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 Five

Boyd glanced at the room identifications as he walked down the hall in Artillery, looking for the room that housed the blunt weaponry. He was a little lost, not knowing where to go specifically since no one had told him. Although there were a few other people walking around he didn't bother to stop any of them. The rooms were labeled well enough so it was a simple matter of walking past the right one.

It was the first time he was on a mission so everything was new to him yet he was resistant to bothering with asking unnecessary questions. His fingers curled absently around the comm unit he'd been given at check-in and his footfalls were quiet as he strode down the hall.

It was early morning but a person would never know it down here, underground with no windows. Boyd had learned that the typical procedure for a mission included a briefing with the unit, followed by a visit to Artillery to arm himself. The building had been innocuous enough from the outside and when he'd walked in to discover a modern-looking lobby with clean lines and a pleasant feel, he hadn't been surprised. Nothing was what it seemed at the Agency; a lesson he'd learned quickly.

He'd already been given the remote to control Sin's collar, although he didn't see the need for him to have it and had no intentions of using it. After that, when he'd checked in with the staff at the desk, they'd given him a miniature microphone and ear bud set that they called a comm unit. He'd been told that the comm unit was standard equipment for all agents but that if he needed something more sophisticated he could find it downstairs.

The entire set was very discreet. The ear bud was nothing more than a thin flat disc that would be nearly invisible in the ear and would be hidden beneath the fall of his blond hair. The wireless microphone came in a variety of types but the default was a small pin that would be easy to clip on clothing and hide. He could turn the transmitter on and off at his convenience but he'd been told that typically on missions with a partner the transmitters were left on unless it would be a distraction. Whatever the case, he didn't see any need for anything more sophisticated so he didn't bother looking.

With the amount of information he'd been absorbing in the past few days, additional learning about unnecessary equipment was not something he was interested in pursuing. The information he had been expected to memorize regarding the unit was more than enough to keep him fully occupied.

The insurgent groups that orbited Janus, as Carhart had put it, had turned out to number in the hundreds. Not all were relevant anymore but they were all related in some way and he was expected to learn the key players of all groups, even ones that had been defunct for some time. He'd been given a palm sized touch screen panel at his first meeting with hundreds of pages of data that he'd managed to get himself acquainted with in the few days that had passed since he'd met the other members of the unit.

There were a large number of hostile factions in North America, many with names the Agency wasn't fully aware of or names that were incredibly similar. Whether or not this was due to lack of originality or a general sharing of ideas between insurgent individuals was unknown. But to simplify matters, the Agency had assigned a number known as a 'faction' to the hostile group.

The current mission's target were members of faction 53, also known as True Democracy Movement or TDM. It was currently headed by a man named Warren Andrews who had built the group from the ground up with another man, Jason Aarons, who had since left the faction. It seemed fairly frequent that leaders were usurped or loyalties changed in these small factions. It was another reason the Agency assigned numbers; sometimes the new leaders changed the name entirely even though the same people were in it.

Sin hadn't shown at the briefing which hadn't seemed to be a big surprise to anyone but certainly hadn't put General Carhart in a good mood. As a result, Boyd had been the only one to be told the mission overview.

The objective was for them to infiltrate an abandoned building that a fraction of 53's members were using as a safehouse. Newly gained intel alleged that information regarding the location of 53's main base would be found inside and they were expected to retrieve it.

As such, he figured he probably would want a weapon of some sort and planned to get one of his preferred type. When he found the blunt weapons he was satisfied to find expandable tonfa like he preferred, in a lighter weight version than he was used to but that still had the strength.

He looked around at a few other rooms to see if he needed anything else and in the process walked past what appeared to be the main area where guns were stored. The walls were lined with sophisticated displays for more pistols, rifles and shotguns than he'd even known existed but that wasn't what made him slow down and head into the room. Instead, it was Sin's unmistakable figure clad in a black long sleeved t-shirt and his usual frayed black cargo pants. He was half turned away from the door as he surveyed his options.

Boyd walked over and stopped near Sin's side, idly turning his attention to see what Sin was looking at. He didn't know the precise name of the model but it appeared to be a .45 ACP of some kind.

Sin examined the gun and cocked it, appearing to not even acknowledge Boyd's existence. It was a fact that was undermined when Sin said without looking over, "That's it?"

"What else is needed?"

"If there's a gunfight, I suppose you could always throw it like a spear and hope it takes out multiple shooters," Sin replied with complete disinterest in his tone. He walked away from Boyd without waiting for an answer and began surveying the rest of the weapons although he continued to hold the .45.

Boyd idly looked at the selection in front of him. It was a fair point.

He picked up a 9mm, expression neutral as he studied it. When it came down to it, though, he wasn't particularly comfortable with guns and he was still perfecting his aim. The gun would simply be a hindrance that could also be stolen and used against him. And if it came to needing one in a theoretical gunfight he could obtain one there. No doubt he could steal one on location or from one of the hostiles.  

Ultimately, he set the gun down, deciding the potential inconveniences outweighed the potential convenience. He turned to look where Sin was to see if was ready.

Sin just raised his dark eyebrows and made no comment although his full mouth crooked up very slightly at the side. His gave Boyd a brief once over and turned back to what he'd been doing, collecting ammunition for what Boyd now saw was a .45 Ruger.

Boyd watched Sin, trying to determine what he was thinking. Perhaps he thought Boyd wouldn't last long without a gun or without taking his advice. It was hard to tell and that was what made Boyd watch him just a little longer than he normally would. He didn't particularly like that he couldn't discern Sin's thoughts. He preferred to have a good idea of what the people around him were thinking, especially in a situation like this.

Although he wondered, he didn't ask. He simply stood to the side waiting for him to finish.

He couldn't tell if Sin always chose his weapons this carefully or if he was just taking his time for no particular reason. Perhaps he felt no urgency about the mission parameters which was likely since he didn't know them. Or perhaps he was hoping to irritate Boyd.

Another agent entered the room, a tall Asian man with bleached blond hair. His eyes swept the area and as soon as they fell on Sin, the man did an about face and left.

Sin's reputation certainly preceded him in every case on the compound. He'd been turned away from the other man so it couldn't even be a case of his glare and intimidating aura warding the agent away.

In fact, Sin was remarkably thin-looking compared to the muscular field agents that Boyd frequently saw. His hair was disheveled, his jaw stubbled and his clothes were obviously fraying and poorly sized. There was nothing overtly frightening about Sin that would be obvious from such a quick glance, but still the agent had fled. It was an interesting phenomenon.

Sin finally finished gathering his equipment and when he turned to Boyd, there was a darkly amused expression on his striking face.

"I'm fully at your disposal."

Boyd nodded and left the room without speaking. Sin wasn't far behind him and the two of them stopped briefly at the check out point on the main exit. After that, it didn't take terribly long to get to the garage where they got a vehicle. Boyd automatically took the driver's seat and soon they were on their way. It wasn't until they were in the car that Boyd finally bothered to fill Sin in on what the mission was even about, since the older man hadn't asked yet.

"We are to infiltrate a building with people from faction 53 and retrieve information about the main headquarters for purposes of a follow-up mission," Boyd said calmly after they passed the check out point at the gate and drove away from the Agency.


Boyd fell silent briefly. He slowed to a stop at a red light and looked over. Sin was looking out the window and Boyd couldn't see much of his face. He could tell from Sin's clothes and the way he was sitting that he wasn't wearing any sort of armor, not even a bulletproof vest or bodysuit.

It seemed odd to Boyd. Was Sin that confident or was he simply arrogant? Did he know something Boyd didn't? Why wouldn't he use anything at all when he'd been the one to bring up the idea of a gunfight? It would seem that one would want to have protection just in case. Boyd was wearing a bulletproof bodysuit himself, beneath his clothes and the fall of his trench coat.

Without the driving to distract him, he found himself noting that it was the first time they were alone together. The windows were rolled up and without the radio on, it was silent except for the muffled sounds of the car itself and any quiet shifting of their clothing.

He watched Sin out of the corner of his eye, trying to get a feel for the man. He couldn't decide if Sin simply didn't have any particularly deep or moving thoughts when he was silent, or whether he was hiding everything from everyone around him.

Boyd suspected that Sin was simply guarding any of his thoughts from outsiders but if that was the case, what was he thinking? Did he expect that Boyd would be dead by the end of the day? No one seemed to have much hope of any of Sin's partners lasting indefinitely and Boyd had to wonder how transitory this seemed to Sin.

With such close quarters, other details stood out to him. Sin seemed freshly bathed; Boyd could faintly smell some sort of body wash or shampoo that lingered on him. It smelled like coconut. It was one more detail that seemed just so slightly in discord with the man's reputation.

Boyd had to wonder how much of it was orchestrated to throw people off, or whether Sin simply didn't realize or care what varied impressions he gave others. And if that was the case, were these bits of some other aspect of Sin's personality that were showing through or did Sin grab whatever was available and didn't put any thought into any of it?

The questions ran through Boyd's mind for a few moments before his eyes narrowed faintly and he looked away completely, out the driver's side window while he waited for the light to turn green. It irked him that he was wondering any of this in the first place. He didn't care whether Sin liked coconuts or not, yet the fact that he couldn't get a grasp on the man's motivations even when he put effort toward that goal served to provoke him into analyzing everything.

The light turned green and Boyd turned his attention to driving again. He hadn't determined an answer to any of the oddities Sin represented and it was mildly vexing.

Without warning, Sin leaned well into his personal space. The motion was abrupt and nearly alarming but it turned out that Sin was merely reaching over to turn the heat down low enough to be completely useless.

"What are you doing?" Boyd asked, distracted by Sin and the already cooling air. "It's cold." He reached out to turn the heat back to its original setting.

"I thought you weren't as delicate as you look," Sin replied blandly and smacked Boyd's hand.

Boyd's eyes narrowed faintly and shifted over to Sin. He couldn't believe the man had just smacked his hand. "Turn the vents away from you, then. Not all of us are apparently frost-bitten across our entire bodies." He flicked his gaze along Sin's attire, which was entirely too thin for the cold, and reached to turn up the heat again.

"What would you do if we became stranded and had to camp out?" Sin wondered, resting his head against the window and regarding Boyd. "I will certainly not share my body heat."

Boyd raised an eyebrow. "Who said I would want you to?" He looked back at the road but his attention was on Sin. "And for the record, having normal reactions to the cold does not make me inferior or weak as you seem to be implying. Perhaps it is you who would need help were we stranded. You could be at risk for hypothermia."

"I've survived a winter in Siberia when I was ten."

"What were you doing in a Siberian winter at ten years old?" Boyd asked dubiously.

"Searching for Santa Claus."

Boyd shook his head but was unsurprised by the answer.

Sin flicked the slats to his vents down with a decisive click and went back to looking out the window.

Feeling a tiny sense of victory at that, Boyd didn't stop the briefest hint of satisfaction in his eyes. It was silly, yet this showed him that Sin wouldn't necessarily win everything. Even if it was a disagreement over something so minor that it didn't matter anyway.

They fell into mutual silence and Boyd continued to half pay attention to Sin even as he absently navigated through the city. His mind turned toward the mission ahead of them and he realized they hadn't finished discussing it. Since Sin had been interacting on some level, Boyd thought it may not be a bad idea to attempt to bring it up again.

"Regarding the mission, we don't have blueprints of the building so the layout will have to be determined upon arrival," Boyd continued as if the incident with the heater hadn't broken up the conversation.

"Number of hostiles expected?" Sin didn't sound particularly interested in the information. His face remained turned, eyes likely focused on the shattered city that Boyd was navigating through.

Although ground zero of the main attack had missed the city center, portable explosive devices had erupted inside not too long after. Even now, decades later, only certain districts had been fully restored. Other areas had turned into havens of crime, poverty and were policed vehemently by the authorities.

"Twenty," Boyd replied.

He started to slow at another red light when he noticed Sin leaning in toward the passenger window, opening his mouth and breathing on it so fog curled against the glass. Despite the fact that it was April, the ever present cloud coverage prevented any rays of sun from warming the Earth. It may as well have been January.

It was such a child-like thing for Sin to do that it distracted Boyd and he looked over. He never would have expected to see the man known as an psychopathic assassin do something a ten year old would do. The impression only grew when Sin reached up with one long finger and started drawing on the window.

Boyd automatically looked at the lines to see what Sin would even draw. He couldn't make anything out immediately so he started to respond. "It's expec--"

He cut himself off when through the lines Sin was drawing he saw the sign on the building near them.

First Bank.

Boyd hit the brakes harder than he'd intended, rocking the car faintly as they came to an abrupt halt at the light. His eyes widened and his face turned ashen, making his pale skin look even more washed out next to his blond hair.

His gaze automatically darted around. The street sign on the corner, proclaiming Dauphin Street. The half broken buildings. The alleyway and the relative obscurity of the place--

The sickening spray of blood, hot against his face. Screams that choked off with a gurgle and pavement grinding against his skin. Heaviness on his back and that desperate, clawing terror--

His breath hissed out of him and he looked away from the bank, from that terrible moment caught in time. It was so much more vivid than it had been for awhile. It hit him hard; so intense that he could almost feel the stickiness of dripping blood--

He was taken completely off guard. For a moment he was overtaken by the strength of it all. Briefly, so very briefly, he forgot where he was; who he was with. He felt breathless. How had he gotten here? How could he have driven this way--

"And suddenly you look quite taken aback," Sin's voice noted when the moment stretched. He had looked at Boyd after the abrupt stop and his oddly colored eyes continued to watch his trial partner as he spoke.

"What?" Boyd's voice sounded distant even to him.

Boyd didn't look over, wouldn't look anywhere near that building again, but he didn't know where else to look. Nowhere was safe on this street. His mind hadn't quite caught up to the moment. His face was still pale and his fingers were tighter on the steering wheel than necessary.

"Oh look, the light is green again."

Boyd looked up, grasping at some sense of normalcy. He was relieved to see the green light shining down at him. He eased off the brake and started driving again, making sure not to look anywhere other than straight ahead. As the car moved inexorably further from that street, he realized his heart had been pounding and only now was starting to slow.

He felt confused and off-balanced. As soon as that sign was gone, as soon as the building was no longer there as a monolithic reminder, he could feel the weight of it leaving him and the fuzziness starting to slide back in to take its place. The shakiness of his scattered thoughts were given the chance to start to realign. Any bits of curiosity he'd felt before had blown away in the face of that innocuous sign.

"What would your mother say?" Sin wondered out loud, his voice full of fake scandal. "Bringing attention to our fancy Agency issue car in the middle of one of the most rundown parts of the city. Of course if a police officer did stop us they'd turn back around as soon as they saw the plates which take us so far out of their jurisdiction that they wouldn't know who to contact. But even so, screeching to a halt wasn't exactly full of discretion."

Boyd barely heard most of what Sin said. His mind was sidelined by the offhanded, what would your mother say? His fingers tightened on the steering wheel and his eyes narrowed, his expression doggedly turning neutral again although the color had not fully returned to his face.

He pointedly did everything he could to not think about what she might do. He forced every errant thought down where it wouldn't bother him anymore.

"Maybe you're having a panic attack," Sin wondered aloud. "We can always turn back, you know. They'll understand."

"No," Boyd said sharply before he could stop himself. His eyes narrowed and his expression closed off completely. Any vestigial emotions that had been there disappeared as if they'd never existed.

He hadn't intended it to sound so forceful, yet the very idea of turning back, of standing in front of his mother and telling her he'd never actually made it to their destination because he'd ended up on Dauphin Street along the way... His back was tight with tension at the thought.

"It may be for the best. I just can't be certain of your mental or physical state with such sudden attacks occurring at random."

The bland commentary was starting to vex Boyd, who was still trying to return to the safe equilibrium of an unfeeling mind. He let out a low breath to calm his nerves and looked at Sin with a firm, even stare. A look that was meant to assure Sin that he was fully in control again. "It won't happen again."

"Maybe." Once again, Sin's expression was difficult to read. On one hand he looked amused by the situation but on the other hand, it could be that the amusement was a front for something far more devious and manipulative. "How could I be sure unless you tell me what the problem is?"

Boyd's expression didn't shift, although his eyes narrowed faintly. "The reason is unimportant and does not concern you. They did a full evaluation of me during training. They would not have sent me off as your trial partner if I could conceivably pose any type of threat to you."

"Believe me, sweetheart, I feel anything but threatened." Sin stared at him, hawk-like gaze taking in every minute detail of Boyd. "But how could such a seemingly innocuous area produce such a strong reaction in a boy who appears to pride himself on showing nothing? There wasn't a soul in the street except for the usual beggars. Would you like me to describe the extent of your reaction?"

Boyd's eyebrows ticked down and he looked away, staring out the windshield with a studiously blank expression. He wished Sin would leave the topic alone. "That won't be necessary."

"Are you sure? It was quite visceral. If any other agent were here they would likely be concerned about taking a trial recruit into a red zone who was obviously having some kind of emotional issue."

"Leave it alone," Boyd said with a stronger edge, looking over at Sin with a warning in his eyes. He was getting frustrated by the conversation and the fact that Sin wouldn't let it go. Frustrated that he couldn't cope the way it had always worked best for him: by pushing it to the side and ignoring it.

"There is no 'emotional issue,'" he continued firmly. "If you would stop focusing on unimportant minutiae, we could prepare ourselves better for the mission. At this rate, you're more distracted by any of this than I am."

Sin scoffed at that. "Actually, having a half-trained newbie freak out before a mission and refuse to explain why warrants me calling in an early abort. They prefer that to a mission failed."

Boyd shook his head, his jaw set while he leveled a sharp-eyed stare that bordered on a glare at the road. "Do what you must but if the mission is aborted, it should not be on my account. I am perfectly capable of doing my part. Whether or not you feel entitled to information that is none of your business is not my concern. I assure you that none of this will affect the mission. That should be all that matters."

"Oh, but it would be held on your account and even if you won't deign to fill your partner in on your sudden stricken attacks of fear, you would have to fill in mother dearest." Sin raised his eyebrows and leaned back against his seat. "She can figure out why her little boy feels that he doesn't have to answer to his senior agent. If I were someone who actually gave a shit about this mission, well, or any mission, you'd have trouble."

Boyd's heart thumped at the thought of his mother finding out; of answering to her. He looked out the driver's side window so Sin wouldn't have a chance to see any vestiges of alarm that may make it to his eyes, but he couldn't stop the tension in his shoulders and back. He was afraid of her finding out. If he let himself really think about it, he was terrified. He didn't want to lose whatever tenuous chance he had at being worthy in her eyes, but more than that he didn't want to see what she would do if she became displeased.

He didn't know what to say to Sin.

He didn't want to have to keep talking about First Bank, forcing him to continually dance around why the place had upset him in the first place. He wanted it all to disappear back into the fog he'd fought so hard to gain over the years. The deadened emptiness that had made it possible for him to be in that house, that bedroom, without terrible or longing memories suffocating him.

In the silence that dragged, it became obvious that he didn't plan to answer. He instead focused solely on where he was headed. There weren't really any other places in the city that would be as devastating to inadvertently pass as Dauphin Street, although at the moment he had to admit to himself he didn't want to go anywhere near Crater Lake, either.

He worked on reorienting himself to their position. He saw the old Miller building up ahead and realized with frustration that he'd let Sin engage him in a conversation he didn't even want to have, to the point that he hadn't realized how close they were to the destination. They had less than five minutes before they would arrive and they hadn't even discussed the plan yet.

"It would behoove us to have a plan prior to entering," he said without looking away from the road. "And we're nearly at our destination."

Sin didn't bother to respond, seeming to have already lost interest in Boyd.

"We don't know exactly where the information and the hostiles are within the building. However, if the building is like many of the others in the area it is likely to have two main exits, one in front and one off the alley. Given that many of the buildings in this area used to be for commercial use, it is also likely to have a number of rooms in back which once functioned as offices while there would be a larger showroom or lobby in front."

Boyd's expression was as impassive as his voice as he slowed the car at the last intersection before he had to turn onto the street that would take them by their target. He stopped at a stop sign and since the street was abandoned and they were still a few blocks away from the target building, he turned to face Sin fully.

"Obviously this information will not be known until we enter. However, to speed the completion of the mission I suggest we split up, one entering in each entrance. If you have a preference for alley or street side entrance, you're welcome to it. We'll keep our comm units active and whoever is able to obtain the information first will alert the other. We can then both retreat and meet at the car."

Sin flicked his gaze over to Boyd, nodding. His full mouth stretched into a mockery of a smile and he inclined his head to Boyd as if in deference to his plan.

Satisfied that there didn't have to be a prolonged discussion about this, at least, Boyd nodded. He drove them until they were a block away from the building and around the corner out of sight. He parked the car and then looked at Sin. "Is your comm on?"


Boyd shook his head at the noncommittal answer and quietly opened the door. "I'll see you back here," he said calmly. Sin didn't respond, which was unsurprising. Boyd shut the door and moved toward the alley without looking back.

He approached the building slowly from the side, making sure to keep an eye out for cameras or lookouts. It wasn't the type of building that would have had cameras installed back when this area had been successful, prior to the war, and it appeared that the hostiles hadn't installed their own system. He did see someone in the second floor with a shotgun, leaning against the window and peering down. It looked to be a light-skinned man in his mid-30's but that was all Boyd could tell.

He paused at the entrance to the alley and waited, watching the man. It seemed as though with so few people in the building, there weren't enough people to fully man all the positions. Or so he assumed when he saw the hostile yawn tiredly and, after another scrutinizing look into the alley, walk away. Boyd could see his figure faintly appearing and disappearing in the windows along the second floor as he headed toward the front.

Boyd waited again, searching for any less telltale signs that someone was watching, and he only moved forward when he was satisfied no one was. He moved quickly and silently to the back door and ducked down behind a garbage dumpster, waiting again to ensure he hadn't been seen.

After a few moments he slipped out from the hiding spot and moved to the door, peeking in the windows. No one was inside within view. He tried the door and was unsurprised to find it locked. He pulled out a lock-picking set and he set to work on the lock. It didn't take long before he heard the faint click of the tumblers shifting. He paused again, patiently waiting for any signs of discovery, and moved forward when he didn't hear anything.

The door opened with only the faintest squeal which, after another long pause, he determined hadn't attracted anyone's attention. He shut the door quietly behind him and looked around. He was in a small area that in a house would have likely been termed a mudroom. There was nothing in it but at one point it had probably held storage of some sort. Off the room was a back hallway that hadn't been maintained in years. The floor was uneven and the walls had water damage trailing down what had probably once been white paint.

There were a few doors within view; two on each side and one at the end that he presumed opened up to a larger space in the front of the building. There also looked to be another hallway that intersected this one at the end.

He moved along the wall, keeping an eye in front and behind him for anyone. A few of the doors were partially open and he headed to the first one on the right. He didn't hear anyone inside and peeked in. The room was empty; literally. There was nothing inside at all, not even a single chair. Obviously the information wasn't there so he went to the next room across the hall. That one housed a partially broken old desk. He searched through the room quickly and didn't see anything of use.

He moved on to the next room with little result and was just about to head toward the fourth when he heard movement on the other side of the main door that he presumed went to some sort of lobby. He'd been half paying attention to his comm unit for any updates or warnings from Sin. He hadn't heard anything at all, which he'd assumed meant Sin had not run into any problems yet. If Sin had gone in the front like planned, he should have run into people which would have made noise, and may have alerted Boyd to the situation up there.

Since he hadn't heard anything, he wasn't prepared when the door abruptly opened and four faction 53 hostiles walked in. Boyd ducked back into the room immediately but he wasn't quite fast enough to avoid being seen.  

He heard them call out in surprise and within seconds the staccato burst of gunfire ripped into the open doorway. Boyd kicked over the dilapidated desk and crouched behind it but he knew it was going to be little help in the long run.

He heard the door to the main room bang open and more people flow in, and when he tried to peek over the desk he had to duck down right away when bullets shot by his head. He was only able to get the briefest glance which told him he was surrounded. There were hostiles to the left and right of the door and at least one who looked like he was setting up in the room across the hall. It was only going to be a manner of minutes if not seconds until they realized no one was shooting back and they moved in to execute him.

His heart was thumping despite himself and he could feel adrenaline start to sing through his system. With the showering of gunfire, he wondered how long he could stay here before even the meager cover he'd managed to find would no longer be enough. His eyes narrowed as he realized that he should have brought the gun after all.

"South hallway," Boyd said into the comm unit. "I need backup."

He didn't hear a response but he wasn't expecting one. He had to crouch down as more bullets zipped past him. He could feel the impacts of the bullets against the desk and knew it was only a matter of time before they weakened the structure enough to start shooting through it.

There weren't a lot of hostiles but there were more than enough for Boyd to be unable to handle them on his own, especially without a gun.

When there weren't any immediate signs of Sin showing up and when Boyd heard the hostiles moving closer, his eyes narrowed and he tried to get as far away from their aim as possible.

He heard the door open and a new voice enter the fray, barking orders above the gunfire for an update. It sounded like a man in charge had arrived. When Boyd heard one of the hostiles say that so far they'd only seen one intruder and there hadn't appeared to be return gunfire yet, and that the intruder was caught in the room, Boyd felt fairly certain that Sin wasn't coming.

Still, he hissed into his comm unit just to be sure, "Where are you? They have me cornered."

There was no answer and he knew there wouldn't be one. Sin wasn't in the building. He had probably never left the car. Boyd couldn't even be sure the man had bothered to turn on his comm unit, given his lackadaisical 'sure' earlier.

On some level, it made him angry. What gave Sin the right to lecture him about protocol and being reliable for the mission when he didn't bother doing anything himself?

The man in charge said loudly, "Cease fire! Stop wasting ammo!"

The gunfire stopped and Boyd knew he was too outnumbered to successfully complete the mission. He could take on one or two people but not a whole group, even if they weren't shooting at him.

Without any backup, he was forced to retreat. He had a flash-bang grenade with him that he'd brought in case he needed a diversion. He pulled the pin and threw the grenade around the desk. He immediately squeezed his eyes shut, turning away and plugging his ears. A cacophony of light and sound crashed through the small room and startled sounds of pain chorused around him. He didn't wait for them to recover.

While their senses were still reeling, he ran to the old window and broke the glass with his elbow. The small, jagged pieces left on the windowsill dug into his hands as he hauled himself up and threw himself out the window. He hit the ground hard, falling into a roll to distribute some of the impact. He'd barely stood when gunfire erupted from the second floor. The lookout saw him.

His eyes narrowed as he dodged and weaved between obstacles that he used as cover, and managed to run back the way he'd come. He knew it would only be so long until the men inside recovered and came after him so he ran as fast as he could.

The Agency car was still there. Sin was turned away, and didn't bother to even look over his shoulder at the sound of Boyd's running footsteps. It caused a renewal of Boyd's frustrated anger. He could have been killed in there, and the mission had failed, and Sin couldn't even be bothered to act as though he'd noticed.

When Boyd came up beside him he grabbed Sin's shoulder roughly, already demanding, "What the hell were--"

Before he could process what was happening, his arm was wrenched violently and he was spun around and pinned against the side of the car. For the second time since they'd met, he found himself face to face with Sin as the other man locked his long fingers around Boyd's throat.

Green eyes narrowed as Sin looked at him darkly. His fingers flexed slightly, briefly cutting off air as the senior agent leaned in closer. For a breath they were nearly nose to nose as those intense eyes bore into Boyd. But then the grip relaxed and Sin released him, allowing him to crumple against the side of the car.

"Do not put your hands on me."

Boyd caught himself before he could fall. He glared at Sin, feeling more spurned by the reaction than afraid. He could hear the sounds of pursuit closing in on them, echoing faintly in the alley but growing louder. With a tightened jaw, he turned his back on Sin and stalked around the car, opening the door with more force than necessary. He barely waited for Sin to get in the car too before he sped off down the street, the tires squealing in protest.

The high-pitched whip of bullets ricocheted off the pavement around them and he heard the dull thud of one of the shots catching the back of the car. They turned the corner and Boyd twisted the steering wheel to immediately catch the next turn. In the rear view mirror he saw the hostiles swarming around the corner as they ran.

Cold frustration continued to stain Boyd's thoughts even after they'd made it another two blocks and it seemed evident that no one was planning to pursue them in a vehicle. He turned a sidelong, hard stare onto Sin.

"Don't put your hands on me like that, either," he said flatly.

Sin didn't bother to reply, once again looking completely disinterested in his existence.

Boyd wasn't ready to let this go, however. "What the hell were you doing back there? Didn't you have your comm unit on?"

"What do you think?"

Boyd turned his narrowed eyes back to the road. He could feel tension settling into his shoulders as they grew closer to the Agency. "Why didn't you even try? The mission failed and we'll both be held accountable. Doesn't that bother you?"

Sin raised his dark eyebrows slightly. "The mission didn't need two people. Perhaps you should have brought a gun."

"What difference would that have made against so many armed hostiles?" Boyd retorted. He didn't feel like acknowledging that Sin was right in any way when he was so irritated with him. "It may have helped but it wouldn't have fixed everything."

At that, Sin turned and actually looked at him directly. "My, my," he drawled slowly, shaking his head. "Who exactly was it that trained you, out of curiosity? They should put termination down on their day calender if you are their final rank 9 product."

Boyd's glare turned icy and shifted back to the road. "Not all of us were born superhuman," he said coldly. "It's my first mission and I expected my partner to be where he said he would be. Apparently that was a mistake."

"Relying on anyone is a mistake. If you weren't taught that, you are more misinformed and ridiculous than I thought. This mission was a joke. If you aren't even capable of performing adequately on it, you won't last much longer whether it's me who snaps your neck or not."

"Is that what you want? Another failed attempt at a partner to stain your record?"

Sin scoffed at that, green eyes moving over him scornfully before sliding away. "Don't speak as though you know anything about me. And this partnership will fail regardless, judging from what I've seen today. You have the amazing ability to be both arrogant and completely stupid simultaneously."

"How am I stupid?" Boyd asked with an edge.

"When have you shown intelligence?" was the flat retort. "No gun. The bizarre notion that you have superior knowledge on how to approach a mission. The assumption that withholding information from your partner and senior agent is acceptable. The even more ridiculous assumption that if anyone else was here, they would have allowed any of this to go on. If someone were here who actually gave a fuck about these missions, I assure you, they would have handed you your ass before calling in an abort and writing up a detailed report of your ineptitude."

Boyd's fingers dug into the steering wheel. He couldn't fully discount Sin's points and that annoyed him even more, along with the reminder of what had happened on Dauphin Street.

"And you plan not to?" he challenged. "So far you've spent your time mocking me, ignoring me, or threatening to kill me. If you have such a problem with me I'd think you'd love the chance to tell your superiors."

"You'll die regardless. What's the point."

Boyd looked at him sidelong. Without anything to respond, he let the moment fall into silence.

The rest of the ride felt at once too long and too short. When they returned, Sin walked away without a word and Boyd went in and wrote the mission report alone. There wasn't a good way to word that he'd failed on his first mission so he was unsurprised when he was called up to his mother's office within the hour after the report was submitted.

Ann announced his presence and let him into Vivienne's room, shutting the door behind him. He stood back by the door, his back straight and face expressionless, although he felt a worm of doubt inside him at the ice cold stare she leveled at him. It felt like she could see through him, right down to the depth of his soul, and she didn't see anything worthwhile in the process.

"Sit down." Her words were clipped.

Boyd obeyed immediately. He walked further into the room and silently sat in the chair across the desk from her.

Her lips were thin and eyes narrowed. She sat forward, her fingers interwoven and clenched as they rested on the desk. "I had low expectations of you yet even I did not anticipate such a resounding failure."

There was the briefest lull that told Boyd he was supposed to respond. He felt the doubt expand into uncertainty. "Mother, I--"

"Inspector," she corrected him shortly, her stare narrowing into a glare.

"Inspector," he amended. "The situation was such that it required two people. I did request backup but I didn't receive it."

"A convenient explanation," Vivienne said dismissively with a faint hint of disgust. She leaned back and turned ice blue eyes on her laptop, typing a few short, quick keys with one hand and briefly glancing at whatever came up on screen. "You did not bring a gun on the mission."

Boyd hesitated the briefest moment before he agreed. "No."

"Were you not advised to bring one prior to the mission?"

"I was," Boyd had to acknowledge.

"Was the reason for the recommendation not in case of a gunfight?"

"It was," Boyd replied tonelessly.

He watched her with no particular expression even though he had to wonder how she knew all this. Then again, she'd probably found out through checking the artillery records and, if they had it, surveillance.

"And was a gunfight not what caused this catastrophic failure?"

"It was," Boyd replied, and forged ahead before she could say anything else. "However, it should be noted that even if I'd been armed with a gun I still would have been forced to retreat without backup. I was vastly outnumbered."

"Ineptitude is not an acceptable excuse," she said shortly. She turned to him, her hand moving away from the keyboard to rest on the desk. "What was the nature of your incident prior to the mission?"

Boyd's heart jolted and his stomach clenched with dread. There it was; the question he'd been fearing. His expression remained closed off, although tension moved into his back. "I don't--"

"What could possibly have upset you to the point of causing a distraction?" she continued sharply.

He watched her evenly, not knowing what to say. If she knew about the incident she probably knew what it had been about. Still, he wondered how she knew. Sin obviously hadn't written a report and he hadn't said anything about it in his own.

She gave him an unimpressed look. "All Agency vehicles are equipped with surveillance. There is always a thorough investigation following a failed mission, in part because agents have been known to lie to obscure their own mistakes." The last part was said pointedly.

Boyd's jaw twitched but he couldn't say anything in response to that. Sin never had to write it in a report; Boyd damned himself by just being in the car. No doubt if they had surveillance they also had GPS. There was no point in trying to pretend that the incident had happened anywhere other than by First Bank.

She waited a heartbeat for him to respond with excuses that never came. Disappointment and distaste were clear in her eyes and she leaned back in her chair. "I was under the impression that you were past that. Are you so pathetic that you are incapable of ignoring something so irrelevant to the present? Must you continuously be so weak as to cause embarrassments?"

"I apologize, Inspector," he said tonelessly, his stomach clenching at her words. "It will not happen again."

"Are you so certain?" she asked coldly, arching her eyebrows. She leaned forward, her attention zeroing in on him intimidatingly. "I have my doubts that you are trustworthy in that regard. You have already proven yourself weak and susceptible in the past. I nominated you based upon the impression that you were suitably emotionless, yet you have proven already that you are incapable of success. It lends the question of what I should do with you."

The words caused a spike of distress from deep down inside him; a guttural reaction that he couldn't quite stop from making to his face. His skin paled and his eyebrows twitched down. He suspected a flash of fear made it to his eyes and the way her eyes narrowed told him it had.

"There are options available. We have facilities that would be ideal to give you an opportunity to recover from your lapse. Time need not be a factor. Is that what you wish?"

His breath caught briefly as he automatically thought back despite himself. Expanding darkness and eyes glinting in the corner. Wounded ghosts hovering over him and chafing pain. Screaming until the metallic taste of blood was familiar in this throat.

"No," he said quietly.

"Then I suggest you put more effort into this or I will enact a solution that you will find to be very undesirable," she said coolly. She arched an eyebrow. "Is that understood?"

"Yes, Inspector."

"I am watching you," she said, her tone only turning colder. "I will be quite disappointed if you continue to embarrass me. My reputation in part will be affected by your performance. If you are incompetent, it reflects poorly on me. I have worked too hard in this organization to have a child bring me disgrace simply because he is unwilling to function as expected. Do not make me regret the nomination."

"I won't, Inspector," he said more quietly. He wanted to look away from her but he didn't; her ice blue eyes seemed to suck him in. Or maybe it was simply that she had looked at him so infrequently in his life that he felt unwilling to look away first on the few times when she did.

She stared hard at him, scrutinizing every bit of him. His eyes, his expression, his body language, his posture... As if she were assessing him for some sort of test in which he didn't know the criteria for passing. It was disconcerting.

At length, she leaned back and looked away from him, focusing on her laptop again.

"Dismissed," she said curtly.

He left, a non-expression on his face even as he felt dread gnawing at him nauseatingly. He didn't want her to have to follow through with the threat. He only hoped that it wasn't tied in solely to failing missions but rather making certain he didn't let his own weakness be the reason for the failure.

Even though he had to acknowledge that much of the failure of this mission was his own fault, he still felt somewhat angry with Sin. Although it was true he should have brought a gun, in truth it wouldn't have mattered. There was no way he could have finished the mission on his own without any sort of distraction or backup. He'd been training for a few months to be an agent but a few months couldn't create miracles.

It wasn't surprising to have failed the first mission. In fact, David had told him the vast majority of people did. It was not uncommon at all and yet Boyd was the sole person being blamed.

How was it all his fault?

The brief moment of fear on Dauphin Street hadn't carried over into the mission. He'd put it behind him so it shouldn't have been used against him. It was frustrating. He had to acknowledge that some of his anger was tied into the fact that because of this, he could be sent to a fate he wanted to avoid at all costs.

His eyes narrowed faintly and as he strode out of the Tower, he made a vow to himself not to make a similar mistake again.

Continue to Chapter 6