In the Company of Shadows

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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 Six

Boyd fell, the cement hard and cold against his knees. He let his hair cover his face, keeping his expression carefully blank despite the way the handcuffs were making his arm muscles seize up after staying in the same position for too long. A door slammed shut behind him and there was the very decisive echo of a lock falling in place.

He sat back on his feet, shifting so he could sit against the wall and lean his head back. His fingers dug into his back but he ignored it as he stared blankly at the ceiling, considering his options.

Although Sin had accompanied him on the mission, he knew not to expect any reinforcement.

Even after a month, he didn't trust Sin.

He was still completely unable to figure anything out about the man. He'd concluded that a great amount of the attitude Sin displayed was an act, but exactly to what extent was still murky.

He didn't like that he couldn't understand what Sin was thinking because it took away some of his own power from the situation. Without Sin's motivations being clear, he would always have the potential to be unpredictable which meant he couldn't be trusted. If or when Sin may determine that his interest in this entire partnership had waned he could abruptly decide to end it on his own terms.

There was nothing at the moment to imply that was necessarily going to happen. Sin was as uncooperative as ever but over the last month there had been minor shifts. Lately it seemed to intrigue or at least amuse Sin to follow Boyd's progress.

Boyd shifted and stretched his legs in front of him. At least the missions had been going a little more smoothly, in that he had been succeeding more than he'd been failing. A lot of that had to do with the nature of the missions in General Carhart's unit. Much of it so far centered around stealth, undercover work or intel gathering; all things Boyd excelled at. The first time they were assigned to storm a base, his luck would run out. Until then, he had vowed to do his best and since his mother had not brought him in for another lecture, it seemed to be working. As long as he could continue down this path until the inevitable day he died, that was all he could hope for.

Still, this mission especially was one he didn't want to fail. It was a follow-up, making up for his abysmal failure of a first mission. The small offshoot of faction 53 had relocated to a larger base in an abandoned recreation center in the middle of a park in Carson, the next city over. The goal of the mission remained the same: retrieve information with the intent of locating the main base. The difference was there were at least twice as many people here and they were more actively recruiting. And it was harder to infiltrate; a fact he'd known from the start but had been thoroughly underscored once he'd gotten captured.

The concrete was cold even through his clothing and he wondered how long it would be until they came to interrogate him. No doubt they expected him to be terrified by now. He was wary and uncertain more than anything, although there was a tinge of fear involved in the unknown.

His weapons were all taken from him and although he would be able to get free of the handcuffs, he wasn't versed in fighting multiple hostiles at once. He could probably handle two to three people at most if they came at him and were not extremely adept. But most of his training had been one-on-one combat and most of the missions so far had ended with him having to only sporadically engage in combat, primarily on his way out.

He hadn't been captured before and he didn't know what to expect. Would they attempt to torture him? Would they simply kill him outright? What were their plans? How much did they know? Did any of them recognize him from the first botched mission?

He hadn't seen anyone he recognized but then he'd barely seen anyone on that first mission since he'd spent most of the time ducking and dodging. They, on the other hand, would have had a better chance to see him as he ran away.

Even if he got his hands free, what could he do if several of them came at him at once? What if they discovered he was free and just bound him again; better this time?

This situation created doubt in the back of his mind. It made him wonder if he was potentially in over his head, and whether this would end up failing. And what, exactly, the Agency would do if he failed two missions with the same goal. Would his mother follow through with her threat?

His eyes narrowed and he looked away, tension strong in his shoulders.

He needed a plan.

If they were going to appear in the doorway with machine guns they leveled at him, for instance, it would be nice if he were no longer in the cell. Although he wore a bullet-resistant bodysuit beneath his clothing, it didn't make him impervious to rapid and repeated fire. Especially not at unprotected areas like his feet and head.

Disguising it as rolling the kinks out of his neck, Boyd carefully looked around the room for any surveillance equipment. The room had probably once been a storage room of some sort since it wasn't insulated. Faction 53 appeared to have retrofitted it so it would work better as a jail.

Unless faction 53 discovered how to hide cameras in a smooth concrete floor, metal door, or a single old pipe run across the ceiling near the door and brick walls, then he was currently not enough of a threat level to warrant supervision.

That was good. They distrusted him but, like most people who judged him based on his looks, they underestimated him. Since that worked to his advantage, it never bothered him when people did that.

Even knowing that he was unwatched, Boyd shifted his weight against the wall and still held some pretense in case he was simply unaware of it. The hostiles had removed his weapons, but what they didn't realize was that Boyd held such blatant weapons as a gun and tonfa in a normal place like a belt holster for a reason. It deluded people into thinking that it was all he had. If he hid things, they would be more likely to do a thorough search, expecting him to be devious.

For instance, they left the safety pin inserted beneath the belt on the back of his coat, as well as the one behind a button at the top. And, secure in his seeming lack of strength and the fact they were throwing him into a cell, they'd used single-locked peerless handcuffs. It took a little maneuvering to remove the safety pin from the belt, but he managed it after a few seconds of fumbling. He popped it open unseeingly, all the while watching the door for any sign of movement.

Finding the little hole near the lock on the handcuffs took some maneuvering, since he couldn't see what he was doing. Eventually, he felt the pin give way and slide into the mechanism, between the cuff and the teeth. He shoved it in with his other thumb and, with more fumbling and shifting of the pin, the handcuff clicked open. He let that cuff hang open on his wrist and, being sure to keep his back against the wall to hide the movement, he popped open the other cuff the same way.

Sliding the safety pin back onto the inner part of his coat's belt, he heard movement echoing down the hallway outside the room. He made sure the handcuffs were unlocked but still loose around his wrists so it wouldn't be obvious he'd freed himself.

The door opened, a man standing in the doorway with two hostiles backing him up. They were fanned behind the man for cover and they had their guns drawn. As soon as they saw Boyd sitting calmly against the far wall, arms behind his back and seemingly still under their control, they lowered their guns.

The man in front looked to be in his mid-forties, with dark brown hair and eyes that matched. He didn't look away from Boyd from the moment the door opened. His eyebrows rose a hint, his lips lifting on the edges.

He strode into the room and stopped in front of Boyd, staring down at him while Boyd simply stared up in return. The two guards left the door open but they didn't move, watching with sharp eyes. Boyd determined he would do best to bide his time for the moment.

"Stand up," the man ordered.

Boyd didn't move and the man didn't seem surprised. Without warning, he kicked Boyd violently in the stomach, causing Boyd to release a pained hiss and slouch forward. Fingers grabbed a chunk of his hair and he was dragged to a stand.

He'd barely straightened before the hand switched to holding his throat and shoving him against the wall. A fist slammed into his stomach where he'd been kicked. Boyd grit his teeth and let out a pained moan; partially because it hurt but mostly because he knew the man expected it. He would do best to appear weak and nonthreatening.

"I told you to stand up," the man growled near Boyd's ear when Boyd slouched forward.

The man hit Boyd again a few times in quick succession, apparently intent on exerting his domination of the situation right away. Boyd took the punches with pained gasps and made sure to slump in the man's hold. At length, the man unceremoniously dropped him to the floor. Boyd hit the cement with a groan and made sure to keep his hands tilted toward the wall.

He heard movement and slit his eyes in the direction of the door, watching through a messy fall of long blond hair. One of the hostiles was looking at his watch with a frown and then peered down the hallway. A quiet and quick conversation passed between the guards and one of them started to pivot as if to leave.

"You gonna be okay, John?" the guard asked and the man in the cell nodded, looking down at Boyd.

"No problem. Shouldn't take me too long with this one."

The guard nodded and left. The one who stayed behind started to shut the door. "I'll be out here, then. Let me know when you're done."

John chuckled darkly and glanced over his shoulder. "What's wrong? I thought you were over being squeamish."

The guard just grimaced.

John smirked and turned back to Boyd while the door swung shut behind him. He didn't seem concerned with the idea of being stuck in a cell with Boyd. It didn't take a lot of courage to be unafraid of a man half his weight, seemingly shackled and weaponless, Boyd thought darkly.

"So," John said with quirked eyebrows, looming over Boyd curled on his side. "Who are you?"

Boyd didn't answer and John kicked him so hard in the stomach that his body hit the wall. Pain exploded across his torso and arms and Boyd coughed when he fell to the floor again.

"I said, who are you?" he repeated dangerously.

"James," Boyd wheezed, grimacing and using that to cover that he was watching John through his eyelashes, determining when he should strike. He thought it would be best to wait since the guard outside was mostly likely going to listen for trouble at first and, hearing none, would eventually relax.

"See, that wasn't so bad, was it?" John stepped closer, pushing Boyd onto his back and pressing one heavy, booted foot on his stomach. The pressure was in the area he'd been punched and kicked; his bruised muscles ached sharply with the weight.

"But it wasn't what I meant. What are you doing here?" he continued, staring down at Boyd darkly.

Boyd shook his head and didn't answer.

John lifted his foot and slammed his heel down into Boyd's stomach. Boyd gasped in pain.

"Are you going to make me repeat myself every time?"

Boyd grit his teeth and shook his head again, although he made it unclear as to whether he was responding to John's question or just trying to deny the situation.

John smirked, seemingly pleased by Boyd's lack of cooperation.

"What's your affiliation?" John demanded, punctuating his questions with quick kicks that didn't let Boyd catch his breath in between. "Who sent you? What are you doing here?"

When John paused, Boyd coughed violently. Pain was sharp and distracting but he ignored it. He let himself fall on his side in a position that gave him some leverage. He calculated that enough time had probably passed. When he looked at John through his hair he judged by the man's body language and expression that he felt fully in control and didn't expect Boyd to fight back.

Boyd struck before John even knew what hit him. Bracing partially against the wall, Boyd suddenly snapped his foot out, knocking John's legs out from beneath him. The larger man let out a startled noise and started to topple, and Boyd was on him immediately. He flicked the handcuffs off his wrists and dropped on top of John, smothering John's mouth with one hand so he couldn't cry out.

John's eyes widened for a fraction of a second but he immediately started to fight back, trying to throw Boyd off him. Boyd braced himself against the floor, flipping John over onto his stomach and cinching the handcuffs tightly around his wrists. He didn't bother asking John any questions because he knew the other man wouldn't answer. It would only give John clues as to his whereabouts once he left the room.

Instead, he grabbed John by the back of the head and slammed his face straight into the floor. There was a cracking sound and blood spurted out, combined with John's growled, "Fuck!" Boyd guessed he'd broken John's nose.

Without giving the man a chance to regain control of the situation by using his heavier weight, Boyd jerked John up and braced himself against the floor again, this time holding John up just enough for a choke hold.

John jerked and struggled, trying to roll or buck Boyd off, but Boyd compensated for the movements and only dug his arm harder into John's windpipe. It wasn't long until John's struggling became more sluggish and, ultimately, he slumped in Boyd's hands.

Boyd let him drop to the floor unconscious and then rolled him onto his side so he wouldn't drown in his own blood. He searched the man's body for anything of use. He grabbed some keys, a radio, and the red band on his upper arm that identified him as a faction 53 member. He took a moment to tie the band around his own arm and then walked to the door and knocked.

"Done already?" the guard called out, his voice muffled through the heavy metal door.

Boyd heard the clanking of the key turning and the door opening. He stood at an angle that would give him the best advantage and waited until the right moment: when the man had opened the door enough for Boyd to get out and just as he was looking inside. Just before he would see his fallen comrade.

Boyd moved in close and struck with quick, precise movements, slamming his palm up into the guard's jaw and following up with a strike to the side of his neck. The older man started to stumble back and Boyd moved with him, stealing the rifle slung across his back and slamming the butt of it against his head.

The guard slumped and Boyd caught him before he made too much of a noise in the hallway. He dragged the guard's body into the cell and stole anything that looked of use from him as well. Then, he walked out of the cell and firmly shut the door behind him, making sure it locked.

With a glance up and down the hallway to reorient himself and ensure no one was around, Boyd took off in a half jog, half stride. Fortunately he'd memorized the blueprints of the area, since the building had been renovated from a rec center for the abandoned park. He was displeased that they'd stolen his tonfa and was disappointed that the guard hadn't had anything suitable to replace it. Too many people relied solely on guns.

It wasn't hard moving relatively unseen through the building even though it wasn't terribly large. Something he'd learned quickly as an agent was that people tended not to question someone who walked with purpose and seemed like they knew exactly where they were going.

With the red band around his arm and a gun at his back like everyone else, and with his black clothing that hid any blood or bruises, it was a simple case of casually turning his head or letting his hair hide his face as he moved through the hideout. There were more people here which worked to his advantage; the likelihood of them knowing everyone was diminished compared to the small safehouse he'd tried to infiltrate on his first mission.

It didn't take him long to find the computer room. They had partial information from an informant regarding the layout of the place. There was only one person inside, since the building was supposed to be on lock down and news of a prisoner likely hadn't traveled that fast. Even if it had, he hadn't received any indication yet from the radio or the behavior of the hostiles around him that implied it had been discovered that he'd escaped.

Boyd walked into the room and when the woman glanced over her shoulder at him he smiled and made an inane comment to disarm her, acting as though he was in there on business. She started to look away and he hit her hard on the head at an angle to incapacitate her quickly.

She didn't even let out a startled noise; she simply slumped to the side. He caught her before she could land on the equipment, and he sat her back up in the chair so if anyone walked in it would seem at first glance that she was just sitting there.

He moved quickly, rolling her out of the way so he could crouch over the computer and access the information he needed. He copied it all onto a memory card and kept an equal eye on the door, making sure no one else was coming. The network the hostiles had wasn't as fast as it could have been but even so it wasn't a long wait until a window on the screen informed him that the copy was complete. He erased all indication that he'd been there and rolled the woman back in front of the computer. Then he secured the memory card back in the hiding spot in the back of his belt buckle and left.

He was calm as he walked through the building, acting perfectly casual, as if he had every right to be there. He only received one or two odd looks but the confidence he displayed caused the people's gazes to inevitably slide away with only the faintest quizzical furrow of their eyebrows. Intel suggested that faction 53 had been recruiting a decent amount of people lately so a new face certainly wasn't unusual.

Boyd was just passing through the front door when someone suddenly yelled that a prisoner had escaped. It would be obvious that something was wrong if he walked right out after such a declaration, but he wasn't about to push his luck by running around all night pretending to be a hostile until someone realized he really wasn't who he said he was.

He slipped outside and at first thought he may have gotten away. But as he moved quickly across the expanse of open space before he reached the trees that surrounded one edge of the property, he heard commotion inside. He moved faster but didn't start to run in case he was under surveillance and they didn't know yet who he was. Just as he was disappearing into the shadows of the trees, he heard the main door open and someone yell out that a person who matched the description of the escapee had just left the building.

Boyd immediately slipped into the forest, using the trees as cover. He broke into a run, no longer having need to be casual. He could hear people shouting orders to look for him and knew that the forest would be a place they would look pretty quickly.

Soon, he heard pursuit behind him. It only sounded like two or three people but when one of them shouted that they thought they saw him ahead, Boyd's eyes narrowed. Sometimes his pale skin and blond hair did not work to his advantage.

Boyd ran as fast as he could but the woods were unfamiliar to him and, being unaccustomed to forests, he also found it more difficult to navigate at night. There were too many dips and bumps hidden by foliage and on a half moon night the amount of light that filtered through the canopy was minimal.

He realized at one point that he wouldn't be able to outrun them when they had probably traversed these woods many times. When he concluded that he couldn't take entirely evasive actions, he decided to go about this a different way.

He slowed to a stop and hid in the shadows to see if they would pass him by. It was worth a try but they stopped right around where he had, likely having noted the lack of footsteps ahead of them. Boyd knew it would only be a matter of time before they saw him lurking there and they'd notice movement if he tried to slip away, so instead he made noise as he broke into the small clearing they were in.

Two men were there. Guns were leveled at his head and chest immediately.

Panting for breath, Boyd raised his hands to show he held no weapons. The rifle remained hanging over his shoulder. "What the hell's your problem?" he demanded breathlessly. "I saw the intruder running this way so I came after him. Don't aim your guns at me; go after him instead."

"Nice try," one of the men said with a sneer.

"You're the intruder," the second man said firmly. "And you're just lucky we've been told to bring you back alive or you would've been dead twelve times over by now."

Boyd stared at him for a moment, as if he thought him stupid. "Are you an idiot? I joined a month ago. Look." He tilted just enough so they could see the band on his arm.

"We know what you look like," was the unmoved reply. "I saw you being dragged down to the prison in handcuffs half an hour ago."

Considering this, Boyd figured there was no point standing there arguing. The rest of the hostiles could be on their way and he knew he wouldn't be able to get away once they appeared.

Without warning, Boyd dropped to the ground, where the darkness of the night helped cover him. The two men clearly hadn't been expecting it because one of them made a noise of surprise and the other started to look down.

Not waiting for them to get their act together, Boyd rolled to the side and swiped one man's legs from beneath him. As the man crashed to the ground, Boyd slammed him on the head with his rifle butt. The man groaned but didn't fall unconscious. Boyd had to scramble away just as the second man shot in his direction.

Twirling, Boyd jumped up behind him and kicked him squarely in the back, knocking him forward enough that he stumbled and lost his balance. Boyd was in his personal space in a blink, his rifle swinging around and slamming into the gunman's face so hard that his head snapped to the side with a crack.

The man fell to the ground and Boyd twirled around just as the first man was staggering to his feet. Boyd kicked him back against the tree and hit him across the head with the rifle again. When the man started to fall, Boyd dropped the rifle and followed it up with a hard chop against the back of the man's neck. The man collapsed, unmoving.

It was all over relatively quickly and silently, aside from the single crack of gunfire which could draw attention from other hostiles. The sound had been muffled by the forest but he didn't know if it would have muffled it enough. He grabbed one of the rifles just in case and took off running.

Even running, it took him a few minutes to navigate successfully through the woods, a task made more difficult by the dark of night. He'd been born and raised in this city and as a child he'd wandered around many areas with his best friend. He had no problems with buildings and streets and remembering directions in those settings. He could be in a building one time and remember directions. He could see blueprints before he went into a building and know how to properly navigate, building a 3D image in his mind that he could spin around and turn and always know where he was.

But when every direction seemed to be filled with the same view of tree trunks and leaves that blocked out any reference points beyond, he got confused.

It was stupid and he wouldn't admit it to anyone, but he actually felt a spike of uncertainty as he felt like he'd been running and running with no end in sight. He started wondering if he'd gotten turned around. Was he running straight back toward enemy territory? Would he burst right back out into a clearing and find hostiles surrounding him with guns he couldn't evade this time? He couldn't be that confused, could he?

He was starting to grow worried when he finally ran through an area with thinner canopies, affording him a much-needed glimpse of the half-broken buildings rising beyond the park. He reoriented himself in his mind based on the angle of the buildings and kept going. It wasn't long before he burst out of the park area and back into the more familiar urban streets.

He hadn't actually been that far off, which was a relief since he didn't want to have to run another few blocks because he got stupid when a bunch of trees surrounded him.

This area of the city was largely abandoned, although there were still lights flickering in windows here and there. Faction 53 had likely chosen this location because of that; because it was removed from the general populace and gatherings would be less noticeable. The kind of area where gunfire went unreported.

Once he was back in urban territory, he had no troubles easily navigating to the meeting point. As he reached the vicinity, he slowed down. He approached the corner and checked around first to ensure he wasn't being watched or followed.

He was breathing so hard that he couldn't even hear his thundering heartbeat, and his limbs tingled. His torso ached furiously, something he noticed more when he'd stopped running and he was less focused. His ribs burned and his fingers felt less strong than usual. He tried to be as quiet as possible until he determined that no hostiles were around. Satisfied, he slid through the shadows and approached the vehicle.

As per their new routine, Sin was sitting in the driver's seat waiting. On a larger mission with a bigger team, it would be customary for the team leader to wait in the vehicle to run the mission and make sure everyone was on point. It didn't apply for their partnership since there was only two of them; Sin was needed in the field not the van.

Vivid green eyes flicked over Boyd's disheveled form as he climbed into the van. "Surprisingly impressive," he commented idly, starting the engine.

Boyd shut the door and paused as he was about to toss the rifle in back. He looked over at Sin with faintly narrowed eyes, trying to determine if that had been some sort of veiled slight. Judging by Sin's expression and tone, it had been a simple statement with no negative undertones.

That caught Boyd off-guard, since it was the first time Sin had said anything positive to him related to a mission. It had never been something Boyd had been clear about as to whether Sin simply sat in the vehicle the whole time waiting or whether he got out to explore.

"Were you watching?" Boyd asked after a moment.

Sin didn't answer immediately and glanced in the rear view mirror briefly. His gaze narrowed before sweeping back to the windshield as if he sensed something or was looking for something. Despite the fact that he didn't accompany Boyd on the assignments, he was always diligent about ensuring that they were not followed upon leaving whatever area they had been in. As cynical he was about the trial partnership and his own future as an agent, Sin still protected the integrity of their covert nature.

He shifted the car into drive and guided them off the street. His gaze remained intent on the darkness that pressed in on them from the outside. Streetlights in this forgotten neighborhood had long since died out.

They returned to the highway with no signs of a tail. For several moments it seemed as though the question had been ignored and forgotten.

Boyd went about ensuring the safety was on the rifle before he twisted to stow it out of the way behind his seat. His torso screamed at the movement and he winced briefly, thinking that he should have been more careful about that. He was belatedly fastening his seatbelt after having returned to a normal sitting position when Sin spoke.

"I was observing."

Boyd looked over, absently tightening the belt across his lap. His eyebrows twitched down faintly. "Why?"

"To observe you."

"Obviously," Boyd said mildly. "You didn't initially observe me, though. What changed?"

"I figured you'd be dead by now. It's surprising and I'm very rarely surprised."

Boyd watched Sin for a moment, trying to get a read on the man and, as always, coming up with so many conflicting signals that he may as well have drawn a blank. He didn't think he would ever get used to the enigma that Sin represented.

Since it was one of the few times Sin seemed to be talking to him in some form without it being laced with barbed insults or sarcastic pet names that irritated Boyd to no end, it made him consider the comment a little more seriously.

"What do you think, then?" Boyd realized that he actually was curious about what Sin thought of his performance.

Conversation was a relatively new development, especially since little had changed between them since the first mission. Still, Boyd had realized quickly that if this partnership was going to function on any level, he had to put in more effort to at least appear to be reasonable.

In truth, Sin couldn't be blamed for having thought poorly of Boyd based on that first mission. After his anger had cooled, he'd realized he hadn't performed impressively. So Boyd acted more social and agreeable, even during times when he felt like being contrary instead. It seemed to be the best course of action to encourage Sin's cooperation.

"I think that you're less likely to die as easily as I first thought," Sin replied cryptically and unhelpfully. That seemed to be the end of his analysis until a smirk crossed his full mouth and his green eyes flicked over to Boyd. "Until we're assigned a mission that requires a lot of combat, anyway. The likelihood of you surviving a storm on your own is slim to none."

"It's possible I would surprise you on storms as well," Boyd replied, mostly as a reason to keep Sin talking. "Although, the difficulty of such missions is why we're supposed to be partners..."

Sin returned his stare to the road and didn't reply.

Boyd waited a few moments to see if Sin would respond and it quickly became obvious he didn't intend to say anything. Still, Boyd didn't look away. In the past he may have let it drop but the fact that Sin had been talking to him at all made him reticent to give up this chance to understand at least something about the other man.

"Why are you still so resistant?" Boyd asked, eyebrows drawing down slightly while he searched Sin's expression for any hint of what he was thinking. "The issues that arose on the first mission haven't been repeated. I understand that we didn't have a good first impression and you haven't had the best track record with previous partners but I'm not them. I don't understand what I've personally done to warrant you being so unwilling to cooperate."

This time when Sin's vivid green eyes flicked over to him, there was a definite surprised element to his typically bland expression. His lips parted slightly, dark eyebrows drawing together slightly. After a moment he shrugged his broad shoulders. "Oh, I don't have a reason. I'm just making this up as I go because I'm insane and all of that."

Boyd gave Sin an unmoved look. "We both know that isn't true. If you don't want to answer the question, say so. There's no need to lie."

The other man's mouth quirked up slightly. He seemed to debate not answering because he was silent for a long moment, his long fingers loosely wrapped around the steering wheel as he drove. In the end, he seemed to find no reason not to reply although his expression had quickly returned to its typical unreadable state.

"For someone who allegedly was content to stare blankly at people and not talk for the better part of their training, you are certainly chatty at the moment."

Boyd shrugged. He shifted his feet in front of him, stretching them out and trying to readjust his position so it put less pressure on his pained ribs.

"I don't see the point in talking for the sake of talking, and prior to today I had little to say to you." He tilted his head enough to look over at Sin sidelong, his expression impassive and tone simple. "You seemed content to ignore or belittle me and I had nothing to contribute to that."

"Well, I still don't particularly like you, if that helps you in shutting up."

"That's fine. I don't particularly like you, either," Boyd said, unperturbed.

His back was continuing to bother him and he finally reached down to let the seat fall back into a more reclined position. It helped a little bit but he was going to have to visit the med wing just to make sure he hadn't acquired anything more than unpleasant bruises.

"However," Boyd added idly as an observation, "for someone with a reputation of being unafraid of confrontation, it's interesting that you keep evading simple questions."

Sin scoffed and accelerated as they moved into a higher speed limit zone. "I don't need to answer to you or explain my reasoning to you. I don't have any desire to even have a conversation with you. It's not my problem how curious you are."

Boyd looked at Sin sidelong, studying his features. Sin looked wholly unimpressed and when it became evident that he wasn't going to say anything further, Boyd looked away. He tilted his head back against the seat and closed his eyes, letting silence fall between them.

He thought about how Sin had actually talked to him for a change and then how obvious it was that he was no longer interested. He still didn't understand the man. But this was the first time he'd had a glimpse of something that he thought, given enough information, he could eventually figure out. And while on one level it only created more questions, it also showed that maybe there would eventually be some answers involved as well.

The rest of the nearly hour long trip was spent in silence which neither of them bothered to break. Boyd had no interest in forcing conversation on someone and he had nothing to talk about anyway. The few times Boyd glanced at Sin out of the corner of his eye, the senior agent's expression wasn't any more readable than it typically was and it didn't take long for Boyd to stop looking at all.

When they returned to the Agency, the usual routine played out; Sin left without appearing to have any intentions of writing a report, and Boyd wrote and submitted his report immediately. Boyd visited the med wing and was told that there was nothing permanent; just some bruises and stretched muscles.

When he left the med wing and started across the courtyard, he got the usual curious and sidelong stares. As he left, he received notice that the debriefing would be in a few hours.

The room was surprisingly comfortable, with high-backed chairs that didn't squeak no matter the abuse they took. An opaque dark glass table commanded the center of the room, shining in the fluorescent lights in the ceiling. There was a touchscreen computer embedded at the head of the table which was used for typical functions as well as control of the projected holographs that at times erupted from the center of the table. It was a useful tool and one that was utilized in the discussion of specific people, locations and maps.

Five people sat around the table, the same who had attended each debriefing before. The unit Boyd and Sin were involved with was highly confidential, to the point that other than Marshal Connors, Boyd's mother and Sin, there was probably no one else other than those in the room who even knew what truly happened on the missions.

While the entire organization was clandestine to the highest degree, the Janus unit was cloaked even from other operatives for fear of a double agent giving information to Janus' elusive leaders. While the other divisions in the Agency dealt with terrorism, intel gathering and other special operations, the priority of the Marshal and the powers that be was clearly putting a stop to Janus.

Boyd sat up straight in his chair as he stared blankly at the screen. As usual, General Carhart sat at the front of the table, speaking to Jeffrey the analyst, whose black hair was always perfectly pressed like his suits. He always seemed to have a briefcase with him, which held his touch panel and sometimes stacks of paper when an analysis required it.

There were two people in charge of tracking the rebel movements, a formidable job on its own without counting the fact that with Janus being worldwide they had to have international as well as domestic contacts.

Ryan was as talkative as ever. He was easily the nerdiest person that Boyd had met at the Agency so far. During a briefing, he was not above making chit chat about the newest MMO he was playing online, hacker forums he frequented or anime series he liked. General Carhart often showed impatience with Ryan's apparent ADHD but despite that, there seemed to be a closeness between the two.

It wasn't surprising that people found it hard to find fault with Ryan. He was shorter than average at 5'5" and extremely skinny. With his unruly black hair that stuck out wildly in a mess of cowlicks and curls, thick rimmed square glasses and wide indigo eyes, he looked more like a geeky teenager than a twenty-five year old genius who'd been born and bred on the compound.

At the moment, Ryan was typing away on a large, outdated-looking laptop while simultaneously sliding his thumb across a touch panel and diverting his attention between the two.

The other R&D agent, Owen, looked nearly a decade older than his counterpart. He always looked as though he had just woken up and forgot to put his clothes on properly. His messy, curly red hair was usually in danger of covering half his eyes and his shirts were perpetually wrinkled and untucked.

He was leaning against the table looking extremely tired, yawning widely every few seconds. He rubbed at his dark brown, nearly black eyes and slumped down, as unprofessional as ever.

Carhart nodded at Jeffery and briefly glanced down at the touch computer. They'd just gone over the details of the mission and the debriefing was drawing to a close. They were never the most interesting of affairs, especially when there was nothing immediate for follow up.

"I'll have the analysis ready in a few days," Jeffrey was saying as he set his touch panel down and looked over at Carhart. "It will take some time to sift through all the data to find usable intel."

"Is it possible there isn't anything of use at all?"

Jeffrey nodded. "That's always possible, especially when the enemy gets forewarning that they're being looked into by an unknown group." He didn't look at Boyd but his stiff tone made it clear that it was a slight against Boyd for the first mission. "But I won't know until I look through everything. They may have felt safe outside the city."

The General inclined his head and pushed his chair back. "Report to me immediately when you're done. We'll reconvene when we have more information unless something else comes up." That being said, he logged out of the computer and left the room as he typically did.

"Geez, he's always in a rush these days," Ryan commented, making a face.

"He could be outrunning a curse," Owen offered, furrowing his eyebrows and looking at Ryan with a frown. "Do you think that's what's going on?"

Jeffrey paused as he logged out on his touch panel, and shot Owen an annoyed stare. "That's easily the stupidest thing you've said this week."

"Just this week?" Owen asked, looking over at Jeffrey with mild surprise. "What'd I say last week? Was it something awesome and enlightening?"

"Stop being such an imbecile." Jeffrey glared at Owen and opened his briefcase with sharp movements. "I'll never know how someone like you made it into a unit like this. Some of us had to actually work for it." He looked at Boyd pointedly to include him in the comment before he looked down to shove the touch panel into his briefcase.

Boyd didn't respond. It hadn't taken long to determine that Jeffrey seemed to have a problem with a lot of things and that he didn't think Boyd had good reason to be in the unit. Other people seemed to share the sentiment as well, though luckily not Owen or Ryan.

"No really," Owen said, peering at Jeffrey with interest. He seemed to have woken up a bit with this topic. "Maybe I was sleepwalking at the time? I don't remember any cool conversations." He considered it seriously before adding, "Oh! Unless I was telling you the story about my dream, but if you actually believed I sprouted wings made of spatulas and could fly..."

Jeffrey only seemed to get further irritated by the answer and Boyd looked away as he went to gather his things. Those two seemed to bicker during most of the meetings, with Owen's seeming obliviousness only fueling Jeffrey's tense irritation. Still, despite the fact that Jeffrey seemed to think Owen was a complete idiot half the time, Boyd didn't believe it was the case.

Although Owen seemed slovenly and perpetually half-asleep, and although he often went on tangents that seemed disconnected with reality, he was good at his job and seemed to truly know the information he presented. Boyd suspected that it wasn't really that Owen was an idiot or believed most of what he was saying; he may have just had an offbeat sense of humor. Sometimes Boyd thought he detected that Owen simply seemed to enjoy being odd or teasing Jeffrey, perhaps even more because Jeffrey always responded.

Either way, Boyd didn't have much interest in staying around for no reason so he moved to stand.

"I don't know, guys," Ryan piped up seemingly randomly. He was chewing on the end of a stylus and peering down into the panel with a frown. It almost seemed like he was continuing a conversation although he hadn't been talking out loud to anyone else in the past few seconds. But that seemed to be how Ryan's mind worked. Always going, even when he was talking about something entirely different.

"I mean, do you really think Warren Andrews is in league with Janus? I know they've been swallowing up all of these teeny groups and whatnot but his profile doesn't seem... to be what they usually scoop up. Know what I mean?"

Boyd paused and, since work-related topics were coming up, he settled back in his chair. Jeffrey and Owen stopped talking.

"Janus does seem to go for the assholes," Owen agreed, tilting his chair back and frowning. "And Warren's not really their style unless he held up an old folks' bloodbank for the poor when I wasn't looking."

"Faction 53 isn't as aggressive as they used to be but they still have power," Jeffrey said pointedly. "Janus could simply be expanding their selection pool. It wouldn't be the first time they shifted their targets."

"Yeah, but something dreadful this way comes," Owen said, waving a hand vaguely and looking over at Ryan. "Right? They've got the right hand slapping the left is what your source said. And once they break up they're gonna lose any power they held which makes them prime meat for the vultures." He paused and frowned. "Or I guess rotting meat?"

"I dunno. It's just a personality thing, is all I'm saying." Ryan shrugged and put down the panel, looking around at the other three men. "He doesn't seem the type to want to be controlled by some giant puppet master, or at least that's what my sources have been saying. I hope we end up negotiating rather than just wiping them out."

"The only indication so far is that he's thinking about it, correct?" Boyd asked.

Ryan nodded, messy black hair bouncing around with the motion. He shifted in the chair and arched his back in a stretch. "Yeah, from what I've found, he seems hesitant about it. But then again he's super paranoid about everything ever since the split with Aarons."

Boyd had read about the split on his panel. Shortly before he joined Carhart's unit as active duty, faction 53's two main leaders, Jason Aarons and Warren Andrews, had had a falling out. The group had initially formed because Warren and others had an issue with the way the city was policed in Carson, the next city over that shared some of the wastelands.

Faction 53 felt that the lack of reconstruction in the poor neighborhoods, combined with what they felt was over-policing of the destitute, created an unfair environment. Eventually, 53 had taken to terroristic acts to prove their point, but Jason Aarons was more aggressive and took it further than Warren Andrews. That had ultimately caused friction between the two until Jason left abruptly and formed his own group, which was labeled 62 in Agency records.

Aarons had taken about one-third of the followers with him but rumors among the other groups was that some were already debating returning. However some of the people who stayed behind in 53 seemed to be having second thoughts as well.

It left both groups in a vulnerable position, but especially 53 which was being recruited by Janus. Allegedly, some of the people in 53 wanted Warren to accept Janus' proposition. The fact that he was hesitant about it was raising questions about his leadership skills among some of them.

"He should be paranoid," Jeffrey said flatly, his stark features completely unsympathetic. "He can't keep his group together and he's letting enemy agents with little training infiltrate the compound. He's lucky there hasn't been a mutiny."

Owen raised his eyebrows. "Being kind of harsh on the dude, aren't you? He doesn't seem like too much of a douche. Also, I'm pretty sure half a year of hardcore boot camp isn't 'little training.'"

Jeffrey shot Owen a look of distaste and grabbed his briefcase as he stood. "I forgot; it's love the enemy day," he said sarcastically.

"Well, mark a calendar then," Owen said with a yawn, looking as though he'd used up whatever energy he had and was ready to fall asleep again. "I won't always be here to remind you."

Jeffrey scowled and left.

Owen watched Jeffrey go and then looked at Ryan and Boyd, his gaze turning bleary. "It's way past my bedtime," he mumbled, even though it was barely 10 am. "'Night and bedbugs and all that." He ambled out of the room with a huge yawn that Boyd could hear even as the man wandered down the hallway.

Boyd stood to leave as well.

"Boyd, do you have a sec?"

Ryan had half stood up and was looking at him hopefully.

Boyd paused, looking at Ryan blankly. It was the first time the other man had asked him to stay behind. He sat back down in the chair, wondering if it had something to do with the mission and what had been bothering Ryan about it. "Yes."

There was a moment when Ryan just looked at him slightly oddly before the R&D agent just shrugged and sat back down. "Do you mind if I pick your brain a bit about your partner?"

Boyd stared at him, wondering at first if this was some sort of joke. But Ryan seemed serious and it left Boyd at a loss. "Why? Surely you know him better than I do."

"Ha! Not even close." Ryan reclined in his chair and raised his arms, threading thin fingers behind his head. The black jacket he wore over a faded anime t-shirt shifted with the motion. "I haven't had a conversation with Hsin since I was, like, I dunno... ten."

Boyd watched him for a moment. It was the first time he'd heard someone refer to Sin as 'Hsin' when they weren't using it in context of his full name. It was an oddity, considering Ryan apparently hadn't spoken to him for a long time. "Were you close prior to that?"

The other man gave him another confused, odd stare and sat up straight in the chair. "No... That was like when he first got here. He stayed with the Connors for a little bit because he was so young but it didn't work out and I never had direct contact with him again."

"Then why do you refer to him as Hsin? No one else appears to do the same."

"I dunno. Because that's his name? People just call him Sin because it was originally mispronounced so everyone started doing it." Ryan gave one of his huge shrugs, his shoulders nearly going up to his ears, and smiled. "Plus, I like his real name better."

Boyd considered that; even if it was Sin's real name, Ryan was the only one who seemed to care. It seemed like a somewhat familiar way to address a man who was not exactly approachable and he briefly wondered if Sin had a preference either way. He leaned back in the chair with a nod to acknowledge the answer.

"What did you want to discuss?"

"I'd just wondered what he was like one-on-one. He never shows up for briefings, even back when he had the other trial partners." Ryan's words were coming out casually but he was avoiding Boyd's eyes after he started talking.

Boyd's eyebrows drew down in confusion. "Why does it matter?"

"Because I want to know what he's like and you're the only person he's in contact with." Ryan frowned and started packing his stuff up. "If you don't want to talk about it, it's fine."

"I don't mind," Boyd said with a shrug, frowning faintly to himself as he considered the question. He shifted in the seat and crossed his arms. "I don't have much of an answer. This latest mission was the first time we spoke on terms that were equal in any way. Typically we don't converse much or, when we do, it's regarding the mission parameters or he's being sarcastic."

For some reason, the last part caused Ryan's lips to shift up into another grin. "The few times I have seen him in the past few years, he's always such a smart ass. It's pretty funny, I think. He just doesn't give a crap about anything here the way everyone else does."

"I find it to be irritating at times, to be honest," Boyd said mildly. "Especially since he seems to enjoy calling me sarcastic pet names such as sweetheart."

At that, Ryan's eyebrows shot up. "Why does he call you that?"

"To be obnoxious or patronizing, it seems," Boyd said, leaning back in the chair.

"Or..." The mischievous grin returned, making the other man look far more youthful than he already did. He seemed to be on the verge of saying something but stopped himself and hid his grin behind the case of his laptop as he put it away. "Well, anyway. He could just be trying to get a reaction out of you."

Boyd quirked an eyebrow, watching Ryan for a moment before he looked away. "I suppose it's possible. Did you speak to his previous partners? I assumed it was something he did with anyone he spent any amount of time near."

"The pet name thing? Nah, not as far as I can tell. None of them lasted very long. I mean Laurel made it probably a month before she got killed and she was the longest. We actually had hope for her." Ryan made a face and said the last comment somewhat dryly. "But they never made it sound as though he really... joked around or anything. At any extent."

That was interesting. It brought to mind questions he'd had before, wondering how exactly his predecessors had failed.

"What happened with them?"

Ryan stopped putting his equipment in the huge backpack he carried and tilted his head to the side. He studied Boyd for a moment, gave a little nod to himself, and began digging around in his backpack. There was an assortment of discs, flash drives, and memory cards in a large ziplock bag but he seemed to have no trouble finding the one he wanted.

"Give me a sec and I'll set up a whole demo," he explained to Boyd.

He moved to Carhart's position at the table and popped a drive in before fiddling with the computer. He made various 'hrm' and 'ah-ha!' sounds before finally organizing whatever he was trying to do. After that it took only a brief moment before the hum of the holograph machine echoed in the room and an image popped up between them.

The man in question looked to be in his early to mid thirties and had fiery red hair and explosively blue eyes. His expression was hard and unkind.

"That's Evan McCoy. He was bachelor number one and the mistake they should have learned from. At first they were hiring these big guys from Counter-Terror. Macho men with hero complexes."

Another image popped up, this one of a younger man with deep chestnut colored skin and surprisingly light hair. "Michelin was the same way. He was bachelor number two."

This time Ryan's fingers flew over the keyboard and two images popped up side by side. One was a thin looking man with long black hair who also looked to be in his early thirties. It seemed that most field agents were around the same age which caused one to wonder what happened to an agent who passed his or her prime. The other image was of a youthful and attractive woman.

"Laurel and Coral. I wonder if anyone else noticed that they rhyme." Ryan grinned at his own joke.

Boyd studied the pictures and then looked over at Ryan. "How did they die? All Sin said was that they thought he was their pet and they were killed in self-defense."

Ryan shrugged hugely again, his indigo eyes flicking from picture to picture. "No one really knows. I mean, Hsin doesn't exactly put his information out there even if it's in his own defense. So there's like, no way to tell if it was legit self-defense or if he just murdered them himself, or let them die on a mission deliberately. I can see a couple of them instigating shit with him just because he's an easy target and they kinda thought they had him in his place but... I dunno."

"How long ago did all that happen?"

"The winter before you started, I think. That's when Laurel died and they locked Hsin back up again." Ryan frowned, his boyish face clearly troubled by whatever had crossed his mind. "I thought they were gonna terminate him. It really depressed me for a long time. I'm kind of a Hsin fan."

"Why?" Boyd asked, turning his gaze onto Ryan. "If you've hardly spoken to him and rarely see him, why do you care what happens to him?"

Ryan rolled his indigo eyes and raised his hands up. "Why is everyone so dumbfounded just 'cause I like the guy? I just like the fact that he doesn't let them break him. I respect him. He's literally the best and most amazing op we have. And also, he's amazingly gorgeous if you didn't notice so I have a teensie crush on him."

"Hmm." Boyd studied Ryan. He had to agree that Sin's unique features were attractive. "Do you tell everyone all of this?"

"Which part?"

"Any of it, but particularly your crush."

"Oh." Ryan waved a dismissive hand and started stuffing things in his backpack again. "It's not like it's any big secret that I'm gay. I never date girls and I've been here since I was a fetus. Also, if anyone starts ragging on Hsin in my earshot I'll talk about stuff. People figure it out pretty easily."

Boyd nodded again. "I see."

He fell silent for a moment and reached down for his messenger bag. He could have stayed silent but in some ways, Ryan reminded him of Lou, who had always been quick to defend the bullied. It wasn't something Boyd could think about in any way other than a passing glance, because remembering Lou was often too painful of an endeavor. But because the connection was there in his mind, he couldn't ignore it and he couldn't let the moment pass by without commenting.

"It's a commendable attitude to stand up for what you believe in regardless of whether it's widely accepted."

The comment seemed to please Ryan and his expression lightened some. He'd seemed somewhat on guard since the conversation had started, as if he'd expected ridicule or scorn for his outlook. "I'm glad you're not another asshole. A lot of that tends to go around here. It's like, in the air."

"I've noticed," Boyd said mildly.

Ryan popped out the flash drive and stood up. He hiked his huge backpack over one shoulder. "Well I have to jam but let me know if you want to talk or if like, you want any advice about Hsin. I'm not best buddies with him but I'm kind of a Vega lexicon. I've studied him like a creeper for awhile. It's a little gross. This obsession should really stop sometime before they think I'm a stalker."

It wasn't entirely clear how serious he was about the last couple of lines and it seemed to amuse him to say them out loud. "Take care, Boyd. I hope we can talk more. You're not a bad kid."

Boyd quirked his eyebrows slightly. He had to wonder exactly how much Ryan knew about Sin, and how much Sin knew Ryan knew. "I'll keep it in mind," was all he said.

Ryan headed to the door and gave a little wave. "See ya around. And PS, you should try to get him to come to briefings!"

That being said, the skinny R&D agent disappeared out the door.

Boyd watched him go. After a few thoughtful moments, he left as well.

Continue to Chapter 7