Fade Chapter Sixteen

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

The story contains..

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


Book One: Evenfall See Evenfall chapter list.

Book Two: Afterimage
See Afterimage chapter list.

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Book Three: Fade
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Fade Chapter 16

Uploaded on 1/22/2012

Boyd trailed behind Kassian as they wandered through the furniture store showroom. They had been looking at options for half an hour already, but although Kassian had invited Boyd he was looking increasingly bored.

"What made you decide to redecorate, anyway?"

Kassian sat on the edge of a metallic platform bed as his eyebrows drew together in consternation. He bounced up and down slightly and shrugged. "I'm not entirely sure. I guess since I've started trying to get out of the funk I've been in since Russia, my house became kind of depressing. All it does is remind me of crap I don't want to be reminded of anymore. And it doesn't represent me as a person at all. I debated selling for awhile."

"What made you change your mind?"

"I like the neighborhood," Kassian replied simply. He stood and the two of them resumed their meandering course through the showroom. "I'm going to install a sound system through the house, I think."

Boyd nodded, absently eying a platform bed as they passed. "Honestly, with the way you love music I'm surprised you haven't done that already. If you need help with any of it, let me know."

Kassian nodded and the two of them went through the room, looking at a few of the items more in detail while Kassian took tags of the items he would want to buy. They fell silent for a bit until Boyd spoke again, his tone casual.

"So aside from all this," he indicated the room around them, "how have you been? It's been awhile since I saw you."

"I could reverse that question easily, kid."

"You could and I'll answer later if you want," Boyd said with a shrug. He looked over at Kassian and lifted his eyebrows. "But I asked first."

A couple wandered into the area where they were and stopped to look at the set-up. Kassian watched them for a moment, his gaze lingering before he got up from the chaise lounge he'd thrown himself down on.

"I've been alright."

The answer was very simple and very vague considering the things that Carhart had recently filled Boyd in on.

Boyd waited a beat for Kassian to elaborate and when he didn't, he asked, "Just alright? Nothing interesting has happened at all?"

Kassian shrugged and they began walking away from the couple who were happily chatting about the love nest they were so giddy about decorating. The two agents began walking idly, not really going in any direction. Kassian seemed temporarily distracted from his redesigning mission.

"Well, first of all-- I don't know if I told you that I'm off Harriet for good."

"No, you didn't," Boyd said, looking over at Kassian in surprise. "Last I knew, you were spending more time with her. Did something happen?"

"We're still going to be friends but I'm just not going to try to go after her. I think we expect too much from each other to ever keep it real."

They stopped walking in front of the elevator that led to the other showrooms but Kassian didn't press the button to go up. He leaned against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest, looking at Boyd. "I could just see it now, kid. We'd both be sitting around trying to figure out how to impress each other the whole time. Her with work and me with everything."

Boyd considered what he knew about each of them and had to nod. He slid his hands in his pockets. "You're probably right. You would never be able to live up to the other's expectations."

"Exactly. So that was a fun little epiphany. Not much else happened after that because I was sent on an extended."

"What was the mission?"

Kassian finally pressed the elevator button and made a face. "It was pretty stupid honestly. It didn't seem to really call for me to be there. A pretty basic infiltrate and locate mission. It lasted awhile because we were stuck on a cruise for almost three weeks and we didn't even have a picture of the target to go on. Also, we couldn't exactly take him out discreetly if we did it right off the bat."

"A cruise isn't such a bad thing to be stuck on, at least," Boyd said lightly with a shrug. "Who were you with?"

"You're going to love this." Kassian smirked and raised his eyebrows. "Jordan Hunt."

"It must have been a valentine," Boyd said, watching Kassian's expression for any shifts.

"Oh, believe me it was."

With that cryptic comment, the other man stepped into the newly arrived elevator. There was nobody else inside, which was good considering the conversation Boyd wanted to have. He nodded and leaned against the wall of the elevator as he idly studied Kassian, his arms crossing and legs kicking out in front of him.

"So, what did you think of her?"

"Hard to say... It was a long three weeks and we definitely went in phases." Kassian paused and scratched the back of his neck. "It's a long story."

"I have time," Boyd said mildly. He shifted to get more comfortable against the wall.

The doors opened and they entered a large area that was full of fabric samples for different purposes. Kassian automatically headed over to the carpet section as he seemed to struggle with whatever this long story was.

"Basically, we were posing as a couple on a swinger cruise. Sex was definitely going to be involved but she wanted to start 'practicing' as soon as we met to talk about our covers. It was strange, kid. When the mission started, we argued a lot. She didn't get why I didn't want to take advantage of all the free sex. I think she was offended, and then she was confused, and it finally turned into her thinking I thought something was wrong with her. She is seriously one messed up little girl."

Boyd nodded, mulling that over. He wasn't particularly surprised to hear any of that about Jordan but it also didn't make him feel pleased. He couldn't help thinking that Carhart was probably right and if that was the case he wanted her to stay away from his friend.

He glanced over at a variety of carpet in tones of grey that they paused near. "What terms were you on when you parted, then?"

Kassian shrugged. "Okay, I guess. She isn't so bad."

Boyd nodded again although this time his lips turned down on the edges as he debated whether he would say anything. In the end, the best part of Kassian as a friend was that they'd always had the ability to be bluntly honest with each other.

He stopped and turned to face Kassian fully.

"Kass, I think you should be careful around Jordan."

The other man arched an eyebrow. "Okay?"

Boyd discreetly looked around them to make sure no one would overhear before he returned his gaze to Kassian. He stepped a little closer and dropped his voice. "Do you know about internal valentines?"

The other eyebrow raised and Kassian frowned. "I'd heard a rumor awhile back, but it was just one story. What, you think Jordan is being sent to seduce me?"

"Yes. She's in with Seong, who's been systematically getting rid of anyone who doesn't fit in her agenda. I think she's trying to see who will side with her and who won't. You're one of the few upper tiers who she may think she'd have a chance to sway. And Jordan..."

He paused, a frown marring his features as he shook his head. "I found out that the reassignment of you and Jordan to that cruise was last minute. Neither of you were supposed to be the assigned agents originally."

"And how do you know that?" Kassian asked, although he was starting to look more irritated than skeptical.

Boyd ran a hand back through his hair. "I'd been warned about Jordan. I should have told you at the beginning of this conversation that I knew about your mission but--" He stopped and grimaced faintly as he realized how this sounded. He glanced apologetically at Kassian. "I wanted to see if she'd gotten to you first so I knew how best to bring up the topic."

"If she'd gotten to me?" Kassian's blue eyes narrowed into slits as he glared at Boyd, crossing his arms over his chest. "Next time, just be up front."

Boyd opened his mouth and then closed it, looking away. "Okay."

"It really pisses me off," Kassian said, shaking his head and looking away. He started to say more, stopped, and then moved to sit at one of the benches that were set aside from the show areas. "That you wouldn't inform me of this inside information as soon as you found it out. What, do you think you have to feel me out?"

Boyd sighed and sat down next to him. "I'm sorry, Kassian. I mean it."

He scrubbed briefly at his face and then dropped his hands, his arms resting on his knees. He searched the hard lines of Kassian's face. "I wasn't trying to be insulting-- I did meet with you as soon as I could after finding out. As for the rest..." He waved a hand vaguely and then sighed. "Honestly, Kass, sometimes I still..." He trailed off, grimaced to himself, and met Kassian's eyes as he changed what he'd been about to say.

"After my extended I realized even more that it doesn't matter how good of an agent a person is; if their vulnerabilities are targeted by manipulative people, they can be used no matter how hard they try to avoid it. Anyone can be hurt if you make them trust you and then use that against them. And Jordan..." His eyes narrowed and he shook his head, his hands curling into fists.

"I think she's worse than any of the people I saw on that mission, and that was in an environment designed specifically for people to gain power through manipulation and sex. I was worried that she may have targeted the best parts of you and if she'd succeeded in twisting that to her advantage, then my going into the conversation by implicating her right away could result in you ignoring anything I had to say. Maybe you'd feel defensive or protective of her and not listen to me."

He sighed, looking down at his uncurling fingers. "But that made me manipulate you in my own way, it seems. So, I'm sorry, Kassian."

There was a tense silence and Kassian sighed, raising a hand to rub over his face. His shoulders slumped slightly and he shook his head, finally sliding his hand up to run through his short blond hair.

"I need to know I can trust you. And if you have information about someone's plans for me, or... you think they're watching me, and you don't tell me, it means I can't."

"You can trust me. Your friendship means a lot to me, Kassian," Boyd said sincerely. "And no matter what I'm always going to have your back, especially in this administration. I promise."

There was another silence and then Kassian nodded slowly. His eyes were cast down to the floor, his lips set in a grim line.

"I hope it's true. I don't want to think you'll hold important things like that back from me. With the way things are..." The senior agent shook his head. "Everyone is different. Everything has changed. When you were gone, the only person I felt safe telling anything to was Ryan."

Guilt was a heavy weight in Boyd's stomach at those words. He almost wanted to say something but the mention of Ryan sidelined his thoughts. "I noticed you two seemed closer. Did you start hanging out more?"

At that Kassian looked briefly surprised and then finally looked at Boyd fully. There was another extended pause and then he frowned slightly. "I just realized, we never talked about a lot of things that happened while you were gone."

"No, we didn't," Boyd agreed, his eyebrows drawing together. "Why? Did something happen aside from the terminations you both told me about?"

"Yes." Kassian frowned slightly, his eyebrows drawing together. He reached up to rub a hand across his jaw, closing his eyes briefly and then clearing his throat. "But not with the Agency. I was-- I had scheduled downtime to visit my family in California, and on the night I arrived, my sister went missing."

"What?" Boyd said in surprise. He straightened, looking at Kassian with concern. "Which one?"

"Leighton." Kassian cleared his throat again, shifting on the bench as his blue eyes began to flit around the room.

Boyd watched Kassian, feeling a growing sense of unease with the way Kassian was acting. "Kass, I want to talk to you about this but if you'd rather we wait until we're somewhere else..."

"It's fine. It doesn't matter." Another shrug. "Anyway, she's dead."

Even having been dreading bad news, that simple sentence hit Boyd like a punch in the gut. He took that in, unable to look away from Kassian.

He'd met Leighton before; she'd been pregnant at the time and she'd been kind. He'd enjoyed her company. She'd made him feel welcome even in the awkward situation he'd found himself in when Kassian's family had suddenly appeared.

Imagining her gone...

"What happened?" he asked quietly.

"Just... one of those things." Kassian frowned, eyebrows drawing together as he looked at something in the distance. "My parents were out of the country, but it was my only downtime so I didn't want to waste it and not get to visit anyone. It was Leighton's idea. She was supposed to pick me up from the airport, and she never showed up. Eventually I just took a cab to the house. Kim was there with the kids. It just--"

He wet his lips and tilted his head back against the wall. "We knew something was wrong. She never came home. She was just gone. Her phone just rang and rang until it eventually just went to voice mail. The local police didn't really take it seriously. I don't blame them. There were weird... coincidences. She and her husband had just separated and she'd just taken a lot of money out of the bank. It was for the kid's daycare, well over two thousand a month, but the timing just-- I guess they figured she was a grown woman and maybe just took off."

Boyd shook his head, wishing that had been what had actually happened. "They must have found her eventually." It was somewhere between a statement and a question.

"That's where Ryan came in." Kassian frowned slightly and rubbed his hands across his jeans. "I was freaked out. I knew she would never just leave the kids. I called Carhart and demanded he use Agency resources to fucking find her. I went insane on him when he told me he couldn't. We hung up, and five minutes later Ryan called. Apparently Carhart had suggested that he get in touch with me, we were both on downtime, and I needed some assistance."

At that point in the conversation a salesman walked by and looked at them curiously, although he didn't seem invested enough to actually offer assistance.

Kassian's eyes followed the man as he walked away, clearly waiting until he was out of earshot.

"Ryan really came through. He took the first flight he could find in, he must have spent a fortune and wouldn't let me pay him back. And we weren't even really friends back then."

Boyd's lips tilted somberly on the edges. "Ryan's a good man. He's always there to help."

"Yeah. He did. He really... really. I'm just so grateful to him." Kassian looked over at Boyd finally. "He ended up somehow hacking into... something, and tracing her cell phone through the towers. He pinpointed a certain location, and we knew either her phone or her body was there. That's the only reason we found her. Without him... she would have laid out there in that field for weeks, months. Maybe forever. It was hard enough that we couldn't go right away. It would have looked too suspicious if I suddenly found her body. So we waited, he did something else-- rerouted a call, made a phony tip..."

His eyes cast down again, and he swallowed hard. He opened his mouth to speak, closed it again, and seemed to be having trouble gathering his voice. "Fuck, this is hard," Kassian admitted after a moment. "It's still so hard, that's why I try not to talk about it. She was so amazing. And we all just fell apart, kid. I was so wrecked, I couldn't even keep it together. Courtney and Kimberly were at each other's throats, everything was a mess. And Ryan really tried to take care of all of us. He was just-- I don't know. I can't even explain how fucking grateful to him I was after all of that shit. It's so strange."

Boyd reached over and squeezed Kassian comfortingly on the shoulder. "It's not strange at all. I'm glad he was there for you, I just wish I'd been there too-- to help you, to pay my respects--" He had to pause because thinking of anyone harming Leighton filled him equally with sorrow and anger. She'd been one of the few truly good people out there. It never should have happened to her.

"I'm so sorry, Kassian. I really liked her. She made me feel like family. It was--" He stopped and shook his head. "She had a gift."

"She did. She was the best. I still don't understand how someone could do that to her." Kassian's eyebrows drew together, his fingers flexing against his thighs. "I had to identify the body. I got so wrecked that night."

"Jesus," Boyd said quietly. "Where were your parents through all this? Were they still out of the country?"

Kassian nodded. "They weren't able to come back for another week. It was hard for them to find a flight to come back on. It was bad for everyone. But yeah, that's basically what happened with me while you were gone," he said with a crooked smile.

Boyd shook his head. "Did they ever find who did it?"

"No. That's the really fucking hard part." A bitter scowl found its way onto Kassian's handsome face. "You'd think something like this wouldn't happen to... I mean you'd think, I could have somehow found out, or used the Agency but it's unsolved. No suspects. Just... nothing. I thought it was her husband for a while but not anymore. You can't fake that kind of grief."

Boyd's eyebrows drew together at that. "No suspects at all?" He wondered how that could be but didn't want to push for details on such a difficult topic. Instead, he asked, "How long ago did this all happen?"

"A little over a year. Last spring, not too long after Vega died. That's part of the reason I'd been wanting to go on the trip so badly. I wanted to get away from the Agency for awhile. I really wanted to see them, because I felt like things at the Agency were getting so bad. I wanted to see them while I could, before something maybe happened with me for some reason. But it isn't just the Agency. People are just sick everywhere."

Kassian shook his head, once again combing both hands through his hair as he gave a low sigh. "Some psycho butchered my sister it seems, for nothing. They didn't even take all the cash that had been in her car when they found it. He just raped her, and murdered her, and dragged her out to a field. She'd never even made it to the daycare to drop off the money. Somehow between her house and there, something went wrong. And it fucking kills me that I don't know what."

Boyd's eyes narrowed and he looked away, gaze falling automatically on the sleekly displayed furniture and decorations. The setting seemed too normal to be considering the violent and senseless end to someone who'd been such a good person.

Anger and disgust warred within him, making him wonder why someone like Leighton had to have been the target of anything like that. Why someone so good had to meet such a violent end. And why Kassian and his family had to endure that knowledge for the rest of their lives.

"Is there anything I can do?" Boyd asked, turning a serious stare onto Kassian's profile. "Additional research, following up on clues if I'm ever in the area on a mission..."

Kassian's broad shoulders rose in a shrug and he gave Boyd a helpless stare. "I wish I could ask but I don't think there's anything. We tried so hard, me and Ryan hacked into the local LE's computers, even Carhart tried to exploit some resources but he couldn't be too obvious... it's just one of those things. One of those unsolved... random things."

He affected a faint smile. "Thanks, though. I wasn't lying before, when I told you I feel like you're the closest person I've been to in a long time. I thought about you a lot in the weeks after it happened. You were the only Agency person who'd ever met any of my family."

Boyd smiled slightly in return and reached up, pulling Kassian in closer for a brief one-armed sideways hug. "You know I'll always be there for you, right? I'd give anything to have been there to help you through that."

He squeezed Kassian's shoulder and, mindful of being two men in public, dropped his hand onto the bench. "But I'm here now so if anything comes up in the future, I don't care if you have to show up at my door in the middle of the night-- I hope you'll let me know and let me help. I'll drop everything for you."

"I will. And you should know by now, it's the same for me."

They looked at each other for a moment before Kassian leaned back in the bench. He rolled his shoulders, lips twisting to the side as his eyebrows rose slightly. "So, I'm going to tell you something to kind of lighten up this conversation. You game?"

Boyd's eyebrows tilted up in return. "Sure," he said, watching his friend curiously.

The slight twist of lips turned up further into a wry smile and Kassian rolled his eyes at himself. "So maybe me and Ryan kind of had a brief thing."

The comment caused Boyd's eyebrows to raise higher. "Kassian Trovosky," he said in a mock scandalized tone. "Do you ever have friends you don't fuck?"

Kassian actually paused to consider that, eyebrows drawing together slightly. After a moment he grinned and sounded vaguely pleased with himself as he said, "I never got to fuck Harriet. Or Vega."

Boyd laughed. "Keyword 'got'-- you would have, if they'd let you."

Laughing, Kassian looked completely unashamed. "What can I say, man? I like sex. It's normal. It's like, why we're made the way we're made or something, right?"

Shrugging a little, he tilted his head back. "And it wasn't some big deal. When we were in California, when I was really messed up, he was staying in my room, babysitting me-- some stuff went down. You know how it goes. I wanted to maybe follow up here but he wasn't interested. Little brat."

Boyd snorted faintly but couldn't help smiling. "He knows you too well," he joked. He paused, shrugged, and leaned back against the wall with his head tilting toward Kassian. "Maybe it's better anyway-- your friendship seems to have improved by going through all that together but trying to keep that part going out of context may have pushed back on what you'd gained."

Nodding in agreement, Kassian glanced around the room as if finally remembering where he was. "Yeah, that's why I wasn't too persistent about it." A frown touched his face and he sighed long and loud. "You know, I probably could have hired someone to do this for me."

Boyd shifted his gaze to take in the furniture nearby. "The infamous Trovosky, talking about giving up some modicum of control," he observed dryly, teasing him to keep the conversation light. "You know someone you'd trust to make those decisions for you?"

"People get interior decorators to do this stuff all the time." Kassian looked around again, eyes moving over the large expanse of the floor they were on.

Boyd sat forward, resting his hands on his thighs. "So you want to keep looking around?"

Kassian's gaze drifted across the carpets but he appeared to have lost interest in the entire endeavor. "Nah. I'll just buy this stuff and come back later. I don't even know if I want to put down carpet anyway. I may just do rugs or something."

"It may be better to wait, anyway," Boyd replied, eyeing a particularly shaggy carpet pile that looked like it would suck up anything that fell on it. "You may change your mind about what you want once you see the place with the new furniture."

Kassian's response was a vague sound followed by him looking utterly uninterested in staying in the store any longer. "I'm tired of being here. I'll just arrange delivery for this stuff."

He looked at the variety of tickets in his hand. "I may go to the electronic store and get my sound system instead. I warn you, though, if you come I will be there for an ungodly amount of time."

"I'm not doing anything else today," Boyd said with a shrug. "If I get bored, I'll leave early."

In the end, Boyd lasted about an hour at the next stop before he found his attention wandering.

He'd planned to spend as much time as possible with his friend since he rarely saw him anymore. But with Kassian so focused on finding the specifics of a sound system he wanted, and with the sunlight warming the clouds outside while the wind rustlled the trees, Boyd found himself realizing he had a day off that he could spend doing the things he hadn't done in awhile. Things he'd been too stressed or upset to do.

He told Kassian he'd see him later and left. When he stepped out of the store it was still early morning. He slid his hands in his pockets and tilted his head up toward the sky. White clouds with periwinkle shadows faintly glowed from behind with the sun. The breeze was warm and the unblemished buildings of Glass Town surrounded him with reflections of the world around him.

He ended up taking a taxi home because he and Kassian had carpooled and he didn't want to waste his entire day walking home.

When he watched the taxi leave he saw Mrs. Hensley peering through the blinds across the street. He lifted a hand in a silent wave and the blinds instantly snapped shut. He shook his head to himself and turned, walking up to his front door. She had been watching a little more often in the past several months, perhaps wondering why he kept disappearing for great lengths of time.

Or, more likely, why he kept coming back.

When he got inside he headed toward his bedroom.

The place was still a mess from all those months ago when he'd wanted to destroy everything. He'd left it alone; too depressed and tired to want to change it. Now, the room felt lighter and the reminder of his anger and depression no longer felt necessary. Now, he could look at his room and the memories within differently again.

He went into his living room and turned on Lou's old CD player, remembering all the times he and Lou had sat in the living room with it playing in the background, and the time Sin had been over when they'd done the same.

It had been Boyd's attempt to help Sin determine what kind of music he liked but in the process they'd ended up making love and relaxing against each other on the couch. That strong chest had risen and fallen against his back slowly; those powerful hands had been a gentle caress against his bare stomach and the scars scattered across it.

Intertwined with Sin's body, he'd felt complete and content, and the love he'd felt then still burned in his chest now. Knowing that Sin was out there and safe made Boyd feel like he could relax for the first time in a year and a half.

He spent a little over an hour cleaning everything, even the second floor he hadn't touched in nearly two years. Almost everything was dusty like a tomb but there were places where it looked like someone had touched this or that; had moved an item or had opened a box. Boyd was using one of the bedrooms as secondary storage from the attic so he could more easily sift through some of the boxes.

He didn't think he'd touched any of this for a long time so he could only assume the places where he saw smears in the dust were due to Sin when he'd stopped by the house. He searched around the room until he found the hidden area where he'd put the box with his father's journals.

For some reason, he'd felt the need to keep it out of sight in an area no one else would find. He had been half paranoid that his mother would visit the house unexpectedly and discover Cedrick's journals. He hadn't wanted her to take away the only legacy of his father that he had.

He brought the box back downstairs and settled on the couch sideways, his legs stretching out in front of him so he could lean back against the arm. Trip hop music crooned in the background, reminding him once more of that night with Sin.

He paused for a moment, fingertips passing across the cover of the journal, then looked over at the entertainment center.

He'd been in this room with Lou before, and before that he'd been in this room with his dad, and other times with his mother. At the moment the memories weren't painful the way they usually felt; underscoring how alone he was. At the moment, they were comforting.

He sighed, wondering to himself when he had become so nostalgic, and sifted through the journals until he came to the last one he'd been reading. So far it seemed that most of his father's journals were a mixture of personal entries, excerpts and ideas for articles, and jotted notes for research. He seemed to have created his own shorthand that was all but unreadable to Boyd and there were entire pages he could hardly understand, while other pages were written normally.

The curiosity that burned in him in general, that made him want to poke and prod until he understood the world more fully, made him want to break his father's code even though it was probably not important. Most likely he was noting information from protected sources to be included in future articles. But there was a mystery to it, even so small of one, and it made him wonder what his father was saying in that incomprehensible scrawl.

One journal in particular, the one Boyd had been reading recently, was dedicated solely to him. He flipped to the last entry he'd read, his eyes finding the place he'd left off.

Do you know why I got into journalism? It's because the truth is important. Never let anyone tell you differently, Boyd. Even if it hurts to say, even if it's painful to hear, even if you wish you could run the other way-- it's important. It separates the people with integrity from the deceivers. It's what makes a person trustworthy. Somebody to believe in.

Cedrick went on to describe how he felt that Boyd had an inquiring personality and the different scenarios he'd considered for what Boyd would be when he grew up. It was the end of the entry that made Boyd smile to himself.

So maybe you'll be an artist. You could be the next van Gogh or da Vinci. Your name could be written in history books for centuries to come. You'll become another well known last name that doesn't require a first name to differentiate you from anyone else. In the future, there will be art school students learning about Beaulieu's style, and others trying to copy it. Maybe you'll create an entire new movement in art.

You'll make enough money that someday your mother and I will retire and live in a nice house by the beach, where I can brag about you to every passerby.

That may be my favorite of the futures I envision for you. But whatever your future, whatever talents you later discover, I know you will be the best at anything you choose.

It isn't only a father's pride saying that. I like to think of it as my journalistic spirit, drawing conclusions from the facts at hand.

His gaze lingered on those last words for a moment before he shifted his attention to the next entry. It was short, only two paragraphs, and was written in a less legible scrawl than the previous few entries.

I wonder what you'll think when you read this someday, Boyd. I've thought a lot about what I want to tell you when you grow older. I think you'll have a lot of questions -- why wouldn't I always let you into my office? Why did I sometimes disappear for long periods of time?

There are many things I can't put down on paper, as much as I wish I could. But I promise someday we will talk. I look forward to the day you'll be old enough to understand everything. It may be selfish, but I admit that I hope someday you'll continue my legacy.

He paused, fingers brushing the page, and was just about to flip to the next entry when his phone suddenly buzzed loudly. His heart skipped a beat. He was off the couch in seconds, nearly falling over the coffee table in his haste to reach his phone.

It wasn't until he saw that it was a call from Carhart that his excitement fell as quickly as it had come. With a sigh, he realized he'd been hoping it was Sin.

"I'll get right to it," Carhart announced the second Boyd sat down in his chair. "You're going to Annadale University for a follow-up mission."

Boyd felt a thrill of excitement before he realized Carhart had looked at Bex as well. Boyd glanced at Bex and saw her pinched, unhappy stare. "Both of us?"

Carhart nodded and activated the hologram in the center of the table. The machine had finally been fixed after a few months of languishing, following Boyd and Bex's fight. A man's image appeared before them; his light brown hair was cut short and stylish and his pale eyes appeared smaller behind his sleek black glasses.

"This is Jed Veira." Carhart flipped to another holographic image, this one of the sort of large-scale rally that was infested with Janus operatives. "You have probably heard of him. He's a highly controversial activist who has been involved in several high profile, highly political protests in the past five years."

"What's he have to do with Annadale?" Bex asked, frowning at his image. Boyd imagined she was looking for a reason to not have to go back; she hadn't exactly enjoyed the first time.

He had to admit he wished she wasn't going as well. Even though they'd been down there at the same time before, he hadn't realized Sin was alive then. Now that he did, he was filled with alarm at the idea of her somehow running across Sin. He didn't know what would happen if that occurred but he was worried that it wouldn't end well for his former partner.

"Every summer, Annadale University invites a highly decorated speaker to a large event," Carhart explained. "Their original speaker canceled due to a sudden and severe illness. We've just received word that the last minute replacement will be Veira. Given his reputation, his presence is drawing a huge and diverse crowd."

Carhart settled his stare on Boyd and then Bex. "We believe Janus representatives may try to recruit from the attendees. You will attend the speech and keep watch for any activity. Check your panels for dossiers on the most likely operatives."

When Bex and Boyd both only nodded their assent, Carhart straightened his back and turned off the hologram. "Visit Unit 16 for your disguises and head down as soon as possible."

Bex left the meeting immediately. Ryan caught Boyd's eye and opened his mouth to say something but was interrupted by Carhart.

"Ryan, come with me to my office. We need to discuss another mission."

Pulling a face, Ryan complied. "Call me later," he told Boyd before walking out. Jeffrey left at the same time.

Boyd was the slowest to leave, his mind racing ahead to the mission. He pulled out his phone to see if Sin had contacted him since they'd last seen each other. He hadn't.

He couldn't stop the disappointment at that even as he knew better than to expect anything to progress more quickly between them-- assuming that he would be lucky enough for it to progress at all.

Eyes still on the phone when he opened the door, he realized abruptly that someone was in the hallway watching him. He looked up and was surprised to see Jeffrey leaning against the opposite wall, his black eyes trained on Boyd.

"Distracted with something lately?"

If it had been somebody else it was possible the casual question and impassive stare wouldn't have made the hair on the back of Boyd's neck lift. But after years as an agent he'd learned to listen to his instincts and right now his instincts were telling him to be suspicious. Jeffrey had never shown interest in Boyd before, and coupling that with the way he'd been watching him lately...

"Not really," Boyd answered. "Why do you ask?"

"You check your phone more often lately." Jeffrey's dark gaze flicked down to Boyd's phone still held in his hand at his side.

Suspicion caused Boyd to shift slightly even though he kept his expression impassive aside from his lifted eyebrows.

"Do I?" Boyd glanced down at his phone with mild curiosity, as if the thought hadn't occurred to him. He closed the phone and shrugged as he slid it in his pocket. "I hadn't realized. With missions coming more frequently but irregularly, I've been checking to make sure I'm not missing anything. I don't want to be caught unaware. You know how that goes," he added, giving Jeffrey a commiserating look. "I imagine it's even worse in Analysis."

Jeffrey's eyebrows furrowed as he frowned. "Well, yes." It wasn't an obvious tell but Boyd was used to reading people and he saw the slight confusion and uncertainty in Jeffrey's dark eyes. "It has been busy."

"Now that I think of it," Boyd said thoughtfully, nearly immediately to throw the analyst off and give him no time to think. "Is there a way to make my phone give a special noise or alert when I receive messages from certain people?"

"Well..." Jeffrey paused, appearing to consider that. "I imagine so."

"Maybe Ryan will know," Boyd mused. He glanced down the hallway distractedly. "I have to go." He flashed a reserved smile at Jeffrey even as he took a few steps back. "Thank you for the help, Jeffrey; it's good to know you're looking out for me. If I find out how to do it, I'll let you know. I'm sure you need that function as much as I do in your line of work, if not more." His smile quirked briefly. "With luck, we can make sure neither of us ends up in trouble for missing something important."

He raised a hand in a brief wave, which Jeffrey distractedly returned with drawn together eyebrows. Boyd thought he may have seen a flicker of guilt in the cast of those dark eyes but he didn't wait to verify. It was imperative that he turn the conversation around, give Jeffrey reason to doubt himself, and leave on a friendly note so the doubt would only increase when Jeffrey thought about this again later.

As he strode to Unit 16, he ran over the interaction and wondered who Jeffrey was reporting to and why. And what, exactly, Jeffrey may have been hoping to coax from him.

It was a busy time of year in Annadale Beach, with the tourist season seeming to be at its peak and the number of visitors only rising due to the event at the university.

Boyd mingled with the students, checking for any follow up on the updates of the student groups that were possibly related to Janus. Unsurprisingly, there was no solid intel but he hadn't yet heard anything to imply they would be resurrected again.

The entire time he walked around the university he found himself automatically looking toward every flash of black hair; every tall man. While he had once done the same thing in Blue Moon, wishing to see Sin, he was now hoping he wouldn't. Not while Bex was around.

He saw her once or twice in the distance but they'd each continued their separate roles and hadn't acknowledged each other.

As the event drew nearer, the campus became almost overly crowded. A wide variety of people began to trickle in among the students; from men and women who had dressed up to young adults who would have blended in at protests. Boyd moved around, listening to conversations and getting involved in a few as well.

He kept an eye out for any of the Janus agents or associates. So far he hadn't seen anyone and nothing was raising any red flags.

The crowd gathered outside the entrance to the auditorium as people started to filter in to take their seats. Boyd was cutting between a group of animated college students when he heard a vaguely familiar voice call out behind him:


He looked over his shoulder and saw Azalia. She grinned when she saw him notice her and raised her black fingerless-gloved hand to wave him over. He turned around and threaded his way through the crowd until he could stop next to her.

She was wearing a similar outfit as before, only this time she had on black pants that were extremely wide-legged and filled with zippers and strips of red tartan fabric. Her long sleeved shirt was filled with holes beneath the tight t-shirt she wore with some sort of cartoon-like character on it. The dog collar she wore had wide silver spikes and hanging rings that glinted from the black leather.

Behind her were two girls who looked to be her age. One girl wore very similar clothing and had hair that was dyed a violent green, with a round face and eyes that were a deep brown. The other girl looked strangely out of place next to them in earth-toned clothing. She wore a conservative tank top beneath a shrug and a fitted skirt that went just past her knees. Her shoes looked like what Boyd had once heard Unit 16 staff refer to as "Mary Jane" for some reason. Her long brown hair was straight and pulled back on the upper half.

"Hey, you're back," Azalia greeted him with a grin, putting her hand companionably on his shoulder. "I didn't know if I'd see you again."

Boyd adjusted the glasses he wore for the Tyler cover and smiled with a shrug. "I couldn't resist the topic tonight."

"I know, right?" Azalia said keenly, her eyes lighting up. "I've been excited about this all day. We read about Veira in one of our classes last semester and I never thought I'd get to actually see him in person."

"She's been obsessed about it," her goth-looking friend put in with a roll of her eyes.

Azalia made a face but then seemed to remember they hadn't all been introduced. "Oh right. This is Anna," she pointed to the girl with the green hair, "and this is Jaime." She pointed to the brunette who smiled and lifted a hand in a wave. Azalia looked at Anna and Jaime while gesturing to Boyd. "This is Tyler something-or-other. He's thinking of going poli-sci like us."

The girls nodded in understanding while Boyd glanced between them and the crowd that was filtering into the auditorium.

"So, you planning to sit with someone already?" Azalia asked.

"What?" Boyd looked back over and shook his head. "No... I was just going to try to find an empty spot."

"Why don't you sit next to us, then?"

Jaime watched Boyd intently and smiled wider when he said with a shrug, "Sure." The four of them joined the crowd siphoning into the auditorium.

"So," Boyd said idly, "heard anything new on whether any of those groups will start up again next year?"

Azalia grimaced and shook her head. "Nah. These things seem to pop up last minute sometimes."

"Too bad," Boyd said, casually glancing away to skim the crowd once more for any of the Janus affiliates.

They were able to find four seats next to each other but for that they had almost at the very back of the auditorium. Although Anna complained about it and Azalia looked unhappy, Boyd liked the position. There were fewer people in the vulnerable space behind his back and he could see more of the people below him which meant he may be more likely to see anyone related to Janus. Although it wasn't that easy to tell from the backs of everyone's heads.

He didn't see any of the targets but he did see Bex, scowling as she had to practically crawl over a couple making out in order for to get to her seat. He couldn't help smirking slightly at the scene before he looked away. She was much closer to the stage so at least she would get that end of the auditorium.

It wasn't long until the lights went down and he could no longer see anyone. The stage lit up and the president of the college came out to give his address about why it was so important to be involved, and so on. Boyd listened to the speech while simultaneously listening to whispered conversations popping up and disappearing around him.

When Jed Veira took the stage everyone's attention turned fully toward him, except, Boyd suspected, for him and Bex. He paid even closer attention to the crowd, the little that he could see, and subtly shifted in the direction of any conversations he heard around him. Azalia, Anna and Jaime occasionally whispered to each other, noting things Veira said or explaining something that one of them didn't get.

Jaime was sitting next to Boyd and more than once she glanced at him shyly from the corner of her eye or touched him lightly on the arm to gain his attention. Every time that happened, it turned out she was dutifully explaining what was being said between the three girls so he wouldn't feel left out. He had to admit he appreciated it for the bits of small intel he was getting from her regarding what the classes had taught at Annadale University-- while simultaneously he wished she would stop doing that so he could concentrate more fully on everything else around him.

The keynote speech seemed to drag on forever to Boyd, who after a point felt like it was little more than a propaganda speech for activism. On its own that was well enough, but this was the sort of thing Janus used to inspire people to join them in the first place.

Although the Agency had long ago considered whether Jed Veira was related to Janus, there was nothing to connect them aside from their ideals. Which, in and of itself, was not uncommon in the years following the wars. There were plenty of people who felt similarly and even participated in things like protests, who never stepped over into terrorism.

Still, he listened for any keywords and figured he'd note in his report the possibility that this could have been a recruiting practice through the speaker itself rather than through affiliates sent in to recruit from the crowd.

When the speech was finally over and people started to disperse, Boyd watched Veira move toward the back of the stage and get into a short conversation with the president. They shook hands and the president placed a hand on Veira's shoulder to lean in and say something into his ear. Veira smiled and nodded and said something in return.

It was impossible to read lips from this distance but for all intents and purposes it looked like nothing more than a self-congratulatory conversation between two men.

After Veira stepped off the stage, Boyd watched who moved up to hover near him. He saw Bex doing something similar, being much closer to the man than Boyd was a room away. So they weren't both watching the same person, he turned his attention back to the girls.

The three of them were discussing what Veira had said. They kept throwing out terms Boyd only vaguely knew from reading up on the political science major so he would be able to converse with students as if he knew what they were talking about. He got drawn into a few short debates but nothing that interesting was happening. He didn't learn or overhear anything important and didn't see any of the Janus affiliates they were hoping to see tonight. When he glanced down to look for Veira, he saw the man in the midst of a conversation with a group of girls while a few other people still waited around to talk to him.

Nothing looked suspicious or out of the ordinary at all.

He was just wondering whether he should go talk to Veira after all when he felt movement at his side.

"Well ain't this a cozy quartet," Bex drawled, all British twang and heavy sarcasm as she crossed her arms over the front of her torn up black Sex Pistols t-shirt. She honestly wasn't dressed that differently than she normally did which could either be due in part to the fact that she had refused Unit 16's attempts, or she already fit in as an unruly youth. "Not your usually types, though, mate."

Boyd was surprised to see Bex anywhere near him. They hadn't come up with any sort of cover story for a connection between them. The last thing he had expected was for her to approach him in the open.

He rolled his eyes and absently pushed up his glasses. "Like you'd even know. You always spent more time telling me what I liked rather than asking."

Arching an eyebrow, Bex's lips twisted up to the side although it wasn't obvious whether it was a look of amusement or disgust. It was hard to tell when the rest of her expression barely moved. "Way to not turn down the whining wanker attitude even in front of others."

"And kudos to you for not wavering in being a bitch," Boyd replied mildly. He leaned back and crossed his arms. "What're you doing here anyway, Akiko? I'd think the topic may be a bit too intellectual for someone of your caliber."

Unfazed, Bex's black eyes swept from him with disinterest to focus on his companions even as she replied blandly, "Aw, I'm hurt, Tyler. And here I came to see if you'd fancy a cuppa."

Boyd snorted, making it clear he didn't believe her. Azalia leaned forward, raising her eyebrows and running an appraising eye along the length of Bex.

"So," she said, looking over at Boyd. "Who's this?"

"Oh. Akiko and I broke up a few months back." He glanced at Bex pointedly, flicking his gaze along her as if he was displeased by her presence. "I didn't expect to see her again any time soon."

Bex already appeared to be losing interest fast now that other people were apparently going to be talking to her. She rolled her shoulders, the muscles in her arms flexing as she focused on Boyd once again. "All the intellect in here is makin' me a bit antsy. You lot have fun with it. I'd rather take another turn around the campus and head out. But."

Gaze swinging back to the three girls opposite her, Bex inclined her head. "Have fun with this one while you can. Be prepared to share your tampons, though."

Boyd rolled his eyes again. "And my dad wonders why we're not together anymore," he said sarcastically. He looked away from Bex and in the process caught his gaze on a large clock on the wall. He grimaced and pointedly turned his back on Bex, making it clear he planned to ignore her presence completely.

"I hate to admit it but I have to go soon too," he told Azalia. "I promised someone I'd meet up with them later tonight."

Azalia frowned, glanced briefly at Bex who was already turning to walk away, and nodded. Jaime looked outright disappointed. "Have you decided yet on whether you'll be attending in the Fall?"

"No," he said with a frown. He shifted back in his seat and looked around the auditorium broodingly. "I like the facilities but some things came up. I may not have the money."

"There's good financial aid," Anna put in, leaning around Azalia. "That's how I'm here."

"I don't know if I'll qualify for enough," Boyd replied doubtfully. "We'll see."

Azalia nodded again and leaned back in her chair with her arms crossed. "Well, we'll see you around if you do, then."

"Where will you go if not here?" Jaime asked, pulling a few strands of hair behind her ear.

He focused on her, watching the way her cheeks flushed slightly at his attention. "I'm not sure yet. This was my first choice but there are some cheaper places around." He shrugged and looked away with a faint frown. "There are community colleges, too."

"Eh, but they suck," Azalia said with a wave of her hand and Anna snorted her agreement.

"Yeah, well." Boyd fell silent and then abruptly pushed himself to a stand. He slid his hands in his pockets and looked around a bit awkwardly. "Anyway. Good to see you, Zale." He shifted his gaze from her to Anna before settling on Jaime. "Thanks for giving me a seat and keeping me in the loop."

Jaime smiled and blushed a little deeper before dropping her eyes. "My pleasure."

Azalia smirked at Jaime and then cast a knowing look toward Boyd, as if to ask if he was interested. He grimaced faintly and glanced in the direction Bex had left. When his and Azalia's eyes met again, she nodded subtly and then suddenly smacked Jaime on the thigh.

"Okay girls. Well, if our token dude is taking off then we have some things to do too, don't we? I want to make a stop by the cafeteria first, though. I'm starving. Thought my stomach would growl loud enough to cut right through his speech."

Anna snorted and stood, pulling down her shirt from where it had bunched up while sitting. "Me too. Hey Jame, you wanted to try that new cake again, right? It should be out by now."

"Oh yeah," Jaime said, brightening. "I still want to know what they use in the frosting..."

Seeing that they were suitably preoccupied, Boyd raised a hand as farewell and said an idle, "Later," before turning and walking away.

He glanced at the stage and saw that Veira had disappeared somewhere during Boyd's conversation with Bex. He checked around for the speaker inside and outside of the auditorium but didn't see him or any of the Janus affiliates. With nothing else to do, he decided to head to the hotel where the Agency had booked him a room.

The lobby was full of people, which was unsurprising considering the large draw of the keynote speaker and the number of tourists he'd seen crowding nearly every street he'd passed.

The Agency had only been able to book them one room, given how last minute their trip was, and he'd nearly forgotten the fact since he and Bex hadn't run into each other earlier in the day. As the elevator ascended, he thought about how he was going to be stuck in the room with Bex overnight.

When he got to the door he paused and listened for any sign of movement. He knocked first to let her know he was entering and then slid the key card through the reader. Opening the door, he looked around as he walked into the room.

Bex was in the process of dismantling one of her guns and cleaning it methodically. She barely glanced up although she didn't hesitate before saying, "Girlfriend. Really?"

Boyd smirked. "You liked that, did you?" He walked further into the room. "Maybe next time you'll give me more warning before you suddenly break protocol."

"Fuck protocol. This mission is bollocks." She gave him a withering glare before she started to reassemble her weapon, long fingers gliding over the parts without hesitation. "Any of them birds actual suspects or do you just like attention?"

Boyd walked over to the nightstand between the two twin beds and took off the glasses. He winced and closed his eyes, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. He hoped he never had to get glasses for good; they were uncomfortable and irritating.

"One of them had a possible connection to UFC," he said as he dropped the glasses on the nightstand with a clatter. "But it doesn't seem like it's going to go anywhere. I'm crossing her off my list." He opened his eyes again and looked over at her. "Did you get anything?"

Bex held up the fully re-assembled weapon and looked down the sight at him, mouth pursed before she clattered it down to the table again. "The phone number of this great big dykey girl in the tech lab."

Boyd held back a smirk and sat on the edge of one of the beds. "Should I be leaving the room so you two can have some alone time tonight?"

"Nah. Not my type." She stood up all in one lean stretch and glanced at the window again. "These trips are a waste of goddamn time. I'd much rather be hunting."

Boyd was unsurprised by the comment; Bex had seemed from the beginning to prefer the missions where they tracked down targets for a kill or recovery rather than intel gathering like this sort.

"That's probably why I'm usually assigned these," he said with a shrug. He leaned over to start untying his shoes. "You could head back tonight if you want, rather than waiting around."

At that, she gave him a skeptical look as her black eyes skimmed him briefly. She tapped her fingers against the table as if considering the offer, and then jerked up one sharp shoulder. "That's bloody fine with me, then."

"Alright." Boyd toed off his shoes and sat up straight. He glanced at her as he reached back to pull the tie out of his hair. "If he sees you just tell Carhart I'll head back at the predetermined time. I can run down one last possible lead tomorrow before we give up on this case for good."

"Huh." Bex was already grabbing her pack and stuffing her meager belongings in it, apparently set to head out as soon as possible. "That's a right good idea, mate. You're not quite as stupid as you look."

Boyd snorted quietly and set the hairband on the nightstand next to his fake glasses. "Thanks for the compliment," he said dryly.

"Not a problem."

Without saying anything else, Bex zipped up her pack and threw it over her shoulder. She hardly even looked at him before she left the room.

Boyd watched her leave, feeling rather pleased with the way this had all turned out. Now he didn't have to worry about her getting antsy and somehow running across Blue Moon.

After she left he set the extra lock on the door and returned to the bed. He was now wishing he'd brought the secure tablet with him so he could have worked on his projects a little more. He thought about heading over to the Blue Moon but a glance at his watch told him that it was closed.

He sat back down on the edge of the bed, arms braced forward while he glanced around the room with a frown. He was just trying to decide what he should do when his phone suddenly rang. He pulled it out, half expecting it to be Bex telling him something for the mission.

A thrill of surprise moved through him when he saw it was Sin instead.

Continue to Fade Chapter 17...