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 Sixteen

The week following his birthday was punctuated with nightmares like Boyd hadn't had in years, and overwhelming moments of feeling at a complete loss. He avoided the kitchen for most of the next day, not wanting to confront the memories that seemed too stark and cutting. It made it feel like Lou's murder had happened yesterday instead of years before, and like all the months he'd spent layering avoidance upon apathy upon denial were now taken away.

When he closed his eyes he had the nightmares again. That day, over and over in his mind. Remembering the feel of the wall hard against his back, his hair catching on the bricks and Lou's chuckle. The guilty thrill of his lover, his best friend, pressing him to the side of an alley and that happy feeling that had suffused him when they'd touched foreheads and smiled at each other.

The erroneous belief that everything would be okay. That they had each other, no matter what.

And after that, the horror that for so long he'd wanted to believe had just been a dream, a terrible dream that he could wake from. But it was all there, locked in his memory and seeping poison. The laughter around him; the hands digging into his arms and fists slamming into him until he fell.

Their taunts and inhumanity. Blood spilling out of Lou's mouth and mocking words sliding around them.

"I think you broke some of this fucker's teeth."

"It'll make it easier for him to give head."

And Jared's face, burned into his mind like a brand. That smirk; that arrogance. The way he played with the knife. The way he played with them.

"This your little woman? I always knew you were a fucking faggot, Lou."

Those hated fingers digging in his hair; the feeling of the world as a black hole collapsing in on itself and everything falling apart. That face, close to him and smirking. And, more than anything, the words that had haunted his dreams and mocked every scream, every hysterical sob in the long weeks that had followed.

"I want you to remember this."

During the waking hours he tried not to remember Lou's death because it hurt so much but at night it was all he saw, over and over. Arcing blood and the wet, dead weight sound of a body falling to the ground. The feel of hot blood licking his cheeks; getting smeared by his tears.

His remembered his throat going raw from screaming and, feeling worse and worse each time he remembered it, the impotence and terror of being held down throughout it all. Unable to do anything. Unable to stop the moment that destroyed everything for him. Unable to protect his lover only a few feet away. Unable to even protect himself. And, compounding it, other memories crowding in. Dark shadows and painful wrists and the taste of blood in his throat. The fear only growing and growing until it was enough to eclipse all else.

It took several days to be able to function on any level. He'd spent years trying to protect himself from the very thing that had so unexpectedly been brought back to him. At first it was all he could do to make it through the night. He spent more hours awake than not and finally breached the kitchen for tea.

Later, he was able to look at the situation askance just enough to realize that the presence of the ring and the blood must mean Sin had found Jared. He'd tracked down the arrogant son of a bitch who had destroyed Boyd's life and murdered Lou for fun, and he'd brought the ring back as proof.

But even when he'd realized that, it was still too much to comprehend. Too much to take in. He'd spent so long trying to protect himself from these very memories that it was a struggle to get over them at all. Let alone formulate any sort of coherent response.

During that period Boyd and Sin saw each other at a meeting. Boyd didn't remember much of the meeting itself. He'd felt Sin's green eyes burning into him from time to time but Boyd hadn't been able to speak to him. He didn't know what to say when he barely had words for himself. He didn't know what to do when he was still reeling from it all.

So he ended up partially avoiding Sin because he was almost afraid to be alone with him. Afraid that there hadn't been enough time for him to rediscover his balance. Afraid that Sin would ask him questions he couldn't answer and afraid that being alone with him would make him start thinking too much about the whole situation. Like how had Jared died? Had he suffered? Had that piece of shit remembered what he'd done to Lou and had he been keeping that ring as some sort of laughing memento? How could Jared have lived so long when Lou, Lou who'd been everything to Boyd, had been killed so violently and so soon?

It was over a week and a half since his birthday, and a few days since the first meeting, when Boyd was called into a briefing. He'd managed to force himself to come to terms on some level with the situation but he was still at a loss as to how to respond to Sin.

Nothing seemed right and part of him wasn't sure he wanted to broach the subject anyway. Part of him wanted to simply accept the knowledge (and the relief he hadn't realized he'd been waiting for) of knowing that Jared was dead, and not examine it any further. That part of him wanted the ability to walk away from all the terrible feelings that had been dredged up and try, once again, to start anew. Yet another part of him knew he was only fooling himself to think he could do that, and pointed out that obviously the first time he'd done it he'd only buried the feelings or else they wouldn't have hurt him so much when they were sliced back open.

Regardless of that, the one thing he knew was that it was painful enough to think about and felt impossible to talk about. The very concept was overwhelming.

At the meeting, Boyd sat down next to Ryan while Jeffrey focused on his panel. Owen came in later than Boyd and, with a sleepy, disgruntled look at Boyd for stealing his usual spot, he moved to the other side of the table.

Sin and Carhart were already there. Boyd noticed in glancing past Sin that he was expressionless, reminiscent of the way he'd been before they'd started talking. Although Boyd noted that, he didn't know what to do about it. Since the briefing was about to start, he felt relief in knowing that he didn't have to try to figure it out.

"I won't bother to ask how everyone is doing," Carhart said dryly, taking in Boyd's somber face and Sin's non-expression. "I'm sure everyone's tired of doing nothing for so long, but the good news is that we finally arranged a meeting with Thierry."

When neither of his field agents commented, Carhart scowled and looked between them more closely. "Is there something I need to know?"

Boyd kept his eyes on Carhart while he silently shook his head. Owen looked between Sin and Boyd with sleepy interest, and Jeffrey watched them strangely.

"It's probably the weather," Ryan said lamely after an awkward moment of silence.

Carhart stared at Ryan briefly before shaking his head. "Anyway. The meeting will be in France and is expected to last two days. That is all he claimed he can spare, and that's your window for getting the intel from him. Arrangements have already been made and you will be staying at Thierry's hotel in Paris. You leave tonight."

"He has a hotel?" Ryan asked. "I didn't know he was that loaded."

"Yes. But I don't really wish to discuss the man's money." Carhart made a face and continued. "I cannot stress enough the importance of this mission. He's willing to give us data on Janus' inner core, with a very high probability that it is legitimate. Before now, their inner core has been almost mythical because it's been completely out of our reach."

His blond eyebrows drew together as he gave Sin and Boyd significant looks. "Thierry is very fickle, as you should know, Sin. His cooperation depends on his mood so you need to keep him happy. I don't care what you have to do as long as you stay on his good side. He's loyal to no one in particular and will go with whoever best suits his needs and whims at the moment."

"It should be noted," Jeffrey said mildly, "that the area the hotel is set in is very high class. If you stand out too much," and his gaze settled on Sin, "then you may irritate Thierry. He does not want it known that he associates with questionable people."

Owen nodded, leaning against one hand. "You'll be going penguin-style."

"Sin?" It seemed as though Sin hadn't even heard him so Carhart leaned forward and slammed his hand against the table. "Wake up."

Green eyes lifted and stared at Carhart moodily. "Yes?"

"You need to do something about that hair. Report to Cynthia in Unit 16 immediately after this meeting."

Sin looked at him with barely concealed contempt. "Whatever."

"It sucks for you guys, though," Owen said to Sin and Boyd, completely idly as if he had not heard Carhart and Sin's exchange. "He gave you no time. Gave me no time, either... I had to get you plane tickets for tonight already, and I bet you a week's vacation that tomorrow he'll be expecting you to be bright-eyed and chipper, and..." Owen trailed off in confusion for a second. He turned to look at Ryan almost curiously, as if asking him silently what he had been talking about. "And all awake. And chipper."

"He will," Carhart agreed. "He demanded that the meeting be tomorrow and no later or the whole deal was off. I don't particularly enjoy playing his games but unfortunately the current state of affairs leave me very little choice. He is very particular about what he wa--"

"What I don't understand," Sin interupted coldly and flatly, "is why my presence is needed at all. My job is to kill. There will be no killing. I serve no purpose."

"Oh, I'm sure you can find the odd innocent bystander to rip into," Jeffrey drawled.

Sin stared at him and said nothing.

Carhart was silent a moment as he sized up the senior agent. His blue eyes were narrowed and his expression was becoming increasingly stormy. "You're going because it's your job. You and Boyd are a team. Your job is to back him up when things get out of hand. This isn't a Warren Andrews mission where we know exactly how to handle him. Thierry is a wildcard, we can't trust him. For all we know this could very well be a trap."

Sin's eyes flicked to Boyd but his eyes almost immediately moved away. "He can handle it," he said flatly. "Just put me back in my fucking box and stop making me go on these bullshit assignments."

Carhart's mouth tightened into a line and he looked at the others. "Jeff, give Boyd the overview. Sin. See me outside. Now." He stood up abruptly, gave Sin another frozen look and strode outside.

Sin's mouth twisted into a humorless smile and he followed Carhart. Boyd watched the two leave, wondering briefly what was being said out there. He kept his expression blank and unreadable.

"What the hell is wrong with you two?" Jeffrey asked Boyd, actually sounding curious. He slid two panels across the table.

"Nothing," Boyd said tonelessly. He grabbed one of the panels and turned it on, flicking through the documents on the touchscreen quickly. There was the mission outline, background information on Thierry, the information to download their tickets and more.

Shrugging in complete unconcern, Jeffrey didn't challenge the comment when Boyd said nothing more. "If you lose the password, you will be out of luck. The information is heavily encrypted."

"Ah," Boyd said, for lack of anything better to say.

Jeffrey just shook his head and looked back at his panel. "I'm sure you can read and you have an eight hour flight so I don't really see the need to tell you detail by detail right now."

Boyd nodded. "I understand."

Jeffrey gave up with a mildly irritated sigh.

Ryan frowned slightly and leaned closer to Boyd, speaking low enough to be unheard by Owen and Jeffrey. "What happened? You were both doing so well."

Boyd just shook his head, not wanting to go into the details. He did his best to not seem completely unapproachable in the movement but he didn't know how successful he was.

Although he'd spent some time around Ryan on and off over the last few months, and although he did like him and they'd spoken a bit about some personal information, Boyd hadn't told anyone about Lou. He couldn't even come up with adequate words for Sin, let alone Ryan.

Ryan frowned and his eyes looked almost skeptical behind his glasses. "I know it's none of my business but ever since that night Sin came to my apartment--"

The door slammed open with a crack, cutting Ryan off. Carhart reappeared, a black look on his normally affable face. "Boyd, get in my office."

Boyd looked over immediately and felt his stomach drop. Any questions that had started to form in his mind as to why in the world Sin had been at Ryan's apartment, fled when he saw Carhart's face. His expression automatically turned blank and he pushed himself to his feet. "Yes, sir."

Carhart got ahead of him while he delayed long enough to grab his belongings. When he reached the office, Carhart was already there. He stood facing his window, hands clasped behind his back. His spine was ramrod straight and everything about his posture screamed anger and tension. He seemed upset from whatever had been said in his exchange with Sin but Sin was nowhere in sight.

Boyd shut the door behind him quietly, but did not move much further into the room. Every time Boyd could remember being in Carhart's presence before he had seemed in a relatively good mood and if he was angry it was never at Boyd. But now that didn't seem to be the case. As he stood there, he didn't dare look at the walls, didn't dare do anything but watch Carhart's back with the utmost respect.

Carhart stood there for several moments before saying anything. The silence practically hummed with tension that thickened the air, radiating off the obviously upset General.

"I don't suppose anyone ever told you how I met Sin's father?"

The question seemed like a non sequitur but Boyd decided not to question anything. "No, sir."

Carhart nodded and continued to stare out the window. "After the war began, the military was a mess. Our Commander in Chief was dead, the Vice President was dead, the Secretary of Defense... dead. The Pentagon was in shambles." He was quiet for a moment.

"I began to work for the Agency as a field agent at first, quickly moving up because of my military background. I met Sin's father here." There was the hint of a smile in his voice, although when Carhart turned to Boyd again it wasn't entirely visible on his face.

"He was such a cocky fuck. I disliked him at first, especially because everyone else loved him. I was quiet and he was outgoing, I was a loner and he was so damn charismatic. He bated me and we'd argue. But we worked together for awhile and he saved my life on more than one occasion. It made me feel worthless at first. I was the one with the military background, the apt pupil, and he was some scruffy street guy, self trained and brash, learned everything he knew from street fighting... but yet he was better than me."

Boyd thought Sin and his father sounded quite opposite, other than the brash part, but he said nothing.

"There was a time when things were especially bad. The government was still picking up the pieces and everyone was an enemy. Emilio was sent on long solo missions, assassination missions, he'd disappear for months on undercover stints. Our main form of communication to him was via e-mail for two years."

Carhart paused and stared at Boyd calmly. "He was to come in for a debriefing after the completion of a long series of assassinations. It was interesting because Emilio had a certain flare in everything he did. He had a dark sense of humor and it was always evident in his work. But for some reason in his last few missions, there was a distinct lack of that personalization in his mission reports." He paused again. "Do you know why, Boyd?"

Boyd watched Carhart with an unreadable expression, not answering at first. Ryan said that Sin's father trained him, and that he came in when he was fourteen, but he didn't know if it was directly related.

"Because Sin helped him?" he ventured.

Carhart smiled. "You could say that."

He walked around his desk and leaned against the front of it. "We expected Emilio for the debriefing but instead we got his son. In walked little Vega with his father's laptop, fourteen years old, skinny as a reed and with his father's same intense green eyes. We still don't have complete intel on the events that occurred during that time but as far as we gathered, Emilio concealed his son's existence from us for six years as he trained him and took him on assassination missions. It seemed as though he'd been planning to get us to recruit the boy but it didn't happen exactly as he had planned."

Carhart paused for a moment and shook his head. "We're not sure how Emilio died. We never saw a body, never got a straight answer, but it seems that he'd been dead a year before the debriefing and Sin had completed the assignments on his own."

"Why did he come in?" Boyd asked. "Couldn't he have ignored the summons?"

Carhart spread his hands. "I don't know. I don't even know why he completed the missions after Emilio died. A normal child would have... run away, I imagine." He looked away, mouth drawing down in a frown. "Emilio was my friend. But when Sin arrived here, he was half the age of any other agent and ten times as skilled a killer. What Emilio did to get him to that point, I can only wonder about."

Looking down at the panel in his hands, Boyd nodded for lack of anything better to do.

"I always knew it was a bad idea but no one listened to me at that time," Carhart said with a sigh. "I had no real authority. They couldn't pass up so good a killer, especially one they thought they could mold from childhood. They didn't care about his age. Or the fact that there was something... wrong with him." He shook his head. "Sin was always different. It seemed that he knew nothing else but violence; it seemed that he could react in no other way than with violence. He was like a dog that had been trained only to fight. He had no bark. It was all bite."

The general looked into Boyd's eyes again. "The people here didn't help. They knew he was mentally unstable but still they used him and while they used him, they ridiculed him. They labeled him as a freak because he was so young and such an adept killer; they sent him to murder but flinched at him because he did it so well and without any emotion. He got older, colder, more violent. They treated him like a wild animal that could never be tamed, even if they could force him to do what they wanted at times. I'll never understand the depth of his illness or the triggers of his behavior, but as his violence began to spread outside of missions... the Agency began to worry. He was too skilled an assassin to give up but at the same time he was wild and out of control. They began devising ways to control him without having to get rid of him."

Carhart's hands curled into fists and once again, he looked away with narrowed cerulean eyes.

"I'm ashamed to say that I've continued in that vein. I'm ashamed of the box; of the collar. But you have to understand that at this point, after all of the years of his instability growing while untreated, it seemed like it was too late. It seemed as though he was too far gone to ever come back. And although he'd done some heinous things, I knew it was because of his upbringing and I couldn't blame him entirely. I convinced Connors to give him another chance because I can't stand to see him in that box, where his claustrophobia pushes him further into insanity. So I devised a plan. I gave him the collar, I tried to do something to let him have some freedom. I didn't think it would work, I didn't think you would last as his partner, but for awhile it seemed..."

Carhart trailed off for a moment, his expression growing weary.

"For awhile I began to see a side of him that I'd never seen before. But now for some reason it's gone. Now he's back to being cold. He told me that if I didn't put him back in the box, he would make me sorry. That he would force me to do it." Carhart narrowed his eyes.

"I need to know why."

Boyd felt caught by Carhart's stare; by the history he laid out. And by the information. Sin had actually said that? But he feared the box. Why would he ever make that threat to Carhart?

It didn't take a genius to note the difference between the way Sin had been before that night at Boyd's house and the way he acted afterward. In the past, Sin had wavered between shutting down any progress and moving forward with whatever strangely comfortable thing they'd managed to form between them.

But on that night, somewhere between Sin giving him the necklace and Boyd walking out on him, things changed. Sin had somehow found out about Lou; maybe he'd read whatever background information he'd once claimed he could read any time he wanted. And he'd managed to somehow track down Jared, presumably kill him, and return the missing ring.

Boyd didn't know how Sin knew about the ring but he assumed the Agency had found out about it. Given that Lou's parents had been high profile people, and the fact that Vivienne had already been at the Agency, it wasn't surprising if they'd discovered information Boyd wouldn't have thought could have spread beyond that street. He'd never told anyone about the stolen ring so he could only assume the Agency had found out later through something related to Jared. The thought was unnerving.

Boyd didn't know Sin's motivations for why he'd done it, what he'd expected of Boyd in response, or whether he'd understood from Boyd's reaction about how much it all had upset him. But with the tension and distance that had grown between them afterward, it was clear that it was contributing to the way Sin was acting now.

"We--" He stopped. What could he possibly say? "Something happened and it created some distance between us. He may be upset about that."

Carhart's brow creased and his lips pursed as he stared down at Boyd. "And what is this something that occurred?"

"Just a miscommunication," Boyd said dismissively. His stomach clenched at the idea of Carhart pressing it; of him demanding to know what it had been about. "Which isn't unusual in all honesty, given our history."

Carhart was silent for a moment before shaking his head with a sigh. He didn't seem like he wanted to give up that easily, but for some reason he decided to let it go.

"Whatever it is, I should hope it gets sorted it. Especially in light of what is going on now. And now I'm going to get to the real reason I called you in here. What happened to your remote? I know the chip has either malfunctioned or been destroyed."

Boyd was caught off-guard by the question. He had almost completely forgotten about the remote, and he certainly didn't think that anyone would be able to know that anything happened to it. In retrospect, it did make sense that it would be monitored; Sin was only controllable as long as the remote was active.

"Ah," Boyd said after a moment. "It..." He wanted to lie, but he couldn't bring himself to do so to a commanding officer. Especially not after Carhart had seemed so angry, and certainly not after he took the time to explain his viewpoint to Boyd.

"I think it broke."

"It broke," Carhart repeated flatly. There was a stretch of silence. "I didn't mention the remote before because Sin had showed considerable improvement in his behavior. But now that he has gone right back to where he'd been before, I feel it is imperative that you have it."

He paused and seemed to be searching for the right words. "I can see that you are like me, that you don't just consider him a tool. I also understand that you two have become close. At the same time, you have to be on your guard. Considering the state he is in at the moment, I strongly advise you accept a replacement." He walked over to his desk and set a new remote on top of it. "And use your best judgment about its usage."

Boyd stared at the remote for a long moment. Carhart may be right about Sin's instability, but Boyd had managed to stop him before without the collar. He didn't feel that he was about to use it now. Still, whether or not he used it didn't matter. He didn't have a good reason for turning it down to Carhart; all he had to do was not use it. He picked up the remote and put it in his pocket without saying anything.

Carhart nodded shortly, all business again. "Sin is with Cynthia at the moment, getting ready. I suggest you do the same. Your flight is in five hours." He turned towards his desk again but added something else before Boyd could turn to go.

"Sin is not the only one you should be worried about on this assignment. Thierry is a good source of information but he has a knack for putting us through hell in order to get it. Regardless of that, we must have it. The information he's hinting at could turn this entire war with Janus, Boyd. It could change everything. And I need you to do whatever it takes to get it."

There was another pause but not one long enough to leave Boyd time for questions or comments. "Good luck."

"Yes, sir," Boyd said, and left the room without another word.

He went back to the conference room only long enough to find out where Cynthia was located, and head over. The receptionist informed him that he would be needing minimal "physical work" and sent him to a room where they ended up giving him a haircut. They didn't cut off much length but they gave it some style, something he'd been utterly lacking for most of his life.

After that he was sent to another room where it turned out that they'd designated suitable clothing for him already. He was told to change into a charcoal-colored suit and a button down shirt, while two more outfits were carefully packed for him in preparation, as well as clothing for Sin. Apparently Unit 16 was yet another pit stop that field agents made before a mission, just like Artillery. However Unit 16 specialized in undercover outfits and disguises, not weaponry.

The wait for Sin was at least forty minutes, but when the other man finally reappeared he'd undergone a considerable transformation. For the first time since they'd met, Sin was clean shaven and the straggly remains of red dye from whatever assignment had called for it were gone. His hair was shorter although it still reached the nape of his neck, but black hair escaped the style they'd tried to give it and hung in his eyes. He was wearing a black suit that was fitted to his lanky body, and a crisp white shirt beneath that had been unbuttoned at the collar.

Even with the awkwardness between them, Boyd found his gaze lingering on his partner's appearance. Sin looked good. Really good. It was strange seeing him so cleaned up; almost like he wasn't the same person. Boyd liked the scruffier look Sin usually sported but there was definitely something to be said about the way his eyes and body seemed to stand out even more when he looked like this.

He felt a slight pang at the thought combined with the expressionless way Sin glanced past him. He found himself wondering what Sin would look like with one of his more approachable expressions when he was dressed like this. At that thought, he wanted everything between them to be fixed as soon as possible.

But when he thought about fixing it, he thought about talking to Sin, which made him think of that night, which brought to mind the ring, which still brought a clenching dread to his stomach and throat, which made his voice leave him before he could even think of anything to say in the first place. It was a cycle he suspected he'd go through a few more times until he could find a way out of it.

He just needed a few more days. He just needed to give himself a chance to recover and a chance to determine what he could and would say.

Besides, he had to admit that after everything that had happened, and after how upset they each were in their own way, trying to bring up a serious discussion like that right before such an important mission with such a mercurial person was a terrible idea. All it would take was the wrong word or wrong expression and things would be worse off than they already were. And since Sin didn't like Thierry, the mission was probably going to be strained enough on its own.

The mission felt ominous enough on its own, with the warnings about how imperative it was that they do anything necessary to get the information from Thierry and how unpredictable Thierry was. Even so, maybe it was good to have a mission now even though he felt nervous and not at all at the top of his game. Maybe having something else to focus on would help him clear his mind. Maybe on the plane ride home or after the debriefing later he would be able to pull Sin aside and they could talk.

But right now, it didn't work. So, although there were so many things he knew needed to eventually come up between them, he didn't say any of it.

Instead he nodded at Sin and fell in line beside him as they headed toward the door. "You look good," he commented.

Sin shrugged. "I guess."

Boyd didn't have a response to that and they ended up falling silent. Neither of them spoke as they headed for transportation to the airport.

The flight ended up being eight hours and they were almost the only people on it. It was a semi-private jet that Owen ended up booking them on; the only other people there were a couple of very rich looking business men whose suits probably cost more than a typical person could earn in two years. They spoke over wine about nothing in particular, but Boyd found himself idly listening to them as he read through the information on his panel.

He gave the other panel to Sin, but Sin did not so much as look at it. His pale green gaze was focused solely on the window, and for the entire flight the only time he was not looking out was when he closed his eyes and sat silently for long periods of time.

Being stuck on a plane would have given Boyd too much time to brood if he hadn't had the panel with him. He read everything and reread parts a few times simply because it was something to do. He was very aware of Sin sitting next to him and couldn't help watching him from the corner of his eye now and then. When he'd exhausted his attention for the panel, he'd turned to watching the drivel movie they had playing on the screen embedded in the back of the seat in front of him. He managed to fall asleep but it wasn't long before any inane dreams he may have been having turned down the dark path he'd been treading all too often of late, filled with blood and screams and terror. He jerked awake, his heartbeat racing and his skin feeling clammy.

Seeing that the others were asleep or not paying attention made relief flood through him. He got up and walked to the bathroom, bracing his hands on the sink for a moment while he tilted his head forward and closed his eyes. He couldn't think about these things. He couldn't let nightmares keep jerking him awake; it was dragging down his energy little by little. But he also had no control over it and he supposed expecting himself to deal with everything in under two weeks after having repressed it for years was expecting too much.

He ended up splashing his face with some cold water and looked at himself in the mirror. He could see the rings beneath his eyes, which were slightly bloodshot. Aside from that, he hadn't mussed up his hair or clothing too much so far. He was still presentable, which was the most important thing right now. If he could give a good first impression with Thierry, and if he approached this as high level negotiation and was careful with his interaction, maybe they could pull this off with minimal problems. He could do this.

He pat-dried his face with one of the paper towels in there and then threw the crumpled towel in the trash receptacle with a partially suppressed sigh. The idea of going back out there, acting like everything was okay for the sake of the civilians on the plane while he worried about the mission and Sin and his own problems... It wasn't something he looked forward to but there was nothing he could do about it. So he straightened his clothing and expression, and walked out of the bathroom as if nothing had been wrong.

By the time they arrived in France he was tired but not exhausted. The pilot welcomed them to France, and the single flight attendant smiled amiably at them and helped them with their bags. Boyd looked around, feeling a moment of disorientation as he saw that everything around him was in French. Of course he'd known that would be the case, but it was more relieving than had been the case in Barcelona, when he hadn't been able to read the signs fully.

As he looked around, he reflected on the fact that it was because of his mother that he was able to read any of this, and partially due to his mother that he was even here. Without her having taught him French when he was younger, he probably wouldn't be fluent. And without her nominating him to the Agency, he wouldn't have ever had reason or money to fly here to the country where his mother had been born.

Her lessons in French were one of the few memories he had of her that were fond in any way. When he was young, she'd been still working on perfecting her English. She'd spoken French at home more than English and had insisted that he learn the language. Although she'd been a harsh teacher, impatient with his mistakes and very short on praise, he still remembered how intently she'd focused on him. Her long, elegant fingers shuffling through cards and pictures, trying to teach him simple words that he could repeat, and later increasing it to harder words that someone his age normally wouldn't have been able to comprehend.

The small light of success that had been in her face when he'd gotten something right. The way she'd told his father that Boyd would be fluent and how much further ahead of the other kids he would be. The time he'd overheard them talking and her saying that he was a quick learner and ahead of his age, and almost sounding proud of the fact.

She hadn't taught him for long or particularly often, since she was often busy. When his father had died, the lessons had all but died with him. By that time, the already tenuous ties with countries like France were broken and now that Boyd thought back on it he suspected that she'd no longer wanted to admit to anything that linked her to a homeland that would not further her profession in America. Still, he'd continued learning French on his own, mostly out of love for the language but partially out of a need to see that approval from her again. A need to see something other than the expressionless or cold stare she'd so often turned his way after that.

Boyd had retained the ability to speak French and continued to enjoy the language. He still read books in French and still wrote in the language. He had an entire notebook filled with terrible French poetry that he'd written mostly after his father died.

Some part of him was probably clinging to the memory of his father, and happier times when his mother spoke to him more. Times when she'd acknowledged part of his ancestry and had told him tiny bits about his family. Still, because of that, he had no troubles falling back into using the language.

The day passed relatively quickly. When they made it to the hotel, they were given key cards to the suite that Thierry had booked for them in anticipation of their arrival. It was one of the few towering buildings that remained with multiple levels, and their suite was toward the top.

Situated on one of the upper floors of the hotel, it would have been more accurate to refer to the suite as a small apartment. Everything about it was decadent and luxurious, with rich décor, smooth carpeting and a wall of windows overlooking one of the few views in the city with very little lingering damage from bombs. The curtains were whisper-soft to the touch when Boyd ran his fingers down them and the large sitting area had multiple couches as well as a television with a video player. There was a cabinet which appeared to be stocked full of expensive liquor and a small fridge next to it was already filled with food. The excessive use of wealth was a little overwhelming.

They ended up divvying up the rooms without speaking about it. They had both hovered for a moment in the main room before Boyd ended up choosing the far bedroom. They didn't have long to wait until it was time for them to go down to the restaurant on the main floor of the hotel.

The dining hall continued the theme of overt wealth that he'd so far seen throughout the hotel. Chandeliers hung from the ceiling with dangling crystals that made the light sparkle. There were several tables, each carefully set with a white tablecloth, expensive-looking plates and shining sets of silverware. Couples in elegant clothing dotted the room, with the occasional group of three or four, and Boyd paused just inside the room to scan the people. He knew what Thierry looked like from a picture he had in the files, but he did not see him. He was just turning to Sin to ask him if he saw Thierry when he noticed someone appear behind them.

It turned out that Thierry was more attractive than the image in his file. He was just under six feet tall and had a sleek muscular build that was showcased in the slim cut pants and fitted suit jacket he wore. His hair was wavy and a chocolate brown color that was offset by steel blue eyes and tan skin.

He approached them with a smile, white teeth flashing at them as his eyes slid from Boyd to Sin and back again.

"Hello, hello," Thierry said with genuine sounding enthusiasm. "We meet again, Monsieur Vega. But who is this young man accompanying you?"

Sin raised an eyebrow skeptically. "You thought it was just me?"

Thierry smiled indulgently. "Yes, even despite our previous misunderstanding. But that is in the past, let us not be rude." He turned his eyes onto Boyd, looking him up and down fully. "I am Thierry Beauvais. I welcome you to my home."

"Thank you, Monsieur Beavais," Boyd replied with a smile. Wanting to give the best impression possible to sway Thierry to their side, he switched to French for the pleasantries of a greeting and introduction. "C'est gentil de ta part," he continued with a perfect French accent. "Je m'appelle Boyd Beaulieu. C'est un plaisir de faire votre connaissance."

Sin's gaze shifted to Boyd but he didn't speak. Thierry, however, seemed delighted. His eyebrows rose as his face lit up with a grin and he slid his arm through Boyd's, guiding him over to one of the grand tables so that their backs were to Sin.

"Your French is excellent-- almost native sounding," Thierry said in French, looking genuinely impressed. "How did you learn? School, perhaps?"

Boyd glanced over his shoulder at Sin before he turned his attention back to Thierry. "I did take some classes but I learned from my mother."

They moved across the room and settled in a table that was tucked into an alcove in the corner. Thierry sat on the same side as Boyd while Sin, who had lagged slightly behind them, sat on the other side. For the most part the senior agent maintained his non-expression but his eyes had drifted away from them again.

"Is she French, your mother?" Thierry asked, turning slightly toward Boyd and focusing all of his attention on him.

"Yes. She grew up here."

"Excellent." Thierry's smile turned a touch indulgent. He sat back in the chair and looked over at Sin. He observed the senior agent as Sin looked back coolly. During the interim, a waiter glided over with three glasses and a bottle of champagne.

"I find it quite amazing that your organization continues to find such beautiful specimens of masculinity to recruit," Thierry said, pouring the golden liquid into their glasses after the waiter popped the cork and disappeared. "How very odd that I feel quite plain now, as I sit next to the two of you."

Thierry paused with the neck of the bottle tilted towards Sin's glass. "For you?"


Looking unsurprised, Thierry set the champagne down in the chilled bucket and looked at Boyd again. "Do you not find it interesting that the Agency only wants beautiful people?"

"Perhaps they only send the attractive ones to you to make you believe we're all beautiful," Boyd replied with a slight smile.

"Or perhaps they know beautiful young men are my weakness," Thierry replied with a slow smile, his gaze once again sliding along Boyd's face. It moved away languidly to focus on Sin once again. "Is that not correct, Sin?"

Sin stared at him flatly. "Sorry, my pig Latin isn't up to par."

A smirk found its way onto Thierry's face although his lips then pursed slightly with displeasure. His blue eyes narrowed and he arched an eyebrow, sitting back and crossing one knee over the other. "Did you tell our blond young friend about our previous meeting, Sinful?"

"Why don't you do the honors?" was the flat response.

"Heh." Thierry turned his body to Boyd again, reaching out to sip from his glass. "I am not sure how long you have known Sinful, but those striking features mask quite a terrible temper. He was quite cruel to me on our last meeting."

Boyd glanced briefly at Sin. Since he'd been told that Sin had insulted Thierry, he could only assume what Sin had said. Having been on the receiving end of some of Sin's more cutting remarks himself, and considering Thierry's reputation as being mercurial, it wasn't a surprise if negotiations between the two had failed miserably.

"I could see that happening," was all Boyd said.

The sound of Sin's fingers tapping against the table made an audible, staccato sound.

Thierry's gaze switched to Sin and his mouth once again turned up into a smile as his gaze flicked over the senior agent. "I was surprised that they were to send him again, although I have been told that he is considered the best in many capacities. A sad testament of our times when a powerful organization such as yours, must be in such desperation to rely on one such as him, who seems incapable of understanding the importance of society--" Thierry's gaze switched back to Boyd and he reached out, casually pushing hair out of his eyes. "--and human interaction."

Boyd was mildly startled by the touch and turned his attention fully on Thierry. He wasn't entirely sure how to respond. "Well," he said with a small smile after a moment, "we all have our talents."

At that, Thierry's eyebrows ticked up. "And what are some of yours?"

"Negotiation, I suppose," Boyd replied thoughtfully. "And strategies. I enjoy planning."

"Mmm. Interesting. You make quite the spy, I must say. Just like in the old movies-- the beautiful, talented agent who is known more for intelligence than brawn. I am intrigued as to how you became what you are. You seem quite young for this profession."

"I am, to an extent," Boyd agreed with nod, keeping his expression amiable. "I was recruited as a possible partner for Sin. My age is atypical for my position."

Thierry made another "hmm" sound and switched his gaze back to Sin, taking in the other man's obvious irritation.

"A pity you were only recognized to be his partner. I can imagine you are capable of much more. Your looks, manner, your ease in talking to people-- I have met many people in my time and it is not simply with kindness do I say that."

Boyd's eyebrows raised slightly at what seemed to be a genuine compliment, although what this 'much more' was that Thierry was thinking he could be, he didn't know. "Thank you."

Boyd glanced at Sin, noting how annoyed he looked. He determined that Thierry seemed approachable enough at this point to try to get to business. He switched back to English, deciding that flattery seemed the best way to work with a person like Thierry.

"And thank you again for inviting us to visit you at your hotel. I've never seen anything like it."

Thierry reclined in his seat and looked around, seemingly modestly. "Thank you. It took a long time to restore it to what it was pre-war. I seek to give people a place they can enjoy, a place they can find luxurious."

"The attention to detail is impeccable," Boyd said in agreement. "Paris is lucky to have a business owner such as yourself who is able to restore the glamor of the city from times that were less uncertain." He looked around the room and let regret stain his features. "It would be a shame if there were another incident and this was all lost once again."

"We will see where the world takes us next," Thierry replied, looking around the room. His eyes rested on some of the other patrons, nodding once at a woman across the room, before he looked at them again. "Would you like to dine, or are drinks fine for now?"

Boyd glanced at Sin before answering Thierry. "Perhaps we could discuss business over drinks."

"Mmm." Thiery had raised the glass to his lips and he took a long sip, looking at Boyd as he did so. After a brief pause he raised his eyebrows and smiled, leaning forward to say quietly, "I think I would rather hear more about you tonight."

Although Boyd felt a sense of urgency to get the information since they had a very limited time in France, he didn't want to offend Thierry. So rather than push for business talk, which he wanted to do, he let the topic be deflected.

"What more is there to hear?" Boyd replied with a faint smile.

Thierry reached out and squeezed Boyd's hand slightly, his smile becoming more intimate. It was almost as though they were the only two people at the table. There was an extended pause as Thierry's deep blue eyes locked with Boyd's brown ones, as Sin stared at them on the other side of the table.

"I am sure there is much more to you than your partnership with this one."

For a moment Boyd debated his response. There was no mistaking the mood Thierry had created but on the other hand it was probably in their favor that Thierry was interested in connecting on a more personal level. With negotiation, especially with people known to be capricious, it was important to build rapport. And although it would have been nice to go straight to talking about the information they needed, in truth he hadn't expected they'd be able to get all that done right away the first night.

Better to let Thierry decide the flow of conversation tonight and through it get an idea about his interests and personality. Boyd could use that to determine how best to get Thierry to work with them. Maybe it would end up working out like Warren Andrews had, where over time he had become rather cooperative when Boyd was the one contacting him.

The rest of the evening was spent with Thierry asking Boyd about his past and other personal questions. Boyd answered the questions but didn't go into detail on anything big and didn't mention Lou at all. He stuck to safer topics like the loss of his father at an early age or his interest in things like architecture and art.

Thierry became increasingly suggestive throughout the night until the flirtation was obvious. To maintain the rapport, Boyd stayed mostly neutral but played into the flirting enough to remain approachable and keep the conversation going. He found that he was even starting to enjoy Thierry's company; the man was charming and had a good sense of humor. He seemed genuinely interested in Boyd as well which for the most part wasn't something Boyd was accustomed to, especially in the last several years.

He tried switching to English once or twice but somehow it ended up being deflected back to French each time. And soon Boyd stopped remembering to think about that. It was such a pleasure to be able to converse with someone in French after so long of not using it frequently that he didn't even realize until the end of the night that they'd hardly said a word in English.

Continue to Chapter 17