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 Eighteen

For the past several days, Sin had seen no reason to leave his apartment or attempt to make any contact with people outside. He'd ignored the knock on the door when someone had come around seeking his supply card and he'd ignored the phone when, oddly enough, Ryan had called. He hadn't even bothered to leave in order to go to the gym. Being around people on the compound seemed like an unnecessary risk when he already felt like breaking someone's face just to watch them bleed.

He'd thought the anger and humiliation would dissipate over time, but it didn't. He felt the same hostility toward Boyd and the same scathing hatred about himself. The whole valentine situation didn't help matters. In fact, it only made things worse. It was now painfully obvious that Boyd knew nothing about the Agency, and even then he refused to listen to Sin's advice. In that regard, absence was definitely not making the heart grow fonder and Sin was pretty firm on the idea that Boyd was a completely arrogant fool.

If it were anyone else, Sin would likely think that Boyd deserved everything that would inevitably come to him with his new found status. He'd been too self assured and cocky to heed warnings, and too stubborn to even question his own decisions or wonder why Sin had been so adamant that he not do it. Even so, Sin wished that he wouldn't feel sorry for Boyd at all-- he especially wished that he didn't feel remorse about not saying more in France. It was actually ridiculously obnoxious that he regretted not doing so. It wasn't his problem and it wasn't his fault. He told himself this, damned Boyd as a headstrong idiot, and tried to leave it at that.

But his self-inflicted isolation only made him think about things all more. He thought about how ridiculous and stupid it was that after years of being ostracized by humanity in general, he'd allowed some stupid little civilian boy's rejection to hurt his feelings. Up until now he hadn't even thought such a scenario was possible. But then again, until recently he had never expected that he would go out and try to avenge anyone's pain either.

And what a brilliant plan that had been. His attempt to do right by Boyd had completely backfired. And it just kept backfiring.

The worst part of it all was that Sin had realized that he was as pathetically needy as everyone else. Despite the years of isolation, despite his intensive training, despite hating most people in general-- he'd still wanted Boyd. As a friend at first, and then as something more complicated. A complication which had led to intense burning jealousy as he'd watched Boyd smile and preen for Thierry as he gave Sin the cold shoulder. The jealousy had morphed into a disturbing black fury at the thought of that pathetic little man getting to touch Boyd when Sin couldn't even talk to him anymore.

And then, of course, the remote.

Disgusted with himself, Sin stood and paced around his apartment. He ran his hands through his hair in frustration and tried to stop replaying everything that had happened in his mind. He tried to stop thinking about how good Boyd had felt as he'd writhed beneath him, and then how bad it had hurt to have been once again rejected. It was like giving a homeless kid a night in a luxury hotel. It only made a bad situation worse. Once a person knew that kind of pleasure, they just wanted it again. And again.

It was a stupid situation to be in, and he hated every moment of it. He wanted to hate Boyd for causing it all but somehow, it wasn't possible. Despite the anger and the bitterness, Sin still wanted to see him.

Irritated beyond belief by the thought, Sin had just decided to start working out for the third time that day when the phone rang. Half relieved and half hesitant, he walked over to the coffee table and grabbed it.


"Get to my office within the hour," Connors' deep voice demanded gruffly.

"I'll be there with bells on."

Sin turned off the phone and scowled into space for a moment. A mission would be a great distraction but leaving the apartment was still a problem. He didn't have the patience to deal with anyone at the moment. Shaking his head, Sin tried to put all of it aside and got ready to go. He was out of the apartment within minutes, ignoring the guards as he passed them. He ignored the bite of the wind ripping into his thin shirt, and didn't look at anyone even when he felt their stares on him.

When he got to the Tower, he took the stairs to Connors office on the seventeenth floor. Swiping his keycard in the restricted area, he stepped inside the administrative level which housed both Connors' and Vivienne's offices.

"What are you doing up here?" a feminine voice asked flatly as soon as he entered the wing.

Sin stared down at Ann dully, feeling entirely uninterested in the oncoming altercation. "Your father has summoned me. He can't live without my presence for long, you know."

Ann narrowed her eyes at him, mouth turning down into a frown. Her loathing of him pretty much topped anyone else's in the Agency but then again, she had a good reason. Because of him, her twin sister was being spoon-fed in a nursing home.

"I can't believe they allow you on this floor. Amazing how high your clearance continues to be despite your crimes."

"Yeah, well," he said coldly, eyes flicking up and down her frame before moving away dismissively. He summoned up a smirk despite the bad mood, just to push things, just to make her angrier despite the fact that he didn't have anything against her at all. "Apparently your father didn't think what I did was such a big crime, did he?"

The smack echoed throughout the empty lobby and he didn't even blink, smirk never leaving his face.

"Fuck you," she hissed and stormed in the direction of Vivienne's office.

"Not without dinner first," he called after her, but despite the snideness in his voice, his mouth twitched down into a frown and he dropped his eyes to the floor. There was an almost immediate flash of a memory; milky white skin tattooed by a web of scars. No matter how cavalier he tried to act about it, Lydia would always haunt him.

Sin shook his head and continued towards Connors' office once again. He glanced briefly at Samuel, Connors' assistant, but didn't speak and walked right by him, ignoring the way the man's watchful gaze followed him.

No one knew much about Marshal Jacob Connors and most agents spent most of their careers without ever meeting the man despite the fact that their every action was dictated by his commands. He ran the Agency but very little was known about his history or how he'd gotten involved with it.

Sin knocked on the door and looked up at the camera with a kissy face as he waited for Connors to admit him into the room. There was a buzz, the light next to the doorknob turned green and he entered.

It was probably the largest office in the building and was far more luxurious than Carhart's. Despite that, there were no personal effects to be found in the room, no hints about his life before the bombings and the war, not even a photograph of his wife or daughters. It was Spartan and cold, just like Connor's personality although his appearance wasn't always what people expected it to be. Most agents assumed Connors was like General Carhart; tall, muscular and obviously capable of holding his own in any number of combative situations. However Connors was quite the opposite and looked more like a politician than a soldier.

"I just saw your lovely daughter," Sin commented mildly as he sat in the chair across from Connor's desk. "She's as hostile as ever, Jacob. You must be proud."

"She's as hostile as she needs to be," Connors replied flatly, steel grey eyes glaring at Sin from under bushy silver eyebrows. "She's as wary as she needs to be. This explains why she is still here and why her twin is an invalid."

Sin folded his arms in front of him. "You're a cruel man, Jacob. Poor Lydia."

"Poor Lydia was an idiot and I do not further wish to discuss her, especially not with the creature that is responsible for her condition."

"She's responsible for her own condition," Sin replied coldly, refusing to admit any of the things that had been running through his mind only moments ago. "She's the one who deemed it necessary to drug me and then get the brilliant idea to sexually accost me."

"Precisely. And that is why I do not further wish to discuss her," Connors said shortly and turned his eyes back to whatever he was writing.

Sin said nothing and gazed at Connors calmly. He crossed one leg over the other and noted that the office was far warmer than his quarters ever were. There was a long stretch of silence as the Marshal finished whatever he'd been working on and then he pushed a palm panel across the table. Sin noticed that Connors watched him the entire time that he turned on the device, as though waiting for a reaction.

Sin turned on the panel, stared at the image, and snorted. "Wow."


"Isn't this the guy who rebuilds poor neighborhoods and donates all of his money to charities?" Sin asked, dark eyebrows arched slightly as he thumbed through the documents on the panel.


Sin nearly laughed. "Wow."

"It should be noted," Connors began coldly, "that he also donates a considerable sum of his money to Janus, which in turn leads to them purchasing arms."

Sin raised his eyebrows, a smirk playing on his lips. "Feeling the need to justify yourself, Jacob?"

"Why would I feel the need to justify myself to something like you?"

Sin shrugged and continued to read the assignment. After another moment he snorted with derision. "So this guy is so squeaky clean that you have to manufacture dirt on him? I don't appreciate having credit for my assassinations given to random, inept hitmen."

"Do you understand the assignment?" Connors asked in a clipped tone, not responding to Sin's comments.

"Yes. Although, you realize that it won't be complete for a few weeks. Not more than a month though," Sin replied as he continued to go through the infomration.

"That's fine. Just get it done and don't fuck up." The warning tone in Connors' voice made it clear what would happen if he did.

"I'll try not to, darling, I really will." Sin stood up and slid the panel into his pocket. "I'll need supplies and money."

Connors nodded, already going back to what he'd been doing. "Fill out a supply card and see Charles. You're given clearance for whatever you need for this assignment."

Sin turned to leave but just as he began to open the door, Connors spoke again. "Are you fucking Vivienne's boy?"

Sin froze completely. "Why would you ask me that?"

"It's a yes or no question, Agent Vega."

"No. I'm not."

Connors snorted softly. "Didn't think so. The moment I actually believed you were sexually functional, I'd have you neutered. Dismissed."

Sin grit his teeth, hand tightening around the doorknob as he fought the urge to turn around and give Connors exactly what he deserved. He stood there for a long moment before forcing himself to leave the office without giving into his sudden craving for violence. He didn't know why Connors asked him that, and at the moment he didn't care. Despite the fact that he hated Connors, he was very thankful for having an excuse to be gone for several weeks.

Boyd had spent the last week at his house, trying to stay as far away from the Agency as he could. As if it would change anything. As if his absence would make them reconsider his status.

The churning disgust and frustration he'd felt over the knowledge of the valentines, the knowledge that he'd fucked himself over so thoroughly, had only grown at first. But with enough time to ruminate over the whole thing, he'd had to acknowledge that there was nothing he could do about it now.

With how happy Carhart had been about the 'romantic relationship,' he highly doubted the man would say anything on Boyd's behalf-- and according to Sin that wouldn't have mattered anyway even if he had. The only other option would have been to talk to his mother but that was the last thing he would do. There was no way she would help him out in this situation. He knew she was likely to be angry with him over it in some way, because that always seemed to be the case when he messed up on small levels. And this was definitely not small.

As time passed, he started to wonder if maybe he would be lucky. Maybe they would realize he would be a really poor fit for that and they wouldn't give him the status. Or even if they did, maybe he wouldn't ever have to receive any assignments since he was only meant to be Sin's partner. On the other hand, he darkly pointed out to himself, it wasn't like his time was taken up 24/7 by Sin. So, as Sin said, now they knew he could be used for something else...

It was ridiculous. Absolutely, completely stupid and so frustrating. But as the days passed, the anxiety and worry could only dull slowly until he started to feel resigned.

Ryan called a few times and Boyd ignored them at first. He didn't know what made him finally pick up but when they started talking, he felt a little better that he had. He hadn't realized how depressed he'd been until he had human contact with someone who didn't seem to think he was the stupidest piece of shit to ever walk the Earth.

It emboldened him a bit and made him feel more capable of following through on his promise to train Ryan in combat, who had never been able to be trained before due to his illness. Apparently he'd tried to be a field agent at one point and it had failed spectacularly, but Boyd thought that part of it may have been that the training Ryan had been doing had been built for a healthy person. Ryan was bound to fail something so rigorous when he had special considerations to take for his body. The lung sickness made it so he couldn't work out for long periods at a time.

So it was that they'd picked a day to meet at the Agency gym. It was the first time Boyd had been on the compound since that fateful debriefing.

He arrived early to the Agency, primarily because he had to be certain there would be space for Ryan and him at the training room. He could tell something was different when he walked ito the training room; one of the guards looked at him sidelong and smirked. After a closer look, Boyd realized that it was Dennis McNichols. It wasn't too surprising considering he'd run into Dennis and Harry at the training room before, but at least this time Harry was notably absent.

Still that didn't stop Dennis from releasing a low wolf whistle as he walked by.

"Well if it isn't the Agency's latest valentine op," Dennis said to the man beside him, pretending to leer at Boyd. "He must not have been getting enough from his partner if he volunteered for that gig."

"Yeah right, dude. No one volunteers."

Boyd ignored them and kept walking, trying not to let the comments affect him. He wasn't entirely successful. Their words continued to float after him.

"He did. You can ask anyone. Must have been really hard up to get ass pounded to go that route, but hey, whatever floats his boat-- am I right?"

"That's pretty sick. It's not like there's some huge amount of gay valentines as it is. He'll get a lot more ass pounding than he thoug--"

As Boyd selected a side of the gym to meet Ryan, he was glad that he was finally out of earshot. He didn't know who in the unit had leaked the Thierry situation, but it was obviously now well known on the compound. Apparently valentine agents had always existed but the fact that Vivienne's son was one was something to talk about. People who had already disliked him now had even more ammunition to use against him, and Boyd doubted this would be the last incident, or the worst.

He tried to ignore the way that thought clenched his stomach; the way he felt disturbed by the idea of one more private thing about himself becoming public. He'd never been the sort of person to enjoy being the center of attention and having malicious stares centered on him and people joking about his future didn't help matters. It was made even worse by the fact that he regretted the whole thing that had started this all in the first place. His pride felt wounded by having to constantly face his own faults.

He did enough berating of himself on his own; he didn't need help from the peanut gallery.

It didn't take long for Ryan to arrive, and when he did he stopped at the front entrance. Boyd could see him exchanging words with Dennis and the other man by the door, but he had no idea what was being said. Judging from the impatient look on Ryan's face, their trash talk hadn't stopped when Boyd had crossed the room.

Whatever they were saying ended with Ryan exclaiming, "Well you can basically just go to hell.", before stalking across the room. His thin face was screwed up in a scowl but when his eyes fell on Boyd, he grinned.


"Hey," Boyd greeted in return. He resolved to push away all the darker thoughts he'd been immersed in for the past week and focus solely on helping Ryan. He turned and motioned Ryan to follow him as he headed toward the doors in the back of the room. "I reserved us a private room. I thought it would be easier."

Ryan nodded, unbuttoning the toggles on his wool coat. "Sweet. I wasn't looking forward to making a fool of myself in front of everyone."

Boyd shrugged. "I doubt that would happen but it's harder to learn anything, no matter your proficiency, when everyone is staring at you. Or you feel like they are."

They headed into the private room and Boyd turned around to shut the door. He saw Dennis watching them with a smirk, leaning over to make a comment to the guard next to him. He didn't have to hear it to know Dennis was probably making some comment about what they would really be doing behind closed doors.

Boyd's eyes narrowed and he closed the door firmly. He turned toward Ryan and was glad to see his friend didn't appear to have noticed the exchange. Not that it mattered, since he must have heard enough walking in. Boyd took off his trench coat and set it to the side of the room by Ryan's wool coat, suppressing a sigh.

"Ready?" he asked Ryan.

"Ready as ready can be. Except uh, I don't know how long I'll last. I've gotten a bad cough since last night," Ryan said apologetically. "It's the cold air, I think."

"That's alright."

Boyd made note of the way Ryan stood. He didn't want to tell Ryan he was checking his posture because he would automatically straighten. Ryan's hands were shoved in his pockets and his shoulders were a little hunched. His head was forward and a little down, his feet placed fairly close to each other.

"First," Boyd said, "I should tell you that although I'm going to spar with you, your true goal should be to avoid physical fights unless you're positive you can put all your strength into the blow and you're aiming to harm. Half-hearted attacks will likely only annoy the person you're attacking, and will do you more harm than good."

Ryan nodded, looking thoughtful about that. He reached up to shove his mess of black cowlicks and curls out of his eyes. "How long did it take you to get good?"

Boyd considered that as he stretched his arms. "I still have a long way to go, honestly. But I didn't start feeling more confident in one-on-one fights for a few months. It takes awhile to learn and I had a steep learning curve. I'd led a very sedentary lifestyle."

"Same," Ryan said, smirking. "Carrying all of my stuff to the Tower from my apartment is as active as I get. But that being said, how did you... I dunno-- how did you know what to do in a fight? Even with training, wasn't it hard to know how to react once you were in a for real confrontation?"

"It was. You never know fully what to expect, which is partially why I try to avoid confrontations in the first place. That's probably the best place to start. And to do that, you have to consider what your body language says."

He nodded toward Ryan's posture. "Right now, you'd be a good target and would attract attention. You look timid, almost apologetic for your existence and that's easily preyed upon. You should stand with your back straight," he demonstrated each point by following it with his own body, "and slide your feet apart about your shoulder length, one a little forward, one a little back. Keep your body loose, particularly your knees, elbows, and shoulders. Acknowledge the presence of those around you, but you don't need to make eye contact for that; you can look at them around their nose level and they'll know you're aware of them even if you aren't necessarily inviting interaction."

He paused, then shot Ryan a questioning look. "I've never taught anyone this before so I'm trying to think what helped me most. But I don't know how much you already know. Are you fine with an overview like this first, or would you rather go straight to physical sparring?"

Ryan shook his head, trying to follow Boyd's directions and just managing to look awkward. "No, it's good! The last person I trained with already expected me to know everything because I'm Connors' ward." Ryan frowned and tried to keep himself loose but just managed to look like he was intoxicated. His face twisted in frustration.

"I look like a wet ragdoll," he complained.

"You don't," Boyd assured him with a slight smile. "You're just thinking too much. This is also something you can easily practice any time, even in your room alone; just try to loosen your joints and strengthen your base. The basic concept is that standing like this," he placed his feet next to each other, "puts me in a position where my body's wider on top, if you look at my shoulders versus my feet.

"But if I put my feet apart and bend my knees a little," and he did so, "the base of my strength is in my lower body. Think of it like..." He tried to think of a way to make it click for Ryan. "Your action figures. You'll note they also stand with their legs apart and knees bent."

Ryan nodded and did his best to imitate Boyd. "I never noticed that about my action figures but it's totally true," he murmured and adjusted his body, bending his knees and rolling his shoulders as he tried to get comfortable in the position. "How's this? Any better?"

"Excellent." Boyd nodded approvingly. "Most of the hostiles we deal with are part of groups that plan ahead, and as a result the individual people likely do too. If someone intends to attack you, they'll probably have at least one scenario in mind that they'll be operating on. If you don't follow that scenario, sometimes you can divert or stop a situation from escalating because the attacker doesn't know how to react. We can work on that more another time if you wish; it's a lesson in its own right and works best if I give you examples."

"Sweet," Ryan said with a grin. He rolled his shoulders and shot Boyd a pleased look.

"For today, I'll give you some pointers for physical attacks. What you want to keep in mind is that, regardless of your opponent or his size, he's still human. He may be stronger or quicker, but he has weaknesses as well. Work with your strengths and aim them at his weaknesses. For instance..."

Standing up straight, Boyd pointed to his head. "No human can attack for long if he can't breathe. If your aim is a person's head, think about the what would be most disruptive. Aim for the eyes, the nose... Clapping both hands over the ears can break an eardrum or possibly cause a concussion. You can strike into the mouth or up the chin to cause damage. You could use the edge of your hand on the throat."

Boyd pointed down to his chest. "Targets in the middle of the body are generally less serious and are more likely to disrupt your attacker's breathing rather than cause permanent injury. The solar plexus," he pointed to where his ribs came together in the center of his chest, "is a sensitive nerve area that you can aim for. You can also try the stomach, or, of course, the groin. It's generally more effective to knee upward into the groin rather than kicking into it.

"The lower body is best to aim for when you want to limit the mobility of your attacker. The knee is the most serious. You can knock a person completely off balance with a properly aimed strike at the side or back of the knee, or break their kneecaps if you go from the front. The bones are difficult to break at the shins and ankles but attacks there can be very painful. The top of the foot-- the instep-- is generally more sensitive and less protected than the toes. Bones are also small and breakable there, making them a good target."

Boyd paused. "I know this is a lot of information at once so stop me any time with questions. But does it make sense to you so far?"

Ryan nodded slowly, taking everything in. "Yeah it does, it's actually pretty easy to remember when you think of it in those terms." He looked Boyd over for a moment and focused on his chest. "So for someone like me, what would be the best to strike at first? The chest so that breathing is difficult or the lower body to temporarily immobilize?"

"It depends on the situation and the distance," Boyd said with a shrug. "When you attack, you'll need to keep in mind what weapons they may have and what your intentions are. If you're trying to get away, you'll likely want to limit their mobility. But if, for instance, they have a gun, even if they can't run they can still shoot you, so at that point you'd want to get away however you possibly can and run for the nearest cover. Consider two main questions: what do you have free and what targets are available? Your arms and legs are weapons in and of themselves, as is anything else you may have with you. Keys, a pen, a bag-- anything can be a weapon if you want it to be."

He walked closer to Ryan, stopping within the usual speaking distance. "That being said, in my experience, I tend to go for the head or legs. For you, I can't be certain until I see what would affect your lungs the most, but I feel as though short staccato attacks will be best. If you uncoil your limbs from beside your body and pivot your hips with the movement, you put more strength into the hit. By limiting yourself to quick bursts of energy, I think it may keep you from overexerting yourself. If that's the case, I would suggest going for the legs if it's a less serious situation, and the head if it isn't. The reason I say that is it takes more strength to affect a person seriously in the chest and if you want to disrupt breathing you can aim for the throat instead." Boyd tilted his head slightly. "It's difficult to answer since so much of it is dependent on the situation."

"I guess the only way to know for sure is to experiment or whatever, right?" Ryan paused and smiled sheepishly. "Don't be too hard on me, okay? I'm kind of a wimp."

"Attack me first and I'll see what your natural strengths and weaknesses are," Boyd replied, walking within reaching distance. Ryan looked a little uncertain, but Boyd waited. "Be confident; even fear or anger can be used against you, or make you an easier target. Your greatest asset is a solid base that allows you to breathe and access the inherent strength you have in your body."

After a few moments, Ryan suddenly lunged. Boyd stepped to the side easily, caught Ryan as he passed and pulled his arm up behind his back with his other hand held at his neck. He was smooth and firm with his gestures, but he didn't hurt Ryan at all.

"If I had a knife, I could have killed you there," Boyd said into Ryan's ear. "I wasn't able to evade because you're weak or useless. I was able to because I could easily anticipate your intentions from your body language. You haven't had proper training, so you were a little clumsy and you put yourself off-balance almost immediately, which gave me easy access to doing what I wanted. In the future, know exactly what you intend before you do anything and have several scenarios as contingencies in case I, as your attacker, anticipate your moves."

Boyd released Ryan and walked in front of him. "Just now, I suspect your sole goal was to attack, right?"

Ryan looked a little embarrassed. "I told you I sucked," he said almost apologetically.

"Not at all," Boyd said firmly. "How are you supposed to know what to do before you ever try it? That's why we're here. You can overcome me if you work against my weaknesses and use your strengths."

He lifted a finger to his temple. "For you and me, our minds are the quickest part of us and you're more intelligent than I am. Use that to your advantage. Someone who relies solely on brute strength or a weapon may have power in the sheer force or terror of the attack, but a weapon can be disarmed and brute strength can be evaded. What can't be taken from you are your quick wits, your ability to think, and improvisation."

He paused, considering the way Ryan seemed to think as far as he could tell from briefings and hanging out with him. He added, "Think of possible scenarios like variables. Like a computer simulation. Don't imagine yourself to suddenly be able to do something that's not within the parameters of your abilities, but consider all the things you could do-- the actions you could take and the likely reaction-- and choose accordingly at the time. And if that doesn't work the way you wanted, try something else."

Ryan tilted his head, reaching up to adjust his glasses as he considered that. "That's a cool way of putting it. I mean, my brain is so on overdrive all the time that it could probably work, assuming I don't completely freak out. But, I mean... how many variables are there really in a fight?"

"There could be a lot. That's why you need to be ready to improvise. Honestly, many of my missions don't involve physical fights; I simply avoid any situation that I can because I'm better at distracting and confusing than I am at overpowering."

Dropping his hands at his sides, Boyd moved back to the position he was before and nodded at Ryan. "Try again, but this time know exactly what you plan to do. Are you going to grab my arm? Do you plan to hit me in the throat? If I move from that, will you use the heel of your hand to hit my jaw upward? Do you plan to hit me in the nose? If done with enough force, that could temporarily blur a person's vision. Think this through, taking all the time you need, and then attack. I'll be ready."

Ryan stared at Boyd for a long moment, doing his best to follow the instructions. His gaze flitted around, resting in certain areas on Boyd's body as he considered what he could do and how. Boyd watched him with a blank expression and this time when Ryan attacked, he got closer before Boyd evaded. He tried a few contingency plans, but Boyd was there each time, blocking the hand to his throat and pushing his arm away before he was able to elbow him.

"Better," Boyd said as he stepped away after releasing Ryan from immobility again. "But you still don't put your full strength into it."

Ryan was already breathing a little hard after even that brief exertion and he shook his head. "I don't want to hurt you..."

"Don't think about that," Boyd replied, stepping back and shaking out his limbs. "Any enemy you face won't think the same back. You need to go into it as if I'm someone who would severely injure you. If you don't learn to go full force, you'll be more likely to hold yourself back against someone you need to attack. And then you may anger them more than anything."

Holding his hands loosely to his sides, Boyd stepped in front of Ryan once more and nodded at him. "Try again."

The training went on for quite some time. For the most part, Boyd was able to easily evade or withstand anything Ryan tried, but each time, Boyd stopped and explained to him why he'd been able to do so. He illustrated to Ryan in slow-motion what should be done next time to improve and asked him to do the same back to him. Any time Ryan did something incorrect even in slow-motion Boyd grabbed his hands and showed him how to do it right and where to aim. Then he moved on to the next attack.

It didn't take long before Ryan was visibly affected. A sheen of sweat appeared on his skin and he got winded very quickly. He wheezed when out of breath and several times Boyd stepped back and talked about something that required a long explanation. Having an interim that did not require them physically interacting allowed Ryan to get his breath back without Boyd ever actually saying anything about how quickly he grew tired.

Boyd pointed out the strengths and weaknesses of each type of weapon he had used, all of them displayed along the walls. Telling Ryan when to use it and why was often accompanied by stories of his own experiences. He told him when he failed or succeeded, and the reasons he believed this was the case. If Ryan showed any sense of not understanding, Boyd asked enough questions until he understood what was confusing him and then addressed the issue.

After awhile, Ryan looked ready to fall over so Boyd sat down on the mat and waved for Ryan to do the same.

"I'm tired," he explained when Ryan looked at him questioningly.

Ryan's breath drew in and out with a faint, rattling wheeze. Flopping onto the mat, he obviously worked on catching his breath. He looked exhausted and a little sick and Boyd wondered if he had inadvertently pushed Ryan too hard. Boyd waited to do anything until Ryan was a little calmer, when he could concentrate on Boyd and not on his inability to properly breathe.

"This should be enough for the day," Boyd said finally. "There's a lot for you to think about. I think you're doing well, though, and I'm not just saying that. I think your greatest issue right now is your lack of confidence and your fear of your own body. That's understandable but it's also a good thing, in a way. That's something you can work on without overwhelming yourself physically."

There was a rustle of moment as Ryan shook his head, reaching a thin arm up to wipe sweat from his face. He looked so fragile lying there on the mat that it was hard to picture him actually fighting anyone extensively. Although Boyd himself had been thinner than normal at the start of his training, Ryan looked severely underweight.

"I feel like such a weak ass," Ryan said disparagingly. "How can I fight if I get so exhausted?"

"First of all, try not to fight. If you have to fight, try to make it short. Even though you tire more easily, with enough practice you're likely to improve. When I first started with David I felt exhausted right away but over time my stamina's increased."

Boyd leaned back on his hands, watching Ryan in consideration as he struggled to breathe. "You'll have to be careful about monitoring your health and knowing when it's time to retreat. But your appearance can also work to your advantage. You'll be underestimated often, and speaking as someone who has that happen a lot, it can be very helpful. I can walk straight into enemy territory because I blend in, or fumble awkwardly with things when people glance my way and in general just seem harmless. Even if someone stares at me, they seem to often think I look weak and they dismiss me. That's given me the advantage of surprise, and we may want to work on something similar for you."

Ryan squinted at Boyd as he panted, reaching up to wipe sweat from his forehead and damp hair. "Is that really what you do a lot? I'd imagined that you just... I don't know, I figured all of you field guys just went in and messed everyone up since you're all bad ass like Hsin."

Boyd shook his head. "No one's like Sin. I couldn't possibly win in a fight against him, and neither could anyone else. Since I can't fight the way he does, with brute strength and speed, I avoid fights where I can and fight dirty when I can't. It's not uncommon for me to get hurt on missions and often have to resort to hitting people on the head to get them out of my way once it becomes physical. I don't have near the strength I would need to fight the way you would assume. I have to use my environment and knowledge of the situation to my advantage and go from there."

Ryan frowned, looking curious. "So should my goal be to fight like you or get as good as him? Er-- not like you fight bad or anything. I meant, should I try to fight like him, or anyone else who fights like that? How would you even describe his style of fighting?"

"I think your goal should be closer to my style for now," Boyd replied. "At least until you know your style better. If you wanted to go a different route, you may want to see if David Nakamura would take you on. He could train you in any style you liked, I suspect. But as for Sin's style..."

Boyd thought about it a moment, looking away contemplatively. "His is nearly impossible to emulate. He's incredibly fast and light on his feet, but he has the brute strength necessary to rip a person apart. There are so few people like him that I think he would be a poor goal even for the most skilled of martial artists. To be Sin, you would need extreme quickness, incredible strength, and be mentally prepared to take a human life."

There was a pause as Ryan seemed to mull this over. He tucked unruly strands of sweaty hair behind one ear. "Does he always go in, guns blazing?"

"For the most part, yes. And even the times he doesn't, fights seem to erupt. He's killed dozens of people in my presence before. So trying to be like him..." Boyd trailed off and shook his head. "There isn't a right or wrong way. But you have to understand that his prowess comes at a price. Blood spills easier with each of his attacks than it does for mine."

Ryan frowned slightly. "Why do you think he kills when he could simply incapacitate? Wouldn't it be easier to not have to kill? Like... faster?"

Boyd considered that for a moment before he shook his head. "I don't know for sure but honestly, it's probably faster for him to kill than incapacitate. He's simply that strong and quick. And if they're dead, he knows they won't come back to attack him. On the other hand, he's created enemies by slaying friends and family."

"I bet one day that will come back to bite him in the ass too," Ryan mumbled softly, not looking altogether pleased with the idea. "There are a lot of people even here who want to hurt Hsin simply because they assume he's a butcher without even knowing anything about stuff he's actually done. Imagine how people who've witnessed his actions must feel." Ryan was quiet for a moment before he shook his head. "I want to learn how you fight. It seems like it'd be the best for me."

"It probably is," Boyd said with a nod. "I can continue to help you, but I think you should consult David Nakamura as well. I can talk to him if you want. I didn't see his name on the roster for awhile, so I can only assume he's on vacation."

Ryan opened his mouth to reply but before he could, the door opened. He looked over his shoulder and grimaced briefly before giving a forced smile. "Hey Annabelle."

Ann stopped in front of him, staring down disapprovingly, slender hands placed on her hips. "Why are you doing this again?"

Ryan frowned at her and got to his feet, breath still coming out in a wheeze. "I'm not trying to be a field agent anymore if that's what you're saying. I just want to learn and Boyd is helping me."

Ann's hazel eyes snapped to Boyd and she made a face. "Why would you encourage this?"

"He's my friend," he replied simply. "And he asked for help with training. I understand your concern, but I'm aware of his condition and I won't harm him."

Ann stared at him for a long moment before switching her steady gaze to Ryan. "You sound terrible. Did you take your medication?"

"Yes, Ann. God, I'm not retarded you know."

"Then why are you wheezing? Where's your inhaler?"


She frowned at him, reaching out to touch the side of his face. "You're so sweaty and clammy. Why don't you just call it quits for now?"

Ryan grit his teeth, giving her a furious glare. "Why don't you just stop embarrassing me?"

Ann rolled her eyes and stood up straight. "I didn't realize that showing concern for my brother was so humiliating, but I'll keep that in mind."

She and Ryan stared at each other for a long moment, before her eyes slowly wandered over to Boyd. She looked him up and down clinically, meeting his gaze and holding it for an extended stretch of time.

"I just saw your charming partner."


Ann turned back to Ryan, smoothing a hand over his damp hair and shaking her head slightly. She opened the canvas bag she was holding in addition to her purse and extracted a bottle of water.

"On the seventeenth floor, going to the Marshal's office," she said, handing the bottle to Ryan.

"Oh." Boyd wondered if Sin had received another solo mission. With the thought came the question of whether he would ever receive solo missions as well-- ones with a valentine focus rather than the normal kind. And if so, how often? Would he have to go see Marshal Connors as well?

"Did he say anything?" Boyd continued after a second.

"Oh yes," Ann said, looking over to give him another long look. "He was as vile as ever. I was wondering how you work with him, but maybe he's less of a scumbag with you."

Boyd studied her for a moment and then shrugged. "We get along well enough for the most part. It just took some time to acclimate to his personality."

"Right." Seeming to lose interest in Boyd entirely, Ann focused on Ryan again. "If you want him to continue with this nonsense, I suggest you bring your inhaler and do it on a day when you aren't already breathing terribly. If you won't listen, I'll report this to medical and you can deal with them instead of me. Understood?"

Ryan rolled his eyes. "Yes, mother hen."

"Fine." She kissed his forehead and stood up straight. "Dinner tomorrow. Take care of yourself."

Ann didn't give Boyd another look as she strode out of the room again. Ryan shook his head and smiled a bit apologetically.

"Have you ever met her? She's pretty... abrupt."

"I hadn't formally met her before, no," Boyd replied. He stood and walked to the side of the room to grab some fresh towels that were stocked on a shelf. He walked back over to Ryan and tossed one into his lap.

Ryan nodded and finished the water, setting it aside and wiping his face with the towel. There was a thoughtful silence for a moment, and then he glanced at Boyd sidelong.

"Have you talked to Sin lately?"

"Not since after the debriefing," Boyd said, slightly subdued. He looked away from Ryan, his eyes narrowing. He wiped his face with the towel, his voice a little muffled when he asked, "Why?"

"I dunno..." the R&D agent trailed off slightly before clearing his throat and sitting up straight. He looked hesitant about whatever he was about to say but pushed on anyway. "I guess I just wondered if stuff was cool with you two after... Thierry."

Boyd watched Ryan for a long moment and then sighed. He sat back down on the mat, slouching forward as he looked away pensively. "I don't know. I don't think it is, really. He was angry with me for ignoring all his warnings. But I didn't know about valentines. I had no idea anything like that existed. If I had..." His expression pinched and he shook his head.

Ryan frowned slightly, seeming to think this over. After a moment he got to his feet and said slowly, "You know, I don't know if anyone really knows other than word of mouth. They don't really tell everyone everything until it's necessary, you know?"

"On topics like that I wish they had. I feel like an idiot for how this all turned out and I wish I could take it back. Now Sin says I'm going to get that status and they can make me do anything they want. And I don't know anything about it-- what I'd have to do, or how often, or what happens if I can't follow through on something they expect of me..."

He looked up at Ryan, not bothering to hide the worry that had been plaguing him. "Do you know anything? What should I expect now? And is it positive I'll become a valentine or is it possible they wouldn't assign me?"

Ryan grimaced and leaned against the wall, folding his arms over his t-shirt. He traced lines on the floor with the toe of his sneaker, eyebrows bunched together over the rim of his glasses. "Brutal honesty? Yeah, they're probably gonna give you valentine designation. It's hard to find people with the chops to pull it off, and right now it looks like you can and are willing to take that step without them even twisting your arm. It would be really weird if they didn't designate you, to be honest. But even if they do, it might be awhile before it even really matters. Like, full on valentine missions are pretty rare. Seduction may be the oldest tool in the book but there aren't many people around anymore who would buy it. Most people, especially in our world, like... are way too suspicious, you know? Most valentines are just distraction missions. Smile at person A, while person B slips in the back, or do like a honey trap and draw someone into an alley and our guys are waiting-- you know?"

Boyd sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. He couldn't say he hadn't been expecting that answer but it was still disappointing, even if he couldn't blame anyone but himself. At least it didn't sound like it was something he would have to worry about happening frequently. Not that the thought was much comfort even in his own mind.

He was silent for a moment before he pushed himself to a stand and crossed his arms. He looked away with a brooding pull on his eyes. "You know the worst part? It was all meaningless. I never would've had sex with him if I hadn't thought it was necessary to get the information, but Thierry played me. He sent the intel here before I even went to his house. And the whole night, every time I tried to get the information he just sidestepped until I felt like it was the only way. So I end up with that designation for the rest of my life because he wanted to fuck me, and I was so worried about the consequences of failing that I went along with it."

His expression tightened in anger briefly before it shifted to frustration. "And now, everything with Sin... I thought-- Well, we almost--" He frowned and waved a hand. "But it's all pointless now. He's disgusted with me and thinks I'm an idiot and he's right."

"What's pointless?" Ryan asked, eyebrows raising. "What happened?"

Boyd sighed again. He ran a hand somewhat restlessly back through his hair and turned to look at Ryan more fully. "We got into an argument when I got back from Thierry's. He had me against the wall and somehow from there we started kissing. We were nearly to sex when I panicked."

At this, Ryan's mouth dropped open. He made a few unintelligible sounds and gestured vaguely before shaking his head back and forth. "Whoa! Like-- whoa! I had a feeling he liked you but, I didn't know it was that... intense yet."

Boyd looked at Ryan with drawn eyebrows. "What gave you the impression that he liked me?"

Ryan shrugged, straightening his t-shirt and shifting slightly. A faint look of discomfort shrouded his thin face and he turned redder than the flush that already stained his pale skin.

"Well for one, he always watches you during briefings and stuff. Like, intently. But then again, he's so not like... socially normal that I thought maybe that's just a thing of his. But then... like, okay, so don't freak out on me about this it was a total accident and a total coincidence, but one night awhile ago I saw him storming back into the compound by himself after a mission. He looked so freaking pissed and upset, that I got really curious because I knew both of you were supposed to be together. So later on when I went home I kept thinking about it and I kind of saw you two on the feed..."

Boyd's eyebrows ticked up slightly as he thought back on that night. He wasn't surprised to know that anyone had overseen that, considering it had been right in view of the very same cameras he'd been using to watch Sin.

"Oh." Boyd paused. "That did get intense."

"Yeah... so I kind of drew my own conclusions," Ryan said sheepishly. "That he liked you in a kind of aggressive... alarming way."

Boyd let out a short, humorless laugh at that. "That's probably a good way of putting it. I don't even know what to do about it. I just--" He stopped himself, his eyes narrowing as frustration moved within him the way it always seemed to in regards to Sin.

"He makes me so angry sometimes. I've never met anyone who manages to get under my skin in a way that makes me react so poorly. But I can't stop being intrigued by him. And when we kissed--" He shook his head, his eyes narrowing in remembrance. "It was addictive and... hungry. It sounds stupid to say but it felt electric. Everything about him riles me up, in good ways and bad, and there are times it drives me nuts and other times I feel like I never want to walk away even if I could."

By the time he was done talking, Ryan's eyes had widened slightly. For someone who had admitted to having a crush on Sin, he didn't appear envious at all. There was a kind of wonder in his expression, as if he was witnessing something miraculous.

"If it's like that for you, I bet it's the same for him which is pretty freaking wow considering... I dunno. You know how antisocial he is."

"I don't know what he thinks but I'm not going to assume he feels the same way," Boyd said, his tone more resigned than anything. "Obviously he must be physically attracted to me considering the situations we've been in but it seems more and more that he doesn't like me as a person. It took me so long to convince him I wasn't out to get him and even then he kept distrusting everything I did. And now after everything with Thierry..." He shook his head. "He thinks I'm an idiot and an asshole and I don't know if that will ever change enough for it to matter."

"But why?" Ryan pressed. "Because you did the whole valentine thing unknowingly?"

"Yes. And because I ignored him every time he tried to warn me. And--" He stopped and lifted his hands in a helpless gesture before dropping them at his sides. "And before that we were already having troubles because of something else that happened. The more that happens, the less I feel like there's a way out of any of it."

They stood in silence for a few moments with Ryan watching him carefully. He was fiddling with his t-shirt and scuffing his sneaker against the floor as he appeared to turn something over in his mind. His expression went through a variety of metamorphoses before he finally sighed and shook his head.

"Y'know, I'm not a big expert on this stuff. I've never even been in a real relationship and I'm twenty-five, but like..." He trailed off for a minute, bit his lip and then shrugged before pressing on. "But I saw the way both of you guys were at the start of this whole thing, and if you two could have that kind of intense fire stuff considering the way you both were... I dunno, I wouldn't give up so easy. But then again, maybe I read too much fanfic."

Boyd watched Ryan for an extended moment and then looked away. His expression was pensive and his fingers curled around one side of the towel before he pulled it off.

"We'll see," he said dubiously and turned toward the door. "I think I'm going to leave. Are you going to stay longer? We do technically have the room for another fifteen minutes."

"I'm pretty beat, I should probably go."

Boyd nodded as they started to walk to the door. "You did well for the first session."

Ryan didn't look entirely convinced but he smiled anyway. "Thanks. I appreciate you helping me. Everyone else thinks it's some huge waste of time with my condition and what not."

"Well, they're wrong," Boyd said firmly and without hesitation. "I'll help you whenever I can."

That earned him another sincere smile. "You're awesome. I don't care what anyone says."

Boyd smiled sidelong at Ryan. "Thank you," he said, truly meaning it. He'd been feeling so down on himself lately that it was nice to hear something good. "And thanks for listening to me about Sin and everything else."

"My pleasure," Ryan said with a grin, putting an arm around Boyd's shoulders. "And if any of these stupid toons have anything to say on our way out, I have ways of getting my revenge. Having access to the entire system is pretty cool."

Boyd's quiet smile inched up as the two of them left the room.

Continue to Chapter 19