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 Twenty-Seven

Dust was thick in the air, making the arid temperature feel even scratchier against the skin. Laredo, Texas was still half-intact, with buildings scattered along the riverbed like abandoned toys. Several of the bridges spanning the Rio Grande were destroyed in the impact of the war, but with the passing of years and slow degradation of borders, rickety replacements had been created. Boyd had done as much research as he could on the plane rides between Hawaii and the Agency, then the Agency and Laredo, but there was only so much he could read in books, especially since most of them were written prior to the bombs. So there were still surprises.

A transit station that was little more than a large parking lot with pot holes lay adjoined to the airport, and Boyd and Sin hung around the shadows of a nearby building while Boyd flipped through a decade-old Spanish travel, culture and phrasebook, trying to teach himself as much of the language as he could. There were enough similarities to French that it wasn't completely confusing to him, but he did wish they'd had a bit more warning before taking off to Mexico. He could have attempted to become fluent before going there. He should have plenty of time to learn while over there, though.

They had to wait around for nearly an hour before their transport arrived, but eventually it came trundling from the horizon on tires that looked threadbare and two shades darker with mud. A cloth banner covering the dirty bus read in handwritten scrawl, 'Viaje México.' Boyd looked at Sin questioningly and asked under his breath what that meant in English.

"Journey Mexico," Sin translated absently. He was standing in an idle slouch as he watched other passengers drag their suitcases with broken wheels across the dusty pavement to load on the bus.

Boyd nodded and moved to slip his hands into his pockets but was met with empty air. He'd had to abandon his beloved trench coat and the skinny jeans he wore were too tight to comfortably fit his hands. Sighing to himself, he tried to ignore the annoyances of this cover. He'd been amused in the Agency when he'd seen how irritated Sin was about his own cover, but now that his own transformation had taken effect he had to admit there were some downsides.

His hair now mirrored Kadin's: layered and framing his face, with the longest layer reaching barely past his chin. His bangs were at an angle that constantly fell into his eyes but were not long enough to be held back. It meant constantly having to shove hair off his face and he was starting to wish Kadin had had the decency to go long or really short, and not do this obnoxious in between.

Hitching his duffel bag higher on his shoulder, Boyd watched Sin finish his cigarette.

It was so strange seeing Sin now; he looked completely different. His clothing was vaguely similar-- ragged jeans with holes in them and a sleeveless shirt that showed off the new barbed wire tattoo encasing his upper arm. Despite that, his muscular build was much more visible now that he was not lost within a scrappy long-sleeved shirt. Boyd more than once excused the way he eyed Sin's arms as saying he was just looking at the tattoo.

Sin's hair was now shorter, choppy and a little spiked, and the natural jet black was randomly streaked with white. His ears were pierced, with several small hoops randomly distributed in each ear. A lip ring curled out from the center of his lower lip, a silver color that worked well with his olive skin tone. Boyd often found his gaze drawn to the lip ring. He had always been a little fascinated by Sin's mouth, but this brought his attention to it even more.

On the plane ride over he had realized a few times that he was staring and had to force himself to look away. If he did not stop himself in time, he started wondering what the lip ring would feel like against his lips and tongue, and what the metal mixed with Sin would taste like, and that just reminded him of the way Sin tasted back in France, and from there it was a very uncomfortable few minutes while Boyd tried to change his thoughts before it became obvious that he was affected. The stupid skinny jeans did very little to hide an erection and it was one more reason he wished he was impersonating someone who had the decency to wear loose clothing and keep hair he could hide behind.

He didn't know how he was going to make it through the majority of a year in Mexico alone with Sin in an apartment. Every time he actually thought about their situation, about being around someone who fascinated and attracted him more with each passing day, his mind derailed.

What would Sin look like in just bathing shorts and a tan? What would his body look like with these new tattoos? What would he sound like, murmuring Spanish fluently with that bedroom voice he slipped into sometimes? All these questions slid around Boyd's mind and he found himself more than once meticulously mentally reviewing the blueprints of the Agency or his house just to focus on something that was not in any way related to Sin.

But each time Boyd started to distract himself, Sin did something else. Whereas before he stood ramrod straight, with a glowering and alert attention to the world around him, he now slouched and peered around almost sullenly. He had taken to holding a cigarette in his fingers even when he was not smoking and Boyd was impressed with how natural he already looked with the cigarette between his lips when he did. He looked even more bored with the world, leaning against the wall and idly tapping the ash from the cigarette. In just one week he already seemed comfortable with chain smoking, and Boyd was not entirely certain what he thought of that.

Boyd was not a fan of the cloud of smoke that now lingered around Sin, but that was mostly because he had never realized before how much he enjoyed Sin's scent until it was covered by something else. He didn't even know how to describe how Sin smelled, other than cheap soap and a hint of sweat. That should not have seemed unique, but Boyd was just now realizing he really liked it. On the other hand, even if he smelled of smoke, Sin looked casually alluring while smoking. Every time his fingers shifted and brought the cigarette to his mouth, Boyd tracked the movement with his gaze and often found it difficult not to linger on those full lips.

"Let's go," Boyd said suddenly, not waiting for Sin to finish his cigarette before he strode across the crackling hot pavement toward the bus. He was frustrated that he was so preoccupied with Sin's appearance, but he couldn't help it. Although he preferred when Sin had longer hair with the red in it, he had to admit that Sin looked very good as Jason too. He suspected Sin would always be undeniably attractive.

They were able to get two seats next to each other near the back; an easy feat, as there were only seventeen passengers including them and the bus could hold up to forty-five. It was not surprising that the public transit from the United States to Mexico was so underutilized. Very few people lived in Laredo or Nuevo Laredo just across the border, but the few who were interested in traveling were almost certainly headed to Monterrey.

Although the ride was only about three and a half hours, it seemed to take longer. The bus had no windows, just holes where glass would have been. Instead, tarp with loops on the bottom was rolled along the ceiling, and hooks were perched beneath the windows in case rain caused the passengers to unfurl and secure it. The seats were hard-backed and uncomfortable, but no one seemed too concerned as it was a relatively short ride.

The bus was rickety and jolted around a lot, making it harder not to rub against Sin's bare arm with his own. Judging by the literature, even with the clouds it would be far too hot in Monterrey to wear long-sleeved shirts, and Boyd would have been conspicuous if he tried, so he had to wear short-sleeved shirts for the first time in years. He felt vulnerable and naked even with that bit of skin showing, but he was incredibly thankful that he'd noticed Kadin wearing wide, leather bands on each of his wrists. He'd decided to follow suit and do the same.

Now, with skin he had not revealed for years other than a few minutes at a time during showers, Boyd felt entirely too aware of the heat and sweat on Sin's skin, or the way the smoke and underlying faint smell of soap passed cloyingly in front of him each time the wind gusted. Boyd let Sin have the window seat because he'd had it on the plane, but now he was regretting it. He had nothing to lean against and could not keep himself from running into Sin each time the bus jumped over any holes ground into Mexican Federal Highway 85. He tried to brace one hand against the seat in front of him, but it was uncomfortable and awkward, and after fifteen minutes he just gave up and tried to ignore the feel of Sin's muscles against him.

He slid his eyes closed and held his bag on his lap, tilting his head forward and trying to concentrate on something less... again, Sin-related. He didn't know why he was so preoccupied with him. This year was going to be terrible. Every time he saw Sin walk past he would think inappropriate thoughts and have to force himself to think of something else. His usual ability to completely close off his emotions and ignore his body's impulses was failing him miserably, and he had to blame it on the heat, Sin's proximity, and the admittedly exciting idea of spending a few months resting in a new place after so many months of working diligently.

He was looking forward to being away from so much stress and even those things that unconsciously pulled down his mood. Like knowing his mother was probably watching his every move to see when he would mess up, or the lingering looks of some others in the Agency and what they were thinking about him.

Moua's group had started to lay off Boyd following the fight in the courtyard but after Harry, it had renewed. The harassment had dropped considerably following the findings Carhart had posted, but Boyd suspected that was only because of the actions taken on the guards. As an agent, Moua had been unaffected and he and his close friends still sometimes gave Boyd looks when they passed.

A particularly rough jolt sent Boyd running into Sin so suddenly that he automatically threw one hand to the seat to catch himself before he could fall. His hand landed on Sin's thigh and the feel of those muscles flexing actually made Boyd lose all sense of thought for a moment. His eyes snapped open and he stared blankly at the seat ahead of him. He was quite thankful he had the foresight to hold the bag on his lap as well.

Realizing his touch had lingered, he pulled his hand away with a mumbled, "Sorry," and immediately dug into his bag for something, anything, to distract himself. He did not look over to see Sin's reaction because no matter what it was, it would just catch his attention again.

The Spanish book was the first thing he found and Boyd pulled it out gratefully to study. Maybe it would help him concentrate if he considered this to be a mission and the book was his plans. Skimming through the geographical notes, he softly told Sin factoids in hopes of distracting them both from the hand incident.

"Interesting. The Rio Grande was formally called 'Río Bravo del Norte' in Mexico, which means," he drew the word out as he flipped around for a translation, "ah, the Big River of the North? ..No, I see it here. 'Great Northern River,' apparently. Though usually it is just referred to as Río Bravo."

He silently read a bit more, his eyebrows furrowing down as he concentrated. The more he read and memorized the information, the easier it was for him to think about something other than his ridiculous infatuation. Sin looked over and watched him, his own expression intent but a little hard to read. He had been sullen through the plane ride and waiting for the bus and it did not seem ready to change any time soon. That was probably good, because Boyd honestly did not know what he would do the first time those pouty lips stretched into a smile.

Narrowing his eyes in annoyance at himself, Boyd said perhaps a little more firmly than was necessary, "Millions of years ago, the Rio Grande ended at the bottom of the Rio Grande Rift in Lake Cabeza de Vaca," he still did not quite have the Spanish pronunciation down but it would come to him quickly as did everything else. "But about a million years ago the stream was diverted through natural erosion that brought it to the east and the Gulf of Mexico."

"Okay?" Sin said, giving Boyd a look as if he had no idea why he was telling him this.

Boyd shook his head slightly to himself once, not wanting to explain, and he continued reading silently for a bit. Although the facts were helping Boyd to think of something else, it was becoming a problem because now he accidentally succeeded in turning Sin's sullen glare out the window into intent, watchful silence focused on him. As Boyd read aloud random facts about the Mexican Federal Highway 85 they were currently bouncing across, he could not help noticing movement out of the corner of his eye. He flipped to the history lesson in the hopes of finding something filled with more dates to keep his attention.

"The French intervention in Mexico, also known as the Maximilian Affair, began in 1861 and lasted until--" Boyd stumbled when he realized that Sin was idly running his tongue along the ring in his lip. "Ah..."

With narrowed eyes that were now tinted brown from the contacts, but as intense as ever, Sin stared at Boyd and switched to sucking on the metal, twirling it in and out of his mouth.

"Uh..." Boyd tried again.

Boyd refused to look over from his book but he couldn't think properly and automatically tilted his head down further. Usually that hid his expression from view, but with his shorter hair it was only partially successful. It left him feeling flustered since he couldn't get away from Sin's gaze.

"Napolean..." Boyd tried almost helplessly, reading random words from the pages in front of him. "Second French Empire... And the, ah, Veracruz and... Cuba in Spanish control..." Noting that he just sounded like an idiot, he finished lamely, "Perhaps I will just read silently now."

Sin continued to toy with his lip ring, eyes trained on Boyd's face although they were mostly unreadable. "You don't have to."

"No," Boyd said with very slight strain. "I really think I do." He stared intently at the book.

Sin shrugged and ran a hand through his hair, shifting in the seat. He was sweating and his skin was likely sticking to the imitation leather seats. "It's hot," he muttered and looked out the window again.

"It's fine," Boyd retorted, trying very hard not to watch him. It was true that he could see sweat glistening on his skin, and that was also a distraction. He was glad no one was sitting anywhere near them because even if Sin was probably oblivious to Boyd's sidelong looks, the others wouldn't be.

Perhaps it was the realization that all attempts to distract himself were falling by the wayside, but Boyd couldn't help adding a little sarcastically, "Where's the Mexican in you? You should be able to handle this."

Sin looked over at Boyd through sleepy looking, heavy lidded eyes. "Callate la boca, blanquito."

Hearing Sin speak Spanish didn't help any; he sounded especially sexy when he was drawling those words fluidly in his low, velvety voice. "What does that mean?" he asked, half with an edge and half just curious.

Full lips turned up into a small smirk and Sin raised an eyebrow at him before turning back to the window. "It's a secret."

"Putain de beau gosse," Boyd muttered under his breath in mild annoyance, flipping forward several pages.

Sin looked at him again, eyes slightly narrowed suspiciously. He opened his mouth to speak but before the words could come out, the bus hit a decidedly large pothole. Sin slammed into Boyd violently, nearly causing him to go flying out of the seat.

Before Boyd could actually fall, Sin grabbed his arm and pulled him against his chest to steady him. Boyd stilled as he tried not to feel too keenly the heat and strength of Sin's body. It was made even more alluring by Sin's calloused fingers curled over his bare arm. One of his hands was awkwardly resting near Sin's thigh and the other held his bag very decidedly over his lap. His eyes unconsciously falling half-closed, Boyd concentrated on the back of the seat in front of him and breathed slowly in and out. This felt good. This felt too good. He pulled away.

"Thank you," he murmured as soon as he was certain his voice would remain steady.

Sin's eyes stayed on him for a long moment and his fingers brushed against the bare skin of Boyd's arm when he finally released it. "No problem."

Boyd could not be certain but it didn't seem necessary for Sin's fingers to have slid across his skin in that manner. Despite the heat he shivered. He was so unaccustomed to anyone touching his bare arms that his nerves were hypersensitive. It would have been enough with the firm grip, but with the second Sin's touch became more casual and gentle. Even as brief as it had been, it was all Boyd could think about.

He rearranged his book from where it had fallen by his stomach and, with as much concentration as he could muster, he devoted himself solely to reading about Mexico's history and the state of tourism at the time the book was written. No one else on the bus seemed to be paying them any heed, which Boyd was very thankful for; the other passengers were asleep, talking to each other, or staring out the windows quietly.

The ride to Monterrey was relatively uneventful after that point. Although a few more potholes jolted the bus, nothing was quite severe enough to warrant Sin touching Boyd's bare arms, which was good, because Boyd rather thought he may do something embarrassing if Sin kept rubbing and brushing against him. By the time they arrived at the sprawling edges of the city, Boyd's wandering thoughts were mostly under control and to an extent he was even able to ignore Sin playing with his lip ring.

The bus driver dropped them off at a public transit terminal where taxis waited on the other side. Although Sin muttered something about them taking one, Boyd said it was better they get to know the city by walking. From what he could tell on the map their apartment wouldn't be too far away and they didn't know yet how much money they had anyway.

During the reconstruction of the city, large areas had been renamed and shifted around. The street they were searching for was called Veracruz, but the map Boyd had was from before much of the reconstruction and the landmarks and surrounding streets were not where it said they should have been.

Although the ash remained over Monterrey as they did everywhere in the world, the sun was burning through them with enough intensity that a few beams could be seen breaking between the silvery white. By the time they had walked for an hour and a half, both of them were soaked in sweat and Boyd's mood was going lower each time Sin shot him an irritated look whenever a taxi or bus passed them.

The neighborhood they were heading into seemed to be in disrepair. There was graffiti scrawled across buildings, although in some places it had been painted over by some intrepid individual. The buildings were crumbling in some places, stucco having fallen off to reveal the cement blocks beneath. The city rose and fell in stark angles at times. Some streets were flat while others were at such an angle that all the buildings along it seemed as though they were cockeyed or crooked. Apartment buildings and tiny houses were butted right up against small businesses that looked as though there was no way they could be legitimate and get enough traffic to afford to stay in business.

They turned a corner and finally reached Veracruz. Relieved beyond measure, Boyd gave Sin an 'I told you so' look to which Sin replied with a 'No you fucking didn't, you were just lucky' look. Boyd turned his attention pointedly to the map and Sin casually strolled at his side, though the sullenness remained as it had since he was transformed into Jason Alvarez.

It took them awhile to find the correct address since most of the numbers and letters were hidden or lost, but after about half an hour they finally found the place. Balconies stuck out at varying heights, making the squat building look rather like an awkward cactus. A small air conditioner was running inside the main door and though it did not drastically change the temperature, it was enough that Boyd and Sin were able to breathe a little easier without the heat clinging suffocatingly to their lungs.

Boyd held his hand out silently and after a moment of staring blankly at it Sin reached into his pocket and pulled out the envelope with the key that Carhart had given him before he left. They trudged up a small enclosed staircase in the far back of the building, which they found only after opening every door in the vicinity. On the third floor, Boyd suddenly veered into a hallway and, looking at each dingy yellow door they passed, searched for the correct number. He stopped in front of their designated apartment and fumbled with the lock before he was able to jiggle it open.

The door caught and that was their first clue that it would not be all they were hoping for.

Boyd's arm muscles tensed as he pulled and then shoved with all his strength against the door. With a disgruntled squeal it jerked open and Boyd nearly fell into the room. He caught himself and stood, unconsciously airing his torso by grabbing his t-shirt at his solar plexus and jerking it away from his body a few times to let bubbles of air beneath the cotton. Pushing his sweaty bangs from his eyes and pulling away the bit of hair that reached his neck, he idly wandered into the room before Sin.

It was a studio instead of an apartment; just a single room that was decently sized but still smaller than he had hoped for. There was what looked to be a small room for a bathroom in the far right corner, but that was the only area that was closed off. Two single beds rested beneath a set of dirty windows along the wall next to the bathroom, nearer the front door. The kitchen was along the far wall, a window letting in soft light over a set of counter with another long counter acting as an island divider between the kitchen and the room. To the left of the kitchen, a sliding glass door let in quite a bit of natural light and just outside they could see the rickety balcony they now had to their name.

There were no lights installed in the ceiling. The apartment would clearly have to be lit from outside and by lamps they would probably have to buy. At the moment there was only one weak-looking lamp shoved in the corner. There was no other furniture except a small table and two chairs near the kitchen where they could eat. The walls were stained and off-white, the floor was dirty and cement although that wasn't entirely bad since it would probably feel cool against their feet. Thin cloth curtains hung to the sides of the windows and door; the only protection they had from the outside world. A small air conditioner sat by the windows near the beds, looking so dusty that Boyd wondered if it even worked.

Boyd surveyed the studio with a blank expression. This was definitely going to be awkward; there was absolutely no privacy except the bathroom and even then that meant one of them had the ability to shut himself away but the other was at the mercy of whenever the first decided to reappear. That meant that even if Sin went into the bathroom, Boyd would have no idea when he would suddenly come out. So he could do nothing embarrassing until he was in the bathroom instead.

This was going to be... interesting.

Sin pushed past Boyd and dropped his duffel bag onto the floor with a resounding thud. "This is a fucking joke," he said flatly, glaring at the room as if it should be blamed.

"That would be nice," Boyd said in disappointment. He let his own bag slip to the floor and tried to kick the door shut behind him. It caught again. Turning, he braced his feet against the floor and shoved as hard as he could. With another groan, the door slammed shut and Boyd leaned against it for a moment, panting and letting his forehead rest against the wood.

"Well," he said dryly as the heat made him feel exhausted and not very athletic. "That will make it difficult to be stealthy."

"This is bullshit," Sin growled and ripped off his sweaty t-shirt, discarding it carelessly onto the dirty floor. He stomped over to the window and glared down at the air conditioner before shoving the window open. "I fucking hate this mission," he grumbled and began muttering to himself in Spanish as he shoved the small, decrepit-looking air conditioner into the window.

"If you break that I will kill you," Boyd informed him absently as he studied the sliding glass door.

He unlocked the door and tugged experimentally on the handle, pleased to see that at least the sliding door opened with no problems. The balcony, on the other hand, looked a little dubious. He stared at it before daring to step onto the rusty metal.

Sin said something particularly nasty sounding in Spanish and plugged the unit into the wall. He pressed the power button after a moment and a low hum filled the room, although no cool air came out of the vents. Sin stared at the machine in dismay and smashed his finger against the buttons violently, setting it to the coolest temperature.

"This piece of shit doesn't work," he snapped at Boyd.

Boyd turned around just in time to see Sin hit one button so hard the whole unit rocked against the window. "Wow." Sliding the door shut behind him, he strode across the room and slapped Sin's hand away so he could lean in to peer at the unit with one hand held up to feel the air. "The filter probably needs to be cleaned but I don't know how to do that. We can ask someone."

Sin threw him an annoyed look and pushed him out of the way. "It's easy."

"What, you can't diagnose the problem but you can fix it?" Boyd asked skeptically, growing irritated by Sin's attitude. "An idiot savant of mechanics; how lucky of me to be roomed with you."

"Shut the fuck up," Sin snapped back. "Do you really want to make this worse than it already is going to be?"

"Excuse me, but I believe you've been the instigator so far," Boyd said, crossing his arms.

He wasn't particularly happy about the accommodations either, but it would be nice if Sin didn't act as though it were the worst thing in the world to be there. The heat and cramped quarters were irritating Boyd too but it wasn't going to help anything if they couldn't even get along. And, he had to admit to himself, for all that he wasn't pleased with the apartment he still couldn't help looking forward to this year, even if it was likely to be awkward at times.

Sin grunted and unplugged the air conditioner, taking it out of the window and setting it on the floor. He sat down next to it and removed the grill. Dust exploded from the inside of the unit and he made a face, pulling the filter out. It was filthy and covered in a layer of dust that was several inches thick. He continued his task silently although there was obvious tension in his shoulders.

Seeing that Sin had it under control, Boyd decided to look around the rest of the studio. He discovered that the fridge was unplugged so he plugged that in, but it would be awhile before he could see if it was even working. The bathroom was tiny, but there seemed to be working water in the sink, toilet and shower, even if at first the water came out dark brown.

A small, cracked mirror hung above the sink and Boyd stopped as he started to leave the room. He stared at himself in the mirror, flipping on the sole light bulb that hung from the ceiling without a cover. This was the first chance he had to actually see himself and it was very strange. Even such a simple change as dark blue contacts, a hair cut, and light red hair completely seemed to change his complexion.

Not long after Boyd had paused, Sin appeared in the doorway behind him. He didn't look any more amiable than he had ten minutes ago and his brown eyes narrowed at Boyd. He watched his partner for several moments before saying anything.

"It's clean. Don't know if it will make much of a difference, though."

"I'm sure it'll be fine," Boyd said. He brushed past Sin to get out of the bathroom.

In the future maybe he would be able to use the balcony as his space to be alone; he could shut the door behind him and grant some sense of solitude. After living for years in the shadows of an empty house, he was just now realizing how alarming it was going to be, stuck in a small space with someone else constantly around.

Sin followed him into the main room but didn't come any closer. "We should probably get supplies before it gets late," he said in the same annoyed tone. "I don't know what time things close around here. Even if we were to put faith in the state of the tap water here, we have nothing to put it in and water is a necessity in this heat."

"Alright," Boyd said, looking longingly at the balcony. He headed toward his duffel bag and shook his annoying bangs out of his eyes as he pulled the Monterrey map out. "Do you have your account information?"

"I have an ATM card and some cash," Sin replied. "But we need to convert to pesos at some point." He stood in the middle of the room with his hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans, staring sullenly at the air conditioner. It was blowing cooler air now and although it relieved a small amount of the unbearable heat, it wasn't nearly as cold as it should have been.

"I saw a currency exchange down one of the streets," Boyd offered. He stared at the map in his hands, then stood and held it out to Sin. "I can't read most of this. You should probably navigate."

Sin took the map and studied it for a moment, eyes flicking over the streets in their vicinity. He handed it back to Boyd and nodded, picking up his discarded shirt and slipping it back on. "There was also some kind of outdoor market a few streets over. We can most likely pick up some essential items there."

Nodding, Boyd followed Sin into the hallway and yanked the door shut behind them. He made a note to himself to find some tools in the hopes they could do something about the door. They did not see or hear a single person in the entire building as they left despite the fact that Boyd guessed there were probably twenty apartments.

Navigating Monterrey was a little frustrating. They took several wrong turns, even with the map in front of them; it was just outdated enough that it was misleading although it was also just helpful enough that they could not entirely ignore it. Sin noticed an ATM during their wandering and they stopped.

"I have a money belt," Boyd told Sin as they headed toward the ATM. "So take out a lot. We can exchange it all at once and lower the withdrawal fees. I imagine they are astronomical from Mexico."

Sin nodded and pulled the card out of his pocket, slipping it into the decrepit looking machine. The machine welcomed Jason Alvarez and asked for his PIN. Sin stared at the screen blankly for a moment before inputting '0666.' There was a long pause before the machine informed him that his pin was incorrect. Sin made a face at the machine and shook his head. "Oh. That was Ryan's."

Boyd quirked an eyebrow but said nothing.

Sin frowned at the machine and rubbed the back of his head before inputting another combination of numbers. Once again the machine informed him that it was incorrect. Sin glanced down at Boyd and said nothing.

Boyd stared at him, although he could feel frustration starting to rise. He was trying to make the most of the situation but so far everything was going wrong. If they couldn't even withdraw any money because Sin didn't know the right number...

"Why are you looking at me? I don't know the PIN. Try something else."

The annoyed look returned to Sin's face and he glanced back at the ATM. He didn't do anything for a long moment and when he finally tried another combination of numbers, the machine informed him that not only was it incorrect, but that he was locked out of the account for an entire 24 hours.

Sin stared at the machine for a long moment before slipping the card and his hands into his pocket. "Well."

"How did you forget--?" Boyd started to say but he cut himself off. He couldn't stop the spike of annoyance at this predicament. This was a mission the same as anything else; how could Sin have not thought to have such basic information available? Without access to that account they had extremely limited funds, and it only added even more stress to an already tense situation.

Boyd sighed, trying to not let it get to him. Turning toward where he thought the currency exchange was, he stared narrow-eyed at the street, a slight frown pulling down the edges of his lips. "Nevermind. We'll have to ask about that. There may be a bank that can help too."

Sin shrugged and pulled a handful of crumpled bills out of his pocket. He shoved it at Boyd and remained stonily silent, eyes narrowed and pissed off looking.

"Thank you," Boyd said automatically. He discreetly placed the money in the money belt and slid it beneath his clothes again. He was quick; the money was tucked away and hidden within the space of a breath. "Let's go." He turned toward the currency exchange and started walking.

Sin mostly trailed behind him the entire way, not bothering to speak or even help navigate anymore. It wasn't entirely clear why he was in such a bad mood and Boyd didn't know if it was solely because of the heat. Sin had wandered around in subzero weather wearing not more than a thin shirt without complaining. Maybe he was just angry with himself over forgetting the PIN. Whatever the case, Boyd was now in an unpleasant mood as well and didn't care to ask.

The walk to the exchange office was uneventful and when they arrived, there were several representatives who spoke English so Boyd was able to handle the transaction. They left the office with nearly 600 pesos and he had no idea if that would be a sufficient amount of money for whatever they needed. Sin grunted out directions to the outdoor market he'd spotted and they arrived there fairly easily.

It was roughly the size of an entire city block and had several stands which were covered by large umbrellas or cloth. Big, industrial strength fans blew through the stalls as Boyd and Sin wandered around. Despite the fact that it was mostly hot air being blown, it was a much needed relief from the stifling heat.

Boyd decided that in order to tide them over for the night or at least until they got the ATM business straightened out they would at least need food, dishes, and some cases of water. In reality he knew they would require way more than that for their extended stay but he figured he could take care of that later while Sin was job hunting.

An hour passed as they looked at the various stands. Sin carried a large case of bottled water and as Boyd stood and examined various sets of dishes and flatware. They were at that particular stand for a couple of minutes.

"For God's sake, just pick something," Sin growled at him impatiently.

"I can't just 'pick something,'" Boyd told him a little peevishly. "Give me a moment to decide the one that's the best usage of our funds."

Sin stared at him. "Just get the fucking cheapest one."

"Cheapest isn't always best," Boyd shot back. "It's better to invest more if it'll last longer rather than having to constantly replace them because they broke. If the quality of this is shit, we need to know."

"Well I'm sure it will survive the violence of you scraping your fork against it," Sin said flatly, making a face.

"Just--" Boyd glared over at Sin, growing frustrated by the entire situation. "Shut up and let me think."

"Just get the cheap one," Sin repeated in obvious irritation. "There's no concentration required."

"Jesus," Boyd snapped, picking up the cheap set of plates and shoving them at Sin. "Fine. Get them your damn self if you're so obsessed with them."

Sin snatched the items without looking at Boyd and turned to the vendor who seemed very alarmed at the two angry men in front of him. "Dame estos," he snapped and counted out the correct amount of money before slamming it down on the table.

The poor, alarmed man took the money and cast glances in Boyd's direction as he packaged the plates for them. "I speak English, you know," he said with a slight Mexican accent.

"Sorry," Boyd said curtly. "Thank you for the plates."

The vendor stared at him skeptically and handed the bag over silently. Sin snatched it, managing to juggle the carton of water as he did so, and turned on his heel. He stalked off in the direction of the groceries, not giving Boyd a backwards glance.

Boyd strode after Sin as they headed toward the fruit stands next. His irritation level was at an all time high and the longer they spent outside in the heat, the worst it was growing. What was bothering him the most was how impatient Sin seemed. More and more it was making Boyd feel like Sin's biggest issue was all the time he had to spend around Boyd, and that thought only served to fan his already strained patience.

It also did not help that there was food on the tables he had never seen in his life, including one large, misshapen bright green thing that looked rather alarming. He looked at the fruits and vegetables surrounding them and tried to remember if he'd read about any of them in his book. Even if he had, there were no pictures and he had no idea how to pronounce half the names.

"What are we getting?" Boyd asked Sin when they both ended up next to a stand.

Sin shrugged, staring at the tables. "I don't eat any of this."

"Well, I don't know what any of it is." Boyd noticed a banana as they passed and shrugged in a rolling sort of way that mimicked Kadin's movements. "Well. Most of them."

"Just because I'm a spic doesn't mean I know what these people eat," Sin replied flatly.

"Thank you for putting such rude words in my mouth," Boyd said with annoyed sarcasm. "I appreciate that you thought I meant that."

Sin was silent which somehow didn't do anything to improve Boyd's mood.

Focusing all his attention on simple details like how many vegetables were in front of him and how many pesos it would cost, Boyd tried to ignore how agitated he was becoming but he was largely unsuccessful.

They finished shopping quickly. After that, Boyd ended up grabbing whatever he saw that looked relatively good but was cheap. He hoped they would be able to do something with it all because he was damned if he could think better about any of it at the moment. A very quick stop at a few other tables got them a few more essentials they needed, including sheets and pillows for their beds. It was all bought rather quickly and cheaply, and Boyd didn't even bother trying to find the best quality for the best price.

They didn't speak as Boyd strode back toward the apartment and Sin moodily followed in his wake. Their icy silence continued all the way to the studio, where Boyd slammed himself against the door more violently than even the stickiness required. The second they were both inside and the door was shoved closed behind them, Boyd strode to the kitchen and dropped the bags unceremoniously on the table.

He turned around suddenly and, with all the irritation and hurt he had been ignoring coming to the forefront in the form of anger, he demanded, "What the hell is your problem?"

Sin dropped the carton and the bag onto the floor and glared at Boyd. "Among many other things that are horrible about this mission, you are annoying as hell," he retorted.

"Why?" Boyd asked impatiently. "Because I made you wait two minutes to buy a plate? You're the one that made us wait in line at the bank because you couldn't be bothered to remember the damn PIN."

"No, because you automatically try to fucking control every situation or mission we're in. I make a suggestion, you completely goddamn ignore it and seem to think for some reason you are always in charge," Sin snapped. "It would have been a lot smarter to go back out and explore after the damn sun went down some. It's not like we're on limited time here."

"If we're not on limited time then why did it matter so much anyway?" Boyd crossed his arms. "It wasn't supposed to be that far and now we know our surroundings. And anyway we were out and about far longer with the market than we were trying to get to the apartment."

Sin shook his head, running a hand through his newly cut hair. "As usual, you miss the fucking point and latch on to whatever you think can twist the argument your way. It's really amazing how predictable you always are." He glared at Boyd and bent to jerk a bottle of water out of the carton.

"Walking around in mid day when it's hot as fuck? Unnecessary, and stupid. Going to the store to get purified drinking water and essential supplies for the apartment? Completely necessary."

Boyd rolled his eyes. "Excuse me for ever making a mistake. I forgot that you're beyond reproach on everything you fucking do."

"Missing," Sin said from between clenched teeth as he slammed the bottle down. "The point. And if you think you're going to be playing mission manager or whatever the hell for this entire time, you can think again. You need to get it out of your head that you make all of the decisions regarding what we do, when we do it, and how money is spent."

"I'm not missing the fucking point!" Boyd snapped angrily. "You fucking piss me off. It never matters how many things I do right with you-- every goddamn time you latch onto when I do something wrong, and then you're so accusatory." His voice shifted to a mocking tone, "Boyd, you're such an idiot. Boyd, why don't you ever listen to me? Boyd, if you'd done everything I said then we'd never have any problems ever."

He glowered at Sin. "So you know what? I do react defensively. But don't try to act like you wouldn't have a problem with me only ever obsessing on mistakes you make and acting like I never do any myself. You keep trying to tell me I think I know better than you but you're the one who's always lording it over me if I do anything wrong or go my own way. And for the damn record, I wasn't planning to look at every peso. I assumed we were each taking responsibility of half."

Sin made a face, rolling his eyes. "How does any of your dramatic bullshit change the fact that you never take my suggestions into consideration, and always try to assume the mission leader role?"

"This is exactly my point," Boyd said in annoyance. "If something goes wrong, it's my fault because I didn't listen to you. If I have a problem with anything, it's because I'm dramatic or it's bullshit. You won't ever acknowledge anything you do yet I'm expected to bend over backwards kissing your feet and telling you how fucking sorry I am for putting you out for an hour or two. It's aggravating. Especially since I don't always ignore you and I only take the leadership role when shit isn't getting done, yet you conveniently ignore any of those times when you have the chance to throw this argument in my face if I ever do anything even remotely wrong."

"No Boyd, it's dramatic bullshit because that's what it is. I make a statement, and you start ranting about every random theoretical or alleged occurrence you can think of. Most of which is nonsense, anyway. You only take the leadership role when shit isn't getting done? Right," Sin scoffed. "If this is how it's going to be for the next several months, I seriously would have risked termination and opted out."

"So you'd rather die than be around me?" Boyd asked incredulously, jerking back as if he'd just been hit. "That's real fucking nice."

Sin stared at him, gestured vaguely, and then made a disgusted sound. "I'm going back out."

"Go ahead," Boyd growled, turning his back on Sin. His back was ramrod straight with tension as he crossed his arms. He couldn't even look at Sin anymore. "I'll be waiting to hear about what else I've fucked up on and how you wish I was gone."

Sin didn't say anything but Boyd heard the door jerk open and get shoved shut when he left. Boyd stood in the same place for a long moment, his fingers curling into fists and his face a mask of anger and indignation. He wanted to focus on his anger and his indignation and he wanted to lash out.

He dropped his arms and leaned over, jerking open the bags and starting to put things in their place in the kitchen with more force than necessary. The bottles of water were extracted and practically thrown into the fridge. The fruit and vegetables were tossed on the counter at an angle that made them roll back and rock against the backsplash.

Every movement was jerky and angry but as the minutes dragged, he couldn't ignore that part of the reason his shoulders were so tense and teeth grit so hard was because at the heart of it all, that argument had hurt. He didn't want to feel like he'd been stabbed in the gut.

But no matter what he wanted, it didn't take long for him to be unable to deny there was distinct pain beneath it all. He couldn't ignore the sting of Sin's words-- the idea that being around him was so abhorrent that even death was preferable.

"Fuck," Boyd hissed to himself and threw the balled up bag onto the floor. His hands jerked up and he scrubbed at his face.

After a moment he dropped his hands at his sides and walked over to the balcony, opening the sliding door and stepping out. The balcony made an alarming squeaking noise near the hinges but it held his weight. And at that moment, that was all he cared about. He pushed the sliding door shut to preserve what little cool they could scrounge together inside, and sat down sideways within the small balcony as best he could. He drew his knees in and looked out at Monterrey.

Everything here felt so foreign. The heat, the population density, the prosperity in some areas-- and the signs surrounding him in a language he didn't fully understand. He was hours away from his home, his life, playing someone he barely knew, living with someone who could hurt him more than anyone else because above anyone, Sin was someone Boyd wanted to like him. He was someone Boyd wanted to be respected by, and someone Boyd wanted to be friends with.

And yet, this.

He rested his elbows on his knees and ran a hand over his face.

What the hell was wrong with them? Why couldn't they ever get along? Why did every fucking moment of disagreement have to end with them tearing each other apart?

It was made even worse because the prideful side of Boyd hated to admit when he was wrong. At least, when someone told him he was wrong, it was hard for him not to respond with reasons why he wasn't. He tended to believe his way was best; he did know that.

Still, he told himself, that didn't mean he completely ignored everyone else like Sin always seemed to imply or even outright said sometimes. He'd listened to Sin's input on many missions, and the only reason he'd ignored him upon coming to Monterrey was because he'd been so certain it was a short walk to the apartment. He hadn't wanted to be stuck in such close quarters with Sin again right after finally getting off the bus, with Sin's arm brushing against his and those damn, impossibly attractive features turned his way too often for Boyd to ignore.

But as he sat there he had to admit that he did tend to take over. And he hadn't listened to Sin's input. It didn't matter why he hadn't; in fact, the reason was part of the problem.

He did tend to think he was right, and especially when things weren't going his way he did tend to try to take control of the situation. He'd automatically denied Sin's suggestion of taking the cab. He'd been too set on figuring out what was the best price to listen when Sin wanted to buy the cheapest one, which is what they ended up doing anyway.

There had been times when he had listened to Sin and had incorporated his suggestions into mission plans, or had let Sin take over on missions, which was part of why he felt resentment whenever Sin accused him of never doing anything like that-- Yet rather than blaming Sin for saying such a thing, maybe he needed to wonder why Sin felt that way in the first place.

At the time when they'd first arrived and Sin had been angry about the taxi, it had annoyed Boyd. He'd thought to himself that Sin was an adult and could just take a taxi himself if it bothered him so much. But now that he was sitting on the balcony thinking over the day he had to ask himself why Sin should have to do that. Sin was trying to be a partner with him. He was trying to give suggestions rather than tell Boyd what to do; the latter of which was exactly what Sin felt Boyd was doing to him.

He couldn't help taking things personally when Sin accused him of never listening and in the process he couldn't help feeling like Sin was mocking him for being wrong, because it was usually framed by pointing out times something would have been better if he'd done what someone else said. He felt like that happened whenever he messed up and it bothered him coming from Sin. He already got that from his mother and he wanted to be past that remnant of his and Sin's early partnership. He wanted to simply be able to rely on Sin; to trust him with anything. But there were things he felt like he couldn't say or do because Sin wouldn't receive it well.

Yet for the times he'd thought that about Sin, he now had to start thinking about how many times Sin may have felt the same way back in other circumstances. The times when Sin had tried to help him and Boyd hadn't listened. The times when Sin had made some suggestion, even something small, and Boyd had barely considered it before he dismissed it because it didn't fit into the plan he'd already started forming in his mind. It seemed like every time they got in an argument, it came back to Sin thinking Boyd was trying to take over.

It truly wasn't the case that he thought Sin's suggestions were worthless or he always knew better but he was starting to see how it may seem that way to Sin.

Boyd scowled and dropped his head, his hands sliding back and fingers digging into his hair. This was so stupid. Thinking of Sin only reminded him of how much he wanted to just enjoy his time around his partner, and how impossible that somehow often ended up being.

He didn't want whatever fragile friendship they'd managed to gather to be destroyed irrevocably by close quarters and harsh words.

A few hours passed in the dragging heat before there was any sign of Sin. The main apartment door made enough of a racket when it finally opened that Boyd was immediately alerted to Sin's return. There was an annoyed mutter and then the door was kicked closed again. Silence lasted for another long moment, followed by odd crinkling, the sound of a bag being dragged across the floor, and the creaking of bed springs. It wasn't immediately obvious what Sin was doing but he wasn't making any moves to come towards the balcony where Boyd sat.

Boyd didn't move or acknowledge his return for a few minutes. The heat had drained him of most of the energy he'd even had left and now he just didn't want to have to interact with anyone, especially the person who put him in this mood in the first place. But the longer time passed, the more awkward it seemed to him it would be when he finally walked into the room.

He sighed and pushed himself up to a stand, taking a moment to stretch out the kinks. He could feel the heat from the surroundings settled in his bones. It wasn't until he opened the sliding door and walked back into the apartment that he realized exactly how hot it really had been out there, and how much humidity disappeared once he was inside.

He only looked at Sin in his peripheral vision when he walked in. He headed toward the bathroom with the intent to possibly take a shower or at least be somewhere quiet and out of view for a few more minutes.

Sin was sitting on one of the twin beds with one of his duffel bags on the floor beside it and a variety of weapons lying around his bed. It wasn't exactly an arsenal; he'd had to bring only a few to avoid conspicuous cases and bags. But he did have his favorite .44 Ruger, two .45 Brownings, a couple of knives, some explosives and an M24A2 SWS which he had just finished assembling for no apparent reason other than possible boredom.

Sin aimed the sniper rifle at Boyd and looked through the scope, tracking Boyd's movements across the room with it. "Hey, you."

Boyd paused, looking over at Sin with warily narrowed eyes. He didn't know what to make of the mixed messages of a greeting and a gun but he did know he didn't want to get into another fight.

"Hey," he said in return after a beat of silence.

Sin held up a plastic bag. "Would you like a gummy bear?"

Boyd eyed him. "Sure," he said after a moment, and walked over.

Sin tossed him the bag and put the gun down as he started to dissemble it.

Plastic crinkled as Boyd opened the bag and pulled out one of the gummy bears. He twisted the bag closed and set it back on the bed in front of Sin. He watched his partner for a moment as he chewed.

"Let's make a deal," Sin said, raising his eyebrows and giving Boyd and long look.

Boyd's eyebrows shifted up slightly. "What deal?"

"It's easy." Sin had already dissembled the weapon and he began packing it back into its box. "I'll stop being a hostile dick, and you stop being a bossy asshole."

Boyd stared at him for a long moment before his eyebrows twitched dubiously. "Just like that?"

"Yes. Simple." Sin finished storing the weapon and looked at Boyd evenly. "I don't feel like dealing with another long drawn out who's more fucked up battle of wills. We just finished one, and I'm not looking forward to another, especially not in one room for almost a year."

"I don't want that either." Boyd paused, thinking about spending the next year like they had this day as opposed to trying to be more civilized. There was no question that he would rather avoid more arguments. He didn't know if they would actually be able to pull off following through on such a proposal but it at least didn't hurt to try.

"Alright," he said after a moment, holding out his hand. "Deal."

Sin shook, looking pleased that his truce had worked.

"I also got you some crap. It's on the counter."

Boyd gave Sin an odd look that lingered before he looked over at the counter. A bag was there that hadn't been there before. He walked over, wondering why Sin got him anything and what it was. When he opened the bag, he found a box of his favorite tea inside and a water heater. His eyebrows shot up in surprise. He turned around to regard Sin.

"Thank you," he said, truly meaning that. He hesitated, his eyebrows drawing together as he absently held the box against his stomach. "But-- why..?"

His response was another nonchalant shrug as Sin began checking his other weapons. "I knew you'd want it."

Boyd smiled genuinely at Sin, struck by the thoughtfulness even in the middle of a fight. He turned around and started to open it. Despite the heat, a mug of tea sounded perfect to him. As he opened the container for the tea, the smell of jasmine wafted up around him.

Maybe this truce would work after all.

Continue to Chapter 28