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 Fifteen

It was the end of November and Sin was slightly mortified that someone had put up Thanksgiving decorations in various places around the compound. He wondered if this was some pathetic attempt to make the Agency seem less like a life-sucking void and more like a normal job. If so, they had failed miserably.

Paper cutouts of fat turkeys did not a welcoming environment make.

He stood in front his apartment and stared at the thing that was stuck to his door. It was a cardboard decoration of some sort that looked like an odd horn with fake fruit stuffed inside of it. He stared at it silently for a full minute as he searched his vocabulary for the word that would describe such an odd creation.

"Cornucopia," he murmured out loud and pulled it off the door. The guards on either side of it had all but ignored him until that point, when one of them actually snorted a laugh.

'All employees are formally invited to a Thanksgiving feast this Thursday, 11/21/19, at 1700 hours in the main cafeteria.'

Sin stared at the thing and began shredding it into small pieces. He did not know what had possessed someone to stick this to his door, of all doors, but he found it mildly offensive. He wasn't even really American. Not technically anyway, he didn't think. Perhaps that was something to look into.

He tossed it on the floor and swiped his card key in the door, opening it and entering his apartment. After his solo assassination assignment, there had been a lull in missions. He didn't have any problems with admitting that he was bored. In the past month and a half he had participated in a grand total of three missions and none of them had been very exciting. He spent most of his time exercising, reading or roaming the compound when he was alone.

He'd begun leaving his quarters more often lately and he wasn't entirely sure why. He thought maybe it was because most of the other agents had grown almost used to his presence in the past two months. It may have also been because he would frequently spend time with Boyd.

Sin walked across his apartment and leaned against the wall so that he could stare out the window. A few months ago, he used to sit in the dark for hours while his mind remained perfectly blank in an almost meditative state. His sole purpose had been for killing and for avoiding the box. He hadn't cared or had interest in much else other than that. He'd had no desire to be around or to speak to anyone else. For the most part, that hadn't changed.

Except, of course, when it came to Boyd. His preoccupation with his partner had not diminished at all in the past month. If anything, it had grown.

He found himself thinking about Boyd at odd times, even often wondering what he was doing when they were not together. When Sin exercised or when he grew bored with that and sat staring into space for hours, he found himself wondering what Boyd did in his spare time. What he read or did to get through the long hours of the day that were filled with silence and inactivity. He wondered if Boyd went out, if he spoke to people outside the Agency. Most of all, he wondered if Boyd wondered these things about him.

Sin didn't particularly like this new, needy aspect to his personality. In fact it was a little disgusting. But no one else seemed to notice the change within him and to everyone other than Boyd he was as coldly sarcastic as ever.

He slid down the wall and sat on the floor, staring into space silently. It wasn't only the sudden interest in his partner that alarmed him, however. It was more startling that he'd begun to act differently when they were together.

There were times when his gaze would linger on Boyd longer than was necessary. When his eyes would focus on Boyd's mouth or eyes. There were times when he would sit alone and think about how odd it was to desire someone after so many years of not even knowing what that would feel like. There were other times when he would think about the mission in Seattle, and the feel of Boyd's bare skin underneath his hands.  

Sin closed his eyes and tilted his head against the wall, irritation bubbling to the surface. And here he fucking went again.

He'd begun reminding himself nightly that he was behaving extremely out of character. He was a killer. He'd been trained to be one since he was eight years old and that was the only thing he was good at. He had had enough trouble even learning how to have a normal conversation without thinking Boyd would use any information for devious purposes. What would he even do if he decided to focus on this completely random attraction?

Sin ran his fingers along the carpet idly. He was relieved that Boyd had been called away on a solo assignment to meet up with Andrews. It allowed him some time to sort out the confusion that constantly clouded his brain.

His lips quirked up into a sour smile as he recalled the brief meeting with Carhart before Boyd had left. Apparently Andrews would only agree to the meeting if Sin was not there. He wanted nothing to do with "that animal."

The words didn't bother him but the idea of Boyd going off on his own did. It was the first time Boyd had a solo mission of any kind with no backup in the vicinity. What would happen if Andrews had turned on them, and decided to take Boyd hostage or kill him to get out of the deal?

He hadn't voiced the concerns out loud, not seeing the good it would do since no one would listen to him anyway. Ryan, however, had done it for him. He'd complained loudly that at least Sin should accompany Boyd even if he didn't actually go to the meeting. Carhart had said there was no point and by now Boyd should be able to hold his own.

It was true, but the entire thing still made him, and apparently Ryan, uneasy. The thought reminded Sin of something else, something that he'd noticed and completely forgotten immediately after finding out that Boyd was going alone.

Before the briefing had started, Ryan had asked Boyd if Wednesday was his birthday.

The concept of a birthday was alien to Sin. He couldn't remember celebrating his own and was unsure as to the actual date of it. He suspected that it was sometime in April and he knew that he'd been born in 1991, but that was the extent of his knowledge. Despite that, he knew that other people sometimes considered them to be joyous occasions that called for celebrations. He wondered mildly if Boyd was one of those people. Somehow he doubted it but at the same time, he had trouble dismissing the date from his mind.

His eyes wandered over to the manuscript of Paradise Lost that sat on the small table in front of the couch. It occurred to him that he could get Boyd a present but the idea seemed absurd.

For one, it wouldn't do anything to change his ridiculous fixation with Boyd and the idea wasn't doing anything but feeding into it. And two, he'd have to sneak out of the compound. The sneaking out wasn't actually the problem-- the wandering around trying to find a present before the Agency came hunting him down was.

He banished the thought for the moment and walked over to the kitchen, making a dinner for himself out of chocolate chip cookies and instant oatmeal. He stared at the sink blankly and automatically ate, attempting to adopt his old meditative mind frame and failing when his thoughts wandered right back to Boyd's birthday.

Even if he were to get Boyd a gift of some sort, which he wasn't, he had no idea what he would get. It occurred to him that other than the fact that he knew Boyd enjoyed reading, he knew next to nothing about the kid. It nagged at him for a moment and he rationalized that it was because Boyd seemed to somehow know quite a bit about him.

He liked to be on equal footing with the people around him and he was on anything but that with Boyd. He barely knew anything about his background or life before coming to the Agency. Sin had the opportunity to read Boyd's file long ago but he'd never intended to maintain the partnership so he'd barely glanced at it. He didn't have access to the files anymore but he knew someone who did.

Sin tossed the empty packages into the garbage and strode out of his apartment again.

This time, the guards looked at him fully instead of ignoring him as they had before.

"Where you headed?" Daniels asked although he didn't seem very interested.

Sin stared at him impatiently. "What do you care?"

Daniels shrugged. "I don't really, I'm just bored." He eyed Sin's attire skeptically and looked out the doors. "The temperature is in single digits tonight, guy."

"Your point?"

The guard held up his hands and looked exasperated. "Forget I said anything."

The look on Sin's face made it obvious that he planned to do just that. The guards at his complex often treated him that way as of late. They no longer seemed particularly hostile although they were always wary. Now they seemed almost curious about him and the lack of bloodthirsty rampages that they'd heard so much about.

When Sin got outside the cold stung his face and went through his thin clothing but he showed no outward signs of discomfort and strode towards residential building C. The guards of that complex gave him more of a hard time but they had no real reason to deny him access to the building and had no choice but to let him pass. He ignored the elevator and took the stairs two a time to the fifteenth floor.

He noticed that this door also had been accosted by the hideous cornucopia and he took the liberty of destroying it as well. After it was sufficiently shredded, he knocked on the door.

Someone from within the apartment shouted, "Coming!" There were clattering noises before the door swung open without much delay.

He was surprised that an agent, even a non-combative one, would be so careless as to open their door without so much as pausing to look through the peephole. Although, he supposed, maybe it was better that way. He didn't particularly enjoy the idea of standing in the hallway, trying to explain why he was there or dealing with anyone's overactive paranoia.

Ryan stood in his doorway in an oversized red t-shirt and baggy boxers. His hair was sticking out in every direction and he had a can of soda in one hand. He stared at Sin with an expression that could only be described as agape. "Hsin!"

Sin raised an eyebrow at the usage of his real name.

Ryan reddened. "Er--Sin."

He raised the other eyebrow.

"Hsin?" Ryan asked in confusion.

Sin gave him a flat look and strode into the apartment, not waiting for a formal invitation. "Give me your keycard."

"Um? What?" Ryan blinked at him and closed the door. He looked around his apartment, and then hurried over to his desk, closing his laptop hurriedly. He'd stopped behaving awkwardly around Sin after the first several weeks but he still maintained a generally flustered air when he was in his presence.

"Your keycard. Give it to me."

"That's not really... like, allowed." Ryan scratched the back of his head, looking baffled and conflicted. "What do you even want it for?"

Sin stared at him silently and held out his hand.

"Well when are you going to give it back?" the R&D agent asked uncertainly, eyebrows drawing together.

Sin supposed that it was very fortunate that Ryan would most likely never be questioned by an enemy if this was the extent of his resistance. "Shortly. I need access to personnel files. The entire ones, not the superficial version. I don't have the access code for that."

Ryan opened his mouth to question him further but the expression on Sin's face shut it instantly and he settled for just looking extremely curious. "Uh… well, I guess. My access code is um…" He looked mildly embarrassed. "0666." He pulled the card out of his pocket and handed it to Sin. "But first can I--"

Sin was striding out of the apartment before the younger man had a chance to complete his sentence. He took the stairs once again and determined that this building was designed identically to every other residential building. Which meant that there was most likely a public computer lab and lounge area on the third floor. He was pleased to realize that he was correct, and even more pleased to see that it was entirely empty. He took a seat at the back of the lab and swiped Ryan's card, waiting for the screen to load.

It welcomed Ryan Freedman and asked for the access code. Sin punched it in and stared at the screen for several moments before figuring out how to get to the area of the database that he wanted. His own keycard was limited to unlocking specific public areas of the compound unless they temporarily increased his access. Even then it was limited to accessing mission files that he was specifically involved in.

Ryan, on the other hand, apparently had free run of the entire database.

He typed in Boyd's name and found the folder instantly. There were subfolders within it and he took his time, going through all of them. He checked all of the files and images of certificates from academic awards and contests that Boyd had received throughout the years. Sin noted that Boyd had graduated high school early, skipping to college courses at the age of 15. Sin had never been to school himself but he figured that was impressive.

He only skimmed through the information about Vivienne but took his time reading about Cedrick Alan Beaulieu, a journalist and aspiring author who had perished during the bombings in New York City while covering the story.

There was an entire subfolder dedicated to Boyd's father, and Sin read every document and went through every subfolder. He was curious about the type of person who would marry and have a child with Vivienne, who seemed even less likely to be capable of intimacy than Sin was himself.

It seemed like Cedrick had done well for himself in his young life. He'd gotten a position at a good newspaper fairly young and went on to dedicate his short career to focusing on political intrigue. He'd done a surprising amount of investigative work considering he was fairly early in his career, but apparently some of his first stories had blown the top off a lot of scandals and impressed a fair share of important people.

There was a video attached to one of the files, and Sin started to bypass it before pausing. After a moment he decided that he was curious enough to watch and opened the file.

In the video, the camera was at an angle from the corner of a closed room, catching the back half of the person doing the interviewing. All Sin could see was a woman's dark hair that had turned largely grey, pulled back in a complicated braid rolled into a bun. She had a clipboard in front of her and a pen in her hand. Sin couldn't see much of what was written on the sheets of paper but he did see that she'd been making notes.

A young man who Sin assumed was Cedrick sat across the table from her.

He was young, maybe twenty years old, and wore a plain black shirt under a slightly ill-fitting jacket. His brown eyes were alert and a darker shade than Boyd's honey brown ones, but their shapes were similar. He was a little older than Boyd was now and some similarities could be seen. Still, where Boyd was lean and had blond hair, Cedrick had thick, short brown hair, a stockier build, and none of the androgyny that his son would grow to have.

It quickly became apparent to Sin that this was an interview for an internship, and that Cedrick was still in college. Cedrick seemed to alternate between an easygoing demeanor and seeming nervous as he tried to do his best in the interview. He kept straightening his back after seemingly realizing he'd started to slouch. Although a genuine smile easily lent itself to Cedrick's lips, his eyes had a haunted quality to them that wasn't uncommon at that time, not long after the war had started.

The interview started with a few questions that were only partially interesting.

The woman asked Cedrick about his qualifications. He mentioned how he'd been the recipient of multiple awards, including a prestigious award in Canada that had allowed him to travel to Europe for a week to attend a press conference in Brussels. When he mentioned that he'd direct enrolled at Centre de Formation des Journalistes in Paris for awhile, the woman's face had been tilted at just the right angle for Sin to see the way her eyebrows raised in interest. He talked about how two of his main focuses of interest had been covering elections and being a journalist in conflict zones. He also mentioned how he'd wanted to work at a newspaper for a long time and he was excited about the opportunity to interview for an internship at this one.

The woman asked a few other cursory questions. She noticed that according to his resume, much of his earlier schooling was in Canada and France, so why was he in the United States now? He'd mentioned the nearby university and how he'd wanted to take some classes there. She asked about how it was better than Centre de Formation des Journalistes and he said a lot of it had come down to personal choices for where he and his wife would raise a family.

The woman gave him a strange look at that. "You have a family?" she asked doubtfully.

For the first time, all shadows of nervousness disappeared from Cedrick's face. He broke into a wide grin, looking proud with a faint flush to his face that hadn't been there before. "I do," he said happily, leaning forward and pulling out his wallet. "Do you want to see? My boy was just born a few months ago. I have a beautiful wife and an adorable son-- despite everything that's happened, I feel like the luckiest man alive."

He pulled out a picture but the woman held her hand up. "That won't be necessary." Her tone was curt but not cruel.

Still, there was a definite note of disapproval when she continued, "We are only interested in serious applicants that may grow to become full time members in the future. However, we have multiple locations and the very nature of our more enterprising journalists requires travel. If you were to get the internship and if you were to be hired full time after you graduated, what would this mean about the possibility of relocation in the future?"

Cedrick looked down at the picture in his hands and smiled. It was an enigmatic look that seemed neither happy nor sad. "I would love to have this internship, and one of my dreams is to work at the Sun. I want nothing more than to have the chance to be part of this organization and represent journalism the way it was meant to be."

He looked up and met her eyes, his expression set. "But for all that, my family comes first. I could go on trips or do short stints in other places but I can't move. My wife came with me from France. We're both relatively new here and still settling in, and my son needs as much stability as he can get as he grows up. Especially with war at our doorstep. I would give anything for this position, but I won't give up my family's needs. They're too important to me."

There was a beat of silence as the woman stared directly at him and he returned the stare, unwavering. She sniffed and looked down at her clipboard, making several notes. It was hard to tell whether she was approving or disapproving of Cedrick's response. He seemed a little uncertain about the reception himself but he didn't take it back. His fingers lingered on the picture before he pushed it back in his wallet and returned the wallet to his back pocket.

"What area of interest do you have for the paper?" the woman asked without looking up.

"Politics," Cedrick said without hesitation.

"In what way?"

"I want to expose corruption." Cedrick leaned forward against the table, his brown eyes intent. "Did you know that in the last twenty years, nearly fifty percent of the people in Congress have been proven to be corrupt or have taken part in criminal scandals on some level? So many people are completely disingenuous. They promise one thing and then get into office and do the opposite. All these 'family men' who cheat on their wives and rape young men make me sick. The worst part is so often the proof of that and other scandals goes missing or gets buried. The apparent inability for grown adults to take responsibility for their own actions is astounding."

He shook his head, clearly disgusted. As he got more into his response, his hands started moving around to emphasize points and ideas. "Money, power, famous names... So many people in office take advantage of the system and twist it all to their own benefit. That isn't right. And nearing fifty percent corruption is not only insane, it's pathetic. I want to have the chance to do exposés of the truth, based on actual facts rather than opinions. I want to look into political corruption, especially at a time like now with the war underway and all these questions in the air. If I had my way, eventually it may be interesting to do comparisons to other countries. The US could stand to be improved in a number of ways. Maybe there could be an article that alternated showing the truth and showing how it could be done. My family back home--"

"Where is back home?" the woman interrupted.

Cedrick blinked, looking slightly startled. There was passion for his beliefs in what he said and the way he spoke; in the intensity of his eyes and his voice. He likely hadn't realized how into the answer he'd been getting until she cut him off.

"Quebec City," he answered absently. His eyebrows drew down. "But my mother is American and my wife is French so I've had these conversations at the dinner table before."

"What conversations?"

"About the different options out there," Cedrick insisted. "You know, the United States prides itself on being a democratic nation but it's not the most ideal democracy. It's a federal constitutional republic with representative democracy. The founding fathers didn't even care for democracy. Although some states have different aspects, as a whole the United States government can easily be skewed. Look at the electoral college alone; it doesn't matter what the people want. Even if everyone in a state wanted to vote Republican, if the elector for the state wanted to vote Democratic than that's what they do. It's hard to believe it can really be a government 'by the people, for the people' when you look at it like that. But if you take Switzerland's model, for example..."

The interview continued for awhile longer with Cedrick expounding on his view of politics, government, and how things could be improved upon. Rather than seeming critical, he seemed genuinely interested in the topic and seemed to view it almost as a cultural study of the world. He started to cite examples of comparisons of actions governments had taken and consequences that could directly or indirectly be tied back to them.

He mentioned that one of the biggest problems he'd noticed with governments in general was that they all seemed utterly incapable or uninterested in admitting their own wrongs. That, he said, was why he was so interested in revealing political corruption; because when left on its own, the situation would never be revealed. Or, if it was, it would be skewed by the opinions of the people reporting it. There was a passion and intensity to him that showed he could devote himself fully to an idea and would have the energy to see it through.

The interview continued with some more back and forth questions. After fifteen minutes it concluded with the woman telling Cedrick she would be in touch with him.

When Cedrick stood to leave, he smiled and thanked her for her time. He shook her hand with enthusiasm and seemed genuinely pleased to have had the opportunity for the interview, regardless of how it would turn out. When he left the room, the woman leaned back in the chair and tapped the pen against the side of the clipboard while she stared thoughtfully at the door. She made a soft, contemplative noise in the back of her throat and then stood to turn off the camera. The screen went blank.

Sin stared at the screen for a moment before shaking his head. Cedrick was like the antithesis of everything Agency. Of everything Vivienne for that matter. It was bizarre that two such different people had been together. It was also highly ironic, especially considering that if Cedrick had continued on the path he'd been on he'd have likely been on the Agency's radar for all of the wrong reasons.

In addition to that, it was now even harder to picture the idealistic young man in the video as someone who would ever marry someone like Vivienne. Perhaps she hadn't always been such a stone cold bitch.

Somehow he found it unlikely.

Then again, he had no idea how normal families functioned or how people formed relationships. The extent of his knowledge in that area stemmed from watching his mother interact with johns and his father fucking every attractive human that passed him. Neither of his parents had been very interested in family-life before they died.

Sin went back to his research and found a subfolder labeled Louis "Lou" Krauszer. It seemed like an anomaly and Sin clicked it, baffled as to why some random individual was included. He barely glanced at the main document before moving on to the others, wondering about the connection to Boyd.

After a few moments of perusing it, he realized that Lou was a childhood friend of Boyd's. His parents had been liberal politicians before the war and they'd both perished during the bombings that came after it.

There were several police reports and mug shots of the teen. It appeared that after his parent's death he'd begun to participate in petty crime as a means of survival. There were several stills of surveillance videos on city streets that depicted him and Boyd walking together, his arm thrown casually around Boyd's shoulders most of the time. Sin studied the images and noted that although the teenaged Boyd in the images had begun to adopt his usual style of all black attire and a generally serious expression, his eyes were much more animated than they were now and his mouth was often spread across his face in smile.

Sin's eyes narrowed slightly and he stared at this Lou person with a slight frown. He had a long slender body, unruly masses of curly blond hair and grey-blue eyes that seemed to perpetually twinkle with mischief. He was attractive and had a devil may care quality to his body language and clothing style in the images.

The dates on the images were as recent as four years ago, which meant that Boyd was most likely still acquainted with the boy. The idea made Sin frown further. He wondered why Boyd had never mentioned a childhood friend hanging around. What did this person think about Boyd joining the Agency-- did he even know? That actually brought to mind another question that Sin had wondered about recently-- what cover story did Boyd use on the outside world, anyway?

He idly flipped through files as he tried to find recent data on the mop headed teen. His search came up short and he made a face at the computer before going back to the main document on Lou.

Louis "Lou" Krauszer
Occupation: None
Status: Deceased
Birth: 3/14/2000
Death: 5/23/2016

Sin stared at the words for a moment and decided that this was interesting. It was an abrupt end to a teen who had looked relatively healthy. Although it was possible that he'd been suffering from the lung disease which had taken out a lot of young people after the war. Curious despite himself, Sin kept looking to determine what had actually happened.

After several minutes of searching he came up with nothing. Frustrated, he growled at the computer and flipped back to the main folder. He went through every folder and every file and finally found one that was labeled "police-hospital reports, surveillance."

His eyebrows rose and several files appeared on the screen. He opened each one, pouring over them thoroughly. It seemed as though Boyd had been involved in a mugging where he'd been injured and his friend Louis Krauszer had been slain by the attackers. Further reading described an inept and somewhat crooked police department who did very little to catch the gang that was involved.

A follow up report noted that Boyd's wound had not been fatal and he hadn't had any damage to major organs. However he returned to the hospital a few days later with severe chest and stomach trauma from numerous stab wounds. Despite Vivienne's insistence that they'd been from another attack, Boyd's despondence and instability had hinted otherwise. Barely a day after he'd been released he had shown up at another hospital due to an obvious suicide attempt.

This information gave Sin real pause and he stared at the screen contemplatively. His mind jumped back to the mission in Seattle-- Boyd's bleary insistence that his shirt remain on despite his injuries. Sin pictured the frightened look on Boyd's face at the idea of his torso being exposed.

Was this why? If he'd had severe stab wounds, there would be scars unless Vivienne had paid to have them removed. Although, he supposed, that was entirely possible. It was also possible that Boyd simply didn't like the vulnerability of being naked when he was barely conscious. It was a sentiment that made sense.

The hospital report noted that it had been recommended for Boyd to receive additional psychiatric help but there were no further reports. It seemed that Boyd had been taken out of the hospital early and had never returned. There were no further reports or follow ups by authorities and it seemed for one reason or another, they'd decided to stop investigating.

Sin's long, slender fingers tapped against the table impatiently. There had to be more information somewhere. He scowled and looked at a couple of other files before coming to another video clip. It was also inside the surveillance folder and was labeled "First Bank-05232016."  

There was no sound but the video quality was excellent. It was a nice day. A little bit of water was still trickling along the gutters from a recent rain. The sun was bright behind a layer of the ever-present ash that blanketed the sky. The sun was intense enough that it lightened the dull grey to an almost white. A sign hung just in the lower portion of the screen, proclaiming 'First Bank' in bold letters.

Sin immediately recognized the street the surveillance camera was taping. It was outside First Bank on Dauphin Street in Vickland neighborhood. The area that Boyd seemed so intent on avoiding and the street where he'd reacted so strongly on that first mission.

At first Sin didn't see anything of interest; the street was empty and judging by the foliage and light, it seemed to be mid-day in the spring or summer. Then he noticed two teenagers walking into frame from the side.

One of them was unmistakably Boyd, although he was a few years younger than he'd been when Sin had met him. The other was Lou. He was taller than Boyd but not by much, and had a similarly lanky build as Boyd although he was filled out a bit more.

Sin couldn't hear anything that was being said but there was no mistaking the way Lou's hand kept trailing along Boyd's skin. As they passed an alley, Lou suddenly tugged Boyd into the alley and turned him so they faced each other. He backed Boyd up against the wall, his fingers curling around Boyd's arms while he looked down at his face.

Boyd looked surprised at first and glanced around as if searching for witnesses. He started to say something but Lou leaned in, capturing his mouth in a kiss that cut off any of Boyd's protests. Boyd's stiff back gradually loosened and soon their jaws were working as the kiss deepened. Boyd's hands moved up Lou's back while Lou buried his hand in Boyd's blond hair and wrapped his other arm around his waist.

The video froze in place as Sin automatically paused it, more out of shock than anything else. His eyes were focused on the two boys, their lips and the placement of their hands. For a moment, his breath caught and he swallowed hard.

Some distant part of him told him to shut it off. Boyd wouldn't want him to see this. Why was it even here? Why was this intimate moment captured in time? But he found himself incapable of stopping it now that he'd started watching.

The video un-paused.

Lou's hips rolled against Boyd's and soon they were moving against each other, their actions growing more intense. Boyd pulled away from the kiss to tilt his head back, his mouth falling open and eyes sliding shut; his cheeks flushed as he clutched at his friend. Lou moved down Boyd's jaw and sucked on his throat.

Boyd was saying something, his lips moving increasingly urgently. His hands slid up and then gripped Lou's shoulders, shifting from trying to pull him closer to trying to push him away. Lou seemed uninterested in complying and Boyd's knees seemed to buckle as Lou's mouth moved to the place where Boyd's neck met his shoulder.

Even without sound, Boyd's curse was unmistakable. His expression was partially pained, partially ecstatic as his head was pushed back against the brick wall. There was nothing of the blank-faced, terminally controlled boy that Sin was used to seeing. This Boyd seemed passionate and caught up in the moment.

In the end Boyd won. He was able to push Lou away and the two of them stood panting, hands still on each other, faces tilting forward until their foreheads touched. Sin couldn't see their expressions with their faces so close together but he did see them move in for a few short kisses. Their hands roamed along each other's body languidly before they finally pulled apart.

Boyd turned to leave the alley and Lou's hand slid from his elbow down along his forearm to end at his hand. For a moment they walked with their fingers intertwined, Boyd leading the way with his arm stretched back and Lou moving in closer behind him. When they got back out onto the main street, they seemingly reluctantly released their hands and started down the street again.

Shortly after, they both seemed to hesitate. A sound must have caught their attention because at first Sin didn't see anything.

Then he saw the five teenagers strolling into view. They had the sort of slouching stride that was prevalent among the thugs who roamed the street. It was obvious that they were in a gang; each wore a green bandana in some fashion. The tallest of them glanced at the others with barely a nod of his head, but the four seemed to understand. Without saying a word the group closed in on the two ahead of them.

At the sight of them, Lou muttered something to Boyd and looked irritated. Boyd just looked confused and a little concerned when the gang members moved closer. The tallest boy had black, slightly oily hair that fell into his eyes. Judging by the way he held himself and the way the other four kept glancing at him, he was in charge. He called out something to Boyd and Lou and the arrogance in the way he tilted his head was clearly visible.

Lou shot something back, his expression mocking. Boyd stood at his side, his eyes darting around between the teenagers and the exits he and Lou still had. He said something to Lou but whatever he said, Lou ignored it and continued to stare down the other five.

What followed was several minutes of arguments. The leader had the other gang members fan out and surround Boyd and Lou. The leader punched Lou in the face and the fight began. The leader and Lou clearly had some kind of history that had resulted in animosity between the two. The leader repeatedly mocked him and, at times, Boyd, who visibly grew increasingly alarmed as everything progressed.

Two of the teenagers held Boyd between them while the leader and another stayed by Lou. The youngest kid seemed uncomfortable and soon turned to be the lookout. He only occasionally looked behind him at the others.

The minutes that followed consisted of the five boys beating Lou and Boyd mercilessly although most of the violence appeared to focus on Lou. Whatever vendetta the leader had against the blond teenager seemed particularly severe. He seemed intent on making him suffer, and when it became obvious that Lou was more disturbed by the violence that was being inflicted on Boyd, the leader used it to his advantage.

Boyd and Lou called out to each other at times, desperation to get to each other obvious in their faces. The leader only seemed to become more disgusted by the spectacle and continued mock them. Sin couldn't understand most of it but he clearly read the word 'faggot' on the leader's lips.

At some point, a boot slammed into Lou's mouth and Sin had no doubts that teeth were knocked out or broken. The violence only advanced from there and after watching Boyd struggle once again to get to his friend, the leader's expression soured. He shouted an order and Boyd was yanked upright between two of the other teens. At first Sin thought the leader would advance on Boyd but instead, he turned to Lou.

Boyd's eyes widened in horror and he began struggling anew as he seemed to beg the leader to let them go. The leader ignored him and went over to Lou who was still struggling in vain. It wasn't until they were at a particular angle that Sin saw the knife glinting in the leader's hand. That must have been what frightened Boyd so much.

Without any hesitation, the leader slammed the knife into Lou's side. Lou's shirt quickly stained with blood, and he appeared to shout in pain. Boyd seemed to freeze in shock, tears tracking down his face. Sin could read the words 'no' and 'Lou' and 'help us' on his lips.

The lookout was turned toward the camera, and the highly uncomfortable way he looked at Lou and Boyd was clearly seen. The other gang members just seemed amused.

Boyd was struggling vehemently now, throwing himself forward like a dog gone insane and surging at the end of his leash. He was screaming at the leader, who didn't even flinch. The leader's mouth spread in a twisted smile as he reared the knife back again and slammed it deep within Lou's stomach. Lou's mouth dropped open and his eyes rolled.

Boyd was able to twist and jerk until he got away. Sin thought it seemed as though the two holding him were playing with him and let go of him on purpose to make him think for a moment he had a chance to react. He ran at the leader but they easily caught him by the shirt and jerked him back so abruptly he looked like he was half choked by the movement.

The two gang members fell on him with casual violence; hitting him and throwing him back and forth between them as they traded blows on him. He fell to the ground and they kept kicking and punching him until he collapsed. One of the two teenagers holding him sneered and flipped Boyd onto his stomach. He sat down on Boyd's back, making him unable to move. The other one grabbed Boyd's hair, yanking his head back at an angle so that he could see what was happening to his friend.

With Lou's blood staining the ground just in front of his eyes, Boyd seemed incapable of looking away. Lou barely seemed alive by this point and the blood seemed to be flowing steadily from his wounds. Boyd looked devastated and Sin read on his lips that he kept murmuring 'no' and 'I'm sorry.'

The leader stared down at Boyd in disgust. He said something, punctuating his words with another attack. He plunged the knife into Lou's stomach again, then yanked it out and repeated the action. Blood flew everywhere, spraying in arcs around Lou, splattering the leader.

Lou collapsed completely on the ground, convulsions violently taking over his body. He could not seem to control any of his actions, but he did not look away from Boyd. Lou choked and gagged, his mouth working uselessly as blood poured out. He struggled and extended one arm weakly toward Boyd, trying to reach him.

The leader snapped something and jerked Lou up by the hair. A gold chain with a ring on it fell out of Lou's shirt. Blood had coated parts of it, but the leader casually tore it from Lou's neck and stuffed it in his pocket. He turned and nodded at the two holding Boyd, who stabilized his head so he could do nothing but watch in wide-eyed hysteria as the leader finished what he started.

Yanking the knife clear across Lou's throat, the leader destroyed Lou's throat so terribly it was almost unrecognizable as a human neck. Without losing the momentum, he followed it up by slamming the knife savagely into Lou's heart. The weapon disappeared into Lou's chest nearly to the hilt.

Boyd was staring at Lou's eyes when they went blank in death. At first he stared in disbelief at the body that had fallen in front of his eyes. But then his breath visibly quickened and what had just happened seemed to hit him at once.

He went wild, struggling against the ground. He was screaming, his mouth open wide. Tears coursed relentlessly down his cheeks. Sin read Lou's name on his lips, over and over like a helpless prayer. He couldn't seem to look way from from his dead lover.

Although he had to have been screaming loud enough for his voice to echo, not a single soul came to investigate.

The leader stared at Boyd silently for a long moment and let Lou's face drop into the dirty water of the street gutter. The puddle steadily curled and twisted with the blood spreading into it. Dirty brown became clotted crimson. The blood spread further, a pool growing around Lou that crept closer and closer to Boyd's face. The leader smirked and stepped over the corpse, boots splashing in the deep red puddle. He sauntered over to Boyd and stared down at him coldly.

He ordered something to the other two, who unceremoniously yanked Boyd up. He laughed as Boyd continued to thrash and scream. He reached up and pulled Boyd's head back with a hand in his hair. At that angle, Sin could clearly read the words on the leader's lips:

"I want you to remember this forever."

The knife was still wet with Lou's blood when it plunged into Boyd's lower right stomach. The leader yanked it out, dropping Boyd's hair so he could get better leverage. With more force than was necessary he slammed the knife into the same spot. Boyd appeared to cry out, going slack in their hands. Even so, the leader yanked it out again, rearing back for a third strike. The blade was just arcing toward Boyd's stomach when the lookout suddenly turned and yelled something.

There were hurried, confused motions and the leader reluctantly stopped his assault. The leader looked annoyed at first but then they must have all heard a noise because the gang members all looked over at the same area. The leader flipped his bloody knife out of view and immediately ran away, seeming to completely forget Boyd and Lou's existences. The others were close behind.

Alone, Boyd dropped to the ground. By now it appeared that the fight had gone out of him. His face was blank with shock. He held a hand to his stomach almost absently as his eyes once again sought out Lou's ravaged body. Boyd dropped his hand and crawled toward him, leaving a bloody print smeared across the pavement every time he set his hand down.

He started to reach out to touch Lou but his fingers came away completely coated with blood and gore, and he held them up. Sin got a glimpse of a shocked, deadened expression and distant eyes before Boyd suddenly turned from the camera's view. He began heaving violently in the gutter behind the bloody scene.

Within seconds a young woman with dark brown hair appeared on screen. She seemed a little distracted, looking down at something in her hands, but when she looked up she saw the two immediately. Stumbling back, her mouth opened wide. She ran over, screaming with as much terror in her face as if she were the one hurt. She appeared to speak to Boyd before pulling out her cell phone.

Although the woman appeared hysterical, Boyd just stared at Lou's body. He didn't move any longer and any traces of emotion had drained away from him. His face was slack, eyes blank, as the woman called out to him frantically. Boyd didn't respond-- he didn't react, and didn't even attempt to pay attention to his own wounds. He let the blood soak his shirt and pants; his stare centered on Lou's face, bloody and twisted to the side. Staring at Boyd with sightless eyes.

Within the next few minutes, the scene exploded around him with commotion. Police and EMT workers arrived, but even then Boyd didn't react. They moved him around but he was limp as a corpse, although his eyes never left Lou's body. The video ended soon after, with Boyd being loaded onto an ambulance and sped away. Lou's corpse was left behind to the police and crime scene technicians, in a pool of his own blood.

Sin sat and stared for a long moment before he replayed the video again, and watched with an almost clinical detachment. He observed from under heavy lidded narrowed eyes and picked Lou's fighting technique apart with almost cruel disgust at the boy's inability to defend himself and his lover. The sloppy way the gang leader gutted him was not much better and Sin absently went through several methods of killing that would have been quicker and more efficient.

He'd been a professional assassin by the time he was their age; as far as he was concerned there was no excuse for the lack of skill.

He replayed it again and watched the desperate way Lou fought to defend his friend, and watched the knife disappear into Boyd's body.

The anger that Sin felt at the sight was unexpected. Why should he care, he asked himself dully, looking away and focusing on the window and the dark sky beyond. Boyd had survived the attack. If Lou had lived, it was more than likely that Boyd would have never become an apathetic recluse who'd valued his life so little that he'd agreed to join the Agency. He would have never met Sin.

Even so, Sin's teeth ground together and his fingers tightened around the mouse. He knew why it bothered him, and it was because of the ridiculous, growing infatuation he had with the younger agent. It was the same reason why it pissed him off when anyone on the compound looked at Boyd the wrong way or made one of their stupid comments about him.

It had nothing to do with whether Boyd was alive now. It just bothered him that someone had attacked him in general.

Shaking his head and wondering where he'd gone wrong to be in this partnership, Sin looked back at the screen. He tried to ignore the desire he had to replay the first part of the video. It shouldn't have taken him so aback to see Boyd kissing Lou, to see their bodies grinding together in a mimicry of sex. But it had surprised him, and his body had reacted in an unexpected way. The coil of arousal didn't make another appearance when Sin inevitably re-watched it, but that was only because he now knew what would happen next.

But his mind betrayed him and supplied mental images of himself crushing Boyd against the wall to his apartment. Instead of the memory of what really happened next, he closed his eyes briefly and saw himself ravaging Boyd's mouth and sliding his hands down the younger man's body the way Lou had.

Green eyes snapped open and Sin shook himself. He was being a fucking idiot.

He focused instead on finding out what had become of the attackers but he met with the same irritating conclusion that he'd expected. Lack of evidence, the eventual police file had said, no suspects, unsolved. He reviewed the files again more carefully and after watching the latter part of the video a second time, he focused more on the lookout and read his lips more than once. It would seem that the leader's name was Jared.

And Jared, it seemed, had gotten away with it.

Sin began opening programs and clicking things automatically, face perfectly blank although his eyes burned. He was in mission mode, doing things without thinking; his movements quick and concise. He printed out five pages and erased all traces of his history on the computer. He left the lab with an expression that was a lot deadlier than it had been when he'd gone in.

He took the stairs up to Ryan's apartment again and his fist pounded against the door loudly, enough for the sound to echo through the hall.

Ryan opened the door slowly and stared up at Sin. He seemed to note right away that something was wrong. He took an automatic step back as if wanting to put space between himself and the waves of anger that were radiating off Sin.

"Did something happen?" he asked hesitantly.

Sin stared down at him blankly and pushed his way into the apartment. "Look these men up for me," he said flatly.

"What?" Ryan squinted at him with a bewildered look on his face before taking the printed images that Sin held in one white-knuckled hand. "Who are these guys? Is this all you have?"

Sin stared at him stonily. "Just do it," he said softly.

Ryan nodded hastily and shoved the mass of papers and magazines off his desk before taking his seat at the computer. He laid each photograph out in the newly cleared space and chewed his lip. "Are these surveillance stills?" He glanced up at Sin and pushed his glasses up his nose, professional attitude taking over. "I need more to work with than this," he said almost apologetically.

"They are near First Bank. I think that one's name is Jared." Sin pointed at the picture. "He's the one I want."

Ryan froze for a moment and then nodded. "Uh, okay jussec." He turned on a lamp with an extremely bright bulb.

"I know for a fact that after the war there were only three First Banks that re-opened in the city so…" He trailed off and turned to his computer, fingers flying over the keyboard. "Okay, so these pictures were taken in front of the First Bank on Dauphin Street in Vickland," he murmured more to himself than Sin. "Used to be a nice area, wealthy folks, but it was prime spot for gang activity and looting after the bombings because it was really close to one of the blast sites."  

Sin crossed his arms over his chest and said nothing.

"And it looks like they're in the same gang… with a green bandana," Ryan mumbled to himself. He focused entirely on the computer screen and his fingers clattered at the keys as he intently studied everything he saw. His mouth pursed in a thin line and he swore several times to himself.

Sin stood completely still, not moving from his position even as time ticked by. He didn't know why it made him so angry-- didn't know why he even cared in any way. It didn't affect anything happening at the present time. It certainly didn't affect him. But even so...

Even so, it didn't stop him from wanting to know if Jared was out and about, enjoying his life.

It was another few moments by the time Ryan sat up straight in his chair and let out an exclamation. "The Outlaws!" he said excitedly. "They're in the news so much you'd think I would have remembered what color they wore," he complained even as he poured over the information he'd apparently found.

Sin's eyes finally dragged away from the photo and trained on Ryan with cold patience. "Yes?"

"Wait-" Ryan said, swept up in his research. "Okay, Outlaws formed before the wars… major beef with the South Side Boys, got worse over the years-" He mumbled as he read out loud and skimmed the information.

"Jared Strickland suspected in multiple murders and rapes around Vickland... but never pinned with any of them. He's a real shitbag. Has a terrible record dating back to 2010 when he was only fifteen. Seems to get off on slashing civilians and has a bad history of rape. It doesn't make sense that he's never been inside a jail for longer than a few months at a time. He has to be protected by someone in the police department or higher. There's even speculation about it in the Journalist Guild although it doesn't seem like they ever found concrete proof."

Ryan looked up at Sin and motioned for him to come to his side of the desk. Sin eyed him for a moment before crossing the space that separated them. He stood behind Ryan and leaned over his shoulder, looking at the computer screen impassively.

"Is uh, this your guy?"

"Yes. That's my guy." Somewhere in the back of his mind he noted absently that it'd been the same corrupt police department that had tried to pin the Vickland murders on him several years ago.

Ryan nodded and glanced back down at the screen. "A lot of his cronies are in jail or dead already but somehow this guy has survived. His crimes have piled up a lot over the last few years but nothing has happened really. Sometimes there has even been evidence that was either ignored or miraculously went missing. He definitely has to be related to someone or else he has some kind of dirt on a big shot in the city."

The comment deepened Sin's frown and he brushed a hand across his face. He fought the urge to ask which crimes exactly had piled up over the past decade. Had it been the serial rapes in Vickland and Crandall Park that they'd tried to pin on Sin? The murders that had seemed mostly gang related although they'd tried to imply that he was behind it after going on some kind of rampage?

He didn't know if any of this was true but at the moment it seemed possible. The man had obviously been an active psychopath for the last nine or ten years so the timing was correct. How ironic that if it turned out to be true the police would have stuck him with Jared's crimes, possibly even including Lou's murder. But it was all speculation.

Getting back to the matter at hand, Sin looked at the laptop again. "There's a surveillance tape of one of his crimes in the Agency database. How could the police not use it against him?"

Ryan shook his head, seeming just as dismayed by the obvious obstruction. "My guess is that the Agency was keeping an eye on Jared since he was obviously a high profile criminal."

"Maybe they wanted to recruit him," Sin said flatly.

The R&D agent gave a disgusted nod. "I wouldn't be surprised. I know they've hired lots of criminals and killers before. I guess sociopaths fit their assassin profile... In the end they don't actually keep people like Strickland though. It seems like he gets too much of a thrill out of doing this stuff."

Sin didn't really give a shit about Strickland's psych profile. "The tape?"

"Oh, right. Well, I'm thinking after the Agency copied it, the original somehow disappeared like all of the other stuff that tended to go miraculously missing with this guy." Ryan scanned whatever he was reading, frowning. "Oh wow, apparently he killed some rich politician's son a few years ago too."

Sin tensed at the words. So far he hadn't explicitly told Ryan that he was looking into the death of Boyd's friend and he didn't plan to. If Ryan saw it himself, it would be out of his hands. Fortunately, whatever Ryan was reading didn't appear to mention Boyd's name.

"That was pretty high profile for awhile so there's some stuff on it here. Apparently he murdered this kid in broad daylight and then went around trying to pawn some jewelry taken from the scene. Several different pawn brokers came forward stating that Strickland was trying to sell a pendant with the Krauszer family crest on it, and even people stating that they saw Strickland wearing it but nothing was done."

The venom that had started swirling in Sin's system began to burn. The arrogance of this person was astounding. He must think himself untouchable. Safe beyond a measure of doubt.

"Where is he now?"

Ryan scanned the page with an abnormal speed but somehow took in every piece of information. "According to what we have in the database about him, he's still a lieutenant in the Outlaws but really heavy into drugs. He's in a methadone program but still does heroin at the same time. And... oh, he currently resides at 289 Hammond Place in the Industrial district. Hmm… It seems that he is just squatting there but it's on his residency placard for some re--"

Sin was gone before the sentence could be completed.

Aside from the Barrows, the Industrial district was one of the worst places to be in the city after a certain time. Despite the curfew that the police had put on the area, it could still be a haven of crime. Robberies were a frequent occurrence as were random acts of violence. The area was controlled by the South Side Boys ironically enough so Sin had no idea why Strickland was even living there. Perhaps it was close enough to the Theater District that he felt comfortable.

289 Hammond Place was one of the abandoned tenement buildings that hovered in one grid of the district. It was dilapidated and against building code, but no one was supposed to live there so nobody cared. Jared Strickland lived on the top floor. It appeared to be half hideout, half drug den; paraphernalia was scattered everywhere in the loft-like space he occupied.

The years hadn't been kind to Strickland. Years of fighting, drugs and alcohol had aged him. He was only in his mid twenties but he looked closer to forty-five. His eyes were as hard as they had been in the video and his face just as cruel. He was one of those rare people whose inner qualities seemed to be displayed across his outward appearance like a banner. But despite this toughness, Strickland was obviously not doing well. He looked emaciated and weak. The room stank of sickness.

Strickland sat on the filthy mattress that sagged on the floor and peered out the window with anxious eyes. His hands were shaking slightly and he was covered in a sheen of sweat. He looked pale and unclean; his eyes looked sunken in and had a yellowish tinge.

He didn't seem to sense that someone else had entered the room until the shadows shifted in the corner. His eyes snapped to the area and narrowed, mouth twisting in a hateful sneer.

"It's about time," he growled. "I feel like fucking shit waiting for you. I can't even get up."

His only answer was silence but silence that was punctuated with the undeniable fact that there was someone else in the room. Strickland shifted on the bed and shakily pulled himself to a stand.

"Archie, what the hell are you doing?"

Sin's dark figure detached itself from the rest of the shadows and Jared recoiled instantly. He pushed himself back against the wall, tremors increasing as he bent to grope the dirty sheets for a weapon. His skinny body moved erratically, fingers barely able to perform the search.

"What the fuck are you doing here?"

Sin didn't respond and walked towards him calmly. The moonlight illuminated his face as Strickland looked at him with a growing sense of unease. His arrogance didn't seem to be with him at the moment. Neither did the prowess he'd showed with his blade on the video. Now he just looked helpless. He was starting to look frightened as well.

"I'm warning you man, you're fucking with the wrong dude," Strickland said lowly. His breath was coming in fast, uneven spurts.

Sin didn't stop walking until he was standing directly in front of him. Strickland pressed his back against the wall, looking as though he wanted nothing more than to cling to his arrogance. If he'd been face to face with anyone else he would have likely started dropping Outlaw names, claiming that Fender Aulds himself would avenge him if anything happened.

But Sin wasn't anyone else. His face was devoid of emotion, his green eyes burning with hatred. At the moment it didn't process that this would be cold blooded murder. It didn't process that this man was helpless. Defenseless. At the moment he just saw an arrogant killer who was still wearing the Krauszer pendant on his thin neck.

"Dude--what do you want?" Strickland demanded desperately, scuttling away from Sin. "Money? Drugs? Fuck man, just tell me what you want!"

Sin's full mouth twisted up into a smile. "I want you to remember this."

Jared's blood-curdling screams echoed through the Industrial district for hours. No one came to his aid.

When Boyd entered his house, it was dark and silent. He absently flipped on a light as he dropped his bag on the couch in the living room. The meeting with Andrews had ended up running long and he was tired. Part of him wanted to go straight to sleep but he decided he needed some wind down time to relax. He headed toward the kitchen to make a cup of tea.

He turned the light on as he walked into the kitchen. The unexpected sight of someone sitting in there made his heart jump with adrenaline and alarm. It took a second to realize that it was Sin, sitting at his kitchen table, his eyes down and face void of expression. Boyd was completely taken off guard by the presence of his partner, who he'd never told where he lived.

"Sin," Boyd said in surprise. "What-- How did you get in here?"

Sin's vivid green eyes rose and he stared at Boyd for a long moment before he shifted in the chair. It was then that his shirt became more visible, as well as the blood stains that were splattered on it. Closer inspection showed that there were remnants of blood also visible on his hands, with splatters on his face and neck. It was barely visible as if he'd tried to quickly scrub himself clean but hadn't been able to do a thorough job.

"I picked the lock."

"What? Why--?" The scene almost felt surreal but it was quickly being eclipsed by confusion and growing concern. Boyd moved toward his partner. "Did something happen? Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," Sin replied quickly, standing and moving further away from Boyd. He raked both hands through his hair, the movements slightly unsteady. "Fine."

Boyd stopped, hands still partially raised from when he'd been about to reach out. Sin's reaction only confused him further. The strangeness of the situation was beginning to make him nervous.

"Sin, what's going on?" he asked a little warily. He stayed where he was, although now he was getting even more worried about his partner and the question of whose blood that was.

Sin's gaze flicked away again and he didn't reply. His face was drawn in blankness except for eyes that burned like green fire. It was an expression that was eerily similar to the one he took on when a mission was occurring. A mission where he shut everything else out and became the killing machine he was said to be.

Boyd hesitated. Was this the precursor to one of Sin's episodes? No one had ever fully determined what exactly caused them.

Despite seeming as though he may have washed some off, there was enough blood left on Sin to make it seem very likely that he'd killed someone. Who? As far as Boyd knew, Sin hadn't been on a mission although one could have come up. But if he hadn't been, had something happened? Had he snapped? Had he killed a civilian? Was this the beginning of an episode and, if so, was it possible he would attack Boyd?

If that happened, would Boyd be able to stop it this time?


He watched his partner, feeling poised on a moment of uncertainty. He wanted to move closer to him to see if he was injured; see if he needed help. At the same time, his instincts were yelling at him to move to the far side of the room and stay near an exit in case he needed to run.

He didn't know what to do in a situation like this, and it was starting to scare him.

"Sin, what do you want from me?" Boyd asked carefully.

At that Sin looked up and moved forward, reaching out suddenly. It was so abrupt of a movement, and so unexpected, that Boyd took an automatic step back. Alarm flashed across his face before he could stop it and he tensed as he subconsciously fell into a defensive stance.

There was another pause, but this time Sin seemed to freeze. There was a brief flash of something in his expression as stared at Boyd for a long moment, but then his eyes dropped as his mouth turned down.

"I found something... of yours."

"What..?" Boyd felt like he was constantly losing his balance in this conversation.

There was another brief stretch of strained silence before Sin put something on the table and slid it across towards Boyd.

Boyd looked down, his eyebrows drawing together at first. A necklace? He didn't even have any necklaces so how could it be his? He started to reach for it when he registered that there was a ring on it. Something about it made dread pool in the pit of his stomach and it was only a second later when he recognized it.

Lou's ring.

Lou's necklace.

The necklace he was wearing when he--

Boyd's hand snapped away and he stumbled back automatically. His face drained of blood, a look of horror twisting his features. The dread in his stomach spread like wildfire with nausea as thick as smoke--

That day slammed back into his mind with sharp, frightening clarity. The memories he'd been trying to push away and suppress and ignore and pretend it hadn't happened, it had all been a nightmare, it had all been--

Lou's face, twisted in agony and impotence-- that helpless, terrible certainty that moved between them when they realized it had all gone so horribly out of control and there was no stopping it-- there was no changing the way that fight was going and Lou was going to die--

Bile was at the back of his throat and Boyd's arms jerked against his stomach. The memory of that knife, hot with Lou's blood, plunging into him-- and it hurt, it hurt so much as they held him still and smirked and laughed. When the knife drove into him he couldn't help thinking, this is what Lou felt, this is what Lou felt when he--

He was going to throw up. He couldn't be here. He couldn't...

Boyd turned around and walked out of the kitchen, feeling ten steps removed from the moment and unable to deal with any of it. He was barely able to hold everything together so it wouldn't make him break down again. Lou's violent death and the anguish in his eyes right up until the end-- those blue eyes that used to follow his movements and those lips that smiled at his presence and brushed his warmly when they were close--

No. No, no, no, he didn't want to remember, he didn't want to hurt like that again...

Nowhere felt safe in his house but he fled anyway, going into his parents' old room because it didn't have memories of Lou there. Memories and emotions and pain were an avalanche growing inside, ready to topple and suffocate him, and he had to be alone before it happened. He couldn't show that weakness; he couldn't let anyone hurt him with it again.

His body was taut as a rubber band ready to snap and he was gritting his teeth, coiled in on himself in a dark corner and holding tightly to his knees. It was rising in him; the agony and the horrific memories and he could practically feel again the ghost of that hot blood splattering his face and Lou-- his best friend, his lover, his protector, his brother, his everyone-- Lou's eyes going from wide and shocked (as if he was asking himself, Can it really end like this?) and pained (Don't hurt Boyd, don't put your hands on him!) to glassy and dead--

Pain and a torrent of tears and too much, far too much built in him-- memories of Dauphin Street and afterward and everything that he'd tried so hard for so long to push away so he could function. Lou's death had destroyed him and it had taken everything to make it through that and the aftermath. And all along it had only been reinforced-- he shouldn't show weakness so they wouldn't hurt him again, so no one would hurt him again.

But all those years of trying to deny and repress were ripped out and flayed by the sight of one innocuous necklace. His fingers dug into his hair and he pressed his face against his knees and he tried so hard not to cry, not to vomit, but he didn't make it long.

He didn't even hear when Sin had left.

Continue to Chapter 16