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 Thirty-Six

The Grande Ballroom of the Joel K. Solar Convention Center was huge, easily able to accommodate two thousand people despite the fact that there were only about four hundred in attendance at the Global Arts Exhibition. The sheer size of the ballroom could have dwarfed the number of people attending but great care was taken in the way the room was arranged and decorated. Although the décor was obviously on the expensive side, it was a subtle decadence that created a welcoming feeling.

The ceiling rose far overhead with architecture that provided several large artistic skylights as well as intricate designs that gave it dimension. Crystal chandeliers hung at varying heights, filled with candles that provided dancing light for the hundreds of people below. The entire room was bathed in earth-toned colors; the walls were a rich cream that did not appear to be wallpaper but was almost satiny to the touch, while the thick velvet curtains were a deep shade of forest green that provided a pleasing contrast. The floor was marble with an elegant pattern inlaid in a manner that complemented the design spreading across the ceiling.

A stage rested in the front of the Grande Ballroom, providing a perfect platform for the speeches and presentations that were scheduled later in the evening. Small groups of tables were placed across the main area of the ballroom in a particular pattern, each decorated with a crystal vase with long-stemmed yellow roses as well as small dishes of water with floating candles placed on top of mirrors.

However, the main attractions were the four exhibits that were situated in each corner of the room. Each space was carefully planned to give the most space for guests to view the works of art while at the same time providing an area for the artists to speak. Rows of soft, comfortable chairs were situated in front of the stage to provide seating for anyone watching the speeches, and similar chairs were located near the exhibits for the artists to rest on.

Many of the attendees were dressed as elegantly as the room, with women in long gowns and coiffed hair. Many of the men wore tuxedos, their cummerbunds and ties carefully pressed and arranged. Waiters moved unobtrusively throughout the room, offering complimentary champagne to any who cued them. The guests milled about the room, drifting to and from each exhibit, mingling with each other or resting at the seating areas as the sounds of a husky female voice flitted through the room from the stereo system, the cool jazz and her French accent fitting perfectly with the ambiance of the Grande Ballroom.

Although the guest list appeared to be made up primarily of celebrities and artists, philanthropists and humanitarians, no one seemed to be flaunting their wealth. People spoke quietly about the art and about the current events but mostly about the past. Everyone seemed to have a story regarding someone they had lost, someone they wished could be here to experience the evening with them.

There were five main artists at the exposition and although each person's work had a particular tone, the overall theme was hope and recovery from the scars of war.

Corrina and Toby, originating from Egypt and Greece respectively, were a husband and wife artist duo whose work seemed to focus primarily on landscapes. One particularly striking, albeit morbid, piece was a painting of a war-torn field. What appeared to have once been grass was charred black and the stain of ash washed over the remnants of buildings in the distance. The field was littered with skulls, skeletons, the burnt remains of clothing and other personal effects. In the midst of the smoggy clouds which hovered low in the sky, the beginnings of a spectacular sunrise could be seen shining through, beams of light illuminating the otherwise dismal landscape.

Most of their paintings had similar scenes; light from sunsets or sunrises shining through scenes of death and gore. They seemed to use primarily muted colors giving each piece a particularly bleak quality that made the streams of golden light that much more striking.

The artist representing India, another one of the neutral countries during the war, was a middle aged woman named Neha. The centerpiece of her collection was a painting simply titled 'Nations.'

An endless-looking ocean dominated the piece, the vivid blues and greens of the sea capturing the attention of nearly anyone who passed. Above the ocean was a flag but it was hard to say which country it was from. There was a portion from each of the American, French, English and Russian flags: the main instigators of the war. The flags were intertwined in an almost confusing blur but the most fascinating part was the way the red (a primary color in each) seemed to be bleeding out and dripping into the ocean, mixing together until it was impossible to tell which nation's flag it had come from.

The third exhibit was the work of A.K. Hayes from Iceland, a young woman who looked like an ingénue but who was obviously a prodigy at sculpting. She seemed to have a preoccupation with the human body and her self proclaimed masterpiece was a stunning sculpture entitled 'Venus Reborn.'

The piece was of a tall, voluptuous woman who was mostly nude. Long curls tumbled down the woman's back and spilled over her shoulders, her arms thrown back and stretched behind her as what appeared to be bandages hung from her body and revealed scars on her otherwise flawless form. There was a small brass plaque at the base of the sculpture with an explanation about the title and the piece. Apparently it was a recreation of the famous painting 'The Birth of Venus' by Alexandre Cabanel but in this version, love was being reborn into a world which had briefly been filled only with hatred.

However despite the creativity and talent of all of the other artists, as Sin wandered the edges of the Ballroom, it was a painting in the fourth exhibit that caught his attention.

The sky in the painting was grey and brown, exactly how it had looked for a long time after the second wave of bombs had shattered the world, and a lone figure stood in the middle of a bombed out city. It appeared to be a soldier but as Sin moved closer and actually paused to stare, he realized the soldier was actually a teenaged boy. He wore army fatigues and clutched a military helmet in one hand while a rifle lay discarded at his feet. His face, hands and uniform were streaked with blood and soot. However it was the look on his face, the almost lost expression and the eerily vacant stare, which made something in Sin ache. It made something in him churn and roil and remember things better left forgotten.

It was like he was staring at a portrait of himself at that time. The age was right, the expression, the blood.

"Do you like?"

Sin looked to the side, shaken out of his strange reverie to stare at the woman who stood at his side. He recognized her immediately as Yara, the artist responsible for the piece. She was Brazilian, in her late twenties and extremely attractive. She had a kind of understated beauty that was only emphasized by the lack of makeup she wore and the simple dress that hung from her slender shoulders. She would have been the picture of feminine grace if it weren't for the chunky combat boots and the way she wore her short cropped hair in dozens of spikes.

Sin looked away from her and stared at the painting again. "I guess."

Yara smiled and crossed her arms over her chest. "It's called Atonement."

He glanced at her briefly. "He doesn't seem to be atoning for anything there."

Yara tilted her head to the side. "It is interesting that you chose to take it in that way." Her almost black eyes stared up at him as though she were trying to read his thoughts. "If I may ask, to satisfy an artist's curiosity about how others view her work, would you mind telling me what conclusion you would have drawn had you known the title without having an explanation for it?"

He didn't speak for a long moment and continued to study the boy on the canvas. "Soldiers-- fighters in general, people who were involved in the war-- sometimes feel as though they need to... atone for the things that they did in battle, actions they took... lives they took. I'd probably think this depicted a time directly after the war when he was looking for a way to make up for the past."

Yara nodded and pursed her lips. "A valid conclusion but not exactly what I had in mind when I painted this piece." Her lips abruptly turned up into a small smile and she continued to gaze up at him as if she were trying to figure him out, or more precisely, as if she already had done so.

"Perhaps it is not him who is in need of atonement. Maybe it is... the world." She gestured with one slender hand, her fingers barely brushing the painting. "The world, the powers that be... they created a generation of soldiers like him. Boy fighters, child killers, ones who did not have the chance to live before the world armed them and so, they had no idea how to live when the fighting was no longer needed."

Sin said nothing for a moment but once again, something about her words, something about the painting, struck a chord within him. He started to leave, to nod and excuse himself, but before he could the words were coming out of his mouth.

"A lot of people would think you're insane for having that viewpoint. They view that generation of soldiers as mindless drones, puppets of the government who killed without questioning why they were killing. Some people think soldiers from that time are monsters."

She nodded in agreement and raised one shoulder in a shrug. "I know. I do know. But I've seen so many of these boy soldiers become empty, soulless men that I feel..."

She trailed off for a moment and her eyes seemed almost haunted during that pause. "I feel that despite the fact that many activists show no empathy towards the soldiers of that war, the men they only see as bomb droppers and civilian killers, they were also victims. They also had their lives destroyed."

He said nothing to that and she looked at painting again before her gaze slid back to him. "I am usually the more aloof artist in these events," she said suddenly as if sensing his discomfort, slightly accented voice sounding wry. "But when I saw you looking at my young man, I could not help but think that you reminded me of him."

That earned the woman a startled stare before Sin covered the expression and shook his head. "I don't know about all that."

"It's true. The eyes I think, your expression." Yara smiled again, face as serene as her voice. "Something about you seemed lost, haunted, as you stared at him... But I guess it is just me being a strange artsy type who sees more than there is, maybe?"

Another shrug. He maintained the appearance of nonchalance despite the way her comments, her explanations, hit entirely too close to home. "Maybe."

Yara stared at him, head still slightly tilted to the side, studying him in a manner that was more than a little unnerving. After a moment someone called out to her and she looked over distractedly before turning back to Sin.

"Well." She peered down at his nametag. "Jason Alvarez, it was nice to be meeting you."

He looked at her briefly. "Yeah."

Another sweet smile and then Yara was on her way. Sin shook his head, gave one final glance at the painting and then continued towards the back of the Ballroom. He felt off-balance and shaken but he wouldn't let it show. He couldn't let it show.

Despite the fact that he was able to maintain his composure, it still disturbed him that some painting, some civilian, could have such an affect on him and his state of mind.

It was just that... he was not accustomed to someone, anyone, understanding. Boyd understood, he always had, but the idea that there were other people who did, who could, threw everything he'd ever been taught and told out the window.

"lf I stay here any longer I'm going to hurt myself," he muttered softly, confident that Boyd had heard the entire exchange through the microphone.

"If you do in that room, I guarantee you'll be the focus of about a dozen works of art in no time," came Boyd's voice in his ear.

Sin snorted softly, barely moving his lips as he spoke. "How are things on your end?"

There was an extended pause in which Sin could overhear several muted conversations in the background, none of them clear enough to understand.

"No one," Boyd said finally, his voice as quiet as Sin's. "Maybe too early."

Sin looked down at his watch and tilted his head slightly. It was still pretty early in the evening and it was a logical move for Janus to wait awhile to bring their inner circle in. The more time they spent in such a public place was like an invitation for their organization to be decapitated, although that is exactly what was going to happen anyway.


They kept their interaction to a minimum for the most part but the short range radio was so obnoxious that it made him not even want to use it. The convention center was extremely large and the range between his position in the southern wing and Boyd's station in Theater B of the northeast wing was apparently too far at times to pick up a strong signal. Whenever he went towards the west side of the Ballroom he picked up static and came close to losing Boyd entirely. Despite the fact that it was annoying, the lack of range did not really concern him; their plan was set and if something happened to prevent them from escaping together they'd already decided what to do.

They'd spent the last week perfecting the minute details of their plan and memorizing hand drawn maps of the city and of the center. By the time Boyd had left to check into his hotel as Kadin Reed they were pretty confident about how everything was going to go down.

Sin had planted the explosives in the pertinent areas around the northeast wing and his sniper rifle was carefully hidden in the mezzanine above Theater B. The only thing to do now was wait until the targets arrived.

Sin was more than a little anxious to get this all over with; his job as a security officer was dull and tedious. After all of the preparations and training they'd put him through, all he seemed to be doing was making rounds in the South wing to make sure no one was doing anything or going anywhere they weren't supposed to. Other than getting rid of a few attempted party crashers and handling a couple of guests who'd had too much to drink during, what appeared to be for many, such an emotional occasion, nothing had really occurred all evening. It seemed like a waste to have spent so much time and money training such a large force of guards for the event but he supposed that it had more to do with the fact that it made the rather famous guests feel secure than anything else.

Besides, he thought with a hint of unease, if there wasn't anything going down at the moment there certainly would be when the bombs started going off. In the back of his mind he hoped that the other guards on duty would be able to get all of the guests out safely. He didn't want to be responsible for civilian casualties.

"Good evening everyone. Welcome to the 5th annual Global Arts Exposition! I'd like to thank everyone for coming on this night, the 20th anniversary of the start of the war, to honor our fallen loved ones and the people that were left behind after the last of the bombs fell."

Sin looked towards the stage and saw that Diane Goldberg, the founder of the event, was standing there and officially starting the ceremony that would follow. He rolled his eyes and moved closer to the exit that led to the southeast corridor. The good thing about his position was that he had freedom to wander around the entire wing and the surrounding corridors in the pretense of doing his rounds so he really didn't need to listen to emotional speeches and sentimental babbling about the plight of civilians post-war.

"I can't wait until this is over," he grumbled and slipped out of the door and into the wide hallway. On each side of corridor were various doors which led to maintenance closets or service areas.

"Won't be long," Boyd said over the radio.

Sin didn't reply as he began surveying the area. Since there were adequate bathrooms and exits in the Ballroom and the surrounding rooms of the south wing, he didn't think any guests would have reason to be in this section of the center. Casualties could be completely avoided if they followed safety procedures when alarms began to go off and if the guards did their job of keeping order. He did, however, note the staff that moved in and out of the corridor for access to the service areas and he hoped that they would be smart enough to run south when explosions began going off in the northern part of the building.

He moved towards the northern part of the hallway with the intentions of seeing whether or not the staircase which led to the mezzanine was being used. Before he could go any farther, a familiar voice called out Jason's name.

Sin paused, almost debating entirely ignoring her and going about his business. But knowing Jessica, she would most likely just follow along and he didn't want her going anywhere near the mezzanine or the northeast wing. He closed his eyes briefly, fighting the sudden surge of irritation that flowed through him, and turned slowly to face her.

His first response to was to be rude but he honestly didn't want to give anyone any reason to note his bad attitude tonight. Most likely every member of the staff and guest in attendance would be questioned and asked about anyone or anything that had caught their attention.

"Hi Jessica."

She looked beautiful as usual but for a change she was not clothed in anything remotely provocative. She wore a white blouse with black and silver suspenders and slim cut black pants, hair pulled back in a tight ponytail and makeup at the minimum. He actually thought that he preferred her this way and if it weren't for the situation he was in at the moment, he may have even paused to admire her.

"I didn't think I'd actually see you," she said with a big smile, eyes wandering over him. "You look so handsome in a suit."

"Not really. It's just clothes."

She rolled her eyes and reached out, running her fingers lightly through his hair. "They made you dye your hair, huh? Not too surprising. They can't have a total punk wandering around all of the elite guests. Too bad about the lip ring though." Her smile turned slightly flirtatious, one arched eyebrow raising. "I think I miss it already."

He couldn't help making a face at her and slid his hands into his pockets. "Didn't you say you weren't going to be here?" he asked pointedly.

She shrugged, leaning against the wall to get out of the way of waiters who were rushing back and forth to refill champagne glasses. "I wasn't originally but I decided to stick around for the art. Those people are so disturbingly talented, it's just mind blowing to me how they can create such beautiful paintings. I especially like the sculptor. I'm a big fan of the painting that inspired Venus Reborn, so I was really impressed with it. I can't believe someone so young could create something so amazing."

Sin stared at her blankly and absently looked at his watch. "What exactly do you do here anyway?"

She shrugged again, not seeming bothered by his complete lack of interest in her previous comments. "Like I told you, I helped to plan the event. You know, the decorations, furniture, placement of exhibits-- the music too. How do you like Madeleine Peyroux?" Jessica waved a hand in the direction of one of the speakers which sat perched in the corner of the wall. "I think her voice is just amazing."

"Never heard of her," Sin replied uninterestedly.

"She's a French American jazz singer, was really popular around the time the war was going on. She actually sang at the first Exposition but has since died of radiation poisoning, which is why I chose her." Jess' expression dropped a little as she thought about it but after a moment it passed and she shook her head. "Anyway, I'm sure you don't want to hear about that..."

His eyebrows rose and he said nothing in response. What could he really say? That the deaths of civilians during and after the war didn't move him no matter how prettily they sang? He'd seen enough death in the past twenty years, killed enough people, that he was incredibly desensitized to everything the people at the Expo seemed so forlorn about.

Jessica shook her head briefly and smiled at him again, completely changing the subject. "So how are you? How have you been these last couple of months? I haven't even been able to find someone to replace you. I tried out a couple of guys but they were just no good." She made a face. "Everyone seems like a complete pansy compared to how efficient you were."

He glanced his watch briefly before scanning the area around them. "Everyone is," he deadpanned.

Her laugh floated down the hallway although it eventually got lost in the clapping that emanated from the Ballroom. "I've missed you, Jason."

Another shrug. He saw another one of the guards, Eric Jiminez, leaving the Ballroom with an exasperated look on his face. Apparently Sin wasn't the only one unmoved and bored by emotional speeches; the same speeches that were probably given every year at this event. His eyes followed Eric and although the man thankfully didn't come any closer to them, his eyes fell on Sin and he shot him an impressed smirk after giving Jessica a once over.

She remained oblivious to the silent communication and moved closer to him, tilting her head to the side as she reached out and slid her hand up his chest, slender fingers wrapping around his tie. "I mean that."

She tugged him close and he didn't pull away, not really wanting to make a scene with so many people randomly passing them. Despite the hesitation that she'd shown in the past when touching him, this time her movements were full of confidence and she seemed very sure of what she intended to do, what she wanted to say.

"Would it be out of line for me to ask if we could see each other sometime? Now that you're no longer my employee and I can no longer be sued for sexual harassment?" A teasing smile played on her full lips and she continued to gaze up at him through her eyelashes. It seemed obvious to him that this was her usual routine when going after someone she wanted; the flirtatious gestures, the smiles, it was all very well practiced but despite that the look in her eyes seemed to show genuine fondness and hopefulness.

It made him pause for a moment and truly consider the question. Would it be? He honestly didn't know how to respond. After tonight he would never see her again but she wasn't supposed to know that. Would he have agreed if this hadn't been the end of the assignment? He really didn't know but since this would probably be the last time he ever spoke to her, he didn't see the need to upset her.

"If you want."

Her smile widened. "I'll call you then. Unless of course, you want to meet up after this shindig is over? My apartment isn't too far from here..." She let the implication hang in the air and once again, he wasn't entirely sure how to respond.

"We'll see what happens," he said finally and slowly backed away from her, unsure of how to go about dealing with her or the proposition. He had too much going on to deal with it at the moment. "But for now I have to finish my rounds."

Jessica nodded. "I'll message you later, then." With another smile she turned on her heel and headed back towards the Ballroom.

He watched her go for a moment before shaking his head and going back to what he was doing once she was far enough away. The woman was frustratingly determined.

Boyd had arrived at the JKS Convention Center a little early in order to acquaint himself with the people and, he had to admit, give himself a chance to see the art. Part of it was for his cover, as he'd said at Lunar that he planned to check the exhibits.

But the other part was that he was honestly curious. He was a child of the war, born right before the first attack. The bombs had taken from him his father and his best friend's parents who had been like parents to him as well. In its own way, the war had also taken Lou from him.

So having a convention centered around art and the war was something that somewhat interested him. He wondered what others had to say and whether their perspectives would align at all. He wondered about how different people would express their emotions in art.

He'd always wanted to learn how to paint in vivid colors but somehow had never been able to focus on it. Lou used to inform him that it was because he spent so much time in that gloomy house wearing nothing but black that he'd forgotten what colors looked like. Whatever the reason, when he drew he typically used charcoal; shades of black and grey against white without any color in between. But he still remembered loving sunsets and he still remembered crawling up the mound of debris by Crater Lake to watch the colors meld across the stagnant water.

That was probably the reason that Corrina and Toby's paintings had caught his attention. The sight of the sun contrasted against the harrowing scenes had made him slow and pause. Several others were around him at the time, staring at the paintings and commenting, expressing their interest and how impressed they were. Corrina and Toby were each involved in a conversation with an admirer and did not seem to notice at first that others had appeared. Boyd stood to the back, looking at the centerpiece at first before one of the side paintings attracted his attention instead. He shifted so he could see it better, noting that this was the only one that was a cityscape rather than landscape.

Skyscrapers were twisted and destroyed, leaving the skyline a mess of jagged edges that looked like metal mountains and crags. The painting was done at a perspective that was looking into one of the levels high up on a half-destroyed skyscraper; the ceiling and most of the walls were missing from the room in the foreground. Sheets were strewn by a bed that looked like it had just been slept in. A body was half-obliterated and tossed to the side like an unwanted doll, and in the other rooms that were seen through the broken, smoky windows and rooms behind walls that had been destroyed, there were any number of other corpses. Many of them looked as though they had fallen while trying to run away but a few, somehow even more eerie, were simply lying in beds as if they were sleeping despite the fact that they were missing most of their body or were clearly dead.

The sky was dark and gloomy like the other paintings, but in this one he could see far in that there were people all in black headed to an unknown destination. The distance made them tiny, insignificant-looking, and lined up like little ants marching toward food.

Sheets of paper were caught in a moment of twisted dance through the air, many of the sheets on fire; dull red the color of blood eating away at the edges and obscuring the history and memory of the people whose lives were represented. Most of the paper was twirling at angles but on a few he could tell there was very small writing although he couldn't read it because most of the sheets were shadowed, too dark.

Behind it all, the sun stood out in a brilliant golden hue, intense light sparking off bits of the buildings, the people below, highlighting some pieces of paper so words could be read more clearly. One in particular was closest to him and after a moment he realized from the way it was angled and the particular pattern of the torn edge that it actually came from a journal strewn by the bed in the skyscraper.

He stepped in closer to read and realized that it was an excerpt from a letter. 'Dear son,' it read. 'Time is shorter than I'd hoped. All I can do is sit here, writing, knowing you will never have the chance to read this, to know what happened here. Knowing I will never see you smile or hear you laugh again, that you will never ask me another question. I wish I could be coming home to you but I know ultimately there is no--' The fire had eaten the rest.

"If you have questions, please ask," a voice said suddenly behind Boyd. Lost in memories of his father, Boyd jumped slightly and looked over.

The artist Toby stood next to him, a somber smile on his face, his dark hair pulled back in a ponytail to reveal his hazel eyes. When Boyd only managed a slightly confused, "Oh, thanks," Toby looked past him to the painting.

"It is a small departure from the others, yes? We painted that first before we focused on landscapes instead," Toby explained.

"Oh," Boyd said and then turned back to the painting. "Why'd you change?"

Toby was silent a moment. "Too personal."

Boyd blinked at the answer and held one hand up like he'd seen Reed do when he thought he was encroaching on personal territory. "Oh-- Sorry. I didn't mean..."

Giving him a startled look, Toby shook his head. "Ah, sorry. Not for us, for the lives we show. The city has more lives to exploit and we did not want to disrespect them like that. We realized it was more important to show humanity contrasted to nature, the overall feel, you see?" His expression turned more pensive as he studied the cityscape. "Those resting in nature, where they should be safe in their afterlife, are still haunted by the mistakes their brethren made. Here, they find no nature."

"I dunno about that," Boyd said, studying the damage the war had wreaked. "They found human nature." In his peripheral vision, Boyd could see Toby's eyes narrow. Silence briefly fell between them as Toby studied him and Boyd refused to look away from the painting.

"I saw you reading the letter," Toby said finally, gesturing toward the letter from the father to the son. "What do you think the next word was?"

Considering that for a long moment, Boyd finally decided that Kadin's answer would have been the same as his. "One."

"No... one?" Toby asked, seeming like he was trying to prod Boyd into more details. But Boyd only nodded and looked over. "No one to what?" Toby inquired after a moment of waiting.

"No one nothing. That'd end the sentence." His eyes narrowed faintly as he studied the painting, his gaze drawn once again to that little line of people, heading off to mourn or die or, most likely, do both. "He's telling his son that in the end we're all alone-- that it doesn't matter how he feels, how much he cares... there will never be someone there to protect him when he needs it most so he has to learn to protect himself. His last words are telling him to get used to the idea now before the realization hurts him more later."

He stared at the painting for another moment before he cast off the pensive feeling and raised his eyebrows slightly, looking over curiously. "Why, what's it supposed to be?"

"There is no answer," Toby said, shaking his head. "I have heard 'hope,' 'help,' 'escape,' but not yet 'one.'"

His gaze lingered on Boyd and for a moment it reminded him suddenly of a memory he'd buried.

He remembered the night he'd followed the line of people in black, trudging through the streets to the candlelight memorial that would serve as the only grave he would ever have for his father. He remembered the smell of match smoke; the flare of light in the dark as candles were lit. He remembered his hands curled around his mother's; the last time he remembered her acting less coldly toward him. That night, she had squeezed his hand in return. That night, she had looked down as if to reassure herself he was still there with her. That night, she hadn't seemed to loathe his existence entirely.

At that vigil she had walked away at one point and Boyd had been alone, holding the candle carefully in his hands. He remembered looking down at the wax melting slowly, the flame sending heat up to his skin. A woman had paused while passing him by and had crouched. She'd asked who he was there for and he'd said his dad and his friend's mom and dad, and when she'd asked where his mother was he'd said, in the way kids simplified the truth, that she was gone.

The pity that woman had shown him, shaking her head and touching him lightly on the shoulder, was not the same as the look Toby gave him now but it still made something shift uncomfortably in him. He didn't want to think about the grief of losing a loved one and never having even a body to bury or a grave marker to visit. He didn't want to think about how transient life was or how thoroughly it disappeared once a person was gone.

Determined to ignore the darker turn of his thoughts, Boyd shrugged and asked lightly, "So, how'd you get that brilliant color for the sun, anyway?"

Toby smiled at that and that led into an extended discussion regarding a few tips for painting and how to get the proper colors. Boyd was honestly interested in the answer so he asked for several details, committing the answers to memory in case sometime in the future he got ambitious and attempted to paint again.

He stayed with Toby for a bit until the other admirers started overrunning Corrina. Toby eventually bid Boyd farewell to go rescue his wife from the inundation. Boyd couldn't help his gaze lingering on the pictures once more, focusing on the cityscape and the distant stream of people passing through the streets like ghosts. He looked away decidedly after a moment and put the thought out of his mind as he walked around the rest of the center, studying the other pieces of art. When he saw Atonement with the image of a soldier standing in an ashen field, looking as though he didn't know where he was headed or where he had come from, knowing only that blood surrounded him, he thought he could see Sin in that soldier and it saddened him.

By that time, he had to leave for his part in the mission.

Boyd didn't know what he'd expected when he'd walked into the Northeast wing, but it wasn't what he found. The room was very open and decorated with warm colors, with a high ceiling and a raised stage toward one end. Pictures of flags, scenery from various countries, and maps lined the wall, representing the majority of the population of Earth regardless of any stance in the war. Tables were arranged across the room in a manner that gave the maximum seating with minimum clutter, allowing plenty of room for people to flow between.

Several of the tables had simple white cloths covering them with a pitcher of cold water and glasses available for anyone who wished to rest for awhile. There were outlets with opened covers that were installed in the floor so that each table had access to electricity and, Boyd presumed, the internet. The covers appeared to be the color of the floor, which indicated that when closed it would not be apparent that they even existed.

Janus drew support from across the world and that fact was certainly represented by the people milling about. There was no particular demographic; they were varying ages, ethnicities, physical descriptions, gender, even how wealthy they appeared to be judging by the way they dressed. It was well done, actually; if Boyd did not know what the conference was for, he would not have guessed that it was a room full of rebels.

The only conspicuous bit to Boyd was the absence of even a single target they were there to assassinate. They would come in time, he assumed.

To blend in and gain information, Boyd spent a lot of his time walking around talking to people. Some were exchanging stories of past successes or bragging about missions that had everything go wrong but still were somehow pulled off perfectly. Others were talking about the people they had lost in the war, the friends and family that were now dead due entirely to countries with too much greed in the people in power. Boyd saw people representing every major country from the war, which was expected but no less quelling of a thought.

Even if Janus was a rebel group that originated in America against the American government, it was amazing how quickly and powerfully its voice had spread.

Not everyone in that room was necessarily against the American government; many of them were more interested in their own government and wanted Janus' support and help to grow as strong as they had, to pose as much of a threat in their homeland as Janus had in America. It showed in that one snippet just how much power Janus had gained.

What Janus offered to the masses was hope, salvation, the power to stand against those in power. Walking through that room and listening to the conversations, it almost seemed like Janus was a religion, an ideology, something that brought people together in a way that didn't seem like a motley crew joined for one goal, but rather a gathering of individuals who all had their own goals that just happened to coincide with each other.

Yet as far as Boyd was concerned, for all of Janus' pretty words and stirring ideology, they were still just a group of humans forming what basically equated to a cult following. For all that they had formed from idealistic college students -- probably the very same people who marched in the peace rallies -- they still killed people and that included innocents. It wasn't that Janus targeted innocents, but it wasn't like the government did either. Sometimes bystanders were caught in the crossfire of battles between groups with differing views.

Janus' intentions were not absolutely pure or selfless; even if many of the people who joined had lost someone in the war or were angry that lives were lost at all, they had ultimately ended up creating their own group that was vying for control just like any other founding government. They had their own rules, regulations, they had their own laws. They probably had their own punishments for those who broke them.

From what Boyd could tell, most of the representatives from the smaller rebel factions were actively trying to compete with each other as to who had the most successes. Many people were crowded around tables, showing off schematics and information on laptops or papers that some of them had brought. Smaller factions seemed to be discussing their territories and even perhaps ways to merge groups or shift the boundaries to be more convenient for them.

As a representative of 53, especially as Kadin Reed who was in upper level support, it was Boyd's job to basically do the same. And as a field agent from the Agency, it was his job to also find as much further information as he could on Janus; its structure, its people, everything.

Unfortunately, he wasn't hearing anything he didn't already know.

The Janus representatives seemed to be pretty low-level; they basically knew the goal of the group and a few minor details that the Agency had learned long ago, and they spouted nothing else. Even when Boyd talked to several of them casually and overheard other conversations, they would say nothing of import.

So he drifted between conversations, getting deeply involved in some and eavesdropping on others. The microphone and radio set that he and Sin were using was convenient in that they could each hear everything that was happening around the other. That eliminated the need to constantly check in with updates and progress, as well as cutting down on the suspiciousness of repeatedly and apparently talking to oneself.

On the other hand, it also provided a lot of background noise that had to be dealt with. It was a little difficult at first; he could constantly hear what was happening on Sin's end, yet he was attempting to carry on coherent conversations on his end or overhear what others were saying. The first time he tried to talk while Sin also happened to be having a conversation he needed to listen to, it was rather distracting.

After a few hours he was able to ignore a lot of the background noise from Sin's side and could concentrate on listening in on conversations around him. Having so many people around ended up being a blessing; it was less conspicuous when he spoke to Sin quietly by barely moving his lips because he could be talking to someone nearby. Occasionally he stood to study pictures on the wall when he needed to say something longer to Sin.

It was pure luck that he happened to be turning toward the nearest picture when he heard through Sin's radio that Jessica showed up.

In the months since Sin had left Lunar, Boyd had not thought too much about the people from there but when he heard Sin say her name he automatically tensed.

He didn't want to have to listen to her flirt. The very fact that he had to hear it raised his defenses, making him guarded and start to grow irritated. He hadn't had a chance to see Sin that day, he probably wouldn't until later, so he didn't appreciate in the least that she commented on how handsome he looked in a suit.

Boyd remembered the first time he'd seen Sin cleaned up; it was before the flight to France. The sullen way Sin had held himself had only enhanced the effect; the starch white shirt against his olive skin and the way his eyes had stood out even more without his messy hair hiding them...

He'd looked amazing.

Boyd didn't like the idea that Jessica got to see Sin in a similar way at all to the way he'd seen him then. He could tell at that point that he was definitely not going to like the conversation. Not that it was a surprise, as he doubted any conversation Jessica would choose to have with Sin would be one he would relish overhearing.

She made it worse when she mentioned the lip ring.

He felt strangely possessive of the lip ring. He'd liked the idea from the start, even if Sin hadn't, and over time it had become a familiar part of kissing him. Boyd had run his tongue and lips along it enough to know exactly what it felt like. He'd sucked Sin's lower lip into his mouth and played with the hoop of metal many times and when he'd pulled away he'd often still found his eyes dropping to the way the silver ring disappeared between Sin's lips. Over the months, Boyd had acquired a fascination with it and had been disappointed when Sin had to get rid of it.

He couldn't help feeling somehow like she didn't have a good enough reason to miss it whereas he certainly did.

When she started complaining about the help they had hired since Sin, Boyd nearly rolled his eyes. Lay it on a little thicker, he wanted to tell her.

He was glad he didn't have to be watching this maddening conversation in addition. He could just imagine how much cleavage she was showing and the way she was probably trying to act coy and flirtatious when anyone who knew her knew she was nothing but a loose woman.

Everything she said from that point on just made the entire exchange more irritating. Boyd could feel his annoyance growing the more flirtatious she sounded, the closer and clearer he could hear her voice. He could just imagine her running her hands all over Sin like she had the right, and when she propositioned Sin, Boyd barely stopped himself from snapping into the radio, "Tell her to fuck off."

The anger he felt at her audacity was briefly overwhelming.

After all that pretty talk about being so sorry about rubbing the fact she kissed Sin in Boyd's face, the first chance she got she was hanging all over him telling him to come over so they could fuck.


She was so certain Boyd had feelings for Sin, had even told him to work it out with him-- and what if he had? It probably wouldn't have mattered to her if Sin had been committed to Boyd. She would probably still have tried to get him to fuck her on the side and then act like Boyd was the one out of line for getting upset about this. Jesus, if she was that hard up couldn't she just go bang Johnny and Veronica like the slut she was?

Sin's answers weren't helping. Even if Sin wouldn't see her again, the fact that he hadn't told her to back off and even seemed to encourage her made those parting words of Jessica's burn even more fiercely in his mind.

He tried to tell himself to ignore the conversation, tried to tell himself he was being illogical, but the defensiveness he felt flared while listening to their ridiculous flirtations. He'd managed to ignore much of his ire for her in the months since Sin had left Lunar, but hearing her hang all over Sin and invite him over only served to renew it.

"You must be American," a man suddenly said at his side and Boyd looked over. He'd felt him approaching but there were so many people in the room that it was not an uncommon occurrence; it was just that most of them continued past him. This man, however, had the sort of amiable expression that showed he was probably stopping to talk to anyone who seemed interesting.

"Sorry?" Boyd said, trying to cut off the annoyance he'd been feeling so he could concentrate on his part of the assignment.

"The flag," the man said with a smile and nodded his head toward the picture in front of Boyd. "The way you were glaring at it just now, I could tell it made you angry."

Boyd looked at the picture and realized it was a painting of an eagle with a small American flag pressed over it. More than the fact that he hadn't realized what he was looking at, Boyd was surprised by the man's comment.

Had he really been glaring? It used to be that it didn't matter what Boyd was feeling inside, his expression just shut down and he became entirely unreadable, especially in the context of a mission. He knew he'd been angry but he hadn't realized it had made it to his expression, not when he'd been so careful so far to make sure he didn't break character at any point.

What the hell was wrong with him? Had Monterrey and Sin changed him that much? Had he just grown that bad at his job? He didn't think so. Truthfully, it was probably just Jessica. It was almost to the point that her presence was apparently enough on its own to lead him down the path of irrationality.

"Oh, right," Boyd said belatedly, giving the man a lopsided grin. "I'm that obvious, huh?"

"No, not at all," the man said with a laugh. He turned his own eyes on the flag and his expression darkened a little. "I think it's that way for all of us. We all lost someone, you know? Some of us lost everyone. When we see the flag... it comes out."

"Yeah," Boyd said somberly. He stared at the flag, and even if he personally didn't think the war was a result of the American government in particular but rather just the inevitability of human nature, he wasn't about to let the man know. "Guess I can't help it when I look at the flag. I keep thinking that red on there should be their blood, not ours."

He wondered what Sin thought of the conversation. He'd probably assume that if Boyd had been glaring at the flag, it had been a carefully calculated move to blend in as Kadin Reed rather than pure dumb luck.

"It should," the man agreed. He looked over and smiled again. "I'm Pat, originally from the United Liberation for Truth but here it's USNE5. Where are you from?"

"Kadin, True Democracy Movement and USNE7," Boyd answered, referring to 53's original group name and Janus' designation for all of their inducted cells.

Andrews had already told them that Janus had their own way to track their constituents, just as the Agency used a numbering system. ULT and USNE5 both referred to what he knew as Sector 62. It was complicated, really; the Agency used sector numbers, Janus used their own designation system, but the rebel groups (including those unaffiliated with Janus) used the names they had given themselves when speaking or referring to each other. Most of the names of the rebel groups were referred to by acronyms such as LoRS for the Liberation of Repressed Society, which Boyd knew as Sector 89.

"ULT, huh? We haven't heard much from you lately. Word on the street was few months back you were gonna be bigger than LoRS then suddenly you're off the radar." He knew that Pat would be familiar with both 53 and 89; most rebel groups in the same regions knew of each other's movements and activities for possible alliances or even rivalries. In their case, they were both from a group in northeast America, designated for Janus by 'USNE.'

Pat made a face, looking uncomfortable. "Well," he said after a moment, "you know how it is. Someone doesn't agree with the boss, he gets some followers, the group breaks up... Same thing happened to LoRS except we kept more of our original people."

He looked around then leaned in closer. "Truth is, we're trying to grow big like that again. It's part of the reason we wanted to join Janus... With them backing us, we'll be able to expand, get our guys back, all that."

It also meant they'd lose their identifying characteristics and simply be assimilated into a greater whole, but Boyd didn't say that. "We're probably all thinking the same to some extent," he said easily. "Even the people out of America."

"Yeah," Pat said. "There's a lot of them too. You know they're even starting to recruit in new countries? A few guys over there said some Latvians are getting in on it, same with Estonia, Lithuania."

Boyd hadn't known that but he didn't think it was too surprising. "Yeah?" he asked. "But you just said it's some guys, bet it's not even real info."

"No way, these guys know what they're talking about," Pat insisted, leaning in to speak more quietly while he glanced around. "They've been getting all the info they can on Janus 'cause they been trying to get into them for a long time now. I know them, they're legit."

"Hmm." Boyd appeared to consider that for a moment, looking at Pat doubtfully. "Latvia, though? Lithuania? What's there?"

Pat shrugged. "Probably plenty of people who are unhappy with their government. They're close enough to Russia, maybe it's also a strategic point."

"Could be," Boyd said, sounding unconvinced even though he suspected Pat was correct. "I dunno, though. What else did they say?"

"Well," Pat said thoughtfully. "They're going for neutrals now, too. I heard they've got some feelers out in Greece mostly. The guys said Janus is trying to get most of Europe and after that they're gonna focus more on South America."

That was another tidbit of information he had not heard yet but, once more, did not particularly surprise him. "Hope they can make some headway in South America," Boyd said, seeming to consider the information. "I hear they're real interested in staying out of the politics of the war right now."

Pat waved a hand dismissively. "They've always been like that. It's only a matter of time; once Janus starts scouting the area, they'll realize they're right."

"Yeah." Boyd glanced past Pat to the nearest Janus representative, who was halfway across the room and in a very intent discussion with one of the representatives from a rebel group. "Unless they're stubborn. They wouldn't be the first."

"You mean China?" Pat said with a grimace. Boyd idly slid his gaze back over to Pat and just shrugged languidly without saying anything, not wanting to give away any amount of information he may or may not have, but Pat took it as an assent. "Yeah, they're having troubles with them," Pat said. "Those die-whatever people."

"Nah, I heard it's dee-something," Boyd said lazily. "Deebees or Deejees or some shit."

Pat shrugged unconcernedly. "All they've got is farmers on their side. Those guys said the die-people are causing troubles now but, personally, I bet it won't last long. Janus is more powerful. They'll get China, Europe, the Oceanic Republic..."

"Sounds like they're taking over the world," Boyd said with a little smirk and Pat nodded, pleased.

"Hey Patty, get over here," someone called from across the room and they both looked over. A man was standing by a table, grinning widely and waving him closer.

"He from ULT too?" Boyd asked curiously, noting that the man was next to one of the people Boyd recognized as one of the Janus representatives he'd run into earlier. They were standing by a table with stacks of paper spread across it but he couldn't tell what any of it said from that distance.

"Yeah, that's Roger," Pat said distractedly, then looked back at Boyd and smiled. "I'll go over in a second. Say, what ever happened a few months back? I heard you guys almost got taken out."

"It was an exaggeration," Boyd said with a rolling shrug. Word traveled pretty fast between rival groups, but whether what was said was was truth, fiction, or a blending hidden in a rumor was difficult to ascertain. He'd assumed someone would ask about what happened when Sin and he had attacked 53, when they'd acquired Warren and the group as their mole, so he already had a cover story. "We got shook down by some people but we took 'em out. You know how it goes."

"Who were they?"

"Rival faction," Boyd said, looking irritated. "Well, they were related to the first offshoot from LoRS. They thought they'd fuck us up but Warren got 'em."

"Hmm." Pat glanced over at Roger then back at Boyd. "I'd heard all this crazy shit. Guess they were just rumors."

"Usually are," Boyd said, nodding. "I heard all sorts of crazy shit about you guys, too. I hear it about everything, really. Can't trust what someone tells you unless it's straight from the source, I guess."

Pat nodded then waved back to Roger when he impatiently called for him again. Smiling a little distractedly at Boyd, Pat said, "Well, nice meeting you," and gave Boyd just enough time to say, "Same to you," before he left.

Boyd waited until no one was in listening range before he walked to the next picture as if continuing his perusing of the flags along the wall. "Something's wrong," Boyd said quietly into the radio as he studied the Russian flag. "They're not here, seems like an orientation."

There was no immediate response and at first all he heard was the buzzing of background conversation as Sin presumably walked about the South wing. After awhile there was a quiet, "What do you mean orientation?"

"New cells being trained in." Boyd waited until a few people passed behind him and he was alone again with no one close enough to overhear. He barely moved his lips when he continued, "No one's who we expected, no leaders, not even from the groups. Just messengers."

Another long silence and then, "Proceeding regardless?"

Boyd casually moved to the next picture. "Yes."


Boyd glanced at his watch, then the stage. A few people had congregated around it, trying to get a microphone to work while they adjusted the volume. "Ten."

The interesting part to Sin about the security of the JKS was that they had a rather surprising amount of holes in the actual surveillance aspect of it. During his training they'd given him a lengthy tour of the surveillance room and he'd even been taught how to operate their system and how to switch between locations on it. It'd been rather easy to feign computer illiteracy and take longer than was really necessary to learn the ropes of it all so now he knew very specific things about the placement of every camera in the building. He also knew that the actual surveillance room was not monitored around the clock and according to the staff schedule for the event, there would coincidentally be no one actually watching the cameras at all in the later part of the evening.

The reasoning behind that was shady at best; they claimed that they needed all manpower on the floor. In translation, Sin supposed that meant that the director of the center and the Janus link had ordered that room to be left unoccupied so that regular civilian guards would not be aware of the activity occurring in the Northeast wing of the complex.

This meant one of two things; A, he had complete range to move in and out of the blind spots in the system so that he could suitably disguise himself before heading up to the mezzanine and take his position without having to worry about anyone seeing the tapes of a masked shooter until later. Or B, that there were Janus agents occupying the security room for the time and that although he could continue on with his plan and could stay in the one blind spot of the mezzanine, it was entirely possible that his location would be found sooner after he began to take out the targets and that he would most likely have several people on his tail as he attempted to get out.

Sin glanced at his watch and then at the stage in the Grande Ballroom. Speeches were still going on as well as visual presentations and an introduction of a deceased video artist was next on the itinerary. He didn't know if it was a bad thing that he was relieved to finally be leaving this event but he supposed it probably was. He'd never been fond of long-winded babbling. In the end, assassination was his forte.

He gave the room another once over before catching the eye of Pyanin, his supervisor for the evening. He strolled over to the man as casually as he could and stopped next to him at the rear exits. "I'm going to take my break."

Pyanin gave him an incredulous look. "You've been on for six hours and haven't taken it yet?" He demanded in quiet annoyance. "That's a meal violation, you know."

Sin shrugged, attempting to look apologetic and most likely failing. "I was paying attention to the speeches and I forgot. Sorry."

That earned him a skeptical eyebrow raised and Pyanin rolled his eyes. "If that's true, you're a crazy man. I've never been so bored in my life but then again I didn't expect this evening to be very action-packed."

Just wait thirty more minutes and you'll get more action than you need, Sin thought idly. "Should I take a forty-five to cover the fifteen I didn't take?"

Pyanin nodded. "Just clock back in after thirty."

Too bad the break room would most likely be in flames after thirty. "No problem."

Sin slipped out of the Ballroom and headed down the Southwest corridor towards the employee lounge and break room. Once in the break room he shrugged off his suit jacket, loosened his tie and left the jacket laying on the table before punching out and heading back out the door.

Each wing had an exit that led to the large, diamond-shaped courtyard which sat in the middle of all four wings. He paused before the exit for a long moment. He knew there was a camera angled at the door and so he made a big production out of finding his cigarettes, popping one in his mouth and then flipping open his cell phone.

Anyone watching would think that Jason Alvarez was simply going outside to the deserted courtyard for some quiet and an extended smoke break. By the time his thirty minutes were up, the complex would be rocked with explosions and it would be no surprise that he did not come back the same way in order to punch out. In essence, his persona would at least be preserved assuming he did not somehow get apprehended later on.

He stepped out into the courtyard and lit his cigarette as he continued to mess with the cell phone. The reception in the area was off at times and once again, he made a show of raising the phone as if attempting to get a signal. After another moment, he shook his head in disgust for the benefit of the camera and paced back and forth a bit before finally moving into one of the courtyard's several blind spots.

The surveillance was poorly planned and they relied on cameras which hovered at a limited view and swung back and forth between specific areas. None of the cameras had a far enough range to pick up anything beyond the pathways and so when he disappeared into the trees that stood against the buildings, he was completely out of its line of sight.

He instantly dropped the cigarette and put away the cell phone before yanking off his tie and white dress shirt to reveal a black, fitted long-sleeved shirt beneath. He kicked the clothing into a bush and yanked a ski mask out of the shirt sleeve before slipping it on. He knew that depending on who was monitoring the surveillance room he would possibly be spotted sooner rather than later and even if he escaped notice at all, during his exit there would be places where he would not be able to avoid cameras.

In order to continue to preserve his identity until they could flee the city, the ski mask was a necessary precaution to make their jobs easier later on.

His form was barely distinguishable from the shadows against the walls as he moved to the northern part of the courtyard. At times he heard soft laughter drifting from the various benches that spread throughout the area but he paid it no heed. The area had perfectly manicured grass, draping trees and an assortment of different kinds of flowers which bloomed around a large fountain in the center; the idea of couples from the Expo going there for alone time was not exactly strange. He continued to slip through the trees silently, staying just out of view of the cameras until he was finally at a stone staircase which led up to the second floor mezzanine of the Northeast building. There was a roving camera just above the staircase but he had an approximate window of fifteen seconds to get up the stairs and settled into the blind spot before it returned to its original location.

Sin hovered there for a moment, counting out the seconds and deciding on the perfect moment before finally jumping up and grabbing hold of the railing. The camera moved out of view and he pulled himself up effortlessly, jumping over the side silently and immediately sprinting down the short pathway until he was just within the archway of the mezzanine and behind one of the columns.

The mezzanine was like an indoor balcony of sorts, winding its way entirely around the complex, and part of it was situated above Theater 3. There were a number of archways and walls along the structure. The design was so complex that it left quite a number of spots that were completely unreachable by the interior surveillance cameras of the area. He used that to his advantage and ducked down beneath one of the low walls, crawling along the floor until he reached the spot where he'd hidden his rifle. The outer part of the mezzanine's walls were made of stone and not all of them were completely stable; it'd been easy to pry a number of them out and place the rifle inside the makeshift cavern that he'd created.

He slid into position beneath one of the walls and peeked over, using the scope of the rifle to see clearly down into Theater 3. Speeches were starting as far as he could tell but as he scanned the faces of each man on the stage, he realized that none of them were familiar.


Boyd's voice came quietly after a moment. "None."

Sin's mouth turned down into a frown, eyebrows drawing together as he stared down into the hall beneath him. He didn't recognize the man giving the speech; it wasn't someone who'd been on their list even though he appeared to be the person in charge of the entire event. He didn't seem to be discussing anything pertinent at all, let alone the future plans of the organization as a whole.

It was just like Boyd had said; the entire thing seemed like an orientation for new inductees into the massive organization that was Janus. Nothing specific was said about the details of future plans and for the most part they seemed to be perpetuating the same idealistic propaganda that Sin had heard hundreds of times before.

The speech droned on regarding the state of world affairs, nothing that wasn't common knowledge to anyone underground, and all the different organizations who were moving against Janus at the moment. The man seemed to be rallying the troops before a battle; inciting them against the international 'bad guys' and reiterating the fact that every man in the room was extremely courageous for taking part in the fight against the fascist state that the super powers of the world had created. It was not unlike the speeches the American administration gave to soldiers who fought rebels and terrorists.

Nearly fifteen minutes passed before the man introduced a woman named Choral Smith, who in turn gave a brief summary of who else would be speaking that evening. She didn't name anyone that had been on their list of targets.

"What the hell is this," he muttered, not really expecting a response.

Choral began discussing the expectations of every group who joined Janus. She said very firmly that once they became a cell they were no longer a part of the organization they had previously identified themselves with; they were part of something much larger in scale. She emphasized loyalty, respect, dedication and many of the things she said seemed very similar to the things rookies were told at the Agency, including the fact that traitors would be punished quickly and, essentially, without a trial.

Part of her tactic seemed to be attempting to frighten the people in the room, letting them be very aware of just how serious this all was and that it was anything but a game. Her dark brown eyes swept the room as she spoke, seeking signs of weakness or indecisiveness in the audience and Sin had no doubts that anyone who seemed weak, who seemed like they would not cut it, would be silenced before they could ever step foot outside of the convention center.

But despite the fact that this was an interesting way of seeing Janus in their true colors, it had nothing to do with the information that had been so heavily encrypted on that disc.

"Something is wrong. This is wrong."

"Mm," Boyd agreed over the radio, barely a breath of a sound.

Sin shifted his position, impatience mixing with aggravation as he once again searched the room in vain for his targets. "I have no one to fucking shoot," he muttered softly. "There's something wrong," he repeated, not hiding the frustration that was building inside him.

He didn't understand this. He couldn't wrap his mind around the fact that they'd spent nearly a year preparing for something that wasn't going to happen. They'd spent months creating personas, plotting, and learning the city, all with the understanding that the grand finale would allow them to finally significantly damage much of the Janus powerhouse.

But that wasn't going to be the case. The leaders weren't there; no one in the inner core was there. Not even the leaders of lower tier rebel groups were there. It was a mixture of what appeared to be Janus administration and rebel flunkies.

Something inside him twisted and he exhaled slowly.

"The information was wrong," he said flatly. "Thierry was wrong."

He sat up abruptly, still crouching in the shadows, and shoved the rifle back in the cavern of the wall. He had no use for it now; it could stay there since he didn't need any unnecessary baggage. "Fuck this. I say we proceed with stage 2."

There was a long pause, as if Boyd was giving himself the chance to either get away from others or perhaps waiting for a moment when there was enough noise around him that any response would not be overheard. Finally, he said quietly, "Agreed."

"B12 first," Sin said softly. As Boyd had said weeks ago, an explosion in that area would compromise the entire structure of the Northeast wing and both connecting corridors. "7, 8, 6, 4, 5; five second intervals," he continued cryptically, naming the exits they'd previously discussed.

The explosions would turn Theater 3 into an inescapable inferno until it completely collapsed in on itself as well as causing severe damage to both corridors. The plan was to destroy the Northeast exits, 7 and 8, which led out into the parking lot and then when they had both escaped out of their assigned exits in the Northeast and Southeast corridors, they would destroy those as well and hope the civilians had managed to escape after the first explosion.

"Regroup at Antonio Coello and Batallón de San Blas unless otherwise stated," Sin finished.

He was already moving quickly, going back the way he'd come as he listened to the blur of background noise on Boyd's end and assumed that meant he was moving through the crowd.

He moved through the courtyard the same way he had the first time and entered door A; one of the entrances that led directly to the Southeast corridor from the courtyard. He stayed in the shadows of the nook the door opened into and slid his hand into his pocket, finger on the detonator.


"Roger," Boyd said after a moment and a lot of the sound had fallen away from the background on his end.

The explosion rocked the entire complex.

Even though it occurred in the very bowels of the structure, all of the wings and surrounding areas shook violently as if an earthquake had suddenly begun. He could hear screaming in the Southeast corridor, the sounds of running feet and shouting as loud crashes echoed up and down the long hallway. He closed his eyes briefly, counting it out, wondering if all service staff had managed to get out of the corridor before--


There went Exit 7.


And 8.

More screaming, this time coming from the direction of the Grande Ballroom and he assumed it was more due to panic than anything else. At this point all exits leading directly from the Northeast wing and Theater 3 to the outdoors were completely destroyed. All that was left was to block the exits leading into the corridors as well.

He sprinted into the Southeast corridor, not bothering to remove his mask as he dodged falling debris from the ceiling and jumped over fallen tables, serving trays and whatever else the serving staff had dropped in their rush to escape. By the time he was nearly to his appointed exit and the site of the last two bombs on his end, he heard the sixth exit go and knew that Boyd had completed his part.

Sin continued to run, noticing that so far no one was spilling out of the Northeast wing which meant that they were either all injured, blocked off by debris, or dead. He was almost at the doors when he suddenly skidded to a stop.

The soft moan had caught his attention first and his eyes had automatically dropped to the source of the sound. Jessica lay sprawled on the floor. Two large ceiling panels had fallen on top of her and crushed her to the floor. Her face was covered in blood, hair matted with it and as smoke began to invade the corridor, as flames licked at the doors that led to the Northeast wing and whooshed inside like a wave, she didn't seem to be moving anytime soon.

"Fucking shit," he swore loudly.

"What's wrong?" Boyd asked immediately over the radio.

People could be heard screaming in the background on his end, asking what was happening, trying to figure out if anyone was hurt. Even if Boyd had been overheard, his question would have blended in with what everyone else was yelling.

"Jessica. She's badly injured."

Sin stared down at her, finger trained on the detonator as he glanced at the door leading to the Northeast wing again. Still, no one appeared and the flames were growing stronger, waves of heat washing over him as the smoke made it unbearable to breathe. Without another moment's hesitation, he grabbed one of the panels and yanked it off her, tossing it to the side as he started on the other. She opened her eyes into slits and peered up at him, face a mask of pain, confusion and fear before she fell into unconsciousness once again.

"We don't have time for this shit," Boyd said testily. In the background, the faint sound of sirens could be heard. "Just leave her, the cops are on their way."

Sin grit his teeth in annoyance and ignored Boyd, grunting as he shoved the other panel off her legs. The sheet of metal gave a loud, whining sound as it scraped against the floor but finally she was freed.

"What the fuck are you doing?" Boyd's voice rose in anger. "Get out of there!"

"Just shut the hell up! I'm not going to detonate explosives that will fucking kill her!" he shouted angrily and hoisted Jessica's slender frame easily, throwing her over one shoulder as he turned back toward his appointed exit. By now he could hear people on the opposite side of the door, coughing and yelling, as well as attempts to move debris and get into the corridor. He resumed his sprint in the direction of his exit, coughing violently as smoke swirled around him.

"I'm taking her out of here," he snapped into the microphone.

"You goddamn idiot," Boyd growled, and there was a pause as the sounds of people screaming grew fainter behind him and static started to grow on the radio. "Fuck it. I'm too far away now, I can't make it back. Switch to Plan B." He paused, then added coldly, "If this gets you caught you fucking deserve it."

Something in Sin twisted and for a moment all he could feel was anger; the kind of anger that completely consumed him and made him temporarily forget the heat of the flames because the fire spreading inside of him was so much hotter. He continued to run, noticing that the static on the microphone was getting louder and that Boyd really was leaving him and running completely out of range.

Why couldn't he fucking understand that Sin couldn't just leave her to die? She was innocent. She was only there because of him; because he'd made her think he'd be around to see her later. Why couldn't Boyd just fucking get that? Why couldn't--

"Fuck you," he snapped into the microphone and before Boyd could respond, they were abruptly out of range and static completely filled his ear.

He ran out of the building and detonated the rest of the bombs. The explosions nearly knocked him off his feet and the flames burst out of all possible seams of the Northeast wing, illuminating the night sky. Surrounding trees were consumed by fire, looking like enormous candles as the leaves burned rapidly. There was the loud whining sound of the infrastructure giving way and loud resounding booms echoed around the quad as the ceiling started to cave. Smoke and waves of heat washed over the surrounding area and became so overpowering that he grew dizzy briefly; the combination of the heat and the smoke almost caused him to lose his footing.

But he didn't fall and he didn't let go of Jessica.

As the building behind him began to collapse to the ground, he disappeared into the darkness.

Continue to Chapter 37