigarette he placed between his lips.

Boyd nodded. "If I describe him can you tell me if you've seen him here?"

"Sure," Rich said unconcernedly. Flame erupted from the lighter and turned the end of the cigarette a deep orange-red. "I've been here long enough, I know just about everyone."

"He's tall. Dark hair, green eyes, tanned skin. Early thirties but looks late twenties. He would have gone by Danny or Daniel."

Rich frowned, his entire face folding in on itself as he considered that. He was silent a moment, drawing in deep breaths from the cigarette and puffing it out in plumes of smoke. After a moment he shook his head decisively. "Nope. Sounds like I'd remember him and there's been no one here like that."

Boyd sighed heavily and heaved himself to his feet. "Thanks anyway," he said resignedly.

Rich shrugged. "Sorry kid." Despite his words he didn't sound particularly sympathetic.

Boyd nodded and turned, walking away with his shoulders slumped in disappointment.

In truth, he was thinking intently.

It was as he'd expected. The Agency hacked the database or bribed someone at the institute to add Danny's name onto the roster so a cursory glance would confirm Danny's publicly available history. But Sin was never actually there. It made sense, since he would have had to have been there very recently if they'd actually institutionalized him.

Still, it only begged the question even more of why the Agency had included that in his history. Why bother going to the extra effort of doctoring fake records at an institution when they more easily could have given Danny a clean history?

Were they afraid he would somehow remember parts of his true memories? Was it possible Sin's memories hadn't been completely destroyed but rather were hidden somehow?

Could he regain them in the future?

It made him wonder even more what Sin's memories were right now.

Did he remember being institutionalized in the Agency and misconstrued them in his mind to have been at the mental institute? And if so, why would Sin remember that but nothing of Boyd? Maybe it was harder to cover traumatic memories. Or maybe it was a question of timing-- perhaps more recent memories were easier to subvert than older memories? After all, Sin had been stuck on Fourth multiple times over the course of his life but he'd only known Boyd more recently.

That was something he wouldn't be able to determine until he had the chance to talk to Sin more.

Whatever the case, he was glad he'd stopped at the institute. He got back into the car and checked his rear view mirror. Rich was still smoking in the corner and seemed to have forgotten his existence the second he'd walked away.

Even if the Agency had flags on Danny Cruz's file at the institute, Boyd doubted they would be alerted.

He had purposefully given only the first name and a larger expanse of years so Danny's individual file wouldn't be accessed. There was no reason to flag every search that would be run on the computer, especially since Boyd doubted the Agency expected anyone to bother tracking down his information.

And even if they did find out someone looked into him, Joseph's information would lead to an alias that didn't connect to him, a description that would be misleading, and no good shots on the cameras for a positive ID. They could determine it was him eventually but it would take some time.

The last place he had to check was the apartment where Danny had allegedly lived. This was the place he was most curious about, because it was where Danny was most likely to have actually been.

Boyd's work phone suddenly buzzed from his pocket. He pulled it out, glancing down to see it was Emma. He answered immediately.

"Terrence Grey speaking."

"Carrie Farah," Emma responded dismissively, going immediately into: "Your tracker's not working."

"What?" Boyd asked in a surprised tone. He backed out of the parking spot and drove toward the main street.

"I just realized it when I was doing some paperwork, getting ready for the report later. You know how we have to mark our coordinates on surveillance now..."

"I know," Boyd agreed. It was a pain in the ass and one more example of the micromanagement of the new administration's policies. "I was planning to do that all when I get back."

"Well, I figured since I was already doing all the boring stuff I'd help you out. I asked them to pull up your coordinates too but they said something's wrong. It won't pull up."

"What the hell-- I had no idea," Boyd said, sounding befuddled.

He'd known. He was the one who had disabled it before he left.

"What do you think happened?" he continued.

"Maybe it was screwed up in the shop?" Emma ventured. "That car was recently reworked in the garage and it's an older model besides."

Which was exactly why he'd chosen it. That sort of thing made a great excuse.

"Maybe," Boyd said doubtfully. He paused and then sighed. "This is going to count against me, isn't it?"

"No!" Emma insisted. "That wouldn't be fair-- it's not your fault the shop messed up. Listen, I was near you all that time during surveillance, right? We'll just figure out the coordinates on the computers back home. If they need me to vouch where you were, I will."

"Thanks, Emma," Boyd said in relief. He glanced at the street signs and slowed to turn down the correct street.

"Where are you now?" Emma asked curiously.

"I started to head home but stopped at a diner for something to eat. I was starving."

"I don't blame you," Emma said wistfully. "I'm starving, myself. Beef jerky and soda isn't that filling. I can't wait for Jenny's shift to start. I already asked her to bring me a sandwich."

"When will she start?"

"Another hour." Emma sighed. "I can't wait for a normal mission again. I've had too much of surveillance lately. It's turning me into a couch potato."

"Technically that would make you a car potato," Boyd replied somewhat absently as he slowed to check the addresses.

Emma let out a sudden, melodic laugh. "A car potato, it's true." He could hear her fiddling with something in the background. "A baked one, at that, if I can't get the stupid A/C working again."

Boyd winced in sympathy. It was incredibly hot out when the wind wasn't blowing. "This isn't a good day for that to fail."

"No," Emma said with another large sigh. "It isn't." He heard a sharper sound in the background, as if she had smacked the dashboard, and then a shuffing sound. He wondered if she had dropped back against her seat. "Anyway, I wanted to let you know about that."

"Thanks, Emma. I appreciate it." Boyd parked on the side of the street and turned his gaze to the building with the address he was seeking. "I'll talk to you later."

"Sure thing," Emma said lightly. "I'll let you know if anything exciting happens."

"Alright." Boyd ended the call and put the phone into his pocket without his gaze turning away from the building.

The block was filled with rundown apartment buildings of similar construction: brick boxes with little character and fences that had been half ripped down. Here and there an apartment complex dipped in for a courtyard or had a distinctive angle on its roof but overall it was all the same: forgettable.

Graffiti was scrawled across the walls and garages and anywhere it could fit. He knew enough about graffiti to note it was gang signs but not enough about this area to know which gangs it referred to.

There was a group of people hanging around outside the front of a building two away from Sin's. Boyd pulled off the brand name shirt and shoved it beneath the passenger seat where it wouldn't be seen. He kicked off the expensive shoes and replaced them with some scuffed shoes he'd hidden earlier. He scribbled the address on a scrap of paper that he crumpled to look well worn. When he got out of the car he shut the door at a normal sound level despite his habit of shutting doors quietly after years of working undercover.

The group of people outright watched him as he approached the building, with two in particular tracking his progress with dark stares. He acted like he didn't see them and glanced down at the paper with a slight frown then studied the building again as he approached.

The security door in front opened without a problem; he noticed the lock was broken when he glanced down at it. There was a vestibule with a row of mailboxes along one side. A few of them were half open along the top from where the latch hadn't caught the last time the postal worker had been there. He glanced at the names and saw there was someone living in the apartment where Sin had resided.

The inside security door caught when he tried to open it but after a quick glance around to make sure no one was watching through the main door, he stepped forward and studied it. A strike plate extended past the door to the doorjamb but it was pried out enough that he could access behind it. He pulled out a small crowbar and stepped forward, hiding his actions with his body where the movement would seem like he was just jiggling some keys in the lock. It took no time to pry the door open and step inside.

The building was even more rundown inside than it had been outside and as he walked down the second floor hallway he could smell a nauseating variety of odors-- from the different cooking styles represented in the apartments, which didn't mix well with each other, to the smell of drugs and cigarette smoke. As he headed toward the back of the building, there was even the whiff of urine.

He stopped outside Sin's old apartment and tried the door. It was locked and he didn't bother breaking in-- there would be no point, not with someone new living there. He checked the nearby apartments to see how the apartments were numbered so he would know which names to pay attention to on the mailboxes. After searching around a few more minutes he headed back downstairs and memorized the names of the neighbors, and then headed toward the back.

When he stepped outside, he almost ran into a woman on a smoke break.

She reminded him of one of his roommates on his valentine mission, named Jada. They were both short with slightly curvy builds; a plain face made pretty by large dark eyes, thick black hair, and caramel-colored skin. But while Jada's hair had been long and constantly ratty, this woman's was short and only unwashed. And while Jada had always seemed somewhat distant, this woman looked at Boyd with outright irritation.

"What?" she snapped when she noticed him looking at her.

He frowned, hesitated, and then walked closer. "Have you lived here long?"

Dark eyes narrowed suspiciously. "What's it to you?"

"I'm looking for someone."

The woman snorted and took a long drag of her cigarette. She crossed one arm beneath her breasts and held the cigarette away from her lips as she blew out a cloud of smoke. "Good for you."

"Listen, I'll get out of your hair in two seconds if you could just answer a question."

She scrutinized him with a heavy stare that bordered on a glare, then flicked along his length as if debating his worth. After a moment she simply shrugged and looked away. "Whatever."

"I'm trying to find my friend who used to live here, maybe a year ago or so. His name was Danny Cruz."

"I don't know people by their names, sweetheart," she said in a completely unimpressed tone. She took another drag of the cigarette.

"If you knew him you'd remember him. Tall, dark hair, green eyes, looks partially Asian..."

"Oh." She eyed Boyd with mild interest and flicked the ashes off the end of her cigarette. "Yeah, him. I knew him. He lived across the hall."

Which probably made this woman 'N. Killsright,' Boyd noted. And which also verified that Sin really had lived at this apartment. "Did he live here long?"

She shifted, looking slightly less surly now that Boyd hadn't moved any closer and only seemed to be wanting to talk to her. It made him wonder if she was used to unknown men harassing her.

"Not long," she replied as she shook her head. "But I remember him. Hard to forget a face like that."

Boyd certainly couldn't argue with that. "What was he like?"

"Stoned," she said promptly. She finished off the cigarette and dropped it to the cement where she ground it out with her shoe. "Always spaced out; seemed real confused. I barely saw the guy-- he was either gone a lot or he didn't want to be around other people." She shrugged, unconcerned. "Not that unusual."

Boyd nodded. "So you didn't talk to him much?"

She gave him an odd look. "Why would I?"

Boyd just shook his head. "I don't know, just wondering. Do you know where he went?"

"Like I said," she said flatly, as if he were an idiot, "didn't talk to the guy much. If he was such a great friend why the fuck don't you know where he is?" Her patience with his presence seemed to be growing thin very quickly; she was already shifting her weight and looking toward the building.

"I lost track of him awhile back. Anything else you remember?"

"No." In that one short syllable, he heard the end of the conversation.

"Alright-- thanks anyway."

She was already huffing out an impatient breath and walking back into the apartment building before the words had fully left his mouth. When she'd disappeared back inside, Boyd walked around the building and headed back toward the street. He was just considering whether he should bother asking that group of people when he turned the corner and had to stop.

The two men who had been watching him were standing there, slightly spanned apart to block his path. They weren't doing anything particularly threatening but the unfriendly set to their expressions and the way they held themselves showed a clear warning. For a regular person, it would have been highly intimidating so Boyd made sure to stop and take a step back as if startled. He looked between the two of them with a slight, worried frown but they spoke before he had to.

"Who're you?" one of them demanded. His arms were crossed and his dark eyes were narrowed in a glare.

"Ben," Boyd said, drawing his eyebrows together and flicking a glance behind them before returning to their faces. The rest of the group wasn't visible from his angle but that didn't mean they weren't there.

"Well, Ben," the second man said with an emphasis on his name, "what're you doing here?" He looked him up and down with an unpleasant expression. "You don't live here."

"I was trying to find someone but they've left." Boyd shifted a step back and lifted his hands. "Look, I don't want any trouble..."

"I don't give a fuck what you want," the first one said lowly. He stepped forward into Boyd's personal space and narrowed a hard stare that drilled into Boyd's eyes. There was something dangerous about him; something that felt like violence was only barely held in check behind a thin veneer.

He had perfected his intimidation factor, Boyd noted. It didn't scare him in the least since he knew he could take them both down but he couldn't help the automatic assessment. He also wondered how Sin had reacted to this, assuming they'd confronted him as well.

"I got a problem with piss ant little bitches like you coming in uninvited. You don't come to our territory and act like you own the place."

Boyd kept his body language and expression unassuming and non-confrontational. He didn't feel like getting into it with a couple of gang bangers. It would be easy to take them both out but that would make him memorable, which would be bad if the Agency ever checked in at this location for any reason. Better to act like a kid way out of his element.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend. I'll leave."

The first man snorted and the second one started to say impatiently, "Smokes, let's--"

Before the situation could escalate, Boyd palmed the fake ID out of his wallet and pulled the wallet out of his pocket. "Here, just take it." The two of them looked down at the wallet, caught off guard by the action.

Smokes eyed Boyd but the second man snatched the wallet out of Boyd's hands. He flipped it open and pulled the cash out of the back, raising his eyebrows at the amount. "Fuck, he's loaded."

"It's all I have, man, I swear to God." Boyd drew his eyebrows together and looked at the two of them helplessly with his hands up and fully visible. He made his fingers tremble slightly and put an edge of desperate urgency in his tone. "I took out all I had for this trip. I've got nothing left, I swear. I'll get out of here right away, just please don't hurt me. I just want to find my friend."

With a disgusted scoff, Smokes grabbed the empty wallet out of his friend's hands and threw it at Boyd's chest. Boyd barely caught it before it fell to the ground.

"Get out of here."

Boyd clutched the wallet and immediately ran around them as if worried they'd change their minds. He overheard the friend saying, "What the hell-- he coulda had more--" followed by Smokes snorting.

"That kid's too fucking stupid to hide shit. He ain't worth our time. C'mon, let's show this to B."

Boyd saw the two of them already heading back to their apartment building as he got into the car. His mind was already shifting gears as he drove toward the interstate. He wondered what the woman had meant about Sin seeming stoned and spaced out. That must have been an extension of the experimentation, which Boyd could only assume included drugs in some form.

But how had they kept him on drugs here in DC? Had they traveled between the Agency and DC, which could be why his neighbor didn't remember seeing him often, or was it possible someone from the Agency stayed here with him at first?

Whatever the case, he now knew that at least part of Sin's fake past was true-- he had been in DC, just not in the institution. Which begged the question even more: what exactly did Sin remember and why?

Continue to Fade Chapter 14...