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 Nineteen

The sun was hazy and white, a wavering circle with heat felt even through the atmosphere. The clouds were thinner in Morocco; grey as they were the world over, but rescinding slightly from the pure power of the sun. The rays shot through the clouds like moonbeams through smoke and even with the muffled light the shadows quelled at the intensity.

Languages slurred the background noise into one completely indecipherable murmur of humanity. People from many religions and backgrounds walked the streets, chatting and babbling and gesturing with arms ringed in clinking jewelry. Many had their heads covered from the sun's rays, scarves and shawls that shadowed their expressions but did not hide the shining white of their teeth. Market places lined the alleys and streets, little carts and kiosks hastily stacked together with fruits and vegetables for sale right next to sturdy clothing and bottles of purified water. The bustle was almost overwhelming; people yelling prices and questions, the sound of trade and money overtaking the small streets crowded beneath the wide, overpowering sky.

Some buildings crouched against the ground like animals dying from the heat; dull browns and greys huddled beneath the overbearing sun, slowly shedding bricks and dust like sweat that fell to the ground. Foot traffic was heavy, wearing the dirt into paths as smooth as riverstone where people walked the most. Only half the city had concrete or sidewalks; the rest of the structures had cracked and fallen apart during the chaos of the war.

The city center was the largest part, filled with buildings that were half-restored or brand new. Some loomed high above the wide boulevards, mostly white and designed in a distinct French, colonial style. Windows shone brilliantly, reflecting the glare of the sun into the eyes of unfortunate passersby. More people crowded along the main street than ever, many of them wearing sandals and some even without shoes as they padded along the packed dirt. Condos which had been built mostly in the last decade crowded old fashioned, white washed buildings and the city's poor mingled freely next to the city's wealthy.

Newspaper stalls erupted like weeds along the sides; little boys in ragged shorts and shoes a size too big ran amidst the pedestrians with crumpled papers, holding their hands out for money and shoving the news insistently in everyone's faces. Some of them slipped their hands into the pockets of the passersby, integrating some pick pocketing with their soliciting.

The city was filled with people moving through it like blood through veins. It was upbeat and proud and there was more laughter than there were hollow-eyed people crouched in the dark, watching the world pass by the way their lives passed them. Although the occasional woman screamed that her money purse was stolen and a pickpocket wailed when he was caught, for the most part the city was comfortable, genial, and alive. When people smiled, they meant it, and the heat only added to the atmosphere by making everything seem closer and larger.

Sin shoved his hands in his pockets and strolled idly through the Marche Central of Casablanca. Locals milled around the market stalls, examining meat, vegetables and turtles for soup. The place was almost overwhelmingly crowded and it would have been confusing to navigate for a first time visitor but it wasn't the first time he'd had an assignment in this city. It was one of the few remaining places that had been nearly bypassed by the wave of bombings that had swept the world and many people had rushed to settle there. The New Yorks and Londons of the world had been targeted first during the war and now a decade later, it was cities in Africa, South America, Oceania and Asia that boomed with business and attracted people world wide.

His current target had been one of those people who'd reestablished himself here; a wealthy banker from San Francisco who'd become an even wealthier businessman in Morocco, relocating himself and revamping his child pornography ring to include young, Moroccan boys.

Sin ignored the peddlers in the market and made his way back to Boulevard Mohammad 5, following at a safe distance but not letting the tall blond man escape his range of vision. Peter Brunnell lived about ten minutes outside the main town square in old Casablanca where the white buildings were a little dingier and the streets were a little narrower, but the old aged charm was still in tact. It was close enough to the city center to remain somewhat clear of the extreme poverty and prostitution that plagued the other parts but far enough to avoid the throngs of tourists.

Sin trailed a block behind Peter, peering at him through dark sunglasses and feeling mildly amused that the man hadn't noticed him yet. He never did a particularly grand job at these undercover fitting-in-with-the-locals missions and he didn't really care. He just wanted to kill the man and get it over with. His assignment wasn't the typical, straightforward assassination. It had so far involved a string of hits in different cities all over the world and at this point he was growing weary of playing tag with his targets.

The purpose of this all was a man named Anderson McCall, a wealthy American who'd been in the clergy before the war but who'd dedicated his life to helping needy people afterward. He was well known nationally as a figure of hope and generosity so he was generally loved by the public. The only problem was that he was a big supporter of Janus and their efforts to overthrow the US government. He would not have been considered more than a mild annoyance if it hadn't been for the fact that 45% of Janus' arms had been purchased with money that he'd donated to them.

A straightforward assassination would turn the man into a martyr so the Agency was using a different tactic this time. For months they'd worked to create ties between McCall and several investors of questionable moral fiber. He thought they were interested in his restoration projects in Louisiana and in reality they were; but the seed of interest had been planted by Agency moles and the lengthy connections between the men would help to bring about McCall's downfall.

A direct connection between McCall and several men involved in drug trafficking and child prostitution rings in third world countries had already been established and already his name was becoming tarnished. In two weeks it would come out that he'd been systematically having these questionable business partners murdered in an effort to clear his name and ensure their silence but after he'd finished the job, guilt overcame him and he'd taken his own life.

It was a lie of course and Sin was the one killing his partners but no one would know that and the man's memory would be blackened forever. It was dirty work and Sin wasn't particularly pleased about having to involve himself in the business but he had to give a nod of credit towards the Agency; they covered every base. They'd managed to access bank accounts, phone records, create ties between McCall and known hitmen. it was disturbing how thorough they were.

His father had taught him how to do his job, taught him how to do the assignment, kill the mark and not question things even when they were obviously questionable. But missions like this got under his skin. He didn't mind straightforward assassinations of political figures and rebel leaders where he knew next to nothing about them. He didn't mind taking out rebels and destroying their bases. He didn't mind killing because it was his purpose.

He did, however, mind playing games and planting evidence, knowing details about a man's life and destroying every part of it. It was usually enough that he was ending it.

His irritation was heightened by the fact that he'd found himself wondering quite often how Boyd would go about a mission like this. He was sure that his partner would have a more clever way of tracking these guys down and planting evidence that didn't involve following them for hours in the humid market while trying to keep a safe distance. The annoyance increased even more when he'd idly wondered whether or not Boyd would like the cities he'd been to, if he'd want to explore them instead of just completing the mission and leaving.

Sin was disgusted with his preoccupation but no matter what he did, it wouldn't go away. He thought obsessively over every word that had been exchanged between he and Boyd on the mission in France and analyzed them over and over. He picked at everything until he shoved all of the assumptions, bitterness, and anger aside and came to terms with the reality of the entire situation.

One thing he couldn't change was the fact that he liked being around Boyd. At first he'd thought perhaps it was some bizarre desperation because Boyd was the first person to show interest in him, but Sin didn't necessarily believe that anymore. If it was as simple as that, he liked to think it would be easier to brush this entire thing off. With that came a close examination over Boyd's response to the remote, and the decision that maybe Sin had jumped the gun in his reaction because of everything else that had been going on at the same time.

The second thing he realized and came to terms with, was that he was sexually attracted to Boyd. This was a major problem. Even if Boyd wasn't being completely false about everything else, he'd shown on two occasions that when it came down to it, he was afraid of Sin. It wasn't something he could be blamed for; most people were afraid of Sin. He was capable of things that no man should have been capable of, and Boyd had witnessed every one of them. I

t wasn't surprising but the rejection still felt like a wound that wouldn't quite heal. He'd never been attracted to anyone before, let alone actually acting on that, and the bitterness wasn't something he'd been prepared to handle. His resolution to that had been, unfortunately, to keep his partner at a distance. It was better that way, regardless. One thing Sin had learned from this entire interaction was that he wasn't cut out for any of it.

He didn't know how to be someone's friend. That had been proven by the brilliant idea of murdering someone as a present. He definitely didn't know how to approach someone as a lover. That had been more than proven by what had happened at the hotel in France. The entire situation had confirmed something he'd known since childhood; something he never should have forgotten or tried to move beyond. He existed solely to be a killer. It was what he was good at, and that was it. Everyone had a role to play in life, and that was his.

It had been obvious from the start, and it was why his father had known that he would make an amazing agent. He'd known that Sin wasn't normal. His weird psychotic episodes, and the events that had happened in China had proved that. Even at the age of eight, he'd distrusted everyone, thinking everyone had the worst of intentions. He'd even felt that way about his father more often than not. It was something that hadn't changed much over time.

For years he'd been alone, he'd trusted no one and he'd liked it that way. He'd lived his life with a single purpose although at times that purpose had grown fuzzy in his mind. There had been times when he'd asked himself why he did the things he did, why he went back to the Agency, why he worked for people who thought of him as no more than a tool.

There had been times in his teenage years when he'd debated leaving, thinking there had to be something more. But the ideas had always faltered and disappeared when he realized that there was nothing else for him.

He didn't know how to interact with people and even if he did, he'd always found humans to be despicable, weak creatures. Something in him hated the idea of being close to others and something else in him shuddered at the idea of letting anyone near him. He'd quelled the ideas and the fluctuations in thought with training, exercise, self inflicted punishment. He'd gone back to being unquestioning and doing what he was told to do, just because he couldn't figure out what he'd rather do instead.

The first real lapse in his training had been over the girl; the pretty, red headed young girl being raped by a group of men. Flashbacks had hit him, then darkness, then the feeling of watching himself from afar. The men died, then the girl ran from him, scared of his violence and his ability to murder, then the scavengers. the scavengers who'd allowed a girl to be raped but who came running to kill her rescuer just so they could loot his body afterwards. It'd ended with more bloodshed than he'd intended to cause.

He'd been thankful for the years he'd spent on the fourth floor after that. He'd used the time to re-evaluate himself. To retrain himself mentally. To rid himself of the weakness that had caused him to feel anything for anyone. To attempt to destroy the part of him with a soft spot for the helpless.

Then Boyd had come along; he wasn't helpless, but somehow he stirred those same feelings in Sin and caused more confusion than he'd felt in his entire life. Suddenly there was a person in his life who didn't treat him like a monster. Someone who inspired curiosity from him. Someone who shared interests and didn't show fear.

Someone who acted like a friend; the first friend he'd ever had. He didn't know why the urge to protect this new, strange being had morphed into something sexual and needy but he wanted the feelings to be gone and it was obvious that it was going to take more than one week of isolation to achieve that.

The shadows grew longer and Sin hid himself in the safety of them, stalking Peter Brunnell as he got closer to his home. The buildings in the residential area of old Casablanca were curvier, rounder and the white washed doors and window frames were splashed with vivid blues and reds. The setting sun shone through the stubborn clouds and caused the pale white walls to look faintly yellow in the dim light. It was picturesque and had an almost haunting, old world quality to it but Sin did not appreciate the scenery at the moment.

He slipped into the narrow alley behind the building Brunnell lived in and moved silently over the tiled walkway. It would have been easier to catch the man before he'd gone on his excursion through downtown, but he'd had a disturbingly young male prostitute with him that morning and Sin didn't find it necessary to kill a thirteen year old boy.

A majority of the buildings were connected, creating a wall of houses behind the two he currently stood between. The effect was mildly alarming since the buildings were less than a yard apart but he ignored the nausea that made his stomach churn, fought his claustrophobia and looked up at the side of the house. There were lines for clothing strewn between buildings and he noticed that they were attached to shutters or iron frames that bordered the small windows.

He slipped some gloves on and then jumped up; he grabbed hold of one of the iron frames, pulling himself up effortlessly as though he were climbing the rungs of a ladder. He reached out and caught the frame of another window, pulling himself up again and repeating the process until he reached the window he needed. The brown, wooden shutters were open and the window was cracked open. He pulled his entire body up and slipped into it easily, silently wondering how much success he'd have had with that endeavor if he hadn't been underweight.

He crouched in the room and looked around, noting that he was in Brunnell's bedroom, which wasn't exactly what he'd intended. A part of him said in a mocking voice that if Boyd were there he'd probably have a detailed blueprint of every building in the area but he ignored it and stood up. He could hear keys jingling and a door opening somewhere in the apartment so he ducked quickly behind the long, deep red curtains which framed the window. The room was only lit by the setting sun but he saw that lavish rugs and artwork decorated the room in rich colors. Brunnell's bed was huge and had a wide canopy, while a state of the art computer sat on a large mahogany desk nearby.

Brunnell was either stupid or completely careless because he entered the room and didn't even give a second glance at the sheer panel that Sin stood behind. The blond stripped his clothes off and booted up the computer before disappearing out of the room again. There was the sound of another door opening, closing and then a shower being turned on.

Sin shook his head and went over to the computer, slipping a memory stick out of his pocket and plugging it into the machine's USB port. He uploaded some data, went through great lengths to make the files hidden and then removed the memory stick. He looked around the room again and spied a bag of miniature chocolate bars sitting on one of the intricately carved African nightstands. He grabbed the bag, opened it, filled his pockets and then wandered out of the room and towards the bathroom.

It was kind of depressing that he'd spent seven hours following this man to do something that was completed within ten minutes.

There was complete silence in the apartment until Sin opened the door and a startled cry rang out. A muted gunshot was followed closely by the sound of a body hitting the floor, and silence returned once again.

It was February 9th by the time Sin was entirely through his list. Everything was going smoothly. The evidence was already pointing towards McCall. Information found in the homes of all seven businessmen and their bank accounts had linked their prostitution ring to McCall; it seemed as though the ex-minister was more deeply involved in the operation than authorities originally suspected. All of the murders had been completed execution style and linked to the Russian assassin Alexander Putin, a former lieutenant in Russia's Federal Security Services before the collapse of the Kremlin during the war. Putin was missing and presumed dead, but several phone calls made to his cell phone had been traced back to McCall's office in Baton Rouge, Louisiana before his disappearance.

During this time, it was widely reported, McCall had become withdrawn and a recluse in his New Orleans home. He'd discontinued all projects due to the worsening media storm. Interviews with family members described a highly depressed man who seemed to have lost all hope.

New Orleans had become a highly commercialized city during the past few decades, even more so than it had been in the earlier 20th century. Repeated flooding from hurricanes had destroyed 90% of the city's poor districts over the years and the end result had been an extreme reconstruction of the levee system which proved highly successful.

In the end, it resulted in a vast variety of businesses, hotels and casinos being built over the poor areas. It was rare for anyone other than the wealthy to live in or even visit the city; it was very exclusive and very expensive. It was one of the few major cities to remain untouched by the war in the US, but that was most likely due to the fact that nothing of note existed there aside from retired millionaires and rich artists.

Sin thought it was rather odd that this charitable clergyman lived in a city known for debauchery and excessive waste of wealth, but according to the man's files he'd grown up in the Lower Ninth Ward. McCall had become a self-made businessman and millionaire before finally retiring from his business at an early age and becoming a minister.

He'd lived his life peacefully in the Garden District until the government showed complete disregard for the city's needy and demolished most of the poor districts. Supposedly it was then that he became inspired to help rebuild poor neighborhoods that the government didn't care about. He began his campaign to reconstruct places all over the country that had been ravaged by the war.

The irritation that had been building during the entire course of the mission was beginning to boil over despite the fact that Sin was hesitant to put his finger on the exact reason why. He didn't want to admit to himself that he found this to be wrong; he didn't want to admit to himself that he cared either way.

However, this wasn't the first time that he'd found himself taking a side during a mission. He'd realized that he actually had morals on another mission as well. That had occurred when the Agency had told him to assassinate the Prime Minister of Italy in front of her three kids because she didn't agree with their solution regarding Italian rebel groups.

It was devastatingly easy to break into the man's house and Sin was becoming somewhat annoyed by the complete lack of security these people had in their homes. The entire house had some Greek revival feel to it and could have been quite beautiful, but the inside was rather plain and was anything but decadent. Most of the furniture looked secondhand and there weren't very many decorative ornaments anywhere. The walls were covered with pictures of children who benefited from McCall's various Urban Youth projects and framed awards for his deeds.

The nagging feeling in Sin's gut became more insistent and he gritted his teeth as he crept up the long, winding staircase to his target's room. He reminded himself that this was an assignment and he wasn't supposed to question anything. He reminded himself that this man was supposed to be his enemy. It bothered him that he couldn't keep that in mind. It bothered him that he wondered if Boyd would be bothered by these things.

"I don't know, Nicole. I just-I just don't want to talk right now. No, I'm fine. I'll be fine. I don't know. I just need to be alone."

Sin followed the voice to the master bedroom and noticed that the door was wide open. He could see McCall's thin form facing away from him inside.

"It doesn't matter anymore. It's all over. Everything I've done-and now my own family doubts me? Listen, I'll call you later. I have some work to do, some arrangements to make."

There was a pause and Sin slipped into the room silently, closing the door softly behind him. He crossed his arms over his chest and watched McCall's back. The man didn't even seem to notice that he was there.

"I'll call you back later. Yes. --Heh. Do you? --It doesn't matter, Nicole. Goodbye."

McCall closed the cell phone and let it drop to the floor at his feet. He continued to stand silently, facing the window and did so for a long moment.

"Are you here to kill me, then?"

Sin raised an eyebrow and leaned against the door. "I'm here to make you commit suicide, actually."

McCall turned around and stared at him with a surprisingly fearless expression on his face. He looked older than he had in his picture, appearing to be in his sixties rather than fifties. It was as if he'd aged ten years in the past three months. His silver hair was uncombed and unruly, blue eyes red-rimmed and surrounded by dark circles. "So you mean to say," he began slowly. "That you're here to kill me."

Sin shrugged. "Semantics."

McCall nodded silently and moved to his desk, reaching for a bottle of Gin and a tumbler. "Would you like a drink? Or are we to get down to this right away?" His entire demeanor screamed of weariness and resignation.

"I don't drink but you're welcome to." Sin pushed himself away from the door and walked towards McCall slowly, keeping his arms folded over his chest. "It actually suits my purposes if you do."

"Oh?" McCall glanced up at him. "You're going to poison me?" He seemed almost amused at the idea of it. "How absurd."

Sin shrugged. "Hey, it wasn't my idea. I just do what I'm told."

"Ah." The older man nodded and poured his drink, sitting down at his desk and gazing at Sin through slightly narrowed eyes. "So you're not acting of your own accord?"

"Does it matter? It doesn't change anything." Sin stared down at McCall and uncrossed his arms.

"Ah, well I'd just hoped that the reason for this smear campaign would be explained to me before my death." He shook his head and picked up his drink although he just let it hover next to his mouth for a moment without taking a sip. "Oh yes, of course." He set it down on the table again and pushed it across the table at Sin.

"You're making my job very easy," Sin replied flatly. He pulled the vial out of his pocket and opened it, pouring the clear liquid into the glass slowly. "Drink."

"And what if I said no?" McCall asked curiously. "How are you planning to force me to drink it? I'm not really going to resist, trust me at this point I'm far from caring, but I'm curious as to what your plan was."

"I'd tell you that I'll kill your sister if you make this any more difficult than it has to be."

"I see." McCall was silent for a long moment before he grabbed the tumbler and downed the entire contents of it within a single gulp. He set it down on the desk again and peered at Sin. "How long do I have?"

"An hour."

"Ah." He nodded again and fiddled with the empty glass for a moment. "What precisely was it?"

"An overdose of the painkillers you take for arthritis."

"Ah." There was another silence. "Well, sit down, young man. No need to stand there hovering over me."

Sin looked at him blankly and then shook his head, sprawling in the chair that was placed across from McCall's desk. For several moments they just stared at each other. The only sound in the room was the ticking of the antique grandfather clock in the corner. He was quite surprised at the man's actions; even more surprised by the fact that he showed no fear whatsoever about the fact that he was going to die soon. The thought caused a jolt of unpleasantness to go through him and he turned, staring intently out the window.

"What's the matter?"

Sin looked at McCall again. "What?"

McCall spread his hands out in front of him and shrugged. "You looked angry just now."

Pale, green eyes narrowed into slits and Sin studied McCall. "Could be."

"Maybe because you've killed an innocent man?"

"Could be."

"Maybe you feel guilty because of it."

"Maybe," Sin said without emotion. He tilted his head to the side, staring at the other man. "But it changes nothing."

McCall leaned back in his chair and gazed at Sin. "You aren't how I imagined my assassin to be. You're too." He gestured idly, trying to find the words. "You're too beautiful and tragic, I think."

"Are you kidding me?"

The older man shrugged again. "Well, there is no denying that you're a striking young man. I think you could be a model if you wanted. But there is also something about you that seems very dark, depressing, and the fact that you just admitted to feeling guilt. Well, obviously you're not completely callous."

"You do realize that I just poisoned you. That I'm not lying. That you will be dying very shortly?" Sin crossed his arms over his chest again, letting his legs remain splayed out in front of him as he slumped in the chair and glared.

McCall shrugged. "I know, but honestly I don't care anymore. My family has betrayed me, they don't trust me and they won't even believe me over the media. Of course I cannot blame them but my sister-in-law has taken measures to prevent me from visiting my nephew." A bitter smile crossed his face. "After all the good I've tried to do for children." He shook his head. "I don't care anymore. If suicide wasn't a sin, I'd probably have done it already."

"Sorry." The words were spoken coldly, flatly, but for some reason Sin knew that he meant it.

Somewhere inside him, he was sorry. Somewhere inside him, he hated the Agency and he hated himself for doing this. But he didn't let it show and his face remained perfectly blank despite the turmoil that roiled inside of him. He wanted nothing more, at that moment, than to be the cold blooded killer that everyone said he was. The monster who could take a life, no matter whose it was. He didn't want to care about this man's life. He didn't want to care about this man's death.

He was suddenly reminded of the night he'd killed Boyd's attacker, how the knowledge of ripping the man apart had haunted him even though it was deeply deserved. It was so strange how some things affected him while others barely niggled at his conscience at all.

"Well, I'm sure you don't want to hear about my troubles," McCall said softly. "I just wish you would tell me why. Why this has been done to me. Am I that much of a threat? Is it-" He hesitated and raked a hand through his hair. "Is it because I've shown support for anti-American factions?"

"I'd say donating millions of dollars towards Janus is a tad more than 'showing support'," Sin said idly, not giving away the fact that this entire situation was making his stomach twist uncomfortably. He was supposed to wait until the job was complete and McCall was terminated, but he really just wanted to leave.

"Ah." McCall nodded and poured himself another drink. "I see. So that's what it boils down to. The American government never ceases to amaze me." His voice still held the resigned note although it now had an edge.

"Well, technically you are a traitor to the nation that's allowed you to prosper and become a millionaire. You are aware that Janus purchases weapons to kill Americans with the money you donate to them? That they perform terrorist acts?"

McCall smiled at him. It was patronizing. Infuriating. "Trying to justify yourself to me?"

Sin suddenly felt a keen sense of déjà vu and his skin crawled as he realized who he sounded like. When he realized that he really was trying to justify his actions. He got up abruptly, standing stiffly with his hands balled into fists as he gave McCall a dark look. "Just accept the consequences. You knew it was a risk. Nothing more needs to be said."

"Then why do you keep responding to me?"

Maybe this was good; if the man made him angry enough he wouldn't feel this ridiculous sense of guilt anymore or this idiotic responsibility for a man he barely knew. There was another stretch of silence and Sin retreated to a dark corner of the room.

He thought about the last time he'd felt like this on a mission; thought about the screams of his target's children when her head had exploded into a mass of brains and blood. Sin stared at McCall silently, willing the man to keel over so the thing could be done with and he could leave this place and burn the ordeal out of his mind.

"Since I'm going to die soon anyway, why don't you talk to me? Your secrets will be safe and we'll have something to do other than sit here in boredom," McCall said calmly after a few moments.

Sin scowled. "What in the hell is the point?"

McCall shrugged and tapped his fingers against his desk. "Why does there need to be a point? I'm merely curious. Does it disturb you that I don't fear death?"

There was a stretch of silence as Sin debated ignoring the question. He had no idea what this was supposed to prove or why McCall even wanted to sit here chatting with his murderer, but the man was a study in all things unexpected it seemed. There was a part of Sin that wondered if suicide would have been McCall's fate even if the Agency hadn't come calling. No one, no matter how prepared they were, accepted death this easily when it was being handed down by someone else.

"It doesn't disturb me but it surprises me," Sin said finally.

McCall poured himself another drink, letting his gaze stray out the large window that sat behind him. "All living things die at some point, the war should have been evidence enough of that for anyone. I lost three younger brothers and twin daughters in the bombings in Houston. It seems fitting that my life should be lost in just as pointless a way as theirs were. A parent should never outlive a child."

Sin said nothing but he crossed the room and sat down in the chair again, folding his arms over his chest. If the man wanted to talk, he could talk. It seemed to bring him some kind of bizarre comfort. Maybe it had something to do with having been a minister in the past.

"Do you have children?"

"No." Sin hoped he never would. He didn't want to create something like him.

"How old are you?"

"I was born circa 1991."

McCall gazed at him curiously, leaning forward ever so slightly. "How did such a young person get involved in this despicable business?"

Sin hesitated for a moment but then replied, "You could say my father recruited me."

"That's disgusting." The anger in McCall's voice was obvious and it was genuine. His lips thinned into a white line and his slender hands gripped the chair tightly. "How could a parent put his child into such a position?" He shook his head, eyes closing briefly. "I don't understand humanity." He looked at Sin again, pale blue eyes piercing as though he could see directly into his soul.

"How old were you?"

"What difference does it make? I don't need your pity. I don't make excuses for myself. If you knew me better, you wouldn't feel sorry for me. If you knew the things I've done, you wouldn't have that look on your face." Sin looked away, unable to meet the man's steady gaze any longer. There was something nagging at him now, a memory scraping at him and trying to push itself to the forefront. "My birth was nothing but--"

For some reason at that moment a memory erupted to the surface like the moon appearing from behind a group of clouds. A faint haunting voice and the tat-tat-tat of gunfire echoed in his ears, making him falter. Uncertain and confused, Sin abruptly stopped. The sounds were accompanied by an image assaulting him. It was his reoccurring nightmare, but in flashes like a memory. Blood being streaked on grass, slack fingers, blank green eyes and thin fingers clawing at dark earth.

"Your birth was an act of God and inevitably, that is what my death is," McCall said softly.

Sin shook his head, trying to clear the memories, trying to shut the voice away when he stared at McCall. "What?"

McCall took in his expression and the sudden lack of composure. "I said your birth was an act of God; do not listen to anything anyone else tells you. Everyone is put on this Earth for a reason. Everyone has a purpose." He tilted his head and looked at Sin thoughtfully. "I don't think this is your purpose, but maybe it's mine."

Sin squinted at McCall, confusion still clouding his brain as he tried to ignore the voice and the mental image that kept reappearing in his mind. "What does that mean?"

"Maybe my purpose in life was to be killed by you. Maybe my purpose is for you to experience this moment." McCall looked pensive as he nodded to himself as if confirming some thought. "Tell me; did you kill those men they're saying I had murdered? Those men that I idiotically allowed myself to become associated with?"

"Yes." Sin closed his eyes briefly. He had no idea why this was happening now of all times. He licked his lips, shifting nervously in the chair, hands clenching and unclenching in his agitation. He tried to focus on pushing the memories away, if that was even what they were.

"I thought so." McCall nodded again. "Tell me, how long has violence played such a large part of your life? I've known children that were abused all of their lives and they became shattered, dark things, reacting to everything with violence because that's all they know. They always reminded me of alley cats, so skittish and untrusting, always ready to fight." He gave Sin a sidelong look. "More importantly, when's the last time you felt love?"

The question was so startling that it distracted Sin enough that he was jolted out of the turmoil in his mind. "What? I don't know. Never." Sin shook his head again and focused on McCall. "What does it matter?"

McCall raised an eyebrow. "You'll never know anything else but violence until you've felt love. When I was young, I was very angry. My parents were drug addicts and we were always needy. I hated the world for a long time but then I met my wife and everything changed. I changed. When someone believes in you, it's miraculous how you suddenly start to believe in yourself, how you suddenly want to become the person that they see. If it wasn't for her, I'd have never had the drive to do the things I did to get where I am today."

Just as soon as the memory receded, Sin's mind was overtaken by something else. The words made him think about the person he'd been trying so hard to push out of his mind.

Now instead of seeing a strange, long forgotten death scene, he saw Boyd's smile and the way it lit up his face. Instead of seeing bloody fingers curling up defensively as green eyes that were so like his own stared at an unseen attacker, he saw Boyd's pale, slim fingers curling around the remote right before he threw it at Sin, telling Sin he didn't want to hurt him. Instead of a field of grass and streaks of blood shining under a huge moon, he remembered Boyd gazing at him with an amused smile and a softened expression.

He didn't know if these memories were any better or any more comforting but he didn't even care at that point. He was just thankful that the flashbacks weren't there anymore. That he wasn't seeing his father in that state anymore. That he didn't have to figure out what the hell that memory had even been or where it'd come from.

There was a question Sin wanted to ask but he knew he shouldn't. He knew that this was just what McCall did-- at-risk youth counseling, even though Sin was long past being a youth. But McCall seemed to want to pick his brain anyway. He seemed to want to understand what made Sin tick and in the process, his words were ringing true and making Sin want to say more than he knew he should.

"What about if someone seems to care for you as a friend?" The last word wound up coming out sarcastically and it made the entire question seem laced with bitterness.

"Sometimes the love of a friend is the purest kind. Unless you're rich and very generous, the love of a friend is usually unconditional and more genuine than anything else in the world."

For some reason the simple statement, so laced with unacknowledged truths that Sin didn't want to deal with, was the last straw. He couldn't sit there anymore playing therapy. He couldn't sit there getting schooled on how to feel and having it actually make sense in his mind. Not when the man who was schooling him was turning ashen; only moments away from death. So Sin stood up, hands once again balling into fists as he stared down at McCall.

Sin felt the slow burn of shame. The guilt that ate away at him during the entire mission was growing in intensity and he knew that he had to get away.

He hadn't known people could be like this-- He hadn't known men like McCall actually existed. He didn't understand why it was possible that someone he'd just met, someone he'd just killed, could evoke such feelings in him. Most of all he didn't understand how this man could know him so well. How he could say things that seemed so right. How he could explain six months worth of confusion in two sentences.

He couldn't stand to sit there anymore and watch as McCall looked at him with pity. So he damned his orders and left without another word.

Continue to Chapter 20