Fade Chapter Twenty-Six

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

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


Book One: Evenfall See Evenfall chapter list.

Book Two: Afterimage
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Fade Chapter 26

Uploaded on 7/29/2012

When Boyd walked into the Blue Moon Diner he could tell something was going on.

Tech was just leaving, her lips pinched and eyes focused straight ahead while Sin's shoulders were all hard lines and his movements sharp. Tech pushed past Boyd without seeing him and just as Boyd turned around he saw Sin disappearing into the kitchen. Kayla and Delsin were in view but neither of them seemed to be paying too much attention, as the crowd was especially heavy in the early afternoon of a particularly gorgeous day.

Boyd's gaze hovered briefly on the kitchen door swinging shut. Delsin, in one of his rare moments of being an attentive waiter, seated Boyd in a small table shoved in the back. He was caught between a table of college girls laughing uproariously over something they were watching on a small vidscreen and a large group of people who, judging by their conversation, were some sort of book group analyzing the literary genius of a book Boyd had never heard of.

The background chatter was enough to drown out any solitary thoughts a person may try to have.

Delsin's brief bout of attentiveness waned the moment he got into a conversation with someone across the diner, and after shooting him increasingly strongly-worded requests, Kayla finally picked up the slack and came over to Boyd's side of the room for orders.

She was as polite as she had ever been, even in the past two and a half weeks since the party, although she didn't go out of her way to be as sweet as she had been previously. After Boyd ordered his usual iced tea, she disappeared without another word.

While he waited, Boyd kept an eye on the clientele. There was no one who raised a red flag in his mind and there hadn't been in the two other times he'd been able to come down to Annadale.

Lately, his ability to get away wasn't as consistent as it had been. He had gotten halfway down to Annadale a week and a half ago only to get a call for a briefing and have to turn around. The second time he'd come, he had only been able to stay for one night.

Missions were heating up back at the Agency, with the backlog of cases put off by the lockdown only now starting to be finalized in the Intel and R&D divisions and assigned to agents.

Just as he was checking his watch to see how much longer it would be until Sin got off he heard raised voices near the register at the front of the diner. Kayla was next to the register, and there were two customers standing beside her.

Both were tall, muscular men in their mid to late thirties, and judging from their attire it appeared as though they were part of a sports team. There was nothing particularly noteworthy about them other than the fact that the man standing a few paces back from the register had greyed prematurely despite the fact that he looked to be the younger of the two, and the man standing closer to Kayla was exceptionally muscular and had full tattoo sleeves. Neither of them fit the description of the men who had attacked the girl from the parking lot, and they didn't fit the Janus profile, so Boyd had not paid them much attention until now.

Although Boyd couldn't hear precisely what was being said over the din of the other customers, it was pretty clear from the overtones that the tattooed man was complaining about something to Kayla aggressively and that she was shaking her head in denial of whatever he was saying. He jabbed a finger into her face and leaned closer, crumpling a paper in his hand and tossing it at her rudely while his friend looked on with disinterest.

Boyd frowned at the scene and watched as Delsin finally realized what was going on and approached.

"This fucking girl overcharged me," the man snarled loud enough to be heard clearly over the din.

The noise level lowered at the exclamation, and Kayla looked around in embarrassment. Delsin appeared to be saying something in his usual sarcastic manner and gestured at the man. Boyd couldn't hear what was said but whatever it was, it didn't sit well with the customers. The man gave Delsin a sharp, mean shove that sent him slamming back into the hostess' counter.

"Jesus, what the hell is wrong with you!" Kayla demanded, turning to go to where Delsin had fallen over.

"Fix the charge you put on my fucking credit card or I'll wreck this dump," the man shouted, and grabbed her arm to pull her back to the register.

Boyd started to rise from his seat just as the doors to the kitchen opened. He'd honestly been waiting for Sin to come out, and was surprised he hadn't sooner. There was no way that he hadn't heard the entire exchange from the kitchen, especially not with his hearing. Regardless of the reasoning for the delay, if Sin had looked irritated earlier he was flat out angry now.

He put his backpack on the floor with a thunk, let his apron drop next to it, and stalked over to the group in two, impatient strides. Kayla had already snatched her arm back, and the two men turned to Sin.

"Are you the fucking manager?" the tattooed guy demanded.

"Yes," Sin replied, looking from one to the other. His teeth were grit and his hands clenched, although he looked more aggravated than anxious for a fight. "Now back off before we have a problem."

"Wow, that's how you treat customers, bro?" the grey-haired man asked with a scoff.

"Is that how your friend treats women?" Delsin demanded hotly. He'd gotten back to his feet and marched back over to the men. "You fucking asshole, I could call the cops and have you arrested for grabbing her like that. Why don't you both just go back to the bath house and give us a damn brea--"

The tattooed man cocked his fist back and looked fully prepared to cold clock Delsin in the face, but Sin grabbed his hand and twisted it backwards before he could follow through. Two things seemed to happen almost simultaneously: the guy's friend lunged at Sin but wound up being yanked off his feet and slammed face-first into the counter with such force that the screen for the register toppled over, while Sin used his grip on the tattooed man's arm to jerk him around with a distinct cracking sound filling the air.

The screen fell to the floor with a loud slam, Kayla cried out in alarm, and the tattooed man shouted in pain. He made an effort to jerk out of Sin's grip and confusion filled his face when he was unable to do so. Confusion turned to apprehension as his eyes met Sin's, and Boyd moved quickly toward the front of the diner as soon as he focused fully on his lover's expression.

It was almost as if the violence had activated something in Sin that hadn't been there before. His face had that blank, cold look that he only got when he was about to dismember someone. Three punches slammed into the tattooed man's face in the seconds it took Boyd to run over, and they'd turned his face into a bloody mess. As everyone in the diner looked on, Sin lifted the man clean off the floor with one hand gripping his neck despite the fact that he must have outweighed Sin by sixty or so pounds.

"Danny," Boyd said as he closed the distance between them, one hand raised in a calming gesture. "It's okay. Calm down."

Kayla and Delsin didn't even seem to register that Boyd had spoken; their eyes were fixed firmly on Sin with identical looks of shock. Sin's fingers flexed around the man's neck, and his eyes narrowed further as the man began to gag. But then Sin's green eyes flicked over to Boyd, and his grip loosened slightly.

"Come on," Boyd said calmly, slowing his approach and stopping just within reaching distance. "We can go outside, get some air. These guys won't bother anyone anymore."

"Let me go, you fucking psycho," the guy wheezed out as his toes skimmed the floor.

Sin's mouth quirked slightly and he released him, letting the larger man fall to the floor next to his friend. "Get the fuck out before I put you through the wall."

The guy growled something about lawsuits and Sin being a modded out freak, but he and his grey-haired friend hustled out without much of a delay. Delsin and Kayla were still staring at Sin as he grabbed the crumpled piece of paper from the floor. It was likely the guy's receipt and after looking at it for a moment, Sin scoffed and balled it up in his hand.

"And you did fucking overcharge him."

Kayla flinched and Sin shook his head, grabbing his stuff and stalking out of the diner. Boyd was close behind him but didn't speak immediately.

"Goddamn fucking everything," Sin hissed as soon as they were further away from the restaurant. He stopped next to Boyd's car and raked both hands through his hair. Releasing the strands, Sin paced for a moment before releasing another frustrated growl and punching the hood of Boyd's car. It caved in beneath his fist, denting considerably and causing the edge of the hood above the headlight to crunch and pop up at the side.

Sin stared at it blankly for a moment, and his expression darkened further. He flexed his hands and looked at Boyd. "Jesus fucking Christ. I'm sorry."

Boyd didn't even look at the damage; his eyes were trained only on Sin. "It's okay. Let's just go to the hotel."


Sin yanked the passenger's door open and got in without another word. His jaw was clenched as he glared out the window.

Boyd drove them to the hotel, watching Sin in his peripheral vision. He had checked in at a different hotel this time than the times before. It was even further from Blue Moon Diner and not as luxurious but equally secure. Neither of them spoke even after they were in the room with the door locked behind them. Boyd activated the jamming devices he kept on him to protect his conversations from any potential Agency surveillance.

Sin started pacing the room while Boyd watched him, unsure at first of what to say. "What happened?" he asked at length.

"I'm turning into a goddamn psycho apparently," Sin said. He shook his head, and narrowed his eyes at the floor. "I wanted to crush that motherfucker's throat, and I have no idea why. It wasn't even that serious."

"Did anything pass through your mind first-- anything that angered you-- or did you just react?"

"What?" Sin stopped pacing and gave Boyd a confused look. "What are you talking about?"

"Did something upset you about what was happening and that's what made you react that way?" Boyd continued to watch Sin and, after a moment, sat down on the edge of the bed. "For instance, the way they were attacking Delsin who wasn't even doing anything... Or did you just automatically react to their aggression?"

"I don't know, Boyd. I don't really know what you're talking about." Shaking his head, Sin looked away. "I'm just pissed off. I tried to talk to Tech, and I got so angry that I had to walk away before I choked the shit out of her."

"Why, what did she say?"

Sin scoffed, and leaned against the wall. He crossed his arms over the chest, and focused on Boyd again. "I can't figure out who may have said what. Everyone in that group with the exception of Gage and Kayla have been hanging out with this random, new group of people. They're friends of this man that Tech was seeing, but she isn't seeing him anymore."

He paused, dark eyebrows knitting together. "That's why I thought it was her at first. All of these new people appeared during the summer, and that's when things got strange. So I just said fuck all of the cloak and dagger shit, and asked her straight out if she'd told anyone about the incident in the parking lot with that girl and she said it had come up at a party a while ago."

Boyd nodded, his lips turning down slightly in thought. That made sense as to why Janus hadn't reacted for so long. The Agency had wiped the police report the moment it had come to their attention so the local police department wouldn't try to get involved and interfere with any Agency investigation. If Janus hadn't been aware in time they wouldn't have been able to find any identifying characteristics of the witness, or find out that there was a specific witness at all.

Still, even if they didn't know exactly who had said what, this was the first lead on Janus operatives who might have been involved. The operative Boyd had interrogated had been too loyal to the cause and hadn't given up anything else-- or honestly hadn't known more than the minimal details he'd been provided.

"Did she say who asked or give a description?"

"No." Sin's lip curled into a sneer. The expression was identical to the way he'd looked in the past when he was particularly unimpressed or disgusted with someone. "She said she didn't remember. I wanted to fucking kill her. I had to walk away before I completely lost it."

"Does she know there was an attempt on your life?" This time the question came out with more of an edge.

"No. She doesn't know shit. Not from me, anyway."

Boyd nodded and sat back, only slightly mollified. Anyone who claimed to have ever been Sin's friend didn't deserve the title if they not only could have gotten Sin killed but then also refused to give him any information when he later asked about it.

"Did she at least say what other friends of yours were there?"

"All of them except Kayla," Sin said sourly. "Which narrows it down not at all. It's so frustrating. And I don't even know if she was really lying, because she didn't know everyone at the party. Just, whatever. I'll get her to talk some other time when I'm not losing my damn mind."

"What about the others?" Boyd paused. "I know you wanted to cover your friends but it could be faster if we split them up. I could help. Maybe one of the others will say something Tech didn't."

Sin shook his head, and finally sat down with a weary sigh. "They're not going to tell you anything, Boyd. They don't even know you. It will just look weird if you start asking people questions. Everyone is already being shady. Besides-- do you really want them knowing it matters to you one way or the other?"

Boyd sighed, conceding the point. "You're right. I'm just--" He raked a hand back through his hair and dropped his hand with a shake of his head. "I'm worried about you."

"All of this Janus stuff isn't even what's really getting to me, to be honest." There was a pause as Sin slumped down further in the chair. He extended his legs in front of him, and raised a hand to press against his head. "I can't even sleep."

"Why not?"

"I've been having all of these... weird dreams."

"What makes them weird?"

The question was met with a brief silence. Sin shifted in the chair, and rubbed his hands together as he seemingly thought about the question. After a moment, he looked up at Boyd. "I don't really know. I've always had them... I guess. But lately it happens more. They're usually fragmented or I don't remember everything, but it's always me acting like a psycho."

"What are you doing in them?"

"Killing people usually."

Boyd paused a moment, his gaze unwavering on Sin's face. "Do you ever remember anything else? Why you're doing it or if anything's happening in the background?"

Sin's eyes narrowed, and he sat up slightly in the chair. The look on his face took on a wary quality, but he only said: "There's always different things going on, but I can never remember enough for it to make sense. But sometimes you're in them."

Boyd realized that he was asking too many questions about the dreams. At the same time, he wondered exactly how much Sin was beginning to remember. How long would it be until the possibility of Sin making his own decision about choosing to recover them or remain without them would be taken from his hands entirely?

"I am?"

Sin nodded. He'd leaned forward in the chair with his forearms pressed against the sides as he watched Boyd intently. It seemed like he knew Boyd was picking deliberately, but didn't know what to make of it.

"Pretty frequently. It's just flashes of different things but... you're around. Those dreams are the strangest."


Instead of answering, Sin pointed at Boyd. "I realized recently, I don't know a damn thing about you."

"Well." A faint frown was accompanied by the draw of Boyd's eyebrows. He wondered how long he would be able to keep up this delicate balance of truth and omission. "What do you want to know?"

"Anything. I know nothing except that you work for Murphy Corps, and even that seems like... you're not telling me much. I mean, does anyone even know you come down here? Do you have any family or friends? It never seems like you're on a real assignment so who the hell would I contact if Janus blows your fucking brains out one day while you're down here with me?"

Boyd paused. He'd come down to Annadale with the knowledge that Chance was potentially curious, and might potentially help, but Adam hadn't done anything other than allude to the idea of Cam possibly needing to go off the grid entirely. They needed more time to finalize it, to ensure Chance would help.

His plan had been to tell Sin anything he wanted the moment the plan was finalized, so that even if the Agency was listening Sin could still escape before they caught him. But the spiral Danny was getting caught in of Sin's memories and Sin's reactions was making Boyd unsure of what he should do. It seemed no matter what choice he made someone would be upset with him, and no matter what he did there was the possibility it could be wrong.

"I'm not exactly supposed to be here," he admitted after a moment. "There are some people who know I'm not always home but I haven't told them where I really am. But I do have family, just my mother. And I have friends." He realized belatedly he'd forgotten Riley and added, "And I suppose there's an uncle I recently discovered too."

"You never talk about anyone. You could be a random, pathologically lying creep with PTSD from some Murphy assignment for all I know."

"Well," Boyd said, his lips quirking up slightly on the edges. "If that's the case how would you know no matter what I tell you?"

Sin rolled his eyes, and collapsed back against the chair again. "I guess I wouldn't. Are you seriously going to keep giving me the big runaround?"

Boyd's smile faded and he shook his head. "No, of course not." He watched Sin for a moment before shifting and moving back on the bed so he could face Sin more directly. "My best friends are Kassian and Ryan. I work with them both, although Ryan's in a different division. I end up leaning on them for support more than they do me. Sometimes I wish they would ask more from me so I could pay them back for all the times they've helped me out."

A flicker of something crossed Sin's face at the mention of the names. It was there and gone so quickly that Boyd couldn't identify it, but Sin was quiet for a stretch after. His brow puckered, and his gaze grew slightly distant. After a moment he shook his head slightly, and his attention sharpened on Boyd again.

"Do you have friends that aren't in Murphy Corps?"

Boyd's lips turned up again, self-deprecating this time. "Not really. I've been known to seem like a condescending asshole to other people because I was never very good at opening up to others. I was always the quiet kid in the corner who was teased for being different. The one person who stood up for me was the person who was later killed in front of me and then," he gestured to his chest, the scars hidden beneath his shirt, and shrugged.

"Things got kind of fucked up for me for awhile and after that I joined Murphy Corps. It took awhile for people to like me there too, and since I don't have too much interaction outside of it I don't really have outside friends."

"Oh." Sin pushed himself up and out of the chair before crossing the room. He sat on the side of the bed, turning sideways to face Boyd. "Do you even want any?"

"I don't know," Boyd said honestly, tilting his head to watch Sin. He ran his gaze across his lover's face, catching on every feature that was so familiar even while their conversation wasn't. "I never really thought about it before, I guess."

"I used to want friends." They looked at each other, and Sin gave a one-shouldered shrug. "When I first moved here, I was lonely. I wanted some kind of connection, I guess."

A faint smile curved Boyd's lips, although it was slightly sad. "Are you happier now? Aside from the current situation with Tech-- if it turned out tomorrow that she was the only one involved and all the Janus issues disappeared, if you could just go back to how things were before any of that-- would you be happy?"

Sin rubbed a hand across his jaw, eyes still intent on Boyd. "I don't know. No, not really. I was never really happy, I guess. I wasn't unhappy but, they never felt like enough." He frowned. "It always seemed like there should be more."

The somber smile grew and Boyd couldn't resist reaching out and running his fingers along Sin's temple, brushing back a few strands of shorter hair that had fallen from the knotted ponytail.

"Then what would make you happy, Danny? Truly happy?"

"I don't know." Sin didn't lean into the touch, but he didn't pull away either. He just watched Boyd, somehow seeming detached even though he was saying more than he ever would have in the past. "Sometimes things seem right, but it's always off somehow. Even that night when we left the party. Everything seemed right, but, I don't know. I can't explain it."

Sin shook his head and reached up to grab Boyd's hand. He squeezed it, and then released it. "Whatever the case is, I think I should leave town."

Boyd was silent a moment, debating what he should say. He'd thought Sin was happy in a civilian setting as Danny but maybe it wasn't meant to be. It even seemed possible Sin meant that being with Boyd felt right, that it was only this other life that made everything seem wrong to him even when they were together. Or it was possible Boyd was interpreting that the way he wanted to believe: that somewhere inside him Sin still loved him enough to want him at the expense of all else.

He turned to face Sin completely. His hand fell on Sin's thigh. "Have you thought about what would come next? People like Janus might never leave you alone."

"I've thought about it, but I won't know until I try living somewhere else."

"Would you be okay with leaving everyone you know behind?"

"I told you, I don't really have a connection with them like that. I'd miss Roz, but not to the point that I'd stay here." Sin glanced at the window, at the direction of the beach. "I'd miss living by the ocean mostly."

Boyd opened his mouth, almost asked if Sin would mind never seeing him again, but stopped himself. He glanced at the jamming device in his bag and then returned a more resolute stare to Sin's eyes. "I can help you... If you just give me a little time, I can make it so... I can--"

He stopped, and frowned. It had seemed like different circumstances when Sin had been Danny completely, when Danny had seemed settled and content with his life, but now that the man Boyd had known for years was coming out more and more Boyd felt caught by the very decisions he was trying to avoid making for Sin. And now, more and more, he couldn't help remembering Sin demanding in a past argument that he would have wanted Boyd to tell him if he was interested in being with him, even if Sin was with someone else.

The Sin he'd known, the Sin who had loved him, would want him to say something. When Sin had been acting more like Danny it hadn't seemed fair to Danny to say anything but now Boyd didn't know anymore where his loyalties were supposed to lie when this was all the same person who he loved regardless. But it seemed likely Danny's and Sin's wishes might be aligned on this point and with that knowledge Boyd couldn't stay silent. He had to bring up the topic somehow.

He reached out, grasping Sin's hand in his and squeezing. His eyebrows drew together and he stared Sin intently in the eyes. "Danny, what if-- What if there was something else and--" He stopped again, lips twisting, before he started over. "There's something we should talk about but I want you to under--"

Boyd's Agency phone rang, piercing through his words. He snapped his eyes away, his hand spasming on Sin's even as he burst out in frustration, "Seriously?" His gaze darted back to Sin, he even considered ignoring the call, but knew he couldn't. He jumped off the bed and made it there just before the third ring.

He had the phone open and at his ear before he even registered Carhart's name on the display.

Sin was looking at him incredulously, and stood. "Just hang up."

There was a brief silence on the other end of the phone before Carhart spoke. "I need you here by eleven."

Boyd glanced at his watch. That was barely over three hours away. "I'm," he met and held Sin's eyes, "not close and kind of in the middle of something. I might be late."

"That's not an option. Not today. Katsaros is coming for a meeting." There was another pause before Carhart added: "He wants to see how the unit is run."

Boyd's eyebrows rose in alarm and with a hissed, "What--" he immediately turned and quickly started throwing his things back into his bag. "Is this-- is it just ours?"

"Yes. Don't be late."

The phone went dead and Boyd was in such a hurry he nearly tripped over his bag. "Shit--"

The alarm he'd felt before sharpened his voice and movements. He had no idea why Katsaros was coming to a briefing, but it clearly wasn't good. This could be Seong's attempt to have more evidence against Carhart to terminate him.

Boyd looked around for anything he'd left behind, already calculating whether he would be able to make it on time. Even if he risked getting caught by the cops speeding all the way there, it wasn't a guarantee. And his absence or tardiness would directly count against Carhart as a supervisor.

How little or much would it take for Seong to have all the information she needed to go after Carhart?

"I have to go, I'm sorry," he said urgently even as he grabbed his bag.

"Boyd, you've got to be fucking kidding me." Sin grabbed Boyd's arm, and held him in place. "You're going to start a conversation like that and then bail?"

"I'm sorry--" He tugged at his arm automatically but Sin's grip didn't change. There was no point in struggling; Boyd's arm would probably rip from its socket before Sin's hand loosened.

Worried and in a hurry to leave, Boyd met Sin's eyes. "I swear to God, Danny, nothing but an emergency would keep me from staying here with you. But if I'm late it could be disastrous. I'll call you later and I promise next time I'll finish what I started. You can hold me down, tie me down, anything you want. I'll do it, I'll tell you anything, I swear. But please let me go for now. Please."

Sin shook his head, and released Boyd's arm with a scoff. "Fine. Go."

"Thank you," Boyd said meaningfully. He felt an urge to pull Sin into a quick kiss but Sin's angry expression stopped him, so he settled on squeezing his hand. "I promise," he repeated firmly, then gestured quickly to the end table as he already turned to leave. "The hotel key's there; the room's paid for two days. You can stay here if you want. I'll come back as soon as I can."

Sin didn't say anything and Boyd didn't have time to patch anything up between them for the moment. Hopefully Sin wouldn't be too furious to listen when he got back later.

The drive to Lexington felt like it took forever. Even going over 100 miles per hour on the highway and driving recklessly in town, with him constantly looking between his watch and searching for any cops in the vicinity, he barely made it to the Agency with enough time to rush into the Tower.

The elevator was busy so he sprinted up the stairs. When he made it to the correct floor he was nearly run over by Owen, who burst out of the elevator doors.

Boyd darted out of his way but Owen's startled surprise might have been comical in other circumstances, with a, "Good god, man!" erupting from him even as he tripped over his own feet. His long arms windmilled briefly before he caught himself and ran at Boyd's side.

"You too?" Owen asked smoothly, as if he hadn't just nearly fallen. His eyes were still a little wide and his eyebrows hadn't quite crawled back down his forehead, although he seemed to be making a concerted effort to appear unruffled. "What did they, time it when we were all busy?"

Boyd shook his head, his expression dark. It made him feel a little less paranoid to see that he wasn't the only one who had been indisposed. Still, the timing couldn't have been worse.

When they got to the door, Owen reached for the doorknob but Boyd threw a hand out, palm splayed across Owen's chest as he stopped him. Owen looked over in surprise for the second time in under a minute.

"Were you supposed to be wherever you were?"

Owen's eyebrows drew together, a quizzical look crossing his face. "Well, I dunno, I mean it's not like it was on my approved recess schedule. But why's that even--" His eyes widened and darted to the closed door. "Oh. Questions... Yeah, man. I didn't even think of that."

Boyd nodded, his palm still strong on Owen's chest for a second longer before he dropped his hand. The two of them took just long enough to compose themselves so it was less obvious they had run flat out to get there.

When they walked inside, they saw that the rest of the unit was there: Carhart, Emilio, Bex, Ryan and Jeffrey. Katsaros was sitting at the head of the table and looked over at their entrance. Although Boyd couldn't read anything in Katsaros's expression, he was intensely grateful to know he had walked in before the time had changed from 11:00 to 11:01 pm.

Without speaking, Boyd took a seat. Owen eyed Katsaros and then shuffled over next to Ryan. When he pulled out his chair, it made a loud squeaking noise that caused Owen to wince dramatically and Jeffrey to tense.

Carhart didn't even glance in Boyd's direction. He was sitting next to Jeffrey instead of in his usual spot, which made it clear that this was not a typical briefing. His face was expressionless, although there was tension in his shoulders that Carhart had never been good at hiding.

"So, what's up?" Emilio asked finally. He was leaning back in his chair, one arm thrown over it as he gave Katsaros an expectant look. "I have shit to do, so can we get this show on the road?"

"Don't talk to--" Bex began, but Katsaros intercepted her reprimand smoothly.

"No." He looked at her and shrugged. "I enjoy Agent Vega's directness. Anything else is a waste of time."

Bex made a face, and Emilio puckered his lips at her.

"This is not a briefing, and there is not a mission." Katsaros threaded his fingers together, and looked from face to face. His eyes lingered just briefly on Boyd before moving on. "The reason I have called this meeting is not much different than what I just stated about Agent Vega's directness. I do not like wasting time, and this unit has wasted a lot of the Agency's time."

Carhart didn't so much as twitch at the comment. He continued staring at some point on the wall, and appeared relatively unmoved.

"The directors have long considered Janus to be the greatest threat to the American nation. Their ideologies are popular if not radical, but their ways have attracted many. They continuously absorb small factions worldwide, and are amassing an army to depose the government leaders. In the past five years, they have grown stronger."

Katsaros' gaze focused on Carhart, Ryan, Owen, and then Boyd. The original members of the unit.

"Today Jeffrey will lead a presentation in which we analyze the unit data and pinpoint why so much time has been wasted while a threat to the nation has grown-- with the exception of a brief span of time when Janus had little activity-- only stronger."

Boyd didn't move his eyes from Katsaros even though his automatic reaction was to glance at Carhart. Had he known this was coming? Was this how they were going to take Carhart down-- they couldn't get anything on the man himself so they went after his unit instead?

Dread pooled in the pit of Boyd's stomach.

Jeffrey pulled out his presentation while the room was dead silent, and the holographic center along the table bloomed into view. As Jeffrey analyzed the data, Katsaros commented on the significance behind it.

It basically boiled down to the fact that the success rate of the Janus unit when initially formed was not up to Euro Agency's standards, and showed productivity was below other units in the Agency. Janus itself had only grown in numbers in the past couple of years despite the fact that the unit's success rate was nearly perfect during that time.

The presentation broke everything into numbers and graphs, showing how ineffectual the unit had been against the rise of Janus as a threat. It also compared the Janus unit numbers to other units in the Agency.

No one spoke during the presentation. Katsaros continued to make direct eye contact with everyone while Jeffrey didn't look away from the screen, at times a slight furrow appearing in Jeffrey's brow before he moved on to point out the inefficiencies. Even when the presentation was over, Jeffrey continued to look at the screen and, when it disappeared, he looked down at his tablet.

Although Katsaros wasn't outright saying they were blaming Carhart for this failure, it was implied that they didn't feel his leadership was adequate.

"Seems a bit queer that the analyst gets to criticize the team when he was the one creating the sims and analyzing data for them and whatnot," Bex said abruptly.

Emilio's head turned, and he stared at her with raised brows. His mouth twitched, and he burst out laughing.

"What?" she demanded.

Jeffrey's lips thinned but he didn't look up from his tablet. His thumbs moved across the screen swiftly but when Boyd glanced down, it didn't seem like Jeffrey was doing anything in particular.

"I'm more curious about the numbers themselves," Boyd said, keeping his tone respectful. His gaze settled on Katsaros, and he made an effort to keep his expression merely curious. "Our productivity might seem low comparing straight numbers to higher staffed units but we have near perfect individual success rates in the past couple of years. If the Agency's objective is to shut down Janus for good, is it possible in the future we will see a collaboration with other units? Regardless of our success rates, we are still three field agents and three R&D agents against a worldwide organization numbering in the thousands."

Katsaros' eyes moved to Boyd. "It is surprising and disappointing that you would recommend collaborating with lower ranked field agents and analysts. However, the lack of adequately ranked agents is the fault of the previous Marshal, and the interim-acting Marshal." There was a pause, and Katsaros' gaze turned cool. "You were recently... promoted. I assume you are knowledgeable about the length of time training takes. Adequate training takes even longer."

"They didn't need no more anyway," Bex chimed in again. Her mouth was twisted into a frown as she looked from Katsaros to Carhart. "Sin was strong enough to be ten agents, yeah?"

"Yes," Katsaros confirmed. There was an edge in his tone, and Emilio started snickering again. "And their use of him in the field and on the compound led to his eventual termination. It seems as though the leaders of this Agency have not quite learned how to temper high expectations of the body by understanding the needs of the mind."

Emilio's laughter tapered off, and Carhart's eyes had finally lifted to meet Katsaros' but he said nothing. After a beat of tense silence, the general stood up and walked out of the door without waiting for Katsaros to dismiss the meeting.

The corner of Katsaros' mouth twitched slightly, and he stood up as well.

Boyd's eyes narrowed before he could stop himself but almost immediately his expression shuttered blank again. He felt a sudden burning anger toward Katsaros for the implication that Sin's termination was partially Carhart's fault. Boyd knew how much it had hurt when Bex had said that to him so he could imagine how Carhart felt now.

He considered following Carhart, telling him what Katsaros implied was unfair and untrue, but he knew it wouldn't mean anything to Carhart until he could tell him the full truth.

The meeting only resolved to Boyd even further that he had to go back to Sin as soon as possible. The sooner they could talk, the sooner he knew what Sin wanted, then the sooner he could also tell Emilio and Carhart that Sin's death wasn't on any of them.

He stood up, planning to head out immediately, but Ryan cleared his throat quietly.

Boyd glanced over surreptitiously and saw Ryan moving some things around in his backpack. He remembered abruptly that he had promised to meet with Ryan, but in the meantime they'd been too busy at work for them to be able to follow through.

Sliding his hands in his pockets and keeping his shoulders loose, Boyd commented to Ryan, "Did you get the chance to eat before this?"

"Nope," Ryan said, popping the P. He grinned at Boyd, and stood up. "I have a date, though."

"Too bad," Boyd said lightly. "I'm in the paying mood." He glanced at his watch. "Need a ride anywhere? I can drop you off on my way."

"Sweet." Ryan slung his backpack over one shoulder. The R&D agent smiled as they walked out, but it looked strained. Given the way his eyes had stayed trained on Carhart for the entire meeting, it wasn't surprising. "Can you take me home? I need to change. Emilio took me shopping so I have actual cool clothes."

Despite the serious situation, the comment made Boyd let out a truncated chuckle. They stepped into an empty elevator. "I don't know if I'm more amused by imagining Emilio shopping or intrigued by wondering what he thought would be good options for you."

Ryan snorted. "Does it surprise you that he goes shopping? Look at the dude. He's like, super awesome looking all the time."

A small smirk grew on Boyd's lips. "Not exactly but it's amusing to imagine. I have it in my mind that he would be as particular as he is when he's checking himself out in the mirror before going out."

"He totally was. It took like, hours." Ryan hooked his thumbs in the lower part of the backpack straps. "He had a little too much fun in the dressing room though."

Boyd looked at Ryan sidelong as the elevator doors opened on the ground floor. "Now that you mention it, I may have heard something about this."

Ryan looked at Boyd with surprise, but then he rolled his eyes. "Oh God. What did he say?"

Boyd waited to respond until they were out of the Tower, away from anyone who might overhear. "Mostly just that you kissed but it sounded like you may have stopped him, worried about Carhart."

"Ohhh. No, that was another time. I was pretty bummed, hanging out in a private training room and he showed up. I was in the middle of this total snooze-worthy whine-fest about my life, and he just laid one on me. And then, yeah, what you said."

Ryan shook his head. "He put the moves on me again when we went shopping. I think he was mostly joking with me but it's hard to say when he's like, causing all kinds of inappropriate erections in a public place."

Boyd laughed at that and then shook his head. "It's hard to tell with him no matter the context. He excels at inappropriate behavior, particularly when a person isn't expecting it."

"Uh yeah, a lot. Boyd, it was like-- okay. He was being all, adjusting my jeans because he was really unimpressed that I wear stuff two sizes too big, and then suddenly he was like. Pressing his hand against my crotch, and it took amazing amounts of willpower to not accept a handjob from that dude. I just kept thinking, you know, that Zach would roast my liver and eat it, and then I put the brakes on. But resisting him is hard, even when he's probably just doing it for a laugh."

Boyd thought about that as they neared his car. "I don't know if he would blame you for anything if it had come to that, since Emilio started it." He pulled out his keys and unlocked the car with the fob, looking over at Ryan curiously. "But what do you mean he might be doing it for a laugh?"

"Just to see me turn all red like how I do when he hits on me or anything. I think he thinks it's funny." Ryan snorted, and got into the passenger's side. "Although I guess he actually was kind of grinding up on my ass. Oh brother. Why am I thinking about this? Say something to distract me from my embarrassing memory of stammering about not getting in the way of their love triangle with your mom."

Boyd laughed again as he got into the driver's seat, more at the mental image of Ryan commenting about that in such a situation than anything. He still hadn't figured out what to think about Carhart with Emilio and Vivienne but he'd stopped trying to understand it. After Emilio hadn't seemed upset when the topic had come up later, Boyd had stopped caring. Sin took much greater precedence in his mind than whatever those three decided to do.

"Well. I read a book the other day..."

The drive to Ryan's apartment wasn't long and was filled with meaningless conversation. Even though Boyd was in a hurry to get back to Sin, Ryan clearly had important information for him to be so subtle about asking him over-- most likely about Vanguard Industries. And that was a topic neither of them felt safe discussing outside of a secure area.

When they got to Ryan's apartment and walked inside, Boyd was surprised to see Kassian there already. His eyebrows rose and he glanced over at Ryan.

"I made him a key," Ryan explained as Kassian simultaneously said: "He wants to make sure I can slip in and cuddle him during the night."

"Oh, shut up. I gave it to him so that he could water my plants when I went away for a few days. Now he just stalks me."

Kassian smirked up at them from where he was sprawled on the couch. There was a bag of chips sitting on his stomach. He looked at home in the small apartment. "How was the meeting?"

"Fucking awful," Ryan said sourly. He let his bookbag thump to the floor.

"According to Katsaros and his numbers, we're an incompetent unit that can't seem to do much of anything right when it comes to Janus," Boyd added.

"That's about what I expected them to say." Kassian set the bag of chips aside, and rubbed his hands along the sides of his jeans. "They'll say anything to make General Carhart look bad."

"Unfortunately," Boyd agreed darkly.

He hovered in the middle of the room, glancing at the couch before darting his eyes down at his phone to check the time. He wondered what Sin was doing right now. Whether he would be livid by the time Boyd returned and whether he would understand the reasons for everything once Boyd got the chance to explain.

The idea of finally being able to talk to Sin about everything was stirring a particular anxiety in him he hadn't felt for years, since the time they'd been broken up and he hadn't been certain they would ever get back together.

It felt like even the four hours it would take to get back to Annadale was an eternity away.

"Ryan-- I hate to cut this short but I have a previous engagement I should get to as soon as I can. What did you want me for?"

Ryan and Kassian exchanged looks, and there was a brief silence. After a stretch, Ryan cleared his throat and walked over to his desk. "I finished decoding that file."

Boyd's attention turned fully on Ryan, his hands tightening around his phone. "You did?" His tone reflected an equal stirring of relief and dread. The more he'd thought about it, the more he thought he knew what the file might say. "Was it-- What did it say?"

"I didn't read it. I... didn't feel right reading it before you. It seems really important."

"It is," Boyd said gratefully. He shifted his weight between his feet, his hands clenching and unclenching against his phone until he worried he might break it. He shoved it back into his pocket and looked between the two of them before distractedly turning his eyes back on Ryan.

"Can I read it now? I'll tell you what this is all about afterward, I just need to see if I'm right first..."

"Of course." The flash drive was in a small box that was amongst the variety of other items on Ryan's desk. It was clearly put aside for safekeeping, but the casual observer wouldn't have noticed the box at all. He plugged the drive into the side of a palm-sized tablet, and handed it over to Boyd as Kassian looked on silently.

Boyd took the tablet and sat down at the desk, immediately flicking through the screens. He focused so completely on the tablet that everything else fell away around him. The information turned out to be a folder with a number of files but the one that caught his attention was a mission report dated a day after his father's death. When he pulled it up he saw it was from a rank 10 valentine named Anya Malakhova.

He read it quickly, the tension growing in his shoulders and his eyebrows drawing down further. He tried to get through the whole thing but the mounting anger and pain that grew from the simply stated words was even sharper than he'd expected.

"Goddamn them!"

He nearly threw the tablet to the desk, his elbows hitting the desk harder than he meant to when he dropped his head into his hands. He heard something clatter but it was meaningless to him. Even with his eyes closed he still saw the words he'd dreaded he might find. A headache grew with the pounding of his blood and his fingers tightened in his hair.

The same anger he'd felt toward the Agency in the past rekindled and turned his muscles taut; the hatred toward the faceless organization that had sent him to Aleixo, that had taken Sin from him, and had now taken even more.

Lately it felt like every truth he ever thought he knew kept turning out to be a lie.

Kassian stood up while Ryan simultaneously took a step back. "What is it?" the blond agent asked, putting an hand on Boyd's shoulder.

Boyd was silent for a moment. He'd had time to consider this coming but it still hurt to have it verified in such frank, uncaring words. He could remember all too clearly the happier memories of his childhood: his father's booming laugh, the heavy comfort of large hands holding him close the way Kassian's rested on his shoulder now, and vague memories of his father's wide, open smile as he told ghost stories crouched beneath a ratty old blanket in the attic.

And he could remember all too clearly how his life had started a slow downward spiral from the moment his father died.

He drew in a deep breath and dropped his hands from his face with a hard thump against the desk. He stared down at the tablet for a second longer before shaking his head and holding the tablet out for either of them to read.

"The Agency assassinated my father," he said dully. "They used a valentine who looked enough like my mother so he would sympathize with her, so she could get close enough to--" He cut himself off, fingers tightening on the tablet and jaw setting as he looked away.

"What?" Ryan demanded. His eyes widened behind his glasses.

"What the fuck-- why?" Kassian's fingers dug into Boyd's shoulder. "Are you sure?"

Boyd nodded, his jaw setting before he looked over at them. "I'd started to wonder, but it was even--" He stopped. "He started the Journalist Guild but he just wanted--"

He paused briefly again. "He just wanted people to know the truth. Even in the journals he left me, that's all he talked about-- he said he wanted to make a world that was better for me, for my generation..."

Ryan sat on the edge of the desk, and dug his fingers into the edge of it. He opened and closed his mouth several times, but nothing came out. As usual, Kassian picked up the slack. He slid both hands up to Boyd's shoulders and squeezed.

"Calm down and take a breath. You've handled a lot worse than this recently, kid. Your father has been gone for years, but now you know the truth about why. He'd be pretty proud of you for figuring it out."

Boyd let out a harsh breath of a laugh and shook his head but still made an attempt to take a deeper breath. He dropped the tablet onto the desk and looked at them. He felt like he was being steadied by Kassian's touch.

"I didn't even do anything. I just thought it was odd what my uncle said..."

"Uncle?" Kassian glanced back at Ryan and then at Boyd again. "I thought your uncle was dead."

"I did too, but then..." He groaned and then scrubbed briefly at his face. "Everything has been so hectic lately. I'm sorry I've been so secretive." He dropped his hands and looked at them earnestly. "I trust you both completely-- if there's ever a time I don't tell you something, it's not because I don't trust you."

"If this is one of those times, tell me and I'll stop asking," Kassian said after a lengthy pause.

"No, it's not." Boyd sighed and leaned back in the chair. He looked around distractedly and noticed some discs and flash drives that had been stacked up on the desk but were scattered on the floor. That must have been the clatter earlier. He leaned over to pick them up, saying:

"Right before the lockdown, I was on a solo mission in Jamesport. I was walking through the city after I finished and a man showed up out of nowhere." He straightened and set the items on the desk. "He said he was my uncle, that he needed my help. I recognized him from the photo we found in my attic," he glanced at Kassian. "Then he started talking about my family..."

He gave a short shake of his head. "He gave me some stupid story about why he'd let everyone believe he died with my grandparents in the war but then he said he tracked my dad down. He didn't have the date but it sounded like it was around the time he died. He said he overheard my dad say something about Vanguard Industries into the phone before he noticed my uncle was there. It sounded like a cover group to me so that's why I wanted to look into it."

"Your father must have found something huge," Ryan said quietly. He'd moved closer again, and crossed his arms over his narrow chest. "They don't-- I mean they always watch journalists, especially Journalist Guild people, but to kill one of them? That's insane. It's the type of thing that Inspectors hate, because it brings so many more questions. He must have dug way too deep..."

Kassian nodded in agreement, his eyes still on Boyd. "You're not going to do anything drastic with this information are you? The people who issued that order-- Marshal Connors or Inspector Archibald... they're dead."

"Archibald-- that's the name I saw in the report. So he was the Inspector..." Boyd's lips curled down and his narrowed stare fell on the tablet again. Ryan was right; there must have been something big at stake or the Inspector of all people wouldn't have gone after the media. His thumb ran absently along his gun holster.

With a shake of his head, he met Kassian's eyes seriously again. "The last thing my dad would have wanted was for me to endanger my life on revenge or anything useless like that." He paused. "But I do want to know what got him killed. In the journals he left me, one of his hopes was I would continue his legacy. Maybe he meant the Guild but maybe he meant whatever it was he found..."

"Maybe..." Ryan trailed off, his face troubled. "What if your mother knows about this?"

"I don't know." Boyd's eyebrows drew together. The thought was equally troubling to him. "I hadn't even considered that possibility. It seems like she couldn't but I don't know anything anymore when it comes to her..."

"Just be careful if you try to find out," Kassian said. He reached out to squeeze Boyd's shoulder again. "Please promise me you'll be careful. If your father got killed over this, you can too."

"I will be," Boyd promised. He squeezed Kassian's hand in return and then stood.

He pulled out his phone and glanced at the time again. 12:08 am. Just over four hours since he'd left Sin angry in the hotel room. If he stopped home for some food and clothes, he should be able to get back to Annadale by 5 am-- 6 at the latest.

His fingers tightened on his phone before he returned it to his pocket. "Besides," he added, a grim not-quite-smile crossing his lips when he looked up, "judging by the report my dad's biggest mistake was trusting the wrong people. And since I only trust people like you I should be fine."

"I hope so," Kassian said. His brows drew together, and he seemed reluctant for Boyd to go. "Call me if anything happens."

"I will." Boyd reached for the flash drive but then paused and glanced up at Ryan. "Can I take this? I want to see what else was on it."

Ryan nodded automatically. "Yes, I kept the original though. I always make an extra copy just in case something gets corrupted."

"Good." Boyd grabbed the drive and headed quickly for the door. "Sorry, I have to go. Thank you. I'll let you both know what I find."

He didn't listen for their replies as he rushed out. His mind had already shifted to Sin and what he was going to say when he got back to Annadale.

Continue to Fade Chapter 27...