Fade Chapter Thirty-four

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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 34

Uploaded on 10/27/2012

The new suits proved to be invaluable to infiltrating the facility. As far as Sin could tell, they got in undetected up until the point where they had to come into contact with people. It appeared that there was a guard detail in each wing made up of two individuals, but Emilio warned them that there were much larger clusters of hostiles towards the core of the facility. When Sin clicked to the thermal radar on his goggles, he could see that Emilio was correct.

Despite appearing relatively unoccupied from the outside, the inside of the facility was well-lit. It had fallen into disrepair and had not been fully restored, but there were definite signs that it was a well-used building. As Sin crept along noiselessly and attempted to stick to corners and nooks in the nuances of the walls, he saw signs of inhabitance everywhere. It seemed as though the people who manned the facility actually lived there at times.

Bex had entered from the North wing. According to the blueprints it was the more likely place where offices and research labs could be feasibly situated. Sin had entered from the opposite side, and the largest clusters of body heat were in that area. It could only be accounted for by the number of experiments and captives in the wing as well as a larger number of guards.

"Doin' alright, kiddo?" Emilio's voice came across through the comm.

Sin slipped out of a wide-open and unused loading area, and down a long, dim corridor. Red and yellow blobs tripled on the thermal radar, and he ducked into a slight crevice in the wall beneath an exposed, metal staircase.

"Things are about to get exciting," Sin murmured into his comm. He pulled his goggles down to hang around his neck.

He crouched down and peered around the edge of the staircase. About twenty feet down the corridor, there was a glass partition. There were three guards on each side, and a keypad that likely controlled the wall, which allowed people to exit and enter.

"I've located the entrance to the testing area. Can't get through without being noticed."

"Do it," Bex said shortly. "Three out of five set, and downloading a massive file. I've got good cover."

Sin slipped out of the spot, and began edging along the side of the wall. The staircase provided enough shadow for him to melt into it until a certain point.

"There's two possible egress routes for you, boy," Emilio said. "Let me know if you have a package with you."

"Got it."

Sin froze as two more individuals began walking up the corridor on the other side of the partition. He narrowed his eyes and watched as one of the guards input a six digit code. The partition slid open and disappeared into the wall.

"Finished already?" one of the guards asked.

"No," a dark-haired man said with a yawn. He was dressed in regular civilian clothing like most of the other people in the facility, but he didn't appear obviously armed. "We still have a--"

The man stopped talking and his eyes fell on the spot where Sin was crouched in the shadows. He didn't even have to shout out a warning; each guard turned to follow his gaze automatically.

Gunshots rang out in the corridor, the blasts echoing with deafening loudness. Sin flattened himself against the wall before ducking down. He hunched forward as the guards began to shout in alarm, making his body a small, fast-moving target.

"Intruder in the South corri--"

Sin launched into a wall run, turning his body sideways and out of the way of the bullets hurtling towards him. He moved twelve feet along the wall, his feet slamming against it before he vaulted off into a tumble and crashed his body into the group huddled by the partition. They had no cover and were clustered in the entrance, so the group collapsed into a pile.

Jumping to his feet, Sin yanked out the Sig and shot the keypad. Sparks flew and a brief beeping filled the air as several of the guards regained their bearings. He slammed his elbow into one of their necks, causing the man to gag loudly as another lunged at Sin. Using the man behind him for leverage, Sin propelled forward and slammed his boot into the other's face. An audible crunch filled the air, and Sin threw himself sideways as bullets erupted in the hallway again.

He headbutted the dark-haired man that had initially seen him while twisting his own arm backwards to grab the wrist of the other. Bodyslamming the man and wrenching his wrist to the side, Sin disarmed him and shot him in the head with his own gun.

The confusion of shouting and scrambling for cover only intensified as more guards rushed in from the other side of the partition. Sin dodged to the side again and sprinted forward as a rifle aimed at his chest. He swept the man's legs out from beneath him, and tangled their bodies together, forcing the man to crash down to the floor with him. The rifle fired at the ceiling instead of into Sin, and the bullets ricocheted wildly in the narrow space. Rolling out of the way, Sin managed to evade most, although two slammed into his suit.

When the echo of the gunshots faded, the hallway was a mess of blood and corpses.

The next several minutes were spent dashing through corridors, evading shots, and frantically looking into testing areas and labs. When Bex announced that she had completed the download, and that they had five minutes for egress before detonation, Sin's sense of panic rose. The search grew bloodier as the seconds ticked by and Sin still didn't find Boyd. The body count rose as Sin moved further in and didn't locate Boyd even in the rooms that were clearly designated for high-risk experiments.

There were people hooked up to IVs, clearly sickly and drugged while others were completely enclosed in bubbles similar to the ones that had been shown in the image at the briefing. Sin saw faces of people who were likely allies or innocent people but he turned away from them and kept going without pause.

It wasn't until under three minutes that Sin found him.

The room was at the furthest point in that section of the facility. In the center of a white room there was a complicated webbing system that held Boyd spread eagle up off the floor and out of reach of any solid surface.

A full body suit covered him except for one point where an IV ran from his upper arm to a small metal cart securely hooked against the wall. There was no leverage for Boyd to free himself from the webbing, and no way for him to even use his fingers or toes. His eyes were covered by a visor that wrapped back to cover his ears. He didn't react when Sin crossed the distance between them quickly.

The relief that washed over Sin was so strong that his hands trembled as he removed Boyd's visor. Boyd's head jerked back, and his eyes flit around wildly. He didn't even register that Sin was in front of him at first.

"Boyd," Sin said urgently, reaching a hand up to touch the side of Boyd's face.

Boyd's eyes snapped to Sin's and his eyebrows dragged down.


He jerked his arms against the webbing which hardly stretched to account for the movement before it snapped his arms back to their original position. He stopped struggling and instead looked around the room with a hooded stare.

"It's one of these?"

"What?" Sin stared at him and then looked around the room.

He didn't see whatever it was that Boyd was seeing, and that gave Sin pause. His eyes narrowed briefly, and he held the visor up. Looking through it, he released a disgusted exhale. It was all Janus propaganda flickering across the screen, interlaced with clips and audio about government cover-ups.

He looked at Boyd again, and realized that the blond man wasn't even truly registering that Sin was standing there. If Janus' brainwashing techniques went beyond propaganda, they likely did VR simulations as well. Judging from the way Boyd was looking around the room warily, he likely thought he was in one.

Bex's voice exploded in Sin's ear, shouting that he had a minute to get out and Sin shook the confusion off.

The webbing system was woven into the suit that suspended Boyd in the air, criss-crossing through loops in the back that kept him trapped in the complex device. It was extremely resistant to tearing, but Sin was able to rip the back of it open and maneuver Boyd's limbs out.

Boyd was left only in a pair of black shorts and bare feet. He stumbled when his feet hit the floor, and he grabbed the webbing to steady himself. When he didn't otherwise react, Sin smacked Boyd's face hard.

"We have to get out of here, so snap the fuck out of it."

Boyd turned to look at Sin. "You don't have to hit me."

He started toward the door but his knees gave out before he could cross the room. He barely caught himself again. For a second Sin could clearly read the frustration on Boyd's face before determination set his features in hard lines. He pulled himself up straight and moved more carefully to the door where he peered out with one hand braced against the wall.

"The best point of egress is through the west but they know I know that; that's where they caught me before. We're going to die again," he added. "I never make it out and they're just watching me for my habits. Maybe we should just stay here. They'll get back at me for it later but at least I won't have to watch you die again. And then I won't be giving them statistics."

Sin blinked once. "Right."

Boyd definitely thought he was in some kind of VR simulation.

Not even bothering to say anything more, Sin picked Boyd up and threw him over his shoulder.

"What are--" Boyd said, clearly startled.

His hands dug briefly into Sin's back but Sin didn't answer him. Not focusing on how thin and frail Boyd was, he sprinted towards the door and out into the hallway.

He could feel Boyd shifting, saying nonsensical things and when Sin didn't respond, lapsing into muttering to himself. Sin was too focused on remapping the facility in his head to pay close attention. He turned down the corridor with the glass partition and immediately lifted his rifle. There were three Janus operatives running at them, and Sin didn't hesitate before releasing a spray of bullets.

Two of them were downed immediately, but the third had flung himself to the side just fast enough to only be hit in his shins. The man screamed and scrambled for his own gun, but Sin crossed the distance and kicked it out of the way.

Sin started to run again, but Carhart's words replayed in his head:

If you get one, bring back a spare.

Swearing under his breath, Sin dragged the man up from the floor and knocked him out with a hard punch to the chest. The man's screaming ended abruptly as he went limp, and Sin threw him over his other shoulder before bringing Boyd down to the floor. Boyd's head lolled as he sagged, but Sin caught him and pinned him against his side. Boyd mumbled something but his words were starting to sound more slurred and incoherent.

"Two packages secured," Sin barked into his comm as he started to run again. "ETA 20 seconds."

Sin reached his exit point just as explosions erupted on the North side of the building. Alarms screamed inside the facility and the lights flashed as smoke poured down the hallway. Just as Sin crossed the doorway, Bex appeared by his side, obviously having run over from her route.

Suspicion caused Sin to automatically drop his hand to his gun.

"Hand him over," she shouted over the alarms. "This side is going!"

Sin stared at her briefly before unslinging the man from his shoulder. Bex grabbed him, immediately pivoted and began to run. They got out of range as the rest of the explosives detonated with deafening blasts. Black smoke billowed above the facility, and the spreading fire cast orange light into the night sky.

By the time they jumped into the van and Emilio began speeding away, the distant sound of sirens could be heard.

"How's the kid?" Emilio barked, his eyes flicking up to the rear-view mirror to look back at them. He didn't even look at the man that Bex had drugged, bound and hooded.

Sin smoothed his hand over Boyd's face, and didn't look up to meet his father's gaze. Boyd had lost consciousness sometime during egress, but he'd somehow gained an injury to his wrist. It was bleeding sluggishly but the blood smeared on Boyd's other hand and trailing down from his lips gave Sin an idea of what had happened.

"Physically he's okay. From what I found in the room, it seemed that they were focusing on trying to breach him mentally for interrogation," Sin yelled over the roar of the wind. He said the lie without hesitation, and ripped the sleeve off his shirt. Using the fabric to staunch Boyd's bleeding until they got to the jet, Sin added, "It looks like he ripped something out of his wrist."

"Tracking chip?"

"Most likely."

"Smart kid," Bex said.

Sin looked up at her briefly. He'd tied off Boyd's wound but kept his hands around the other man's arm. He was almost afraid to let go, especially when Bex was in the car.

Carhart and Emilio's words kept coming back to him, and Sin almost wanted to act on the warnings just to play it safe. Kill Bex; dump the body. Acceptable collateral damage during a mission that would bring them much closer to Janus if the intel gained from Bex's downloads and the captive was any good. He would be thrown on the Fourth and interrogated most likely, but it would be fucking worth it if it meant getting her away from Boyd.

But even as his hands twitched and the weight of his weapons became difficult to ignore, Sin didn't do it. All he saw in Bex's face was a mix of her typical post-mission adrenaline, and some actual concern for Boyd.

"Why the fuck are you so positive all of a sudden?" he demanded.

Emilio snorted from the front seat, but he was watching them in the rear view mirror again. Watching Bex, and likely waiting for a wrong move.

"What?" Bex looked at Sin as if he'd lost his mind. "Positive about what? Boyd?"

"No, the fucking Janus moron bleeding out on your lap. Yes, Boyd," Sin said impatiently.

"I don't--" Bex looked at him and then at Emilio. There was nothing but bemusement in her dark eyes, and she scratched the back of her head. "What the fuck are you on about, Vega? I thought he was nothing but a useless poof before, but the kid's got some skill. He ain't so bad."

When Sin just stared at her, Bex rolled her eyes. "Christ, don't be such a wanker. You got your boyfriend back, we got Janus info, mission accomplished, yes?"


"Then be goddamn happy and shut it. Fuck, you're horrible."

Sin continued to watch her until she muttered something and began pulling off her gloves. It was Emilio's laugh that snapped Sin out of it. He glanced at his father briefly. Emilio gave him a furtive shake of his head, and his mouth twisted slightly to the side. The reassurance wasn't enough to take the edge off Sin's nerves, but he forced himself to trust it.

The next four hours went by sluggishly, and Sin refused to leave Boyd's side during the entire return trip. When the transport agents attempted to do a quick check of Boyd's injuries, Sin curtly informed them that he would do it himself. He cleaned Boyd's wound, stitched it shut, bandaged it, and waited.

Boyd only woke up three times during the trip, and it became apparent that he'd definitely been drugged. He was either incoherent, confused, or vomiting when he woke up, and didn't seem to believe that any of them were truly there. Whenever he slipped back into unconsciousness, Sin went back to watching and waiting.

He ran his hands through Boyd's tangled blond hair; using his fingers to ease out the gnarls and not giving a flying fuck who was watching him do it. After so long without being near Boyd, he couldn't stop touching the other man. Two years since their separation, and this seemed like a trick, or a dream, or something that was too good to be true.

There was a knot in his chest that wanted to unravel, but the tension Sin felt wouldn't let it. The closer they got to the Agency, the more the tension increased and Sin's attitude took a sharp turn South when any of the transport agents or Bex came near them.

Stay the fuck away. Don't touch him. I'll fucking kill you if you get between us.

Sin didn't say it, but the look on his face made it unnecessary, and everyone kept their distance. Even Emilio.

Boyd's murmuring started again when they deplaned in Pennsylvania. He became more fitful during the ride to the compound, and Sin crouched beside him in the back of the van. He was keenly aware of their proximity to the others, and locked his fingers with Boyd's.

"You're okay," he whispered in Boyd's ear, squeezing the other man's hand. "This is real. I'm real."

"What is he saying, anyway?" Agent Dibrachio asked with a slight frown. They'd been transported by Dibrachio several times in the past few years. What seemed like lifetimes ago, they'd broken into the compound with him when it was under siege.

Even so, Sin just shot him a glare.

"Nothing," he said curtly. "He's delirious."

Dibrachio nodded, his gaze lingering for only a moment longer before he returned it to the road.

Time passed with only the sounds of the road muffled through the van's windows. Out of nowhere, Boyd's eyes snapped open and his body jerked as if he were about to throw himself off the pallet. His gaze caught on Sin's face and he froze.

"Boyd," Sin said quietly. He reached up to touch the side of Boyd's face, cupping it with his hand. "Are you okay?"

Boyd placed his hand over Sin's with light pressure. Fingertips gently skimmed past Sin's temple, down along a cheekbone to rest on the side of Sin's face. Boyd's lips lifted subtly on the corners.

"Yes," he said equally quietly. His gaze moved across Sin's features before straying back to his eyes. "Are you?"

"Yes," Sin said automatically. He smiled faintly, relief causing him to forget everyone else and focus completely on Boyd. He turned his face slightly and grasped Boyd's hand before bringing it to his lips.

Boyd's lips drew into a full smile. "Good."

He relaxed against the pallet and nuzzled his cheek sleepily against Sin's hand. His eyelids were starting to slide shut between each blink. Sin watched him, reveling in the warmth of Boyd's skin and the feel of his breath.

Every minute detail was a reminder that this was real. They really had found him. They were back together.

Before long, Boyd turned on his side facing Sin and moved their hands so they rested palm to palm with their fingers intertwined. With a brush of his lips against Sin's knuckles, his eyes fell shut and his breathing slowly began to even.

Releasing a slow exhale, Sin sat down on the floor next to Boyd. For just a moment, he wanted to be close, undisturbed, and ignore the stares drilling into him.

The van was silent, dark, and with his back to the others, Sin pretended that he and Boyd were alone. He savored the moment, the feel of his lover, and the sight of their hands clenched together. Boyd's fingers were digging into his, even in sleep, and somehow the slight indent of his fingernails against Sin's skin made the moment perfect. It made it theirs.

They were together again.

The rest of the trip moved quickly and the tension in the van and in the receiving area of transport heightened every time someone tried to get between he and Boyd. Sin didn't trust anyone with Boyd, and reacted with a violent shove and a visceral growl whenever the medical staff told him to get out of the way.

He carried Boyd upstairs himself, not giving a damn if Boyd got annoyed at the damsel treatment later, and stood nearby as the staff carefully removed the IV and began performing toxicology tests. He had no idea what they would find but given the condition he'd found Boyd in, everything seemed like a worst case scenario.

Was there some kind of drug or serum that was used specifically for brainwashing and Seong would find out? Sin had no idea, and he couldn't bring himself to ask anyone about it. He didn't dare say the words out loud, even to Carhart or Ryan. The two men had arrived as soon as possible, and Ryan looked close to crying from relief when his eyes fell on Boyd.

"Oh, thank God," he said, reaching out and grabbing Sin's arm. "I was so freaking worried."

"I forgot to text you," Sin said. "Sorry."

Ryan's eyebrows rose at the apology, and he smiled slightly. "It's okay. It was dumb to expect you to even remember that."

Carhart cleared his throat, and gave them a narrow-eyed look. Ryan immediately fell silent, looking chagrined.

"Sin, we need you for the debriefing immediately."


The general looked around the hospital room, down at Boyd, and then leaned in closer to Sin. "It would be in your best interest if you explained the conditions under which Boyd was found. You can't watch his back if you're on the goddamn Fourth."

Gritting his teeth, Sin nodded shortly. "Fine."

Reluctantly dragging his eyes away from Boyd's face, Sin released the other man's slack hand and took a step back. Even that felt like too much. The idea of going to a debriefing for an hour seemed impossible.

A jolt of panic went through Sin, and he looked at Ryan. The R&D agent's hand was still on his arm, and Sin grabbed it in his own, squeezing hard. "Stay with him. Please."

Ryan's eyes widened slightly, but his fingers tightened around Sin's automatically. "I will. I promise. I'll... I'll call Kassian."

"Fine. But don't go anywhere. Don't leave him alone." Sin knew that his grip was likely hurting Ryan, but he didn't let go. "Do you understand?"

"Sin, we have to--"

Not even sparing Carhart a glance, Sin jerked Ryan forward slightly. He tried to convey the facts without saying them in front of the techs, the doctors, the cameras: Boyd is in danger. He's not safe. Once they debrief him, they might kill him.

"Do you understand?"

Ryan nodded jerkily. "Yes. Of course. Go, you can trust me."

Sin nodded slowly, and let Ryan's hand slide out of his own. He looked over at Boyd again, and raked his gaze over the tangled hair, thin face, and motionless body. The tightness in his chest was nearly unbearable, but Sin forced himself to turn away and follow Carhart upstairs to the conference room.

He'd expected Seong, but it was Katsaros who was sitting with Emilio and Bex. Sin looked from one to the other briefly before focusing fully on the new general.

"Make this quick," he said flatly.

Katsaros raised an eyebrow. "It will take as long as it needs to take. Have a seat, Agent Vega."

"I'm fine with standing. Now what do you need me to say that these two haven't already said?"

Carhart didn't sit either, and stood shoulder to shoulder with Sin. The fabric of his shirt rustled against Sin's armor.

"Agent Vega and Agent Hunt have already completed written and verbal reports. They were explaining to General Katsaros that you had been directed to the South part of the facility to search for--"

"I'm sure he is capable of speaking for himself," Katsaros cut in sharply.

"And I'm sure you don't need me to reiterate shit that the rest of my team told you, but here we are." Sin rolled his shoulders, and exhaled slowly "Emilio told me to go South to check the labs for Intel. I went, killed some people, found no data or computers, but I did find a hostage and Boyd." He looked from Katsaros to Carhart. "Can I go now?"

Bex snickered, but was silenced by one look from Katsaros.

"Your behavior has been diminished by this unit, Agent Hunt."

She shrugged slightly, and looked down although the corner of her mouth continued to twitch.

"You were told not to search for the missing."

"Yeah, I was, and I didn't search for him. He was there. And unlike the rest of the test subjects, he was still functional and not strapped to a bed and looking three steps away from death."

Impatience was making Sin talk faster, and more recklessly. He paused, collected his thoughts, and started again. "From what I saw, Boyd looked like one of the more recent additions to their little collection which makes sense since no one from here or Euro has gone missing in the past six weeks. When I found him, it seemed like they were in the midst of mental torture for interrogation purposes and had not yet turned him over to the labs for experimentation."

It was a lie, but since the labs were destroyed, no one could dispute it. No one but Boyd if he started talking deliriously. Another spasm of worry went through Sin, and when Katsaros opened his mouth to speak, Sin cut him off sharply.

"You people told us not to recover anyone because you assumed they would all be nonfunctional. Boyd's condition didn't put him in that category. I don't personally give a flying fuck about your opinion on the matter, Katsaros. If you and Seong are too stupid to realize that you won't find a quickie replacement in this unit if he dies, you're idiots. You can explain it to the Agency Directors when things stall again. When it comes to Janus, Boyd is the fucking go-to person. Bex and I barely read the mission outlines, and Emilio is basically only here to manage the three of us in the field. Boyd has been the expert on Janus Intel for the past five years. No one can replace him."

Silence met his rant, but Bex was nodding in agreement. Emilio didn't react, but his eyes didn't move from his son. It was a look of approval and pride that Sin had once craved from the man.

"Your attitude leaves something to be desired, but you are not wrong," Katsaros said after a moment. "Like your father, you are to the point. No bullshit." His dark eyes moved over Sin briefly before sliding over to Carhart, who had put a hand on Sin's shoulder.

"I see that you are anxious to return to your partner, so you are dismissed for now."

"Thanks so much," Sin said sarcastically.

Meeting Carhart's eyes briefly, Sin left the conference room. It only took him three minutes to return to the medwing, but as soon as he stepped off the elevator it was clear that something had happened in his absence. People were yelling, guards were scrambling everywhere, and Luke Gerant was shouting orders from the nurse's station.

"Get Lowe and Williams up here right goddamn now! They just let him run out of the fucking ga--"

"What happened?" Sin demanded, grabbing Gerant's arm and wheeling him around. "Where the fuck is Boyd?"

Gerant yanked his arm away irritably, and glared at Sin. "He woke up and panicked. Got down to goddamn transport and slipped out."

Ryan appeared from the room, his thin face pale and stricken. "Hsin! He must have thought he was still with Janus. He didn't even see me, he just ran out."


Gerant nodded as if in agreement with the sentiment. "I have men going after him no--"


Gerant stopped and glared at Sin. "What? What do you mean no?"

"I mean no," Sin growled. "I'll get him myself. If he's disoriented and confused, he'll fight them. And unless you want to deal with the aftermath of them either damaging him in his weakened condition, or him damaging them in the process, you'll do what I say."

They glared at each other for a minute before Gerant exhaled slowly. "Fine. Fine, Vega. Just do it before he gets me terminated. The guards monitoring surveillance didn't catch his movements in time, and that falls on me."

"Got it."

Kassian was the next person to appear and before he could say a word, Sin held a hand out. "Give me the keys to your vehicle."

"What?" Kassian stared at him in confusion. "What's--"

"Boyd is missing," Ryan said impatiently. "Just do it, Kass."

The key to Kassian's motorcycle jingled as he tossed it at Sin. Leaving Ryan to explain the rest, Sin sprinted down the hall. He heard Gerant calling Lorde at the front gate as the door to the stairwell slammed shut, and nobody stopped him after he climbed on Kassian's bike and sped off the compound.

Boyd only had a fifteen to twenty minute head start, but in that time he could have ended up at one of two likely places: Crater Lake or Cedar Hills. To cover his bases, Sin pushed the bike to 140 mph and went past Crater Lake and then back north up to Cedar Hills. When the bike roared down Magnolia Lane, Sin's eyes zeroed in on the charred remains of Boyd's house.

He pulled over in front of the house and threw one leg over it. He scanned the property before he strode forward. The house was barely holding together, and was scheduled to be demolished any day. The ground around it was scorched, the gate destroyed, and the inside had been completely gutted. Even so, the door still worked and he pushed it open before walking inside.

Everything was blackened, and the furniture was barely recognizable. The walls were still functioning, but the staircase had collapsed and there were gaping holes in the ceiling.

"Boyd," he called out.

There was no response at first, and Sin's eyes narrowed slightly. He headed towards Boyd's bedroom, and he released a ragged exhale when he found the other man there.

Boyd was kneeling in the ashes near where his dresser had once stood. Soot streaked his clothing and hair; made dark lines across his fingertips and cheeks. He seemed to have been digging through a pile of debris but whatever he was looking for, it seemed he hadn't found it and had given up. He was staring down at the floor with empty, stained hands.

At the sound of Sin entering the room, Boyd barely moved.

"I don't understand," he said quietly.

Sin crossed the space between them in two long strides. He crouched beside Boyd, and ran his fingers down the side of the other man's face. "Janus destroyed the house. It was a trap for anyone coming to search for you."

With a faint nod, Boyd's eyes fell shut. He pressed his face against Sin's hand.

"I don't know if this is real."

Letting the pad of his thumb slide against Boyd's cheek, Sin sat down fully on the floor. He leaned in, and touched his forehead to the top of Boyd's head. "It is. They were using your memories to... to sync with the simulations or something. But this is real. I'm real. They used intel from Forakis to find you."

Sin could feel as much as hear the shuddering exhale of Boyd's breath.

"How do I know?" There was a rawness in his voice that was tempered by the oppression of the room. "At first I could tell something was wrong because when I thought back later it felt like a dream. But they've been upgrading the program. Everything has felt more real. Even touch, pain... She's been taunting me with it. How do I know that's not happening now?"

"Because--" Sin broke off, frustrated. He shook his head and tilted Boyd's chin up with his fingers. "Because it's me. Hsin. Not Danny. This isn't the fucking Agency or Janus or anyone but us. Finally."

He searched Boyd's eyes, willing him to believe it. It didn't take much to lean forward and close the distance between their lips. He brushed their mouths together hesitantly at first, just a slight press of his lips against Boyd's, before pulling away. "Fuck. Please, come with me. Your neighbor is probably watching us. That woman fucking hates me, and I can't deal with police if she calls them."

Boyd looked up at Sin finally, gaze flicking over his hair, his lips, and back to his eyes. His expression didn't shift from neutrality aside from the briefest tightening around his eyes. He dropped his forehead against Sin and said with a muffled voice:

"I'll go with you anywhere but back there. Please don't take me back."

"I have a place we can go."

Sin stood up and wrapped his hands around Boyd's forearms, pulling the other man up with him. He let his hand slide down when Boyd was standing, and laced their fingers together.

They walked through the burnt remains of the house and to Kassian's motorcycle. He hadn't thought to grab the helmet from Kassian before running out of the medwing, and there wasn't a spare for Boyd.

"Are you okay to hold on to me? If you're still disoriented, we can go some other way."

Boyd squeezed Sin's hand. "I can hold on."

When they got on the motorcycle, Boyd sat as close as he could and wrapped his arms tightly around Sin. Sin could feel Boyd bury his face in his back and inhale deeply.

There was a pause as Sin sat on the motorcycle and Boyd melted against him. The warmth of Boyd, the solidness of him, and the feel of their bodies pressed together momentarily floored him. He stared at the street in front of them and felt the pelt of rain starting to hit his face, but for a moment Sin couldn't move.

This was real.

A shuddering sigh escaped his mouth, and Sin forced himself to pull it together. The motorcycle roared to life, and he was acutely aware of Boyd's fingers digging into his stomach as he sped down the street. He took them out of Cedar Hills to the east, and into Silver Lake.

He'd purchased a condo in one of the luxury high-rises weeks ago, and hadn't visited the place since. It'd been a move made out of desperation to believe that they would be reunited, that Boyd would be found, and he'd told himself that his lover would need somewhere to live when it happened. The idea of Boyd living on the compound had seemed wrong.

Sin parked the motorcycle in the parking lot, and led Boyd to the entrance. There were guards outside the door, and the men looked at the pair of them over briefly. The guards didn't work for the company that owned the building, and Sin knew they were likely perimeter bodyguards for someone who lived inside. Someone who needed extra protection.

The guards took in his body armor, and Boyd's shorts, thin t-shirt and ragged appearance, but didn't ask any questions. The concierge looked more disconcerted, but Sin flashed his resident placard and strode by.

Boyd didn't speak as they rode the elevator up, but Sin stopped just inside the penthouse after punching in the long security code at the door. He faltered, temporarily unsure of what to say, and looked around the place. It was decorated in darker, earth tones with cream-colored furniture. Metallic fixtures and appliances contrasted with wood floors to create an environment that was a mix of old-fashioned and contemporary.

He'd known Boyd would like it, and he'd purchased the place less than a minute into the tour. The realtor's eyes had nearly bugged out of his head when Sin had flatly said that he would be paying in cash.

"I got this place for you since the house is gone. I didn't want you to have to live on compound. With them."

Boyd walked into the condo, his fingertips trailing along a wooden entry table. Sin couldn't see his face at first; just the slight tension in his shoulders and the way he froze facing the main room. A wall of windows showcased a stunning view while the open concept blended the living room and modern kitchen seamlessly.

Boyd's breath caught, and his hands curled into fists. "I want this to be real."

Sin was at Boyd's side immediately, wrapping his arms around Boyd and fisting his hands in his too-loose shirt. "It is," he reassured him.

Boyd's hands were hesitant on Sin's back. "You feel real."

"I am."

There was a beat of silence before Boyd spoke distantly:

"It felt real when I was in the desert, too. When I escaped and I felt the ground burning my feet. Then they pulled the visor off. It felt real the first time you died and your blood hit my mouth. It tasted metallic. Then I was in the white room."

He sighed and pressed his forehead against Sin's chest. "None of this is real. She's using you to get to me, to break me. They're going to make me betray you someday. Betray all of you. No--" His hands clenched against Sin's back. "No, I won't let them. I won't tell them anything."

Sin held Boyd close and glanced around the condo. He shifted to move them but Boyd tensed, looking up at him sharply.

"What are you doing?" he asked suspiciously.

"I want you to sit down," Sin told him, and kissed him on the top of the head.

Wariness stained Boyd's features but ultimately he let Sin lead him to the couch. Sin settled on it sideways, stretching out his legs and drawing Boyd down. Boyd stayed tense even after he had laid back against Sin's chest.

They remained silent, with Boyd's head tipped back against Sin's shoulder and his blond hair bunched between them. Sin could feel the warmth of Boyd's body; the simple comfort of his chest rising and falling. His arms tightened around Boyd's stomach, pulling him closer.

Boyd's fingertips ran along Sin's skin. Back and forth. Back and forth. The tempo rising and falling with the beating of Boyd's heart.

Continue to Fade Chapter 35...