Fade Chapter Twenty-Two

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

The story contains..

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


Book One: Evenfall See Evenfall chapter list.

Book Two: Afterimage
See Afterimage chapter list.

Interludes list

Book Three: Fade
See Fade chapter list.


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Fade Chapter 22

Uploaded on 4/28/2012

Chandler Heights had once been a premier destination in Lexington. Nestled amongst the trees with Silver Lake not far away, it had boasted a small-town feel in the middle of urban sprawl. The neighborhood for the new rich.

At least, that was what Boyd had been told. The war hit within days of his birth in 1999, obliterating sections of Lexington and leaving Chandler Heights lost in time.

Unlike other areas of the city, Chandler Heights wasn't destroyed; it was mostly intact but had been the site of possible radiation. Immediately following the bombings, those affected had been quarantined and everyone else had been evacuated-- never given a chance later to return to reclaim their items. The place had been a no trespassing zone since, and with the possibility of fallout lasting well into the future the neighborhood remained largely untouched even by the bad elements of the city.

It was unnerving to walk through streets, seeing doors still open, keys still left in ignitions of vehicles abandoned on the roadside, and food long since decomposed on plates dotting the tables of the restaurants. There were shopping carts still filled with items in the grocery stores and even some wallets and purses that appeared to have been dropped in the panic. Old newspaper boxes were still filled, back when people didn't rely so heavily on digital versions. As he passed one box he saw a bold headline standing out against the yellowed paper: 'Storm of the Century to Blow In; NFL Fans Panic.' He remembered that same headline on a marquee showing in the background of a video he'd watched for training, just before they'd watched everyone on screen be vaporized. The day that had changed everything in Chandler Heights was the day that had changed everything for his family.

It made the neighborhood feel eerie and reminded Boyd of the zombie apocalypse movies he'd seen with Ryan.

Dotty's Bar & Grill was ahead, on the corner of James and Windmill. With Chandler Heights abandoned, he had to be even more careful to move unseen through the streets. He'd had to avoid being seen on multiple cameras along the way but one of the reasons they'd chosen this location was it was one of the sections of the neighborhood far enough into residential that it wasn't under surveillance. He pushed open the dusty, dirty glass door of Dotty's, with the 'Open' sign still hanging at an angle to welcome customers, and walked into the small establishment. The bells jingled as the door swung shut behind Boyd.

Sitting in a booth half hidden from view, Boyd saw the familiar shock of Emilio's black hair and headed toward him. The older man was hunched over the table, frowning down at a blueprint of some kind. His steady gaze didn't even flick up as he traced his finger along something.

"Did you find anything?" Boyd asked as he approached.

"Yup." Emilio frowned at the paper and sat back finally, looking up at Boyd. "There's a bunch of ways to get your narrow ass in that building. It ain't even manned by that many actual bodies on the outside. But there's a fuck load of sensors and boobie traps that I gotta take out first."

"Hmm." Boyd slid into the booth opposite the senior agent. "Not just on the building. I found surveillance up to eight blocks in all directions."

Jerking his thumb at the blueprint in front of him, Emilio just raised an eyebrow. "Yup. So basically, you're fucked. I could do my thing and get this shit taken care of with a small window for you to go in, but I don't see what's in it for me, chico."

Boyd hesitated. Originally he had told Emilio this was about Vanguard Industries, and curiosity alone seemed to have led him this far. He couldn't blame the man for being uninterested in going further with these odds, but since there was no way Boyd could do this alone that also meant he would have to tell Emilio something.

His gaze dropped to the blueprint, his lips thinning slightly before he sighed. He leaned forward, arms crossed with forearms braced on the table, and met Emilio's eyes. "Do you remember when Hsin pulled up that bar top on that mission? How he threw it like it weighed nothing?"

Emilio's gaze sharpened at the question, and he tilted his head. "You mean after y'all went AWOL in the bathroom to fuck? 'Course. How could I forget?"

Boyd nodded and glanced around. Although they had specifically chosen the location because it was free of surveillance and bugs, he couldn't help making sure they were alone. "Well, I'd wondered about Hsin's strength for awhile but that made me certain I couldn't be imagining it. After that mission, I started doing research into the Reapers. To see if I could find what had happened to him."

There was a soft rustle as Emilio dragged a crumpled pack of cigarettes from his pocket, not taking his eyes off Boyd as he did so. "I think it was pretty fucking obvious that they was juicing him up some kinda way." There was a pause as he flipped a cigarette between his fingers. "I knew somethin' was up as soon as I first saw him and we had that fight."

Boyd nodded again and leaned back in the booth. "I'd wondered what exactly they were doing, how often, if it could be dangerous for him..." He waved a hand as if to encompass more. "So I researched through the Journalist Guild and old Agency files first but I couldn't find anything concrete. Then I had my extended and when I came back he was gone. Ivan said he'd been acting strangely the last few months; sudden headaches, getting sick... I thought maybe the experiments had something to do with his termination so I broke into the lab."

Emilio flicked his lighter and inhaled deeply. Smoke drifted between them as he asked, "And?"

"They called it Project Zero. It was an attempt to genetically modify super soldiers. He wasn't the only one they experimented on but everyone else died or didn't take to the modifications. Connors started it when Hsin was locked up for killing the civilians and they had him in their full custody for several years. By the time I came, they were only monitoring him. But after Monterrey, they induced a coma so they could increase experimentation on him. Afterward they followed up occasionally but deemed the project successful and the trials stopped when Vivienne was in charge."

Throughout the explanation, Emilio's expression had changed very little. He stared at Boyd as the cherry of the cigarette burned in the dimness of the room. After a long stretch of silence, he wet his lips and raised the cigarette again.

"Seems weird they'd terminate their only success story." He watched Boyd, green eyes intense and steady on the younger man. "Don't it?"

"Exactly." Boyd leaned forward, his eyes narrowing seriously. "When I hit the lab, I did it alone. I found the office based on Hsin's description and grabbed what I could from their computer. As I left I saw a locked room nearby. I didn't have time to break in but I thought there may be more information there-- something to explain the behavior Ivan mentioned. But that would be extremely classified information, and later I learned those kind of files are kept here." He touched the blueprint, his honey brown eyes not shifting from Emilio's face. "In this lab. I knew I couldn't do it alone this time so that's why I asked you."

Emilio's gaze didn't waver until long after Boyd finished speaking. It almost seemed as though he were weighing the words, or turning them over in his mind, to see if Boyd was holding anything back. In the end he nodded, taking another drag from his cigarette before flicking it onto the damp floor.

"I wanna know what they did to my boy as much as you, blondie. So yeah, I'll help you." There was another tense pause, and Emilio shook his head slightly before speaking again. "But after this, you gotta knock this shit off before you get yourself dead. Don't no one understand better than me, kid. But he ain't coming back, and now you gotta look out for you."

Boyd's gaze caught on Emilio, his eyebrows shifting up in mild surprise. "Are you worried about me?"

The enigmatic expression on Emilio's face instantly vanished, and he rolled his eyes although his mouth turned up slightly at the side. "No," he scoffed.

Boyd couldn't stop a grin that spread across his face. He rested his forearms on the table and barely resisted the urge to prod Emilio. "I knew I'd wear you down, given enough time. It only took two years for you to say you like me."

"I ain't never said no shit like that," Emilio retorted, reaching over and pushing the side of Boyd's head with his hand. Despite the words, his mouth had turned up entirely into a grin by then. "All I meant was, you should probably stop being a fucking troublemaker because next shit I know, Zach gets involved trying to help you, and then I have to help him, and it's too early to fucking start a war at the compound. Aiight?"

"Yeah, yeah, I love you too, Emilio," Boyd replied, the grin remaining for a moment before it slid into a smaller smile. He reached across the table and briefly squeezed Emilio's wrist. "Hey, seriously though-- thank you for helping. I'm glad you aren't still angry with me. I really do care about you so back when I was talking to Carhart and inadvertently pissed you off, I was angrier with him because of you, not Vivienne."

That earned him a confused stare, and Emilio's dark eyebrows drew together. "What? Why because of me?"

"Because..." Boyd trailed off briefly, his expression scrunching. He leaned back in the booth and crossed his arms, studying Emilio. "You'll probably want to hit me for saying this, but it's because I think you love him and I felt like he might be playing you. And that made me angry." He dropped his head back against the vinyl seat. "Especially if the third person is Vivienne, since that throws everyone I see in any parental capacity into one strange situation."

Emilio had grimaced at the word love, but by the end he seemed to have forgotten to be indignant. "Well," he drawled. "I hope you ain't including me in that parental capacity thing, seeing as how I railed the fuck out of you not too long ago. Unless y'all French types get down like that."

Boyd rolled his eyes. "One night, when we were drunk and I thought you were Hsin. If we're talking getting down like that, you're the one that's been unusually interested in your son since I met you. First you watched him fuck me, then you tried to get us into a three-way, and next thing I heard you were making out with him on a mission. I can't tell if it's narcissism or incest that drives you..."

"Wouldn't you like to know." Emilio smirked and slid out of the booth, snagging Boyd's sleeve and hauling him out. "Let's get the hell out of here. I need to pick up something before we meet at my place."

"Alright. I can stop and pick up some food on my way over if you'd like."

"Sounds good. But get me something healthy, and I'll punch you in the face."

Boyd smirked. "Organic protein shake and large pile of lettuce it is." Emilio smacked Boyd in the back of the head and walked off, causing Boyd to laugh.

They split off in separate directions. Boyd wove his way through the streets, avoiding the cameras but in some areas having to be incredibly roundabout in order to do so. It took him three times longer than normal to finally get to his car.

He pulled out his phone and went to power it on to order some takeout at Killian's Pub, then frowned when he saw the dead battery. He had saved some battery life on his personal phone when it was powered off during the two-and-a-half-week lockdown but when he'd returned home he had been unable to find the charger before the battery had gone dead. He'd briefly forgotten that fact since he'd planned to keep the phone off during his time in Chandler Heights anyway.

He made a quick stop first to pick up a car and outlet charger. Once he had the phone plugged in called Killian's Pub to order takeout. As soon as he hung up with them, he saw there was a notice for two voicemails. Curious, he pulled up the messages.

The first was from a few days into the lockdown. Sin's familiar voice came across his phone, saying that he wanted to talk about what had come up that night and that if Boyd was going to be in Annadale any time soon, he should call him.

A strange mixture of excitement and worry moved through Boyd at that. Sin was reaching out to him and yet what was going to be at the end of that conversation?

He deleted the message and moved to the next, which turned out to also be from Sin but a week and a half later. This time he seemed to sound less like Danny and more like the man Boyd remembered; more curt and serious, with the deep rumble that soothed Boyd to hear.

This time it sounded more ominous: "We need to talk. Something strange is happening and I need to know what you know."

Worry fully winning over the excitement, Boyd wasted no time in deleting that message and calling Sin. The phone rang a few times before it went to voicemail.

"Danny, it's me," Boyd said, slowing at a stoplight. "I'm sorry I didn't call earlier-- something happened and I just got your messages. I'll be down in Annadale as soon as I can but it won't be for a few days at the earliest." He hesitated and then added, "If something urgent is happening, call me back and I'll figure something out." He hesitated briefly once more before he finished: "I'll call you as soon as I know more. Please be careful."

He was distracted thinking about Sin and what may be happening in Annadale all the way to Killian's and over to Emilio's. But there was nothing he could do about it now other than wait for Sin to respond. He tried to push the preoccupation to the back of his mind and focused instead on the task at hand. He was let in the building soon after he buzzed Emilio's apartment.

Emilio opened the apartment door a moment after Boyd arrived. He'd stripped off his shirt and was already scrolling through a palm computer. He'd refrained from bringing anything into Chandler Heights so that he wouldn't broadcast signals.

"Food?" he asked, not looking up as he sat on the arm of the couch.

Boyd locked the door behind him and walked over to set the bag of takeout on the coffee table. "I got you a burger and fries so you wouldn't hit me again."

"Good." Emilio frowned down at whatever he was looking at.

The wrappers crinkled loudly as Boyd started to unpack the food. He didn't pay much attention to Emilio, although he did wonder what he was doing on his computer. It wasn't until he had everything laid out that he realized Killian's hadn't sent any packets of ketchup.

Boyd was already standing as he started to say, "Do you have--"

The buzzer interrupted him. Boyd looked over at Emilio in surprise.

Emilio didn't seem overly concerned about a random visitor, but he did slide off the arm of the couch and approached a large tablet that was sitting on the coffee table. He sat down and clicked a couple of things on the touch screen, bringing up an image of the outside of the building. It wasn't very surprising that he'd installed his own security cameras considering how paranoid he'd been, even when he lived in Mexico.

Snorting, Emilio glanced at Boyd. "Who invited Red to the party?" he asked, indicating the tablet.

Boyd peered past Emilio's shoulder and saw Owen shifting his weight in front of the address. The R&D agent glanced down the street and held a canvas bag against his side.

"Not me," Boyd said, mystified by the man's appearance. He looked over at Emilio and sat down on the edge of the couch. "Is it normal for him to visit you?"

"Nuh uh." Emilio got up, wandering over to his door to press the buzzer. "Maybe he's gonna take me up on that blowjob thing."

Boyd snorted and moved from the couch's arm to sit in the couch normally. "Is there anyone you haven't propositioned?"

Emilio pushed his shoulders against the wall, lolling his head back towards Boyd. His mouth twitched up into a filthy smirk. "Only your ma. I even kissed Ryan one time. With tongue and everything. The little minx was loving it before he started stuttering over 'b-but Za-zach.'"

Boyd shook his head to himself as he leaned forward to unwrap the chicken sandwich he had ordered for himself. "I'm not even surprised by this information but if you start mocking Ryan I'm going to be the one smacking you."

Before Emilio could answer, there was a knock on the door to the tune of shave and a haircut.

Emilio quit making exaggerated leering faces at Boyd and opened the door. "Hey sexy," he drawled, grabbing Owen's shirt and hauling him into the apartment. "Boyd is here, so I'll have to teach you about dick sucking another time. Actually, I dunno, maybe he wants to watch."

Owen looked startled while Boyd rolled his eyes.

"I could probably teach you pointers on that one," Boyd drawled to Emilio. "I don't need to watch anything."

Emilio shoved Owen in another step and kicked his door closed as he released what had once been his typical loud, charismatic laugh. "Believe me, baby, I sure as fuck know that," he said with a wink. "But I was talking about pointers for Owen here. I'm no joke at the trade myself."

"Whoa, whoa," Owen said, lifting his hands. "Information to place in the 'deleted' folder and recycled, man. Give a guy some notice." Even so, he didn't seem too bothered by the topic as he immediately perked up when he saw the coffee table. "Oh! Score, is that food? Well, obviously it is. Hey, can I have some?" He was already walking over as he asked.

"Unless Sir Sucks A Lot is sharing his shit, you better back off mine or I'll shoot you in the face," Emilio said as he flipped the locks to his door. "And why the fuck are you here, anyways?"

Boyd silently pushed half of his fries over in front of Owen as the R&D agent dropped onto the couch next to him. A happy grin lit up Owen's face as he set his canvas bag down with one hand and started grabbing a handful of the fries with the other.

"Oh, right." Owen glanced at Emilio reproachfully. "You ruined the cool speech I had planned. I want to help. Or-- I want in. Or the eagle has landed and I'll be the nest, or whatever phraseology you undercover peeps like to use." He shoved several fries into his mouth and started to chew.

"You want in on what?" Emilio asked suspiciously, standing above Owen and not making any moves towards his own food. He looked around his apartment before settling a glare on Owen's freckled face and then turning it to Boyd. "Is everyone in on this little op you got going? 'Cause I need to be seriously on the fucking downlow, and you telling the whole world is gonna fuck my shit up."

"I didn't tell anyone," Boyd protested, looking over at Owen with narrowed eyes. He leaned away from the R&D agent, suspicion and alarm growing at the idea of the Agency having learned of this before they'd even started.

Owen looked up at the two of them, his eyes widening slightly at the tension in the room. He dropped a handful of fries and leaned back, lifting his hands in a peace gesture for the second time. "Hold up, no one told anyone anything. I found out on my own. And it wasn't your guys' fault," he added firmly, looking between the two of them.

"I've been watching the lab in Heights for a long time now so I had some super sensitive flags set. There's a few places they used this new technology camera that's invisible to the naked eye-- no way you'd know about it, no one knows about it in the States. I only do 'cause I translated docs about it back in the day when we first acquired them. Anyway, you guys showed up super shortly on one but I intercepted the feed and deleted any trace of you having ever been there. So the Agency doesn't know, trust me. I made sure of it. And I know how to fix it so you aren't seen on it again." He paused in his explanation and added, dark eyes taking them both in seriously. "So I want in."

Emilio stared at him, not bothering to hide the completely baffled look on his face. After a moment he just scoffed, grabbed his burger and sat on the arm of the sofa again. "I got absolutely no comment on all of that shit. I'm just here to jack up power grids and make a scene."

Owen looked hopefully at Boyd, who studied him closely.

"Why are you so interested in the lab?"

Owen grimaced. "Well. That one's kind of a long backstory. But I guess the too long/didn't read version is I think the Agency did some shit that messed up my little sister's life and I want to find out if it's true." A glare shadowed his eyes and thinned his lips, lending an unusually dark cast to his typically carefree face. "Because I'm pretty sure it is."

Boyd's eyes narrowed faintly and he glanced at Emilio.

"The Agency fucks up everyone's life, my dude," Emilio said with a one-shouldered shrug. "We should probably blow the shit up one day, but that's beside the point."

"Yeah, well," Owen muttered, leaning over to open his canvas bag. "Can't argue with you there."

"What will you do even if you do find out it's true?" Boyd asked, still feeling wary at the idea of letting anyone else in on this. It was going to be dangerous enough for two people to be involved. On the other hand, Owen could prove incredibly useful if it turned out he wasn't lying.

Owen pulled out a sleek black tablet from his bag. It was similar to the one Boyd had gotten from Ryan, that was so encrypted and protected it was safe even from the Agency's eyes.

"I dunno yet, honestly." Owen set the tablet on his lap and looked over at Boyd. "But I've been wanting to get into that place forever and didn't know who I could ask or trust who would actually have the skills to do it. It's been real harsh on compound lately, you know? Sometimes it feels like there's no one to really rely on."

He glanced down at his tablet, running his thumb over a button that flashed white and turned on the device. "But we gotta start somewhere, right? So I set those flags hoping some day I'd be able to find someone I could trust to even mention this to and then I saw you guys who I already kind of felt were kosher anyway, and I knew I had to jump on this chance."

Boyd watched Owen, scrutinizing everything from his body language to his expression to the tone of his voice to determine if he was hiding anything. To determine if they really could trust him after all. Owen met his gaze head on and sincerely, without even a flinch.

In truth, Owen hadn't done anything in the years they'd known each other to prove himself to be untrustworthy, and it was for that and because he could understand Owen's motivation that Boyd ended up relaxing back against the couch and nodding.


Owen straightened, his fingers clenching the edge of the tablet while his wide gaze darted from Boyd to Emilio. "Really?"

Boyd glanced at Emilio again.

Emilio licked ketchup from his finger. Apparently he had gotten himself some at some point but had failed to provide any for anyone else. "I don't fucking care. You people can do whatever you want." Emilio paused to meet Boyd's eyes. "I got it on good authority that Red is trustworthy though, if ya know what I mean."

Relief swept through Boyd. That must mean Emilio had it from a safe source, like Carhart. "Okay," he said with a nod and then looked over at Owen. "Okay," he said again.

The relief that Boyd had only shown on the inside was clear all over Owen's face and the loose way he flopped back against the couch. "Thank god, man. I was scared shitless coming up here. Like maybe you guys would turn me away after all and then decide you had to silence me for knowing or something else equally mafia-like."

Emilio scoffed and didn't comment on that.

Boyd leaned forward and picked up his chicken sandwich again. "So, what's on the tablet?" he asked, nodding toward it.

"Oh." Owen perked up. "I'm glad you asked, Sir Sal. Maybe I'll make that your codename on this heist, by the way. You can be SAL, Emilio can be Crabs, and I'll be Watchman. What do you think?"

"I'm too beautiful to have STDs."

"So then no one will think it's you," Owen said cheerfully. "Unless you have a better name."

Shaking his head, Emilio shoved Owen over so that he bumped into Boyd, and sat on the cushion of the sofa instead of the arm. He'd only finished half of his burger, and seemed to have lost interest in it. Sprawling his long legs in front of him, Emilio rested his head against the back of the sofa as he pulled a cigarette out of his pocket. "I got no idea how my boy managed to be in a unit with you. He was an impatient motherfucker on a good day."

"Yeah," Owen said, deflating suddenly as he looked down at his tablet. "It was brutal some days..."

"Can we get back to the tablet?" Boyd asked around a mouthful of sandwich.

"Right!" Owen said, straightening. "Okay, first--" he glanced over at Boyd. "I just need to make sure you'll look for what I want too, if I help you."

"What do you want?" Boyd leaned forward to uncap a bottle of water while he watched Owen.

"I want anything on Nightshade or it might be under Nightshade Trials. If you don't see that it might be designated something with Terra."

"Terra?" Boyd echoed in mild surprise, his eyebrows raising. He paused with the water bottle in front of his lips. "You're talking Ethan Bruce? The man I brought in during my rank 10 training?"

"Yeah," Owen said, dark eyes narrowing and broad shoulders tensing. "Remember he was former CIA? Bio-weapons coordinator who decided to start his own evil little group instead? Well he was working on this Bad News Virus when you guys caught him. He must've been kicking around plans to sell the virus at some point because I remember translating documents talking about it. Anyway, that's all connected to Nightshade somehow, I just don't know exactly how yet. I need all the files to see."

"But what exactly is Nightshade?" Boyd asked, setting the water bottle down on the coffee table again. "If you don't mind my asking."

"I think it's connected to a sickness. Or, more like, I think Nightshade was the trial to create the sickness." Owen stopped, frowned, and then shook his head sharply. "But I can't really say more at the moment 'cause I don't know enough. Everything's all conjecture based on different things I've translated, you know? That's why I need more info." He looked at Boyd, his tone a statement while his expression was half a question.

Boyd met his eyes evenly and nodded. "I'll get it for you."

Owen relaxed and reached over to squeeze Boyd's shoulder. "Thank you, man. Seriously. I don't have any other way--" He almost seemed ready to say more when he abruptly stopped himself with a firm shake of his head and dropped his hand on Boyd in favor of picking up his tablet again. "Okay, back to the plan. So I have blueprints inside the building. But also, I have some other ideas..."

"Alright," Boyd said as he picked up his sandwich again. "Let's hear them."

Boyd crouched beside an SUV in the parking lot, letting the fall of shadow hide him. He shifted further down, gloved fingers braced lightly against the pavement while he carefully peered beneath the vehicle to the surrounding area. Night had fallen two hours ago but the ground still held some vestiges of heat from the summer sun.

"Don't move an inch, stealth-san," Owen's voice murmured into Boyd's ear through the comm unit. "I've got you covered on the lot cameras but there's a guard just about around the southwest corner..."

Nearly overlapping Owen's words were the measured steps of the guard's footfalls echoing in the abandoned neighborhood. Boyd stayed perfectly still as the man slowly approached.

"Tortilla should be--"

Sudden darkness fell over the entire neighborhood, starting in grid blocks that turned black one after another in a domino effect as the power grid failed. Boyd darted out from behind the vehicle and sprinted toward the building.

"First of all, I have no idea what the fuck you're talking about with these gay ass code names. Second of all, why the hell is mine Tortilla?" Emilio asked dryly through their comms, not at all commenting on whatever he'd done to wipe the electricity in two large neighborhoods of the city. "Don't get me started on the race thing, cabrón. I could make Irish jokes all night."

The guard's radio blared with chatter while he fumbled for his flashlight in the sudden darkness. Night vision glasses gave Boyd perfect sight to avoid another guard coming out of the building from a side entrance and slip in behind him before the door had fallen shut.

"Man," Owen said in exasperation, "don't question the genius of a brilliant mind! Just accept that I'm playing God right now with surveillance and also I'm hungry and didn't get to order anything before we started this." There was a short pause and then, "Also, if you do make Irish jokes, please do so in an appropriate Irish accent. I'd like to hear that from you."

There was a beat of silence, and then: "You're fucking ridiculous, kid."

"Thanks," Owen said cheerfully.

Having studied the blueprints ahead of time, Boyd's infiltration was as simple as darting through doors, hiding beneath stairwells, and ducking behind desks as the lightly guarded facility was abuzz with activity.

"What's going on?" Boyd heard one of the guards demand into his radio as he strode down a hallway. "Everything's down."

"We're waiting to hear," the answer came scratchily from his radio.

Another person's voice chimed in, "James said failure in Silver Lake--"

Boyd moved quickly down the hallway once the guard was around the corner and continued the trek through the building to the sub-basement where the servers were stored. With the power down the security locking system was useless. Boyd was inside and hidden in a back area within seconds, crouched behind the main server with his memory stick ready.

"You have a minute and a half before the power goes up," Emilio said. There was the sound of him exhaling slowly as he spoke, as if he were smoking a cigarette. "I can run interference with the sensors for five minutes, maybe seven tops before they start getting suspicious that someone is fucking with them. So haul your ass, blondie."

"Got it," Boyd said quietly into his comm. "In position."

"How are they labeled?" Owen asked, all sense of joviality missing for the moment.

"CHL01 and CHL02," Boyd said in the same whisper, looking at the two servers mounted in front of him.

"Just two servers and NAS?" Owen inquired.

"Yes," Boyd murmured, keeping an eye on the door to the room.

"Okay cool," Owen answered. "So it's probably like how they do it at base. 02 should be backup."

Boyd didn't answer; he just inserted his memory card into CHL02 and ducked back around the metal structure. Within a minute the lights flickered and came back on. The servers near him beeped then whirred to life. Boyd waited a moment to ensure the guards weren't coming by and then moved back in front of the servers to pull out the compact screen and keyboard.

He quickly mounted the card and executed the pre-written query stored on it. Owen had helped develop it and Boyd had finalized the specifics on his own. It would search for three separate projects: anything with Sin's name set in the time period following the Project Zero trials to date; anything marked Vanguard Industries, focusing in particular on main folders and anything in the date range of 2000-2007; and anything marked Nightshade, Nightshade Trials, or Terra during a specific time period for Owen. When finished copying all related files to the memory card it would erase his tracks on the server.

They had timed the break in according to the assumed daily backup from the main server to the backup server, based on the timing of similar routines at the Agency compound servers. Even if any traces were left of Boyd's activity following the query finishing, the automatic backup which would take place within ten minutes of him leaving would completely erase his presence. And even if there were any glitches left over, it could be attributed to the sudden power outage.

He kept glancing at the door as the query started working.

"So Owen," Emilio's voice came across sounding bored. "What are you doing later?"

"Probably not learning blowjob techniques from you but I'd be up for watching horror movies." Owen's tone went from a responding drawl to excitement in the span of one sentence. "I just got this cool new one that's old school but supposed to be real violent. Blood and body parts flying everywhere..."

"Totally straight and a motherfucking geek. I don't know which is worse."

"If you asked my sister, it'd be the straight. If you asked my brothers, it'd be the geek," Owen replied idly. "Pick your poison, I guess." There was a pause and then a mildly indignant, "Man, wait. Way to not use our code names, Chile Relleno."

"Fuck a code name," Emilio replied, sounding as bland and unimpressed as Sin would have.

"Bah," Owen said in a puff of breath like a cranky old man. It sounded like he was drawing breath to say something else when he suddenly said, "Smoke and Shadows-- incoming, hide the screen."

Boyd flipped the screen mostly closed and pushed it back into the rack, darting out of view of the closed door and crouching down.

"Nice hustle," Owen said approvingly. "It's a guard. He's coming up on you... Okay now he's looking in the window but doesn't... Yeah, he's leaving already. Stay hidden a sec, though. He's been wandering around like a drunken Scotsman so I can't say yet he won't come back."

"Says the Irishman," Emilio drawled. There was a pause before he said a little impatiently, "You need to move your ass faster. If time runs out, you can guarantee I'm ducking out of this bitch without y'all."

"The query has to search decades worth of information and download separate files," Boyd answered quietly. "I can't make it go any faster."

"Guard went upstairs, you're clear," Owen put in.

Boyd immediately returned, pulling out the screen again and checking the progress. The second task was nearly half finished. The estimated time was two minutes.

"Three more minutes," Boyd murmured into the comm.

"No one heading downstairs again," Owen said. "Should be good."

Boyd impatiently watched the time count down, wishing it could go faster. He kept glancing at the door even though he knew Owen would alert him if anyone was coming.

He returned his attention to the screen and pulled up the card while he waited. It had identified the locations of the different projects and was starting to pull the files. He checked the hierarchy for the one that he guessed was about Sin, and navigated until he found the folder itself. It turned out to be filed under 'ghost research' and the project was named simply 'HM.' An overview of the project was the first file he found.

His heart pounded while he quickly skimmed the information.

The project had apparently started as research in the Euro Division. The purpose was to keep "upgraded operatives" in abeyance as an alternative to permanent termination. They were considered too expensive to permanently dispose of, so various methods had been researched to put them out of commission while still remaining functional if need for their abilities should arise. Previous attempts at abeyance, including confinement and stasis, proved to result in permanent mental damage on the operatives.

The Agency had developed a new system, HM, and had begun the trials in Europe. There had seen several failures before one operative seemed to take to the procedure. The operative had only partially taken to her fabricated memories the first time and had gone through multiple incarnations until she was ultimately deemed a success. However, when they attempted to return her memories three months later they had only found partial success. There had been minor tweaks of the system before Sin had been determined to be the ideal candidate as a test subject; the first attempt in either Division at a long-term study in an uncontrolled environment.

Boyd's jaw shifted and his eyes narrowed as he quickly scrolled down.

A section further down marked questions they hoped to answer with this and future research subjects. Among them were how long they could keep the subject in abeyance, how the suppressed memory functioned under varying levels of stress, whether there would be any issues upon attempts to return memories, how often memories could be suppressed and returned in cycles before it degraded the mental capacity of the operative to the point of no longer being viable, and so on.

Boyd's hands tightened on the edge of the keyboard.

The disgust he felt toward the way the Agency played with the lives of their operatives was only mitigated by the confused mixture of relief and concern. This meant Sin wasn't gone-- not for good. The memories of the man Boyd knew and loved were there, still-- hidden but not removed. At the same time, if Sin was part of his project was he still considered an active test subject? Were they still watching him as closely as they had all those times they'd been watching Sin in his apartment-- even when Boyd had been there and not known?

Did they know Boyd had been down there? Had they seen him in Danny's apartment? If they had, what would that mean?

Paranoia was a cold rush through his veins.

"Attention ladies," Emilio's voice broke through the silence suddenly. "We've got ourselves a problem."

"What?" Boyd asked at the same time Owen drawled, "What's the deal, daddio?"

"Party crasher. Seems like another little R&D agent was feeling daring tonight." There was a pause, and then a rustle of movement. "Motherfucking Ivan is sneaking his dumb ass in. Boyd, get moving. Now."

"What?" Boyd said again, more sharply as he automatically looked toward the door. "Shit." He immediately started shutting down the query even though it hadn't finished.

"What the hell is he doing," Owen demanded, sounding genuinely alarmed. "He's going to get himself killed. I'm watching him right now and he's just sneaking around but, Boyd, you need to jet. If they see him they'd as soon catch you thinking you're him."

"I know," Boyd hissed, doing a hack job of erasing his presence and yanking out the card. He shoved it into his pocket with one hand and flipped the screen closed and shoved it back into the unit with the other.

"You got like one minute to get the fuck out of dodge," Emilio said sharply. "We need to be moving out before that moron trips a sensor and they swarm."

"Hallway clear," Owen's voice muttered into Boyd's ear. In the background Boyd could hear the faintest clicking as Owen presumably typed quickly. "First floor okay southeast end but don't touch southwest right now; two guards, milling about..."

"Is he working with anyone, Owen?" Boyd asked under his breath as he slipped into the hallway and started running toward the southeast stairwell.

There was a pause as the clicking increased, followed by, "Looks like no. Emilio-- SUV coming down the street west of you, a block away. Take the back alley. Boyd, those guards are starting toward you now. There's a hallway to the north, should take you to... Fuck, I need more screens."

"I remember the blueprints," Boyd muttered and paused at the door to the stairwell. He peered out the corner of the window, saw the coast was clear for the moment, and darted out. He moved as quickly but quietly as he could down the immediate north hallway.

"Damn it," Owen was muttering. "I hope he knows what he's doing. Boyd-- right hallway. Ahead's blocked. You're otherwise good."

Boyd took the right hallway he was about to pass and rushed down it as he recalibrated himself in terms of the blueprints. He ran the final few steps to his predetermined escape route.

"If he was at least using a comm I could try to ping him," Owen continued, sounding as though he were talking aloud to himself.

"Your luck is about to run out, kiddo," Emilio cut in over Owen.

Boyd paused at the door just long enough to see if anyone was in the vicinity and then darted out, hugging the perimeter of the building for a few steps before he broke off toward the parking lot.

"I'm out," he said as he sprinted toward the next building.

"I've got you covered on cameras," Owen said. "But if they get worried I might have to shut down early. The loops will only protect you both from view for five minutes tops if that happens."

"Got it."

Boyd didn't stop running until he was free from the surveillance zone, at which point Owen said he was packing up and the three of them went radio silent. Boyd made a quick stop at the building they'd used as their secure base. He pulled out the items he'd left hidden, including his secure tablet, and loaded the memory card.

His hands shook from adrenaline and exertion as he checked over the files; his panting as he tried to catch his breath the only hushed, harsh sound in the empty room.

The Nightshade folder appeared to have copied fully, but the HM folders were only partially populated. There had to have been more information than that, but he hadn't had the chance to read anything further on the servers before he had to leave. He didn't have time to read the files now so he buried the information deep on his tablet. The folders on Vanguard Industries appeared to be completely corrupted. It was a crushing disappointment to consider the possibility that he hadn't been able to get full information on either of the topics he'd wanted, but he didn't have time to think about it.

He quickly parsed the information to separate memory chips. He transposed Project Zero information onto one of them and doctored it so it looked corrupted, on the second put the full information regarding Nightshade, and on the third he put everything he'd gathered about Vanguard Industries. He put everything with HM solely on his tablet. When finished, he encrypted the original memory card, removed any trace of them having been in the room, and left.

Once he was out of Chandler Heights and back at his well hidden car, he quickly changed out of the clothing from the break in and shoved it in a hidden compartment in his trunk. With a clean, short-sleeved pinstriped black button-up shirt and a pair of fitted grey-washed black jeans on, and his hair pulled back into a ponytail, he looked as composed as if he hadn't done anything more strenuous than reading a book that day.

Half an hour later found him at the front of Emilio's building where he buzzed for entrance.

He was let in barely a minute later, and Emilio answered his apartment door shirtless once again. He'd changed into a pair of dark jeans that were unbuckled and undone, seeming as though he were in the middle of getting dressed. When Boyd stepped into the apartment, he saw that Owen was already there.

"Ivan is a fucking retarded idiot," Emilio said automatically, shutting the door. He began fixing his belt and glared at both of them. "I bet you didn't even get to finish the shit, did you?"

"No," Boyd admitted, walking over by the couch. He set his messenger bag on the coffee table with a quiet thump and then pulled out one memory chip and palmed the other. "Here, Owen-- As far as I can tell I got everything for you."

"Really?" Owen strode over and took the chip from Boyd's hand. He stared down at it a moment, his hands curling around it, before he turned and booted up his tablet. He started muttering to himself as he accessed the project information.

While Owen was distracted, Boyd walked up to Emilio and handed him the corrupted chip with the Project Zero information. He spoke quietly into Emilio's ear so as not to be overheard by Owen. "I was interrupted. I can't say whether there was more I could have gotten, but at least I got you some details on the first project."

Emilio pocketed the chip, not doing anything to mask his aggravation. "Waste of fucking time," he said acidly. "I'm glad that stupid kid got caught."

"What?" Boyd said, stepping back and looking at Emilio. "We know that for certain?"

"Yes," the older man said, uncaring. "Who cares? He's an idiot, anyway. Who the fuck told him to play secret agent and try to sneak into a highly secured facility? The only reason he got as far as he fucking did is because I happened to have been there and happened to have knocked out the sensors."

Boyd sat on the arm of the couch, his eyebrows drawing down. Emilio was right, and especially without knowing what Ivan's true plan was he didn't know whether it was better or worse for everyone else that he was caught. Still, he couldn't help feeling like it was a mild failure on his part for not being able to convince Ivan to open up more, even though it had seemed evident the very reason Ivan had refused to do so was to protect Boyd.

"So what's going to happen with him?"

Emilio gave Boyd a flat look. "Duh."

Boyd sighed again, unsurprised. He rubbed a hand over his face briefly, wondering what Sin would say about all this if he ever found out.

"There was nothing we could've done." Owen's sudden entrance to the conversation caused Boyd to look up. Owen was watching Boyd solemnly. "Seriously, man. No jokes for once. Ivan's a loose cannon and as good as he is, he always did his own thing and didn't let anyone get involved. And he was way too obvious about hating on the Agency. You have to be stealth about that sort of thing-- not doing that is what got all those people terminated when Seong took over."

He shook his head, his face drawing tight as he looked down at his tablet. "He had to have known he may not be able to pull off an infiltration on his own-- hell, that's why I've been sitting on the lab for months now. I knew better than to run in alone. So he planned for something. I don't know what it was or whether he was successful, but Ivan's not an idiot. He would know going into it that termination is a possibility and he chose to do it anyway." He shrugged and typed something into the tablet. "People have the right to make those decisions for themselves, even when it sucks to be on the periphery for the consequences."

Boyd studied Owen for a long moment before he moved off the arm of the couch and settled onto one of the cushions. "You're right..."

"And this is the reason why R&D stay with the computers, and fieldies stay in the fucking field," Emilio muttered. He looked at Boyd and Owen with little sympathy, almost appearing annoyed that they were so down about the development. "Alright, enough of this shit. I'm going out drinking and unless y'all are gonna come with me, get your morose asses out of my apartment."

Owen glanced down at his tablet with a distracted, dark stare. His jaw shifted and then he abruptly turned off the computer. Sliding it into his bag, he looked over at Emilio through a fall of curly red hair. "So is that an actual invite for drinks? 'Cause I'm down with that right now."

"Yup yup." Emilio picked up a grey shirt that had been thrown over the back of the sofa. He slipped it on and buttoned it. It was tight and had detailing that looked vaguely militaristic. "I won't even hit on you none. Straight boys always change their mind after a few, anyways."

Owen snorted and muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, 'in your dreams.'

Emilio winked at Owen before cuffing Boyd in the back of the head. "What about you, faggot?"

"Ow," Boyd said, putting a hand to the back of his head and eyeing Emilio sidelong. "I might consider it if you'd stop abusing me."

That earned him a scoff and Emilio shoved Boyd's head forward. "Don't be a little bitch." He paused, looked at Owen and then rolled his eyes. "And find that dude some shit to wear in my closet. I can't be seen with him like that."

"What the hell," Boyd muttered, leaning forward to flip his messenger bag closed. He almost told them he couldn't go. He was worried about Sin and knew he might be preoccupied. But there was nothing he could do about it anyway. He couldn't take off in the middle of the night for Annadale and had to verify he had time off before he left or he would cause even more problems.

Maybe it would be better to have something else to focus on aside from all the other questions plaguing him: what his uncle had been doing; where he had disappeared to because Boyd hadn't heard from him since that one day; whether there would be anything he could get off the Vanguard Industries files to tell him what connection his father had, if any, to the Agency; who did the mole have information on and, if Ivan wasn't involved, who would be targeted next... And behind it all, wondering if Sin was okay, if he was angry with Boyd for disappearing for weeks right when he needed him, if he still wanted Boyd's help...

He sighed and pushed his hair back as he stood. "It's your closet," he said aloud instead. "Why don't you find him something?"

"'Cause I need to call Trovosky's fine ass and get him to come out too." Emilio finished buttoning his shirt.

Boyd raised an eyebrow. "Really. He's on your shortlist now, after the lockdown?"

Emilio raised his shoulders in a rolling shrug, and wandered over to a mirror that was hanging from one wall. He adjusted his shirt and began running his fingers through his hair. "Nah. He's still a dumb fucking blond with a hero complex. But I got something to discuss with him that I couldn't discuss in an Agency apartment, and he'll bend over for me, so why the fuck not."

Boyd rolled his eyes. He resisted the urge to again warn Emilio not to unnecessarily mess with Kassian since, when it came down to it, it was their decision. Kassian was the sort who liked casual sex and, if he agreed to any of Emilio's advances, hopefully wouldn't be as put off by the aftermath as he had been the first time. Boyd was trying to make more of a concentrated effort to stop his automatic protective urges toward friends, especially when it concerned other friends.

He was about to turn away when he noticed how seriously Emilio was considering himself in the mirror. "Are you seriously primping right now?" he asked incredulously. He crossed his arms with a shake of his head. "I can't believe everyone gives me such shit for being a valentine when you're the very embodiment of it even on your offtime."

"It's hard being this fucking pretty." Emilio turned to the side, eyeing his profile in the mirror before reaching down to the crotch of his jeans to adjust himself. "And being a valentine ain't so bad. I always liked it."

Boyd shook his head to himself. "Why don't you take all my assignments from now on, then?"

"'Cause no matter how hot I am, I can't transform into a fairy-looking blond ho when the need arises," Emilio said casually. He glared at his reflection for a moment and then nodded before turning to Boyd and Owen again.

"Thanks, Emilio," Boyd said sarcastically with a roll of his eyes. "You always make me feel so good about myself."

"I try."

Boyd shook his head to himself and walked into the bedroom. As he left the room he heard Owen lamenting:

"Ryan's gonna feel like leftovers. Maybe somebody should invite him too. And by 'somebody' I mean 'me.' And by 'maybe' I mean 'probably, unless it means you're gonna smack me too...'"

"Do what you want. Jesus, you is one rambling ass motherfucker."

"It's one of my charms," Owen said blithely.

Boyd stopped paying attention as he closed the bedroom door behind him. He went to the far corner and pulled out his personal phone, checking quickly for any missed messages. When he didn't see any, he turned to keep an eye on the bedroom door while he dialed Danny's number. Every time it rang his heartbeat seemed to increase, followed by a shot of disappointment and worry when Danny didn't answer.

When he got the pre-recorded message again, he said quietly, "Hey, it's me again. I won't be able to check my schedule until tomorrow but I'll call you when I know. Call me if you need me, no matter what time it is."

He closed his phone and slid it into his back pocket, turning distractedly toward Emilio's closet. He could hardly concentrate on the variety of colors and styles. He absently shoved some shirts aside, looking blankly at a dark blue fitted shirt while he tried to figure out why Sin hadn't responded yet. He could be working late. Or he might be at a party...

"Hey Boyd!" Owen's voice called, muffled, through the door. "Ryan's--" There was a rattle and then the door suddenly burst open as Owen said, "Whoa, what's with the barrier, dude? Doing the hanky-panky and turning yourself around?"

Boyd nearly jumped and looked over, his fingers curling into the black fabric of some sort of long-sleeved shirt. "No. Just trying to find something for you without getting distracted by your phone calls..."

"Oh," Owen said, accepting the explanation easily enough as he loped inside. "Okay, so Ryan says he's golden, plus-- whoa, are these my options?" Owen stopped at Boyd's side and started pushing clothes around with an expression of interest. "Is there anything in here that will make me look like a harlot?" he asked hopefully.

"Hurry the fuck up before I come dress you myself," Emilio shouted impatiently from the living room.

"Mister Vega," Owen called back in a scandalized tone, drawing himself up and placing a hand over his heart in the style of old-movie-heroines. "Such a tease, to make such promises and never follow through."

Boyd snorted out a soft laugh and shoved aside a range of black shirts. "He's probably serious, you know..."

"Oh," Owen said, eyes widening and darting toward the door. All of a sudden he was nearly shoving Boyd aside in his haste to select some clothing. "Nevermind!" he called immediately. "False alarm. I'll be out in, like, five, so please don't undress me. You wouldn't want to see me naked anyway. All sorts of gangly limbs and freckles everywhere, I swear."

Boyd snorted again but a small smirk curved his lips as he pushed aside more clothing.

Continue to Fade Chapter 23...