In the Company of Shadows

This site is..

Based on an original story 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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Evenfall Chapter Three

Boyd walked through the mostly empty hallways of the training complex. His steps were measured and echoed faintly around him as he headed toward his latest session with David Nakamura, the man who had been assigned to train him in physical combat.

Given the summarized job description he'd been given by his mother, he hadn't known specifically what to expect when training started. The situation was strange to him at times. He was in essence in classes or training for most of the day, which gave something of a collegial feel.

That impression was enhanced by the fact that he was confined strictly to the training complex; a large building with multiple levels that contained everything from a cafeteria to high tech training rooms to what amounted to dorm hallways. The rooms were small and minimally furnished and all lacked even a single window. With only the artificial light day in and day out, at times it felt like time had ceased to move. Rather than learning about art history and psychology, however, here the subjects were much more dire and, at times, macabre.

He'd come to realize that there were other people in the training complex who were training to be rank 9 but he was separated from them entirely. His training had to be much more intensive in order to be completed within the allotted time frame, especially since basic initial training was lumped in as well. Compared to his training, he gathered, the level 9 trainees had a leisurely walk through the subjects.

The classes he took were all one-on-one. He was taught about the Agency's goals and directives. They repeatedly stressed the importance of secrecy and success, and the consequences for the greater good if the Agency failed. Or, more accurately, if the agents in question failed.

He had deportment training as well. Those sessions focused on his behavior but also the way he looked. Over time, he concluded that the Agency took great stock with the idea of the physical perfection of the agents and staff. He wondered if that was why his mother seemed to continually note if he ever did not adequately meet her standards, or whether it was unrelated.

His main concern with deportment was that he hadn't interacted with anyone on any sort of consistent basis for years, and he'd always been a quiet person who preferred to be left alone if given the choice. Still, there had been a time when he'd wanted to fit in and he was used to observing people and their interactions. He learned quickly and didn't find it difficult to mimic others when necessary; he simply found it onerous.

There were other subjects and other sessions but what was the most time-consuming and labor-intensive was being taught how to fight. Prior to stepping on the Agency compound, he had never been a particularly physical person. His primary exposure to any type of combat had been through the button-mashing combos in video games.

He had never felt the need to learn any sort of martial art or even really exercise for that matter. As a result, physical training was the most difficult for him. He was unaccustomed to such intensive sparring that lasted hours at a time; at times the majority of the day. He typically went to bed exhausted but almost too sore to sleep, and when he was woken early in the morning there were times he wished he could tell them to leave him alone.

The training had so far proven to be extremely trying at times. It was especially difficult to keep himself disconnected from everything and everyone else when he was constantly being thrown into situations where it was impossible to do anything but interact. The combat training put him constantly in close physical proximity, with hands touching him and bodies sometimes pinning him to the floor. He varied between finding it alarming, disturbing, and simply uncomfortable.

David had noticed the way he had unconsciously shied away in the beginning and, apparently with the intent of driving that out of him, he'd then taken to touching Boyd more often than was necessary. It was all very professional or casual, with David's hands wrapping around his arm or casual thumps against his shoulder from behind; unexpected touches that had made Boyd jump at first. David had used it as a teaching tool to show him not to react, which gave his opponent an advantage by showing what could get to him, and also to hone his perceptive skills.

When David would hit him on the back, or shoulder, or arm, he would say things like, "This could be a knife. This could be a gun. You would be dead now."

It had taken Boyd a few weeks before he'd grown accustomed to it enough that it no longer made him want to pull away. It had taken longer before he'd been able to start noticing David before he approached.

He turned the corner and slowed as he approached the training room. There was a man and a woman standing outside, leaning against the wall. The man was slightly taller than Boyd with shaggy brown hair and dark stubble that was slowly developing into a beard and goatee. He had on training gear and was leaning closer to the woman than was necessary.

She didn't seem to mind. She was grinning at him as if in on a joke and batted him away when he grabbed her long blond braid and tugged it.

When Boyd came close to the door, they both looked at him.

"I wouldn't bother going in there yet," the woman said with a shake of her head. "Nakamura is on the phone with Doug and that always takes forever. You know how Doug is."

Boyd stopped, looking in the training room although he couldn't see much from his angle. He nodded. He assumed the Doug they were talking about was Instructor Douglas Ferguson, the man who was typically involved in all high rank training sessions. When Boyd had first begun training he'd been informed that the infamous Instructor was out of the country which was why David was filling in.

"Alright." He moved so he could lean back against the wall while he waited. "Thank you."

The girl continued looking at him with a puzzled look on her face. "What training are you here for, anyway? I haven't seen you around."

"It seems to be specialized training so I've largely been separated from everyone else," Boyd answered, looking over at her.

The two gave each other baffled looks.

"Huh. That's odd. I've never even seen you on compound, and you look so young," the girl went on curiously.

The guy rolled his eyes. "He doesn't look that young, babe. I'd say at least seventeen or eighteen. Right?"

"I'll be nineteen in a week," Boyd replied with a nod. He paused, looking at the two of them thoughtfully. "Why? How old are people typically recruited?"

"It depends," the guy responded with a shrug. "If you're a military or government recruit it's usually older but no later than mid-twenties. They like to get them young. But if you're a jail recruit or something else civilian-oriented, it can be basically any age. If you have the qualities they want, they'll take you whenever."

"A lot of R&Ds and analysts get recruited pretty early, I hear," the girl added with a nod. She was still observing Boyd closely as she absently fluffed her bangs. She had a strangely innocent quality to her face. "Mostly because a lot of them are like Mensa-smart. Once they go through testing, all kinds of Agency flags probably go off telling them to go run and recruit the smarties."

Boyd nodded. That seemed to fall in line with how he understood the Agency worked. He supposed it made sense to go younger for certain areas. Most mathematical leaps of understanding had been discovered by young men. It followed that analysis and computer-related fields would have similar trends. Still, he didn't know how early 'pretty early' was.

"I'm Cecilia, by the way. And this is Dover. What's your name and rank, anyway?"

"Boyd," he said and then paused, his eyebrows twitching down faintly in thought. "I'm not positive what my rank is."

Dover stared at him strangely. "That is beyond strange, dude. Are you a probie?"

Probie was the term for probationary agent and one that Boyd had learned fairly quickly. Higher ranked agents seemed to enjoy using it.

"I've been here about two months but I believe they're planning to see how I do through training. I think at the end I'll be assigned a rank if I pass but prior to that I haven't been told what I am."

This did not seem to be how things were typically done because Dover pressed, "Well where'd you come from? Why did they recruit you? Sometimes rank changes based on your background."

"I didn't come from anywhere in particular," Boyd said with a shrug. "I'm one of several people being tested to potentially be Agent Hsin Liu Vega's partner. I suspect they're waiting to assign an official rank until they see whether I would work as his partner in the first place."

Dover's eyebrows drew together, eyes narrowing slightly. "Why the fuck would a new kid with no background in anything in particular be training to be Vega's partner? That position is way fucking up there. That's beyond most people's rank and classification."

"Yeah," Cecilia chimed in, not looking too happy with this development herself. "Did someone recommend you for some reason? I mean, are you sure it's the Monster you're getting trained to be with?"

"I'm positive," Boyd said, his eyebrows drawing together as he looked at them. "My mother summoned me and explained the position. During the interview, they specifically stated his name."

"Your mother?" Dover asked, confused. "Well, who in the hell is your mother?"

"Vivienne Beaulieu."

They stared at him at first in uncomprehending wonder and then slowly, in twin looks of irritation and hostility. Cecilia actually backed away a step, her mouth turning down into an ugly frown as she looked him up and down in sudden distaste.

"Ah," Dover said flatly. "Now it makes sense."

The obvious shift in their demeanor made Boyd wary, causing his expression to automatically turn more neutral. Given that they'd changed after hearing his mother's name, the position of Vega's partner was apparently one of note, and he knew that his mother was in a position of power, it was not difficult to draw some conclusions as to their thought process.

Even so, the looks of hostility made him wonder if he was missing something.

"How so?"

"You're off the street with no background in anything and they're giving you that position?" Cecilia asked rhetorically. "Do you know how hard we had to work to even become eligible for rank 9 training and you're just being handed it?"

Dover scoffed and shook his head, looking away. There was disgust in his expression as well as bitterness. "Forget it, Cecilia. It's not even worth it. She'll do whatever she wants."

"But it's not fair," Cecilia insisted, glaring at Boyd with obvious dislike. Gone was the friendly girl who had been trying to teach him the ropes. "It's so not fucking fair."

Boyd was silent, watching them. Their argument made sense. If they'd worked hard to get where they were at, it followed if they would be upset by him appearing without any credentials and being given an opportunity due to his mother's word. He didn't know what to say to that. They had good reason to feel spurned but at the same time, it wasn't his decision.

"I don't know what to tell you," he said after a moment. "I've just been following orders. Perhaps you should talk to one of your superiors about it."

"Yeah," Cecilia said scornfully. "I'll get right on that but oh wait-- your mom is second in command of the Agency and obviously she doesn't give a fuck about protocol or hard work or people who deserve promotions. Obviously she doesn't give a fuck that I've been here for six years and am just now in rank 9 training and even then, I'm not guaranteed promotion. But I wouldn't expect some PR bimbo who's never trained or worked in the field to understand hard work anyway. All she is, is a talking head."

Dover shifted and looked uncomfortable, his brown eyes flitting around as if he was afraid of her being overheard. "Alright, alright-- let's just forget it for now."

But Cecilia didn't seem to want to forget it. She was flushed angrily now, her eyes narrowed into slits as she ranted. "Six years-- always having to work twice as hard as the men, always having to prove myself three times over while trying to escape valentines and you get to skip all that and get the second highest agent rank in the Agency. It's just like, mind fucking boggling that this is even allowed."

Dover grabbed Cecilia's arm and tugged her away from Boyd. "Don't be stupid. Just forget it-- he can just go running to his mother if you keep running your damn mouth."

Boyd's eyes narrowed slightly. He didn't know what to say in response to her anger but the implication that he would tell on them irritated him. Being brought in by his mother didn't mean that he'd asked her to or that he planned to rely on that.

"I won't tell her anything," he said evenly. "We may be related but that is where the connection ends."

"Right. That's why she made sure her boy outranks 90% of the field ops in the Agency," Cecilia spat, flipping her braid over one shoulder. "Must be nice to get top pay and clearance right off the bat. Do you have any siblings that she's going to stick in here? Maybe she'll make the next one a captain."

This time Dover rolled his eyes and jerked her away, walking away from Boyd. "He probably won't live out the next few months anyway. He'll be gone before you know it. I can't believe you're getting all riled up over some faggy little twerp. I didn't even know the bitch could conceive, though; that's the most shocking part of that whole..."

His voice trailed off as they disappeared around the corner.

Even after they were gone, Boyd stared at the corner with a cold, closed off expression. The interaction had soured the day for him and made him wish not for the first time that he could go back to being removed from others.

He couldn't help feeling frustrated and insulted. He thought they had the right to be upset but why was it his fault? Why did it have to become a personal affront to him when he hadn't said anything insulting to them?

He was only doing what he was told. His connection with his mother was not an enviable one and barely even existed, even with their shared blood. She had never been a particularly good mother. For most of his life, she had been gone more than she'd been around. When she'd been there, she'd often ignored or occasionally hurt him.

Although he felt compelled to make her approve of him, it was because she never really had. It was because he had no one else in the world and the thought of being left completely alone was alarming when he thought about spending the rest of his life with ghosts. It hadn't mattered before she had contacted him because he'd nullified his emotions but now if he had to go back he would have to build up to that all over again.

Apparently she was disliked at the Agency which seemed as though it was going to be reflected upon him but that only served to frustrate him further. Cecilia and Dover had seemed friendly before they'd found out who he was. Was everyone going to take out their frustration with his mother's decisions on him or were Cecilia and Dover special cases?

When he looked in the room, he saw that David was in there stretching and getting ready. Boyd walked in, frustration making it into the set of his eyes and the slight tightening of his jaw.

David quirked an eyebrow, looking him up and down as Boyd dropped his bag to the side. He walked straight over to the weapons rack and picked up a pair of expandable tonfa. When he strode back over to David, he still hadn't said a word and David's dark-eyed stare had sharpened on him.

"Well. I was going to point out you're late but now I'm wondering why." He shook his arms at his sides to loosen them. "I didn't even know it was possible for you to look pissed."

Boyd didn't answer, staring him straight in the face with cool brown eyes. He flipped the tonfa up to protect his arms and then got into a fighting stance.

David straightened, looking unimpressed. "I've got news for you, kid. You don't get to ignore your trainer just because you don't feel like talking." His eyes flicked to the tonfa. "And put those down. We're doing hand-to-hand today."

Boyd's lips tightened into a frown. He would have preferred to work with something more complicated so he could get his mind off the twin shifting of expressions from confused and helpful to disgusted and angry. Even so, he complied. He flipped the tonfa up, caught them by the ends and transferred them to one hand. He was just leaning over to set them on the mat when David suddenly came at him from the side.

Off-balanced with the tonfa taking up his hand, Boyd tried to drop to the mat and brace himself against the floor but David was too fast. Boyd was thrown down to the mat on his back, his breath whooshing out of him. David moved to pin him but Boyd recovered quickly, twisting out of the way and throwing himself back up to a stand.

Boyd danced away, his gaze flicking down to the tonfa as he considered reaching for them, but David hooked them on his foot and kicked them clear across the room. They rolled and clattered but Boyd didn't have the chance to see where they ended up because David came at him again.

They continued to spar, with David striking hard and fast and painfully throwing Boyd down to the mat more than once. For his part, Boyd was growing faster and he was good at slipping away. His thin form was harder to hold onto and he knew how to manipulate his attacker's joints so they were forced to let go.

As they fought, David continued to talk.

"What made you angry?" David struck at Boyd's side.

"I'm not angry." Boyd blocked and whirled out of the way before David got a grip on him.

David snorted. "Could've fooled me." Silence except the sound of their feet across the mats and their harsh breaths, and then: "Did it have something to do with those trainees out there?"

Boyd punched David harder than usual, although David blocked it and redirected the momentum.

"No," Boyd said firmly, twisting and jerking his arm back as David tried to capture him.

David smirked and didn't respond for a minute as they traded blows and dodges. The fact that David had seen Cecilia and Dover and was pressing the topic was serving to irritate Boyd. Especially since he wanted to use the sparring as a way to forget his frustration in the first place.

"Let me give you a piece of advice."

David was suddenly in Boyd's personal space and dropped down, swiping Boyd's legs out from beneath him before he had the chance to react. Boyd slammed back onto the mat and David dropped onto him immediately, pinning him down with his face near Boyd's.

David's eyes were alight with adrenaline and a reflection of what often seemed like his obsession with training. The man could often be found in the training room, working out religiously and honing his skills. He was almost fanatical about it yet most of the time that intensity didn't make it to his expression. Inches from Boyd's eyes, it did then.

"Probie mistake number one: letting emotions control you in a fight. It makes you easier to compromise." David shoved Boyd harder against the mat, his heavy body not letting up even when Boyd tried to get away. His eyes felt like they were burning twin holes through Boyd.

"You think your enemy doesn't notice when you're distracted?" David demanded. "You think just because you pretend to be an expressionless doll it makes you one? When you're at the job as long as I've been you get to know people. And you would've gotten yourself killed just now, worrying about whatever petty issue you're having. Because when it comes to life and death, that's all those issues ever are: petty and not worth dying over."

Boyd's eyes narrowed and he tried to shove David off him but David accounted for the movement, easily holding Boyd down.

"What's the matter?" David asked keenly. "You don't like this? You want me to let you up?"

Boyd's heart was starting to thunder the longer he was held down; the longer he couldn't get away. "Get off me," he said lowly, struggling harder.

David raised an eyebrow and didn't relent on his hold. If anything, his hands only tightened. His body seemed to grow heavier and more oppressive. Boyd's breath quickened, his chest heaving from more than the spar, and he grit his teeth. He tried to use the strength of the floor beneath him to escape but David held him as easily as a cat would a mouse.

Boyd started to feel the distant claw of panic, growing closer and stronger and making his heart beat so hard he could feel it resounding in his chest.

"You've become adept at dodging and escaping," David was saying in the background. "But I think it's for a reason. I think it scares you to be like this."

Boyd jerked against David's hold and had to clench his jaw to keep himself from making a sound. His entire body was taut with tension and suppressed fear. His eyes squeezed shut and he tilted his head back, trying to will himself to calm down. To settle down and think about this rationally; to simply relax and breathe.

But the words meant nothing against his shaking limbs. It wasn't working. It was never going to work. David was too heavy on him. He couldn't move-- he wouldn't be able to get away--

"Why is that?" David's voice asked distantly.

Behind Boyd's eyelids there was a flash of cement and a puddle of water. Confusing clips of voices; laughter both cruel and happy, and the twisted sound of a scream sounding far away and at the same time too close. Buildings reaching to the sky and a street growing too small.

Red curling into the puddle, inch by inch changing it forever from clear water. And through it all being pressed down, harder and harder, lungs stilling with the feeling of suffocation--

Warm breath and a voice curling in his ear: I want you to remember this forever.

Boyd didn't hear the strained noise he made or realize when he abruptly switched to mindless, panicked struggling. He threw himself into getting away, into ripping the heaviness off him and getting free. He didn't know exactly what happened; the next thing he knew he was standing back from David, his body arched defensively. His mouth was open as he panted harshly and he stared wildly at David as he expected some sort of attack.

David stood there calmly, watching Boyd without surprise. "Probie mistake number two; letting those same emotions show. Creating a weakness."

Boyd didn't answer, still trying to calm himself down from the heart-fluttering panic. His heartbeat pounded in his chest, making him feel shaky from adrenaline and the aftermath. David studied him with narrowed, serious eyes and lips that turned down into a frown. He crossed his arms and then jerked his head to the side.

"Take five. After that we're going to weapons. You have an appointment at 1400. Since we'll have to stop early today, I expect you to work harder than usual."

If Boyd had been capable of thinking clearly he would have questioned the appointment since he knew nothing of it. But he didn't want to talk at the moment and the short break sounded better than quenching any curiosity. David disappeared into a back room.

Boyd walked over to the wall, the shakiness refusing to leave his limbs, and he dropped down. He pulled his legs in close and rested his elbows on his knees. His fingers dug into his hair as he leaned his head forward. He closed his eyes but that only caused a flash of blue eyes widening and turning red.

"Damn it," he hissed quietly to himself, his voice harsh and a little strained.

He squeezed his eyes shut and focused on the rise and fall of his breath, and on calming his heart. He felt unbalanced and distracted and he knew neither feeling was going to aid him in sparring. He pointedly ignored every unwanted image that flashed behind his eyelids, and harshly shut down every emotion that rose in response.

He wondered if the interaction with Cecilia and Dover had tainted him; if the anger from that had compromised him. He thought it had. Which meant he'd failed by feeling anything after their conversation. He shouldn't have listened to them. He shouldn't have cared.

What did it matter what they called him? What did it matter whether anyone hated him for something that wasn't his own doing? What did it matter if anyone on compound wanted him to die because his circumstances were abhorrent to them? He should have ignored them all. He should have let it wash over him. He should have known better than to react. It had been weak of him. It had been unacceptable.

He didn't like how often he'd had sudden hints of memories and flashbacks ever since he'd come to the Agency. He thought it was because he was around too many people at once for long of periods of time. He'd been able to silence and deaden everything in his home.

Here, he was already taxing a lot of energy dealing with all the eyes on him, the unfamiliar environment, and the new stimuli. It was tiring at times and he thought it could have been contributing to the disconcerting slips in his control.

It took him a little while but he was finally able to return to the comforting darkness that allowed everything to pass him by unheeded.

When he opened his eyes again and looked up he saw David across the room, seemingly ignoring him as he picked out some weapons. Even so, his head tilted just so in Boyd's direction. He strode across the room and swiped the tonfa off the floor along the way.

David stopped at Boyd's side and held the tonfa to the side, holding out his other hand. Boyd stared at him a moment and then reached out, gripping David's outstretched hand. David's strong, blunt fingers wrapped around Boyd's hand and yanked him up to a stand. When they were facing each other, David silently held out the tonfa. He didn't break eye contact even when Boyd accepted them.

There was a long moment in which they stared at each other. David's gaze broke away first, taking in Boyd's neutral expression and stance before he nodded in satisfaction.

"Alright," he said as he strode toward the center of the room. He stopped and turned to face Boyd, picking up a staff called a bo and holding it in front of him. "I'm going to attack. Disarm me."

They spent the next few hours sparring. David made it increasingly difficult, attacking Boyd more quickly and less predictably. Boyd ended up getting hit more than once, but he also disarmed David multiple times.

In one move, Boyd stopped David's attack by alternating blocking with each tonfa and got close enough to kick David hard in the solar plexus. David flew back, the staff falling out of his hands to clatter in front of Boyd, who kicked it back out of the way and dropped into a defensive pose. David was grinning when he stood from the floor and told Boyd it was well-played. It was one of the times he seemed truly pleased with Boyd's progress.

They were in the middle of a particularly heated spar when Boyd noticed movement at the door. It distracted him and David took advantage of it, twisting the tonfa out of Boyd's hand and flipping him over to throw him down onto the floor. He dropped onto Boyd, using his own tonfa against his neck. Boyd panted heavily, staring up at David who didn't linger. After he'd proven his point about Boyd's fear of being held down he hadn't bothered to push it again.

David stood, absently flipping the tonfa back toward his forearm as he looked over at the doorway. A young man with ginger colored hair, wearing a guard uniform was standing on the outer side of the mat. His name tag said Officer Luke Gerant.

"Oh, you're here," David said calmly. He jerked his chin toward Boyd, who was just pushing himself to a stand. "He's ready unless you want to give him a chance to change."

Luke glanced at his watch and shrugged. "If he's fast, I don't care."

Boyd took the opportunity to change out of his sweaty workout clothes. He didn't take long and on his way out he told David he'd be back to pick up his bag with his dirty clothes in it. He didn't see the need to drag it around with him when he didn't even know where he was going. He fell in step behind Luke, trying to get a gauge on their destination based on the direction. He was not very successful.

"Where are we going?"

"To the Fourth," Luke said as they started walking. "I'm not sure what they have planned for you but I figure it has something to do with Agent Vega."

"What's the Fourth?" Boyd asked. He had vague understandings of a place that a person didn't want to go but he didn't know much about it.

Luke glanced at him and up close, he appeared not as young as Boyd had initially thought. He looked to be at least in his mid-twenties and had a more open face than most of the other people Boyd had come in contact with so far.

"It's officially called the Fourth Floor Detainment Center. Very high security, can't really get there on your own..." He shrugged as they left the training facility and went into the outer courtyard of the compound. "There's different wings for different classes of people. Everyone from detainees to staff who are being punished temporarily or indefinitely."

Boyd considered that a moment. "Is that where Sin Vega is kept?"

Luke's mouth turned down slightly as he nodded. "Yeah. He used to be kept on maximum but now he's just kept in a holding cell until they decide what's going to happen with him."

The situation seemed a little excessive to Boyd. Then again, based on the impression he'd gotten from others, Sin was apparently a very dangerous and volatile individual so maybe it was necessary.

"If he is as dangerous as I have been led to believe, why are they releasing him?"

The question was met with a shrug as they began making their way across the compound. There weren't very many people around although the people he saw all seemed to be headed to or away from the Tower, the same as he'd noticed the first time he'd set foot on the compound. It seemed that the place was the hub of activity on the property with the exception of the group of residential buildings. Everything else seemed still and damp as the cold wind whipped through the barren trees that surrounded the gates.

"I don't know, really," Luke said. He sounded so genuinely thoughtful that Boyd glanced at him again. The guard looked as puzzled by the question as Boyd was and his ginger eyebrows had drawn together over his warm brown eyes. "He's a scary guy. The first time I met him he-- well, I guess I shouldn't talk about that... But I guess he must be a really good field agent and I'm not sure if everything they all say is true exactly how they say it."

Boyd studied Luke as they walked. Luke was the first person who hadn't seemed to immediately dismiss Sin, although David also hadn't seemed that interested in perpetuating any rumors. Any time information had come up about Sin that had seemed alarming, David had watched Boyd with an unreadable frown, given a noncommittal answer, and had typically changed the subject. The only exception had been his emphasis of how important it was that he knew how to fight because being Sin's partner was liable to be very dangerous.

It left questions in Boyd's mind, some of which he didn't care enough to ask. Others surfaced again and again, in variations of the same theme, and by the repetition made him wonder the answer. This was the first time the idea that not everything was as it seemed had been raised in so many words, and it made him wonder what caused it.

"You have seen something that leads you to believe the rumors aren't all true?"

"No," was the honest reply. "I've seen him kill before and I think he's too dangerous and unstable to be put back on active duty. But then again, I don't know everything the big dogs know so that's just my personal opinion. A lot of the actual rumors though don't entirely make sense. I basically only believe what I see for myself. He can be dangerous but he can also be pretty calm and semi-normal acting from the way he's been on the Fourth lately. I guess it's all about circumstance which is still pretty dangerous with the type of work you guys do."

There was a pause and Luke glanced at him, frowning slightly. "I shouldn't be talking about this with you, by the way. Well, I don't think so. But being a probie and all, it doesn't seem fair that you don't get told anything. "

"Is there an unspoken rule against giving that sort of information?" Boyd asked, mildly perplexed. "I have noticed that it's difficult to get straight answers. I don't know how much of it is due to the inherent secrecy of this place and how much is because of the position I'm nominated for."

A gust of cold wind shot past them, pulling at Boyd's hair and cutting straight through his clothing. He briefly regretted not having stopped by his room to pick up his coat, but he hadn't expected to be leaving the training complex. It was the first time he'd been out of the building since he'd first arrived, and he found himself glancing around at the changes.

The leaves were gone and the grass was tinged brown. Although he was only wearing a long-sleeved shirt, most people were wearing coats. He wondered if the guards got cold, having to wear their uniforms even in this chill. Even as he thought that, he noticed that a few of them had coats that matched their uniforms. He guessed that probably the ones who weren't wearing coats were the ones who were usually stationed inside a building and were simply on an errand at the moment, like Luke.

"I think it's due to the position. Most people are pretty biased against Vega because of all the rumors. Maybe they like you being a blank slate."

Boyd nodded thoughtfully but didn't have a response. In some ways they seemed determined to keep him a blank slate by giving him little factual evidence. Yet at the same time that left him with only the rumors and the interview for the position, which had included questions which could, to an extent, taint him on their own. Given the choice, he would have much preferred unbiased facts which allowed him to draw his own conclusions.

Luke didn't say anything and the two of them ended up finishing the walk to the Tower in silence. They stopped in the elevator area but they went to a smaller elevator around the back corner of the main elevator bank. It had a red sign above it that said in large block letters 'Restricted.' There was a small device to the side for swiping cards that was similar to what Boyd had seen Amos use the first day he'd been on compound.

Luke swiped his ID through the device and a green light flashed to the side, allowing him to press the up arrow button. The doors slid open.

The inside of the elevator was stark but there was a design built into the back wall of the elevator. It took Boyd a long moment to realize it was hiding a tiny camera at about eye level, which he suspected was an extra precaution for this restricted elevator. It made sense to have a camera at eye level so a full face shot could be caught of anyone entering the elevator if the cameras in the corners of the ceiling could not get a clear shot.

The only button said '4' and as soon as Luke pressed it and swiped his card again on a similar device inside, the doors shut and the elevator started to rise.

"The floor is heavily restricted," Boyd observed, wondering if that was what Luke had referred to when he'd said Boyd couldn't really get there on his own. "Is this separate elevator the only way to access it?"

"From an elevator, yeah. The main ones don't even have an option for the Fourth. Even the main stairwells don't have access-- the entrances have been completely blocked off and the only one with access is separate and requires specifically coded access on your key card."

The light flashed across '2' above the doorway, showing what floor they were passing.

Boyd considered that. "If the clientele is so dangerous why is it in the main building instead of a separate one?"

Luke shrugged. "No clue. But it's not like they can escape so it doesn't matter."

The light flashed past 3 and ended on 4. The doors slid open with a quiet whoosh.

"Who all has access to the floor?" Boyd asked. He followed Luke as he walked out onto a stark white, tiled floor. Two other guards entered just as they left and Luke grimaced, not bothering to greet either of the two muscular men. He didn't answer until the door had slid shut and the other guards had gone.

"Officers, doctors, special ops staff who work up here..." Luke tapped his own keycard. "And the guards assigned to this floor. There aren't a lot of us. Those two guys, Harry Truman and Dennis McNichols, have been here the longest. They don't let a lot of people up here, usually. They just rotate the same people."

Boyd nodded. That made sense given the security. He wondered briefly about the location of the floor; why it wasn't in another building or why, being in the Tower, it wasn't on a higher floor.

As he thought about it further he determined that perhaps the reason was because of the location of the Tower. It was near the center of the compound. If a prisoner got away from this floor and headed downstairs, they still had a long trek in any direction to escape.

Whereas if the facility was placed higher in the Tower, it would take them longer to get out but it would also place them that much closer to the seventeenth floor, which housed the administration. This floor had probably been chosen to maximize the buffer in both regards, in keeping prisoners from escaping from the compound or taking control of the organization by taking the administrators hostage.

Not to mention, he mused, the amount of security was quite high in order to enter the first hallway; even more so than what he'd seen when visiting his mother. Chances of escape were probably fairly low.

The fluorescent lights glaring down across the white floors and walls made the place feel sterile, like a hospital. The thought made Boyd unconsciously cross his arms across his stomach, feeling uncomfortable.

"Keep up," Luke said, glancing over at Boyd. "It's easy to get turned around up here. Everything looks the same from the outside in every wing."

The way they wound through the place would probably be confusing for most but Boyd had a talent for remembering directions. He often imagined the blueprint of a place around him based on the directions they took.

They stopped outside a room that looked just like every other room they'd passed. Luke slid his keycard through the door and opened it. When Boyd entered, he saw that it was a relatively small room. Several chairs faced a wall with a large window looking into a brilliantly white room beyond. A blond man Boyd had never seen before was sitting in one of the chairs.

Boyd glanced at Luke, who was nodding respectfully to the man. Something unspoken must have passed between them because Luke glanced at Boyd with a reassuring smile as if to wish him luck and immediately exited the room.

When the door was firmly shut, Boyd hesitated and turned his attention to the man.

He looked to be in his mid thirties although there was a quality about his face that made it difficult to discern his actual age. His wheat colored hair and blue eyes added to his boyish features. Boyd didn't know who the man was and wondered briefly whether he was another possible partner for Sin.

"Hello Boyd," the man said calmly.

Boyd remained standing, watching the man and not knowing what to do. He wondered why the man knew his name and, because he was sitting in the back of the room, whether he was an officiator of some sort rather than a participant.


The older man stood and walked closer to Boyd. "I'm General Carhart. You could say that I am the one closely overseeing this endeavor. I would have introduced myself to you sooner but your training is more vigorous than most and so I didn't think it wise to interrupt your regime."

"Oh," Boyd said blankly, then thought to add a polite, "It's a pleasure to meet you."

Carhart observed him for a moment, his intelligent gaze raking over Boyd thoughtfully. "Agent Blake will be here shortly. It's down between the two of you now."

That bit of information was of mild interest to Boyd because he hadn't thought he would be a serious candidate with such little background. "Did many people apply?"

"It wasn't a matter of applying so much as a matter of being invited to the trial," Carhart replied. "Since it has come down to you and Agent Blake, whoever successfully completes the trial will serve as Sin's partner and the other will serve as back-up in case the original choice dies," he replied in a matter-of-fact tone.

The thought didn't bother Boyd; he was more focused on details of the trial he was in the midst of but knew little about. "What are the requirements of successful completion? Will there be a test?"

"No." Carhart looked towards the two way mirror that spanned the wall of the room. There was nobody in the room on the other side; just a spartan looking space that resembled an interrogation room.

The General didn't show any signs of answering Boyd's first question but just when it appeared that he wouldn't, his eyes turned on Boyd again. "The purpose of this endeavor is to find someone whose personality can adapt to Sin's. He is valuable material to the Agency but his behavior can be extreme. We need someone who he cannot mentally eviscerate, to say the least. Someone strong enough in mind to handle him and the tasks that he refuses to perform."

Boyd was silent a moment as he considered that in conjunction with what his mother had told him the first day he'd arrived on the compound. "Are those tasks related to mediation?"

"At times but you will find that in our line of work, there is very little mediating with insurgents and terrorists. More often it will be conducting oneself with contacts, double agents and tasks that require going undercover. These are things Sin does not excel at. He excels at being a living weapon. For my unit, I need both."

"I see."

The information was not particularly surprising to Boyd; it fell in line with what he had heard of Sin so far. He supposed working with double agents and such must be the additional duties his mother had mentioned.

He could only assume the further training they would give him would include some sort of instructions regarding how to mediate or work undercover. The conversation felt, in some regards, one step removed. He may as well have been reading a spy novel about someone getting inducted to a secret agency for all that he felt personally invested in the situation.

"So you would be my supervisor," Boyd observed.

"Your commanding officer," Carhart corrected tonelessly. His brow quirked as he looked down at Boyd and for a moment a shadow of dismay crossed his face before it was gone. "Your role in the Agency exists within the confines of my unit. The purpose of that unit will be disclosed to you when you are chosen as Sin's partner or upon Blake's death if he is instead."

"Then whose unit would I be assigned if Blake is chosen?" Boyd asked. "As I would be functioning as back-up I assume the Agency would retain me in some function until the point I may be needed."

Carhart leaned against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest as he went back to calmly observing the teenager. He didn't seem irritated by the questions and in fact, appeared to have expected them.

It was possible that he had arrived before Blake specifically for this purpose; to finally give Boyd the details about the job he would possibly be performing. Considering the General would serve as his commander, it made sense that he was taking charge of this aspect personally.

"Despite the fact that your training would be considered grueling by a civilian, it is not at all proportional to the training a real field operative would receive to achieve the rank you will be given if you are chosen. In that way, you would be stunted and could not perform as a regular agent. It works within my unit because you have a specific task and are not expected or needed to be much of a fighter so much as being able to defend yourself if need be. Outside of my unit, that would not be the case."

Carhart's cerulean eyes flicked away to the two-way mirror again. "If Blake is chosen, you would function in a menial civilian role on the compound until you are needed. Unless of course, you were to eventually consign yourself to the months and years of proper training to make it as a agent of rank who can perform independently."

"Ah," Boyd said in understanding. He looked at the empty room through the two-way mirror, and although his expression didn't change he was inwardly frowning at the thought.

He didn't relish the idea of being a menial civilian employee. He didn't care for the idea of being stuck in a job he had to do simply to do it; he had the sort of personality that strove to better himself. If he was stuck doing something meaningless like mail delivery, he suspected it wouldn't take terribly long before he grew tired of the position and wanted to leave.

As far as that went, he would rather simply leave the Agency and return to his former life than take on a menial position. Not to mention, he doubted his mother would appreciate him failing the trial and being given such a pointless role. Would she think he'd failed her?

Still, he wasn't surprised by Carhart's answer. He hadn't expected that the Agency would let him leave after all the work they'd already put into him.

For those reasons, he felt somewhat invested in this whole process. But he didn't particularly care to be an agent either, he had to admit. Nor did he really care whether or not he ever ended up as Sin's partner aside from the fact that it would potentially make his mother pleased.

The thought brought to mind what he'd thought his whole reason for being in the room was in the first place. He wondered idly what the man labeled a monster was like.

"I was told I would be receiving a glimpse of Sin."

"Perhaps a bit more than a glimpse," the General said vaguely before looking at the door which had opened just as the sentence left his mouth.

Level 9 Field Agent Adam Blake entered the room. His eyes, onyx-colored and dull, moved between Boyd and Carhart briefly. There was surprise evident in what Boyd had come to recognize as his typically somber face.

"Am I late, sir?" He asked, addressing Carhart.

"No." The General didn't bother to explain any further and nodded his head at the seats. "Both of you can sit down. You will be observing a psychiatric session between Sin and an Agency doctor. It's an evaluation. You're not the only ones being tested during these few months."

Boyd glanced at the other two briefly. He hadn't expected to be privy to Sin's psychiatric sessions, yet it made sense. Since a significant portion of the assignment as Sin's partner would rely on working with his personality, it seemed as though it would be of use. Psychology had also been an interest of his during school.

Even so, it did briefly make him wonder what would happen if Sin failed the tests. Adam would probably return to his current assignment and Boyd would probably receive that menial civilian position Carhart had mentioned. As for Sin, Boyd didn't know or particularly care what would become of him.

He sat down in one of the chairs toward the right side of the large one-way mirror. In his peripheral vision, he saw Adam take a seat as well.

They spent several minutes waiting, some of which were interrupted by Carhart speaking to someone briefly on his comm unit. During this time Boyd didn't speak and Adam, as usual, acted as though Boyd were not in the room. Adam stared at the mirror in the same morose fashion that he seemed to stare at everything. The man never seemed very thrilled to be doing whatever task was assigned to him although from what Boyd had seen, he completed them with neat efficiency.

After ten minutes Carhart flicked the lights off and within moments, the door on the other side of the mirror opened.

The figure that appeared was not what Boyd expected. After hearing ominous warnings and rumors for a month regarding the monstrous qualities of the man in question, the image Boyd had unconsciously formed was of someone who looked more... alarming. He'd thought the man would have a wild look to his eyes, perhaps be heavily scarred and look more like a prison convict than anything.

Instead, Sin was tall, well over six foot, and almost perilously thin for his height. There was a slim metallic collar clamped taut around his neck but Boyd was unsure of what its intention was. The worn cargo pants Sin had on were practically hanging off his narrow hips but the sleeveless t-shirt he wore displayed sculpted arms. Apparently the weight he did have on him was crafted entirely into muscle.

He moved in a manner that showed the extraordinary control he had over his own body. Every movement seemed naturally precise and simultaneously predatory. Every movement had a purpose but he didn't seem to consciously be giving that impression. It wasn't surprising; after all, Carhart had said the man was a walking weapon.

Sin unceremoniously sat down on one of the chairs beside the plain table in the center of the room. Almost immediately, he looked up at the mirror and stared. It was obvious that he knew he was being watched. Perhaps he even knew who was watching him.

Now that his eyes were unwittingly locked with theirs, Boyd had the opportunity to see the man's features clearly for the first time. They were strange and contradictory. He had a straight aristocratic nose that sat above well sculpted and full lips. His cheekbones were high and his complexion looked like a caramel tinted tan. It was his eyes, however, that truly made his appearance out of the ordinary. They were almond shaped, heavy lidded and a startlingly vivid green. Thick, long lashes framed the pale green hue that contrasted starkly with his olive skin.

It was not immediately clear what his ethnic background was despite the fact that the name Vega would imply he was Hispanic in some form. He could have passed for South Asian as well.

Boyd had planned to expend only the cursory amount of attention on the session but the man's unexpected appearance intrigued him for a reason he could not initially identify. It was probably because Sin had such unique features that Boyd's automatic reaction was to consider him more carefully. He ran his gaze briefly along Sin's face, studying him. There had been a time when Boyd had been interested in art, when he had drawn for fun. Sin's was the sort of face even a former artist couldn't help observing more closely.

The contradictions created questions in the back of his mind that he didn't fully pay attention to; questions that were fueled on a purely intellectual basis. What was Sin's background; how could he supposedly be so strong with a body like that; why was he known as such a monster when he appeared relatively calm? Then again, some of the best serial killers had seemed not only perfectly reasonable, but charming and attractive as well.

Sin's eyes narrowed slightly, almost as if he heard Boyd's thoughts. Sin's gaze was intense; hawk-like. It was the glower of someone who could very easily reduce someone to a mass of shaking limbs if he chose. It made it abundantly clear that he was not pleased.

For a moment, Boyd wondered why Sin seemed displeased before it occurred to him that it was possible Sin had not been aware this session would be observed. He couldn't blame Sin if that were the case; Boyd wouldn't want a psychiatric session of his to be watched either. But then, he didn't have a reputation as a psychotic killer, to the point that someone had to watch over him.

One dark eyebrow arched and Sin scoffed quietly. "Well let's get on with it, then," he said out loud, still glaring at the mirror.

In the darkness, General Carhart chuckled quietly.

Boyd shifted his head just enough to glance over his shoulder at Carhart. Strangely, the General had an almost... fondly exasperated expression. He seemed more amused than anything and the implication was that he was used to Sin acting like that. If anything, Carhart looked more approachable in that moment than he had since Boyd had met him.

When Boyd glanced past Adam, he saw that the agent was looking back at Carhart as well. Adam looked thoughtful as he considered the General, but he didn't seem surprised. That made Boyd uncertain of whether this was an example of typical interaction between General Carhart and Sin or if Adam even knew.

It all only added to the oddity of the entire situation. Rather than try to analyze it since he didn't have enough information, Boyd returned his attention to the other room.

Sin continued to look through the mirror unflinchingly. Even when the psychiatrist entered the room, he didn't tear his eyes away.

The psychiatrist introduced himself as Dr. Osland and sat down across from Sin. He appeared to be in his mid forties and had a distinguished look about him. There were silver streaks through his hair. His form appeared as impeccably fit as most people seemed to be in the Agency and his clothing was well made for the cold climate while still managing to be stylish.

For the most part the Agency staff appeared sophisticated, a step emotionally removed in one way or the other from typical civilians and notably blase about what they did at the Agency. At first glance Dr. Osland seemed to fit that mold perfectly but a closer look at his expression when he sat across from Sin showed otherwise.

Despite the fact that he should have appeared objective towards the man who he was supposed to be evaluating, a perceptible look of dislike crossed Osland's countenance. His lip curled down as Sin's eyes finally focused on him but the doctor smoothed out the expression quickly. There was still, however, animosity in his brown eyes.

Boyd wondered idly if there was bad blood between the two men on the other side of the mirror but he found it unlikely. If Osland felt the need to introduce himself, it was obviously the first time they had formally met. Perhaps even the Agency doctors shared the contempt and disgust that the general population of the Agency appeared to have for Sin.

The evaluation began with formalities. Sin had a history of incarceration on the Fourth that dated back nearly fourteen years when he had apparently been inducted into the Agency as a teenager. He had an equally long history of psychological examinations. Despite this, Osland made it clear that Sin's difficult behavior made it unlikely that there would ever be a clear diagnosis made for whatever his mental problems allegedly were.

Sin calmly agreed. It was clear throughout the first fifteen minutes that he found the entire thing to be a charade and a crock. He appeared quite aware of the doctor's dislike of him and didn't seem to be making any pains to change the other man's opinion.

"Why don't we just get to the point," Sin said flatly after some time had passed. He was leaning back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest and shoulders thrown back. He was the picture of defiance and his eyes examined the doctor like he was something unpleasant that had fallen out of the trash.

Osland's lips pursed. "Suits me fine," he returned in a clipped tone.

Sin arched a brow. "So get to it."

There was a pause as Osland flicked his thumb over the hand held panel computer that sat in front of him. It was likely Sin's file. "You have spent a significant portion of your career here locked on the Fourth. One incident spanning four years that began in 2012 and the latest that kept you there nearly a year."

The brow remained arched. "Your skills of detection are quite unparalleled, doctor."

Osland's lip curled again but he continued briskly. "The incident in 2012 which led to your first major incarceration in the Fourth Floor Detainment Center--"

For the first time there was something in Sin's expression other than disdainful animosity for the man before him. Something dark washed over his face and sharpened his stare.

"--also led to you being kept in isolation for two years. Upon completion of that term you were put into intensive psychiatric care with Dr. Lydia Connors in the hopes that you would be proven to be stable enough to return to active duty so that your... talents could once again be employed." The last part of the sentence sounded droll, nearly sarcastic.

Dr. Osland tilted his head slightly. "You then proceeded to once again act out violently--"

"Perhaps you aren't intelligent enough to have reviewed that entire case file," Sin replied stonily, his gaze black and hateful.

The doctor went on as if Sin had never spoken. "--and found yourself incarcerated for another two years. Once again, your talents were needed and you were evaluated, deemed able for active duty. But not even two years later you found yourself on the Fourth and in isolation once again for the deaths of four agents who had been assigned to be your partner."

This time Sin's full mouth turned up into a mocking smile although his eyes still promised murder for the doctor.

Osland stopped speaking briefly and shifted in his seat. There was a moment when his eyes flicked around before his fingers drifted from the panel computer and curled around a small innocuous remote that was at his side. Only then did he go on.

"Why should now be any different? You have made it clear that you won't cooperate with doctors-- you will not alter your behavior. You will continue to behave antisocially and compulsively."

Sin shrugged his broad shoulders, taut under the too-small shirt he wore. "I never said it would be different. This wasn't my brilliant plan, in case you missed that. The Marshal decided that their would-be replacement for me sucked enough for me to be drug out of my cave or some such thing."

"But you don't want to return to that cave. Am I incorrect? So you do have something invested. And I assume, to avoid the aforementioned conditions of your failure, you will now make an attempt to not fail abominably."

This time Sin didn't even bother to reply and several moments of the assessment followed in silence. They looked at each other, the doctor with an almost condescending kind of patience and Sin with ill-concealed dislike. He seemed resentful of the entire thing and his eyes flitted to the mirror on more than one occasion.

The doctor began circling the issue again, but Sin never budged. He never agreed or disagreed that he would play nice with his new "babysitter," as he called it.

Nearly ten minutes later, the doctor began tackling Sin's past incidences more directly.

"Your previous partners. I'd like to discuss what happened with them," Osland said as he ran one hand through his black and grey hair.

Sin's lip curled, giving him the scathing expression that seemed almost permanently etched into his features. "Don't you have a file somewhere with this information, doctor? Complete with snapshots of their corpses? Well-- the ones that were recovered anyway." Sin's tone was darkly amused but the smile on his face looked like more of a grimace.

"Yes," Osland replied without blinking. "But I'd like you to tell me what happened. Something other than, in all of their cases, it was 'self defense.'"

"Not all were killed in self defense," Sin retorted, the smile relaxing into a more natural-looking half smirk. "Some died out of sheer stupidity alone."

"This amuses you?"

Sin scoffed, pale green eyes rolling. "Would it matter if it did? Stop pretending like any of this even matters."

The doctor frowned. "Meaning?"

Sin's hawk-like gaze focused on Osland yet again but it slowly slid to the two-sided mirror this time. "Meaning this whole thing is a charade. Even if I said I'd hacked them all to pieces with a dull knife before pissing on their bodies, it wouldn't change a thing. If Connors wants to use me for something, he will."

Osland's expression lighted with irritation and he appeared to be fighting a scowl.

It was unsurprising that the comment would displease him. It made the assumption that his position and job at the Agency wasn't anything more than a mere formality required by the powers that be. It implied that whether or not the doctor thought Sin should return to the field, it may not matter.

"On the contrary, Agent Vega," Osland said stiffly. "If I deem you unfit, you will return to your quarters on the Fourth Floor Detainment Center and will likely be terminated if you do not become fit for duty any time in the near future. In your current state, you are a waste of resources. A being that must be fed and looked after while not providing a use to the Agency. If I believe you will cause the failure of missions, Connors will listen to what I say."

The words got an almost immediate response from Sin. Once again there was a moment of almost violence. The man projected such an aura of danger that even Carhart shifted slightly from his place in the corner as if he were ready to rush into the next room.

Osland's fingers caressed the remote and Boyd watched Sin's eyes focus on the movement.

The tension stretched on for nearly a full minute before Sin relaxed against the back of his chair and looked bored once again.

"So. Your partners?"

"Evan and Michelin thought being my partner meant I was their pet," Sin replied coldly, not looking up from his examination of his fingers. "Not surprising considering the fact that the Marshal treats me like some kind of wild dog. A behavior that has bled down to the rank and file individuals of this organization."

Osland nodded minutely. "And they, I assume, were killed in self-defense?"

Sin shrugged again, tilting his head to the side briefly. "Laurel was too stupid to be saved. She tried to negotiate by pointing her gun. I wouldn't have attempted to involve myself in that colossal failure even if I'd been planning to initially. She was killed on a mission, not by me. I simply didn't save her. Coral wasn't any better. For all of his level nine training, he was a complete failure in a storm. He put together a ridiculous plan and, unsurprisingly, it failed."

"You didn't attempt to rectify his mistakes," the doctor observed.

The green-eyed agent smirked coldly once again. "No. Why should I?"

"Because you are meant to work as a team."

"If the team is doomed to fail, why bother? I'll die eventually but it won't be by someone else's stupidity. If they aren't capable of respecting me or my experience as a senior agent, then obviously the partnership would fail. I don't give enough of a shit to try to salvage it."

The comment was the end of Sin's cooperation but the brief exchange was the most important one of the entire interview. Cold and callous, maybe. Antisocial, definitely. But it seemed that Sin nearly always had some kind of reason for the things he did. And he appeared to wait for someone else to give the reason to actually act.

His temper had been showcased more than once in his exchanges with Osland but it was also obvious that he was more than capable of reining it in. It made Boyd wonder what had happened to cause Sin's previous two incarcerations and what had caused him to exhibit, in Osland's words, "psychotic" behavior.

The evaluation ended and Carhart flicked on the lights. "Comments?"

Boyd shifted so he could look over his shoulder at the general. Since he didn't have anything in particular to say, he simply shrugged and shifted his gaze to Adam.

"Is he actually mentally disturbed?" Adam asked with a hint of doubt in his low voice as his dark eyes remained on the vacated room on the other side of the mirror. "He appears normal to me. Extreme and quick tempered, but not as out of control as everyone says."

Carhart nodded. "For the most part he is. However there are times when he snaps and does behave psychotically and violently," the General said vaguely, obviously not planning to go into detail about either event with the two candidates.

"Are there commonalities in what causes his psychotic breaks?" Boyd asked, watching General Carhart. "Something in particular that we should look for?"

"Not that I am aware. In one case it was a threat that wasn't even directed at him and in another, it was in response to commentary that I would have thought would have normally rolled off his back."

Adam's eyebrows rose. "Interesting that missions would be entrusted with such an unstable individual. If his triggers aren't even known, how can he be trusted at all?"

Carhart shrugged although it did not appear that he disagreed. "He can't. That's why the two of you are here. To ensure that he does not act rashly and in the case that he does, that the situation is controlled and rectified. His skills as a fighter are too valuable to be lost completely. You two are expected to make up for where he fails."

The idea of being adept at aspects of the position that Sin was not adept at did not particularly bother Boyd. By the time he was done with all the training, he assumed he would be versed in the basics of any skills needed. However, what he didn't understand was the other part.

"How are we to control or rectify his behavior when we clearly would be outmatched in strength and skills?"

Adam gave him a dull look. The man likely did not appreciate being associated with the extent of Boyd's lack of strength and skills. Boyd wasn't bothered by this. As far as he understood, Sin was superior to everyone. He suspected that no matter the amount of additional training, Adam would lose in any altercation against his possible partner.

Carhart's eyes moved away from them briefly. There was a pause before he spoke again but when his gaze returned, his expression gave nothing away of what he was thinking. "Implements have been put into place to ensure that the two of you have a mote of self defense against so skilled a killer. There is the collar, for one."

Another brief pause. "It serves as a highly modified tazer and tracking device. One that can only be removed from his neck surgically. If activated by the remote control, it has the ability to completely incapacitate Agent Vega. However whether or not you are able to use it before he takes it from you, is entirely in your own hands. No method is completely fail proof," he said without compassion.

There was a brief silence.

"Am I correct in assuming that for some reason he is more invested... in making this round of trial partnerships work?" Adam asked finally.

"You are correct. He claims that he will make the effort this time to avoid a return to the Fourth if his partner is acceptable. The circumstances upon his incarceration have been made considerably harsher the last time he was put in."

"How so?" Boyd wondered exactly how motivated the man would be.

Carhart looked at them with carefully constructed detachment. It wouldn't have seemed out of place if it weren't for the fact that he hadn't appeared so impassive and emotionless up until the point where torture devices had entered the conversation.

"I will not go into specifics except to say that Sin has a weakness and they have now decided to exploit that weakness when he is incarcerated. He now has reason to fear the Fourth. It is in his best interest to not return there."

Boyd inclined his head in a slight nod and looked away, his gaze drawn toward the empty room. The question briefly crossed his mind of what Sin's weakness could be. Since he had nothing to say in response to the information General Carhart provided, he remained silent.

"If I may ask a question, General?" Adam asked. His voice was low pitched and nearly always sounded glum although his expression didn't necessarily seem overtly unhappy about anything.

"That's why I'm here."

"You know him fairly well. What do you anticipate being the most challenging aspect of this aside from possibly being killed during one of his... fits?"

"Not reacting to him the way he wants you to," Carhart replied bluntly and without hesitation. "Sin will bait you and he won't do it in the same way every time. He will try sarcasm, cruelty, intimidation-- whatever he thinks will get a rise out of you. He expects the worst from people and he trusts no one. If you don't show overt hostility towards him, he will only expect that it's something that will come later. He is used to both physical and verbal abuse from the people here. He is used to being condescended to and treated as though he has lesser intelligence. He is used to not having an ounce of respect from anyone. He will be waiting for you to prove yourselves to be like everyone else and if he sees that, he will react to you exactly as he reacted to the others. It is your job to not let that happen."

When Adam didn't seem suitably impressed, Carhart shrugged his wide shoulders. "Whether or not you heed the warning is entirely up to you. But just let it be known, even if you think you're fully capable of not letting him get under your skin you may be in for a surprise. What happens after that depends on how you react to him."

Neither of them responded.

The meeting ended fairly quickly, with Adam leaving without a word and Boyd being escorted back to the bunker.

The next few weeks passed uneventfully. Training continued to consume Boyd's days; from physical sparring with David to mental exercises in classes. He listened and took notes where needed but otherwise didn't spend much energy on the endeavor. If he'd had anything else to think of he would have found his mind wandering. He had a tendency to learn quickly, especially anything academic, and that didn't change even with the drastically different subjects.

He had settled into a routine after a point. For that reason, he wasn't expecting to be pulled aside by a guard after deportment training one afternoon. He was told he was to see General Carhart right away. He didn't question the order.

When they arrived at Carhart's office, they stopped at the waiting area. A desk sat to the side, a woman typing at the computer until she noticed them enter. She looked up at them. Boyd didn't pay much attention as the guard explained who they were and the woman eventually used the intercom to announce their presence. The door opened soon after and the guard left Boyd to walk in alone.

The office was larger than he would have expected it to be but not as large as his mother's wing on the upper administration level. The General had it sparsely decorated-- there was a single picture frame on the desk facing away from Boyd. Black and white stills of the former city skyline were in small frames on the wall. They contrasted with the wide floor-to-ceiling windows that spanned the back wall. It showed the fractured cityscape that lay below the Tower and the wasteland beyond that had once been suburbs.

"Boyd," Carhart greeted him calmly.

"General Carhart," he said, shifting his gaze from the window to Carhart. He paused near the desk and heard the guard shut the door behind him.

"It seems that you're going to be our man."

Boyd stared at Carhart. He hadn't been expecting that, especially since as far as he knew the trial wasn't over. "Did something happen to Adam Blake?"

Carhart gave him a wry smirk. The slight narrowing of his cerulean blue eyes contrasted the quirk of his mouth. "Agent Blake lost interest in finishing the trial. He decided that dealing with Sin would be too much effort for very little gain."

"Ah." Boyd stared at Carhart for another moment. "When do I start?"

"When your training is complete. Afterward, you and Sin will be introduced and a meeting will be held for the unit so that you can meet the other members."

Boyd watched him. "Okay."

There was silence and for a moment disappointment was easily read in Carhart's expression. His face was an open book to Boyd, who was used to being able to read even the least expressive of people. The General didn't want some skinny unskilled child to be in his elite unit. He'd wanted the man who'd already put in years as an agent; the man who knew what he was doing and didn't have years worth of training crammed into months.

But Carhart seemed kinder than most people at the Agency and he didn't say any of this out loud. Possibly to spare Boyd or possibly because it didn't matter.

"Well. Good luck to you."

Carhart looked at his computer again and the brief discussion was already over.

Boyd left the office and returned to training. He couldn't help wondering what his mother thought about his progress and whether she was following it at all. He couldn't feel particularly accomplished about becoming the new partner for Sin since he was chosen by default. But that knowledge wasn't going to stop him from attempting to excel at training. He knew no one expected much from him but it was even more for that reason that he at least wanted to avoid those disappointed stares.

Continue to Chapter 4