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-Eight

Heart thundering, Boyd was immediately behind Kassian as they ran to 1741 where Michael had been assigned. Like Boyd had said, the stench of death was powerful in the home; the two corpses remained in the middle of the living room, their bodies decaying and half-rotten. It was a staggering smell that made their eyes water. Even Kassian automatically covered his nose and mouth as they passed by to where Blair motioned them down to the lower level.

Cords hung from the ceiling, in some places with the rubber entirely peeled away, exposing the filaments beneath. The lower level was small, dark, dank, and the electricity that came into the room shone from flickering bulbs strung along the ceiling. They made buzzing noises, like insects being killed by bug-zappers, and the inconsistent light kept throwing the house into darkness that seemed only enhanced by the smell of decay from a floor above them.

Kassian nodded toward Blair as he passed him by, but Boyd was barely paying attention. He followed Kassian immediately to the downstairs hallway and was headed toward the room when he felt arms pull him back. The suddenness made his heart leap and for a moment, in the alternating darkness with his fears staining reality around him, he almost yelled out, as if he was in a different time of his life. But then he heard Blair's voice right behind him, saying that he should wait a minute. Even though Blair held him firmly he wasn't hurting him; he was only keeping him still. Boyd only stopped himself from struggling away because at that moment he could see Kassian entering the room down the hallway ahead of him.

He couldn't see into the room; he could only see the door angled open and a patch of flickering darkness beyond. But he could see Kassian's face, thrown in relief from the light ahead of him, and when he saw his expression turn aghast, he couldn't stay still any longer.

He grit his teeth and fought Blair suddenly, violently, hitting him hard enough that Blair stumbled back a step with a pained release of breath. Boyd ran forward, feeling like he wasn't quite in reality, that this wasn't quite right, because the sounds around him were muffled and on the other side of cotton. The light was inconsistent; ghostly, pale yellow lines spreading across darkness that wanted to eat the building alive. He felt like he was in slow motion, moving past Kassian in time that crawled, stretched thin like a rubber band that refused to break.

When he burst into the room he barely saw Michael standing to the side and looking over at him in surprise, he barely even saw the blood that stained the walls and concrete like paint. He couldn't interpret any of the sounds that were coming around him, that may have been voices but were too far away to understand.

All he saw was Sin, lying on a surgeon's table like before. Strapped down.

Not moving.

It took a portion of forever to get to him. Even though Boyd was running, his steps were too slow and his breath was too fast. He almost hit the table, not thinking to stop in time, and it was only by dropping his hands onto the metal to brace himself that he didn't fall over.

Something slid beneath his palms, cool and thick and coagulated, and when he looked down he realized it was blood, Sin's blood, and when he stared with widening eyes at Sin he saw his closed eyes. His skin was white in a way that shouldn't be possible with his olive skin tone and his lips, those full lips Boyd had kissed and laughed against and drew into his mouth, were pale blue.

He looked down at the rest of Sin, a shocked sort of desperation as he tried to understand what was happening, but he could barely see anything beneath all the blood. It was like a second skin; dark, rusty and dried, and even though he could tell there were any number of wounds beneath, he couldn't actually see what they were or where they existed. Stitches were roughly sewn into the side of Sin's neck where the GPS chip must have been taken out, dried blood coating the entire side of his throat where he must have bled profusely.

Boyd brought a shaking hand up, muscles stiff and difficult to move as he touched Sin's cheek. Sin's skin was cold even through the coating of his blood on Boyd's palm, on Sin's body, and Boyd felt the world starting to tilt around him as he looked down at Sin's chest. It wasn't moving. He wasn't fucking moving, his chest didn't look like it was moving, his skin was cold and Sin wasn't breathing, he was dead, he was dead--

There was confusion of sound behind him that Boyd didn't understand but suddenly he was roughly yanked back, the movement causing his fingers to slide along Sin's cheek and pass over his cold lips where the lip ring used to lie. Where Sin used to smirk and smile and sometimes even laugh.

"Wait!" Boyd said desperately and lunged forward as if to reach Sin, but another hand came and held him tightly. Dragged him away while he struggled increasingly violently to get away.

"Wait, no! Let me go, let me fucking go!" Boyd shouted louder, trying to get out of the hold. He tried to break free so he could get close again and at least touch Sin's body one more time. So they couldn't pull him away before they just left Sin there to rot like the bodies upstairs and oh God, oh God, he was really dead, he was actually dead, Kassian was right, the earring was there but it didn't mean his heart was beating, it didn't mean he could be saved.

It didn't mean Boyd hadn't let him be killed.

Archer held him tight against his chest, completely overpowering him and trapping him there as the others stared at Sin's body with various expressions ranging from alarm to dismay. Although they'd all seemed so sure, although they'd been so matter-of-fact about his death, it seemed that none of them had actually expected to find his body in the state that it was in. None of them appeared to have actually expected Sin, invincible, indestructible Sin, to have been tortured to death on a makeshift table inside an abandoned, filthy house.

"Check his pulse," Kassian barked suddenly, seeming to snap out of a momentary reverie.

Nobody moved and he sent an annoyed glare at Harriet, who jumped and hurried over to Sin's side. She hesitated before actually putting her hands on him, eyes focused on his face, on the undeniably striking features that were pale and covered in blood. Finally she touched him, fingers groping through the stiff layer of blood at his neck as she searched for a sign of life. But after a moment she shook her head and looked at Kassian.

"I can't find--"

Kassian grunted impatiently and stepped forward, pushing Harriet out of the way unceremoniously as he grabbed Sin's hair and yanked his head back. Sin didn't so much as twitch and Boyd's eyes widened and breath caught at the sight. He froze for half a second before he suddenly surged against Archer's hold, struggling even more viciously to break away. Archer didn't even budge; his arms were like vices around him and no matter how hard Boyd tried to get closer to Sin, he was stuck.

Kassian's brow furrowed as he worked, as he listened for breath and pawed at Sin's neck, his wrist, before finally...

He looked up and met Boyd's eyes. "He's alive."

The words filtered through Boyd's frantic mind inefficiently, taking a few seconds to register. When he realized what Kassian said, he abruptly stopped struggling. He sagged in Archer's arms, breathing heavier from exertion, and stared at Kassian with a mixture of relief, fear and hope that struck him silent.

"Barely alive," Kassian amended and finally looked away from Boyd as he began barking orders. "We need to get him out of here now or he won't be for long. Get the gurney." When nobody moved, his eyes narrowed dangerously. "Now!"

Everyone sprang into action at the same time but in the end, it was Michael and Blair who rushed up the stairs and out to the van.

Kassian looked down at Sin again and turned Sin's face to the side gingerly as he examined the sloppy stitches in his neck. Despite the fact that Kassian was apparently trying to appear calm and in control, he seemed visibly taken aback by the fact that Sin was allowing him to touch him.

"It seems that they operated on his neck to remove the transmitter; they probably did a scan and found it there. The trauma of their hack job and loss of blood probably caused him to temporarily flat-line before they crushed the chip."

Harriet nodded and slipped on a pair of gloves before she began doing a quick examination of the rest of Sin's body. He was naked save for a pair of black shorts and she ghosted her hands over his torso, arms and legs. Most wounds had long ago crusted over with dried blood but there were some that were still bleeding.

She ripped strips of cloth from her own shirt and tied off the open wounds as Kassian began unstrapping his limbs. Despite the fact that Kassian claimed to have found a pulse, Sin didn't look anything close to living. His eyes remained closed, eyelashes not giving the barest of flutters as they moved him around. When he was finally unstrapped his limbs hung off the table awkwardly.

Boyd couldn't stop staring at Sin, at his arms hanging strangely, at the way he was being moved about. "Fuck," he whispered to himself, disturbed by the sight. The relief of Sin being alive, of there still being a chance, was so strong that it made him feel lightheaded.

But his adrenaline was still high and his heart was still racing. Even if Kassian said he was alive they still had to get him help. All that blood, the way Sin was laying, the fact he was letting Kassian touch him-- Boyd couldn't look away. His fingers twitched and he wanted desperately to get closer, to touch Sin and tell him that it was alright, that he was there now and he'd help him, protect him. That Sin was going to be okay.

But when he tried to move forward again, Archer kept him absolutely still. He tried again, a little more viciously, but he couldn't even move. The fact that Sin was right there in front of him but they wouldn't even let him touch him caused Boyd to snap loudly, furiously, "What the fuck! Just let me go!"

But Archer only crushed him against his chest with unrelenting pressure.

"Stop moving," he ordered harshly from behind Boyd. "I told you to stay out of the fucking way but that's all you're trying to do. Let Senior Agent Trovosky do his job. If you keep this shit up I'll hog tie you and throw you in the corner."

It was hard to breathe between Archer's hold and Boyd was still upset enough that his breath came quick and inconsistent. After a moment he grit his teeth, his body tense but going still. He knew he wouldn't be able to get away from Archer without a lot more effort and he didn't want to waste his energy or risk being detained before he could get closer to Sin.

Instead, he focused on watching what was happening.

"His arms and legs are broken," Harriet said. "His shoulders also appear to be dislocated and I believe his left hip. We'll need splints. We don't know how long he's been here and if they heal improperly, he's fucked if he actually survives."

Michael and Blair came charging back down the stairs and immediately began assembling the gurney. Kassian grabbed one of the duffel bags that Michael had brought down and yanked it open, pulling out various medical supplies and kits. "It seems as though they left him here to die. Which either means they got the information they needed out of him or they couldn't get any at all. Knowing Vega, I'd guess it was the latter."

He pulled out the necessary equipment as Harriet poured generous amounts of water on Sin's face and chest so that she could properly locate the worst of his wounds. His entire body appeared to be covered in bruises, burns and gashes. He barely seemed to be breathing at all.

"I don't think we have much time."

They began working quickly, nobody speaking as the four of them hovered around Sin's prone form and began setting his bones and attaching the splints.

The knowledge of what had been done to Sin made Boyd feel at once deeply sickened and angry. Janus had somehow, he couldn't figure out how, managed to compromise Sin enough to get him strapped down. They'd managed to incapacitate him to the point that he stayed that way. But even if they were trying to force information out of Sin, how could they do that to another human being? How could they hurt him like that?

Sin must have felt so hopeless. He must have been in agony, and they still kept going. The thought gave Boyd the image of Sin gritting his teeth, a sheen of sweat appearing on his skin as he stayed silent despite what they were doing. As he refused to show how much it hurt, just as he always used to back at the Agency.

What had he been thinking while they did that? What if he'd been hoping for Boyd to come, what if he'd been expecting him to rescue him or help him? But, and the thought hit Boyd hard enough that he felt nauseated, why would Sin think he even cared? He told him he deserved to get caught. He told him...

Staring at the evidence of the torture-- the blood, the bruises, the limp, awkward tilt of his limbs, imagining the agony Sin must have been in-- He felt sick.

He hadn't meant it. He hadn't really meant it, Sin didn't deserve it at all. Had he been thinking during that time that Boyd would have welcomed this? That the person he'd trusted enough to tell about his past would have stood to the side and said he was getting exactly what he should? All because he'd been so angry about a stupid woman?

"Oh God," he whispered to himself, feeling guilt rush in with the anger and anxiety.

By the time they had Sin on the gurney only a few moments had passed but it seemed like an eternity. Michael and Blair immediately carted him out of the room while Harriet moved ahead to clear the doors and Kassian went ahead to get the van ready.

The four of them disappeared from the room before Archer finally released Boyd from the hold, giving him a serious look. Boyd didn't even notice; the second he was free he started to run after them. He needed to be near Sin, to tell himself that even if he had let him down, betrayed him, abandoned him, he was at least there for him now. He could at least try to make amends somehow, help heal him, help stabilize him. Just... help.

Behind him, he barely heard Archer make a disgusted noise before he was suddenly yanked back by his upper arm. He didn't realize at first what had happened; he tried to rush forward again but Archer did not so much as shift and all that happened was his shoulder hurt.

He rounded on Archer with a glare, demanding coldly, "What?"

Archer gave him an entirely unimpressed look and, holding him by the upper arm, dragged him along at his side. "How did you ever get to be Rank 9 if you can't even follow a simple order?"

Tired of being pushed around and held back, of them acting like he was an incompetent idiot, Boyd snapped, "Just let me--"

"No," Archer said unwaveringly, not even bothering to let him finish the sentence. He turned a serious, hawk-like stare on him. "And shut up." Boyd's eyes narrowed but before he could say anything, Archer gave him a look that clearly said, 'Do you really want to try me?'

Boyd stared at him for one long moment before he looked away silently, fingers curling into fists and teeth gritting as he let himself be led to the van like a child.

By the time they got to the vehicle, the other four had folded all of the back seats down to give enough room for the gurney in the center. Kassian and Michael were sitting by Sin's head while Harriet crouched at his side, already concentrating on stitching one of his nastier wounds. Blair sat at his feet, just shutting the back doors as Boyd and Archer arrived. Seeing that there was enough space for one more to squeeze in, Boyd automatically tried to go for the back doors but Archer pulled him toward the front without even bothering to look over.

"What are you doing?" Boyd asked, staring through the windshield toward the back of the van.

He could see them all crouched around Sin and he wanted to be back there with them. It didn't make sense not to have all the available help working with Sin. The man was in terrible condition; they needed as many people working on him as possible until they could get him to a more stabilized location.

"I've had my med training; I can help Harriet." Archer didn't reply; he just reached for the passenger door. Boyd narrowed his eyes, following the movement of his hand, and said as indignation started to war with annoyance and worry, "I know what I'm fucking doing, I won't be in the way!"

Archer met his gaze and held it as he opened the door and shoved him unceremoniously inside. Boyd landed awkwardly on the seat and while he was still trying to get his balance, Archer yanked him forward and within seconds, with the quick, practiced movement of someone who has done this before, he flexicuffed Boyd to the hand-hold above the door.

Boyd stared in disbelief at his hands and then looked at Archer with an angry, "Archer, what the fuck!"

"I have plenty of tape for a gag," Archer informed him before shutting the door firmly in his face.

Boyd watched Archer in growing anger as the man walked around the front of the van and calmly got into the driver's seat, reaching back only long enough to get the keys from Kassian. Boyd yanked on the restraints but it only dug the plastic into his wrists painfully and the hand hold didn't budge at all.

He didn't know what the hell their problem was but it aggravated him that they kept ignoring him, acting like he couldn't do anything right. Like he'd just get in the way. Did they seriously think he'd jeopardize Sin's safety by acting like an idiot, delaying any medical help he could receive? He just wanted to be back there with him, that was all! He just wanted to touch him and reassure himself that it was true, he was alive, even if earlier it hadn't seemed possible.

He'd touched his face. He was so cold, so still, like a marble statue thrown carelessly to the side and not at all like the person he'd grown used to being around. The person he'd been intimate with and the person whose touch had left fire in its wake.

Archer turned the key in the ignition and, ignoring Boyd completely, he put the van in gear and drove quickly down the street. Boyd pulled on the flexicuffs once more, irritated that Archer had chosen something that made it impossible for him to escape.

He gave Archer a cold look before he twisted awkwardly to look behind him. At least he could still see Sin from this position, even if his view was occasionally blocked by Kassian's back. He listened to what they were saying, trying to get an idea of Sin's condition.

"--trip is eight hours," Harriet was saying. "I don't think he'll last that long. His pulse is so weak, I can still barely feel it and who knows what kind of internal injuries he has? We don't have the equipment to properly care for him." She hovered over his torso, hands steadily stitching a long, wide gash in his side that appeared incredibly deep.

Kassian rubbed his chin and stared down at Sin in aggravation. "He isn't at all responsive. He doesn't react to anything. It's possible he isn't even mentally efficient anymore, depending on the level of head trauma." He pointed at the nearly black bruises that stained the otherwise pale skin of his head. "But we can't just take him to any medical facility. They'll ask questions and we don't need questions. We'll have to wait until we're with our people."

The thought that Sin could have been found while still alive but it was still too late, that he was already too far gone and would never recover or would never even make it through the rescue, was a terrifying thought. Boyd quickly ran through every medical facility he could think of in the city, but unfortunately that was one area he hadn't been able to get any contacts in.

Jorge knew next to nothing of the underground doctors and all that Boyd had managed to discover pointed to them all being the kind that went to the highest price or already were in the jurisdiction of smugglers or other black market groups that wouldn't appreciate anyone going into their territory. It had been something he had felt was a loose end as he'd gone into the two week hiding period, but he'd been hoping it wouldn't come up. As it was, he couldn't think of anyone in Monterrey that would be able to help them without delaying the matter even longer than it would be if they just kept driving.

But if they didn't get Sin help soon...

Michael watched the scene with what seemed to be growing uneasiness as Kassian began performing simple tests to see if Sin would respond. Sin didn't even give the slightest of twitches, his eyes never once moving beneath his eyelids.

"Um..." Michael frowned and glanced at the others hesitantly. "What if he actually does wake up?" he asked slowly.

Kassian looked up at him with a strange expression. "Then we know he isn't brain damaged."

"Um..." Michael hesitated again and glanced at Boyd quickly before saying in a rush, "But shouldn't we restrain him in case that happens?"

There was a long silence and both Kassian and Harriet paused in their actions to give him incredulous looks. "What?"

Michael shifted and wet his lips, looking both uncomfortable and determined as he glanced down at Sin in something akin to fear. "I mean I know he's in bad shape right now but does that really mean we should forget who we're dealing with? This guy is insane and prone to snap. Who knows what will happen when he wakes up and is all delirious? He'll probably kill us all!"

Out of the corner of his eye, Boyd could see Archer nodding once, as if he agreed with the reasoning. Boyd's eyes narrowed but he didn't get the chance to say anything.

Kassian stared at Michael as if he were the biggest idiot he'd ever seen. "The man can't fucking move," he said in a low, warning voice. "How the hell do you expect he'll manage to kill us all?"

"How does he manage to do anything they say he does?" Michael countered stubbornly. "How does he manage to wipe out entire bases and make it out alive with a bunch of injuries? How did he manage to kill all of those guard captains when he was surrounded by them and being sent to the fourth? I mean, I'm not trying to be a jerk here, but I just don't think we should forget about what this guy is really all about just because he's injured."

There was another silence and Harriet shook her head and began stitching Sin again. Kassian continued to stare at Michael. "You are an idiot."

He looked down dismissively and focused on another grotesque gash in Sin's other side-- it was just as deep as the one Harriet worked on and in exactly the same place on the opposite side. Tissue and meat hung out of it and Kassian grabbed the tools for stitching out of the pack.

"I don't care what 'they' say he does. He's still a man and he's still an agent and I'm not going to treat him like a wild dog just because you think he's the boogeyman."

"Even if he could move," Boyd added edgily, "he's not a mass-murdering psychopath. He'll recognize Kassian--"

"Senior Agent Trovosky," Archer corrected him without looking away from the road.

He spared Archer a cold glance then pulled at his restraints as he twisted to look at the others in back. "And if you'd just fucking let me back there, he'll recognize me too."

Kassian didn't spare Boyd a glance or respond to the comment as he worked calmly, not bothering to put on gloves as Harriet did and effectively getting his fingers covered in blood. "I am very aware of the threat he can become if he is provoked-- but that is if he is provoked. One, it is highly doubtful that he is going to wake up any time soon, if at all, and two, if he did he would be more likely to regale us with examples of his stunning sense of sarcasm than attack us. However if he does for some reason snap out of what appears to be a coma in a violent, delirious rage, we will then restrain him to prevent him from injuring us or himself."

He glanced up at Michael. "Feel better now?" His tone wasn't mocking but it was obvious that the comment was meant to mock.

Michael shrugged, still looking uneasy, and glanced up at Archer although he said nothing more. Blair didn't comment on the conversation and instead peered out the back window to ensure that they were not being followed. Although no Janus operatives had been present at the site, it was entirely possible that someone could have been watching it from a distance depending on how long ago they'd abandoned it.

There was another long silence as they continued to work and Boyd watched everything intently, not bothering to speak since they weren't listening to him anyway. His heartbeat and adrenaline still seemed too high, too quick, and he kept darting his gaze back up to Sin's eyes, hoping for some sense of movement but never seeing any.

When Harriet finally finished stitching, she sat up partially and surveyed his body to decide which wound warranted the most attention first. There were severe burn marks that appeared to be oozing pus as well as many other deep lacerations.

"You know," she began mildly. "I'd never seen him in person before. He's not what I expected."

Kassian raised an eyebrow, not looking up. "And what did you expect?"

She shrugged and poked at Sin's legs. "We're going to need to flip him over, he has severe lacerations under both knees." She watched Kassian for a moment, waiting for him to finish. "And I don't know what I expected." Her eyes flicked over to Sin's face, skimming over his full lips, long eyelashes and straight nose before they followed the length of his lanky, muscular body. "Perhaps for him not to look so young and attractive? From all the stories it seemed that he'd look older, meaner."

Kassian snorted but it was Michael who spoke up. "He does look mean. He's all strange-looking in my opinion with those freakish, creepy green eyes."

"Can we stop making Vega out to be some mythical creature already?" Kassian snapped suddenly, seeming more than a little irritated by the direction the conversation was going in. "He's just a fucking man like everyone else and he gets his features from his father who was anything but freakish and creepy. Now change the subject or shut up."

The van fell silent for a few moments and Boyd was uncomfortable enough staying twisted around that he turned to sit normally in his seat, staring out the windows blankly. Kassian had moved just enough that he'd been partially blocking his view of Sin so it wasn't like he could see much anyway. Staring at Sin without being able to reach him was starting to wear on him, as were the conversations they were having around him.

He was glad that Kassian kept calling Sin a man rather than some sort of monster, that someone at least seemed intent on defending him to some extent since he couldn't with them ignoring him. He could also tell that Kassian and Harriet knew what they were doing, so at least he knew Sin was getting the best treatment he could under the circumstances.

A passing building caught Boyd's attention and his eyebrows drew down. He sat up straight to peer out his window before turning toward the front again, searching the nearby streets. He knew this area but it didn't seem a particularly good direction to be driving when they were trying to escape notice. Four blocks away was one of the main stations for the police department, and two down from that was a building that housed some sort of activity he had never fully identified but he did know was official as well as secret.

There were usually plenty of officers hanging around the area and he knew there would be even more now with the word out to stop any Caucasian foreigners who even vaguely met the description of the bomber. He looked over at Archer to see if he seemed ready to turn or knew where they were headed but he seemed more intent on checking for any suspicious activity than he did getting them off that street.

"Take a right here," he said suddenly but Archer ignored him.

They passed the street Boyd would have preferred they turned onto and were quickly headed toward the next. He looked around them, thinking quickly of the best route to keep them clear of any place they probably shouldn't go past just so they didn't push their luck.

There were a few routes in which one had to take a specific street because the surrounding streets were blocked off with construction or were built in a manner that forced them down certain side streets. The next road would work but the one after that wouldn't and at that point they would be going right under the radar of the authorities.

"Turn right here, then," he said urgently as they approached the intersection. When it seemed like Archer wasn't going to listen, the worry over Sin mixed with the frustration of being ignored, causing Boyd to snap. "Archer, fucking turn right! I've been here for eight fucking months and you people won't listen to anything. You're going to take us past the fucking police department and I guarantee they'll notice us. So just listen and--"

Archer calmly turned right at the street Boyd had indicated, though he didn't so much as glance over. For all the world, it was as if he had intended to turn all along and hadn't heard a word he'd said.

Boyd dropped his head back against the seat and squeezed his eyes shut, so frustrated that he couldn't even think for a moment. He couldn't wait until he was back at the Agency just so he could get away from this team. It wasn't like he'd never been ignored before in his life but it was grating on his nerves that they kept doing it in such a tense, nerve-wracking situation, and that they kept pulling him away from Sin like he'd fuck him up more just by being in the vicinity.

After a moment he asked tensely, fully expecting them to ignore him, "Do you people even know how you're getting out of Monterrey?"

"Who hired this child?" Harriet asked calmly, not looking up from Kassian's work.

"Marshal Connors," Archer said.


At first the comment served to escalate Boyd's annoyance, anger and frustration, but somehow the connection to Connors caused him to stop and think about the situation; as if by bringing up Connors' name they were saying he was as bad as him, a concept which irked him. He was silent as he took a moment to try to calm himself.

He didn't think the last two weeks were helping his ability to deal with everything that was happening at the moment, but Kassian had warned him that he wasn't part of the team so it shouldn't be too surprising that they were acting like this. He was usually better about reining in the snappy comments and being more respectful.

He obviously wasn't getting anywhere with the way he'd been acting so he made a conscious effort to try to ignore any extraneous emotions or information and concentrate on what he could affect. It was hard not to get too frustrated or upset. To not let the worry and fear take over and make his tone sharpen and his actions grow hastier.

His fear that Sin would not live after all was causing him to be illogical and was taking away the calm he needed in order to be an asset to the crew rather than a detriment.

He took a moment to draw in a breath and let it out slowly. Judging by Archer's seeming lack of direction, Boyd really didn't think they had any particular idea as to how they were going to escape Monterrey, but he needed to be certain.

He slid his eyes open then twisted so he could look into the back and tried again, more calmly this time. "Senior Agent Trovosky, do you have a plan for how to leave the city?"

Kassian didn't even look up until he'd completed sewing the wound closed. "I have no idea why you would assume that we came here with no knowledge of how to get out. We were able to get in legally and therefore, there was no need to plan an 'escape' since we also have documentation for you. Your condescending sense of self-importance will get you nowhere with me and I suggest you stick to your current attitude if you want your opinions and suggestions to be taken into consideration. If you want Agent Archer to turn in a specific direction, do not presume to bark orders at him. Remember, everyone in this vehicle is technically your superior. Just because they gave you a rank doesn't mean it matters when you take tenure into consideration."

As usual he did not say it in a particularly angry or cruel tone and he held eye contact with Boyd as he wiped his hands on his dark-colored shirt. "Now that being said, we do have a problem."

Boyd's expression didn't flicker and he waited a moment to be certain it was alright for him to say anything. He'd noticed what had been left out of Kassian's explanation. "Even with documentation for me, you don't have any for Sin, nor an explanation for his condition."

"Precisely." Kassian scowled and looked out the window.

"I will be perfectly honest and tell you now that we were told specifically not to search for Vega because they seemed quite sure that he was deceased, with good reason. But I will explain to them that we were following a lead on an alternate location for the enemy's base. However it is because of that reason that they gave us no documentation for him and that is the only way to leave the city at this point, even the country, without making trouble for everyone involved. I also highly doubt that our superiors will look kindly on us instigating a firefight with the Mexican authorities if Vega only ends up dying or if it turns out that he is a vegetable. The only possible scenarios in this situation are to somehow obtain forged documents, which I highly doubt will happen in the span of time needed to get him medical assistance, to leave him here to die, or for us to sneak out of the city without having to go through officials."

He finally glanced over at Boyd again and this time he raised both eyebrows. "Since, as you said, you've been here for nearly a year I assume that you have more knowledge on our chances in two out of three of those options."

Boyd nodded. "I agree that there isn't enough time to create fake documentation," he said seriously. "The quickest person I know would take several hours and he's forty-five minutes in the opposite direction we're headed. However, there are secret passageways in and out of the city. They're all under the jurisdiction of the various black market groups, which is problematic because they're extremely territorial and a few of them are more likely to shoot first and not even ask questions later. But not all of them consistently monitor their passageways and even if we do run into them, with the majority of the groups I believe we have a good chance of success provided we don't anger them. I don't know which route was planned for once we're out of the city, but I could navigate us to a passageway that would be closest to your preplanned destination."

For once no one had any sarcastic comments for him and Kassian replied directly. "Getting out of Mexico won't be the problem. Once we're out of Monterrey I can arrange for a helicopter to pick Vega up somewhere out in the desert. As long as it flies below radar, there should be no issues getting back into the States. However, the helicopter with the highest success rate for remaining unnoticed is not designed to hold seven people, especially not including one who is stretched out on a gurney. Vega will be airlifted accompanied by Harriet and Archer, who is my second in command, and the rest of us will follow the original route and head to Laredo."

As much as Boyd would have preferred to be on the helicopter with Sin, he wasn't about to argue the point after he was finally being taken seriously. And for all that he wanted to go with, he had to admit that as far as planning a mission went, it made most sense for those two to go. It was going to be hell taking the longer route back, wondering the whole time if Sin was alright, but at least he had the clearance to be able to go straight to the medical wing when he returned to the Agency. In the meantime, he would help Sin most by getting them out of Monterrey as soon as possible.

"Understood," he said, considering the information and already thinking of the quickest routes out of the city. "If we're headed to Laredo, I'm assuming we'll ultimately be taking Federal Highway 85 but prior to that we'll need to head toward a secluded location? So we'll probably need to exit somewhere in the North/Northeast section of the city?"

Kassian shrugged. "It depends on the coordinates I get for where they'll be making the pickup." He shifted slightly and pulled out his cell phone to call whoever his contact was. "I'll have the information in a second."

Boyd nodded again. "If they have options, ask if it's possible for the pickup point to be west of Santa Catarina."

Kassian watched him a moment and then turned his attention to the phone, shifting further away from the others as if to gain some modicum of privacy.

When Kassian moved, he gave Boyd a full view of Sin again. It was inevitable that Boyd's gaze dropped to him, running the length of his body as he cataloged every wound, every bruise, painting a mental picture of what had happened during those two weeks they hadn't seen each other. Although he had been having a difficult, stressful time, he'd never once seriously thought that Sin would be any worse off. Now it seemed like such a petty, trivial thing to have been so jealous of the idea of Sin staying at Jessica's. That would have been nothing compared to this.

Kassian's comments earlier haunted him.

Brain damage. A coma. Sin may never wake up.

Boyd felt incredibly sick and wanted to slide his eyes closed, to turn away and rest his head against the seat and try not to dwell on how much that idea terrified him, of how helpless and hopeless it made him feel. But he refused to look away from Sin. No matter how much he may think it hurt to think about what Sin had gone through, Sin had actually experienced it.

He was the one who would have to deal with the consequences of Boyd's bad decision. He was the one who had to pay for that stupid mistake. If Boyd had just fucking gone back to help him, Sin would probably be perfectly healthy and fine right now.

But he hadn't and Sin may never be the same.

The thought made his heart pound, which only intensified as Harriet shifted and gave him a better view of the nasty wounds behind Sin knees.

Although Boyd had been annoyed by the way the others were treating him, he had to admit that he didn't know what he would have done if Kassian's team hadn't arrived. If three days from now he'd waited around at the meeting place and finally, after probably another day of waiting, found Sin by using the GPS.

If he'd walked into that room alone and if Sin really had been dead.

It was a nauseating, overwhelming thought. He had grown accustomed to having Sin around. He honestly didn't know what he would do. Part of him automatically tried to think of contingency plans, to consider the future, the different ways this could go. But each time he started down a path where Sin was dead, it was like he was passing into a blizzard; fuzzing white everywhere, no distinction and nowhere to go.

His thoughts just stopped, frozen.

If Sin died like this... if he was hurt that much and if it was Boyd's fault... If Sin would never smile or laugh or say something sarcastic again, if he'd never be there to tug him closer to kiss him, touch him, fuck him... If his green eyes would never darken in desire or stare at him so intently it was like he could see through his body to his soul... If he'd never talk about his past quietly again, if he'd never run his fingers along Boyd's scars and tell him the one thing he had regretted more than anything else in his life, Lou's death, wasn't actually his fault...

He'd already lost one person who meant more to him than anything. He didn't know what he would do, what he could do, if Sin was suddenly gone too. Sin had to be there. He had to make it.

If he didn't, Boyd was lost.

The sound of Kassian clearing his throat caused Boyd to snap out of his reverie and he looked over to find Kassian staring at him with a peculiar look on his face. The senior agent didn't say a word; he simply slipped the phone back into his pocket and adopted the serious expression he always seemed to wear.

"He accepted the request. The pickup will be off 910 west of 65. The meeting time is at approximately 0330 hours and that gives us," he paused and looked at his watch, "sixty-five minutes."

Boyd nodded, putting the alarming thoughts out of his mind as he concentrated on remembering the closest exit points in that direction and who controlled them. He looked out the front window briefly, searching out the street names as they passed and placing them in context in his mind with the rest of the city.

"Alright," he said after a moment, eyes narrowing faintly. "Good; that may be best overall. It would be more difficult heading directly toward 85 without being caught." He ran through the route in his mind, adjusting for recent construction and areas that were likely to be blocked by authorities, and nodded again to himself. His serious brown eyes shifted to Kassian.

"I'll explain the route as we go but there's an area I know we can head. We'll have to turn the lights off among other things we can discuss closer to the area, but ultimately that will lead us to Santiago's nearest passage. He's a lazy man and barely ever watches his territory so the odds are high in our favor that we'll pass through without incident. Even if his people happen to be there, they're easily bribed and unless someone else in the van speaks Spanish more fluently, I can talk to them. They won't even bother looking into the van or asking questions; they'll just try to talk us out of more of our money. Even with the JKS aftermath, the authorities can't keep a strong presence in that area and they'll never expect foreigners to be able to gain passage.

"We'll pass through the remnants of San Pedro Garza García and Santa Catarina. No one currently lays claim to that territory so we should be unchallenged. That will bring us straight to 910 where we can make the drop off. After that, if we take 1610 it will be the long road around but it's the best way for us to hook back up with 85. Getting out of Monterrey would take us," he thought about that a second, "probably about eighteen to twenty-three minutes if we allow travel time and possibly having to deal with Santiago. But to make it to the drop off, I'd allow forty minutes."

Kassian nodded and glanced over at Archer, who met his eyes in the rear view mirror. "Understood."

When they stopped at the next intersection, Archer leaned over and cut the flexicuffs without saying anything. Boyd looked over at him in surprise and automatically dropped his arms to his lap where he rubbed his wrists. Archer slipped the switchblade back into his belt without a word and Boyd stayed silent, although he gave him a sidelong, grateful look.

After that, his expression automatically turned remote as it always did when he was serious and concentrating on anything related to a mission. He turned his attention to navigating them quickly and unseen through Monterrey. Archer followed his directions without question, although it probably helped that this time Boyd gave him plenty of warning and was not demanding anything.

The city was obviously still on alert around them and more than once they had to pass by a few streets that seemed to have a lot of activity even just half a block away. Each time, Archer simply continued driving without drawing any attention to them and they were not stopped.

Boyd's directions led them away from the areas of the city that seemed more well taken care of and clean. When they turned down one street, even the streetlights seemed to disappear one by one until the streets were almost entirely dark and the only light that could be seen was from the sky and the occasional flickering candle or lamp from a house. The buildings huddled around them, broken and never properly mended, and at first no one was seen.

Graffiti soon took more space than the clean areas of the walls, and broken glass and garbage covered the streets and sidewalks. Animals skittered out of the way of the car while more than one unrecognizable carcass lay mostly eaten and decomposed. Some looked like dogs or cats. Others looked like humans. The crack of gunfire sounded not too far away, echoing in the winding streets that rose and fell beneath the magnitude of the mountains overshadowing the city. Syringes, crumpled papers, and other drug paraphernalia tumbled across the street as the only sign of movement.

There was no question in anyone's mind that this was the worst neighborhood in the city. It looked more than abandoned; it looked denied.

They were heading into the heart of the neighborhood when a large group of people appeared from the darkness suddenly, sliding into existence like ghosts. They walked right up to the vehicle even as it kept moving. Their clothing was ratty and dirty, falling off their too-thin bodies while they held their hands out imploringly. Archer continued to drive slowly but there was a point when Boyd told him to take a right, yet the people were crowding the street, making it impossible for them to keep going without hitting anyone.

Boyd made a soft noise of discontent then glanced over his shoulder at Kassian. "Is it alright if I handle this?" he asked and waited for Kassian to flick his gaze out to the group of people then return to him with a nod.

"Please stop for a moment, Archer," Boyd said before turning to roll his window down just enough to let their beseeching voices drift in.

It was eerie; in the dark of the night, they seemed like ghosts who had appeared from the edges of vision to crowd around the van as if hoping it would lead them back to life. There were mostly women and children although a few of them were older with grey hair. They raised their voices in supplication when they realized he could hear them and they saw that they'd stopped.

He knew this group of people; they stopped passersby, pleading for help, mercy and hope, and if they were given any of it they swarmed in, taking everything. It wasn't that they were cruel or bad people; they were simply desperate, without proper money or food or even shelter, and anyone who drifted into their territory risked falling prey to them. They were also charged with guarding some of the exits. The smuggling groups brought them what resources they could in return for them warding off anyone who just happened to be passing by.

This was the area of the city that had once been overtaken so completely by drug dealers that the government couldn't step in. This was the area of the city so destroyed by time, war, and the cruelty of humans that the people who were left made even the drug dealers shy away and find another area to haunt.

It had taken him several months of earning Jorge's trust, but eventually he had brought Boyd straight through Independencia; what Jorge called 'the land of the lost.' The people had run their hands along Boyd's skin, his hair, whispering things just behind him while fingers caught on his clothing then disappeared when Jorge barked something in Spanish.

Jorge told him that if he ever ran into them, there were certain rules to follow. Never give them anything, never take anything from them. Never get out of the car, never walk alone. Never anger or insult them.

"No estamos aquí para hacer daño," Boyd told them. Jorge had told him the code words to use if he was ever in this situation. It wasn't a guarantee, but it would give him a chance.

Words fell over one another in a susurration. In the darkness he couldn't see anyone's mouth moving; couldn't see who was speaking. Just an eruption of voices surrounding them, fading in and out of the shadows, with every face turned toward them unnervingly pale and motionless in the night.

"¿Por qué están aquí?"

"Mis hijos se mueren de hambre-- ¿se ofenden, pero no llevar comida? ¿Agua..?"


"¿Por qué has venido?"

"Mi familia se está muriendo--"

"¿Qué quieren ustedes?"

"¿Desean para el paso?"

"¿Qué quieren de nosotros?"

"--han venido a llevárselos--"

They were moving closer, hands raising from the shadows to slide along the vehicle; catching on the handles and pressing against the glass. Faint scratching sounds could be heard from the back, followed by a sudden thump toward the front. And their faces; eyes like black holes with mouths that gaped and then didn't move.

Boyd carefully stayed out of their reach and searched out the crowd nearest. He saw a woman he thought might be in charge based on the way the crowd moved around her, and the flat solemnity in the dark eyes that remained, unwavering, on him.

"Nos dieron este camino en un sueño," he said as he met her eyes.

The voices didn't stop rising and falling around them but it seemed to quiet somehow. She watched him evenly, a hard edge to her silhouette that lent harshness to her half-hidden expression. It seemed she would not react but then, just as the tension was building in Boyd's shoulders and he wondered whether he had chosen the wrong person to address, she stepped forward. The light played across her features; brushing the end of her nose and falling across her cheekbones but getting lost in her eyes and the lines that prematurely aged her face.

"¿Qué le dijeron?"

Her voice was a rumble; rough on the edges and hardly loud enough to overcome the pleads and demands of her companions.

"Que por su gracia que pasaría con seguridad," Boyd answered. "Y debemos buscar Cristóbal."

The woman's eyes narrowed faintly; a flicker of pale light off the whites of her eyes. Her face was as unmovable as a weathered statue when she murmured, "¿Lo ves?"

Boyd didn't even bother to glance past the woman; he simply shook his head. "Él ha ido antes que nosotros para despejar el camino."

Her dark stare remained on him, so consuming and unreadable that Boyd could not look away. There was another stretch of uncertainty, this time quieter as the voices disappeared and the faint scratching faded and, ultimately, vanished.

In that moment, she simply nodded and stepped backward.

The fall of shadows covered her completely and when Boyd glanced around, he saw they were suddenly alone on the street. The neighborhood looked as empty and untouched as a graveyard, with no indication that anyone had lived there for decades, let alone had been in the street moments ago.

In the back of the van, Blair muttered with a shudder, "Creepy."

Boyd glanced at Archer silently, who nodded and began to drive again. The buildings were dark and foreboding around them as the rolled quietly through the streets. After a point, Boyd instructed Archer to turn his headlights off as he talked him through a rather complicated route until they finally arrived at the base of a large, crumbling wall.

"I'll be right back."

Boyd silently left the vehicle and, with a glance around to see if anyone was watching, ran up to the wall and after a few moments of searching in the dark, found the edge of the gate they would have to pass through. Despite looking derelict and completely abandoned, the gate opened soundlessly. It was maintained that way because it hardly made sense to have an entrance to a secret passage that squealed horrendously any time anyone tried to use it.

He slipped through the shadows back to the driver's side as Archer cracked the window just enough to hear his whisper to pull forward and leave the lights off until he could shut the gate behind them. The van's tires made a soft noise as they rolled across the pavement and within moments the van was encased in the even darker tunnel. Boyd shut the gate behind them then got back in the vehicle.

They were encased in darkness that Boyd had barely been able to see through enough to even get back to the van. There was no way they'd be able to navigate without some sort of light, so Archer flipped the headlights on and started driving again. The walls rose around them, stone blocks that didn't seem to match up properly with vines growing along the sides. The tunnel was tall enough to hold a van and wide enough for a few across but it would have been pushing it to try to get a tall bus inside. The ceiling was low enough that they could see it barely illuminated by the fading edges of the headlights. More vines hung from the arched ceiling, appearing suddenly from the gloom like pale green tendrils of spiderwebs that trailed along the windows and made soft sliding noises along the roof of the van.

It was utterly silent inside, like the shadows were eating away slowly at sound itself. Time seemed to stretch and slow, dragging out endlessly in the hidden passage completely removed from the realm of the rest of the city. Taken in context with the ghostly people earlier, it seemed like they were passing through a forgotten land between death and life.

Boyd watched ahead, searching for any sign that Santiago's crew was around, while Blair stared out the back doors and whispered suddenly, "This place is creepy."

"Let's just--"

Before Kassian could say more, a sudden high-pitched gasp caused him to stop in mid-sentence and everyone's eyes snapped down to Sin in surprise.

At first it wasn't immediately clear what was wrong with him-- it was difficult to see him in the gloom, difficult to make out his features as strange wheezing sounds and strangled gasps escaped his mouth. But then Kassian flicked on the dome light and Sin's face was illuminated, seeming pastier than it had less than an hour ago. His eyes were still not open, eyebrows not so much as twitching, but he continued to gasp as though he could not breathe. Before anyone could comment he began to twitch and jerk violently.

Boyd's eyes widened at the sight and Archer snapped one arm out between the seats just in time to stop him from trying to jump into the back. Archer's other hand remained on the wheel and he suddenly pulled the van to the side and parked it.

"What's wrong with him?" Boyd asked in rising alarm, trying to get back there but Archer just grabbed onto him and held him in the seat. Boyd twisted to look back at what was happening. Archer kept him still despite his automatic attempt to struggle away, to get closer to Sin while he watched him in horror.

"He's having a seizure," Harriet barked, expression twisted in confusion and concern as she automatically moved to cradle his head. Sin's whole body began to jerk, muscles spasming wildly as a sheen of sweat appeared on his forehead. "He has a high fever-- he's had one but it's worse now an--"

"Can't you do something?" Michael asked, eyes narrowed as he stared down at Sin in alarm. Behind him, Blair's eyes were wide and slightly haunted as he stared at Sin.

"No." She shook her head, looking helpless. "We just have to wait until he--"

Sin's movements grew more violent, more intense and chaotic, and for a moment it seemed that he would rip his arms out of the splints, that the movements were so uncontrollable that he'd injure his tentatively set bones even more. But then suddenly-- with one final, wheezing gasp-- all motion stopped and he collapsed against the gurney again.

But this time, it was wrong. This time the stillness was unnatural and when his head lolled to the side like a broken ragdoll, everyone froze.

"Fuck." Kassian scooted forward instantly from his position at the back window and shoved Harriet out of the way, frantically checking for a pulse as he grabbed at Sin's wrist. "His fuckin--" He broke off and leaned down lower, eyebrows knotted. "He's not breathing, his heart stopped."

"What the fuck!" Boyd yelled immediately, frantically trying to get past Archer's grip. "Help him!"

"Begin CPR!" Kassian looked up at Michael, who had the best access at the moment. But Michael hesitated, eyes focused on the blood that stained Sin's lips and his eyes flicked back up to Kassian uncertainly.

"Now!" Kassian shouted, voice bouncing around the silent vehicle strangely. When Michael still did not move, Kassian growled in disgust and jumped up-- shoving him violently out of the way as he began attempting to resuscitate Sin himself. He pinched Sin's nose between his fingers, breathing air into his mouth before pressing down on his chest hurriedly as he struggled to get the oxygen flowing again.

Nothing happened and Kassian swore softly, tilting Sin's head back and holding it in place with one hand as he moved to seal their mouths together once more. He breathed in, glanced down at Sin's chest, and then breathed again before sitting up to do another hurried set of compressions. Once again, nothing happened, and he became visibly agitated.

"Come on you fucking punk," he snapped at Sin impatiently and began mouth-to-mouth for the third time.

No one moved, no one spoke, and everyone just watched Kassian work.

Boyd couldn't get away so he stilled suddenly against Archer's grip, his heart thundering as he stared helplessly at Sin's pale, unmoving body. His hands were resting on Archer's arm to push him away but now he dug his fingers into the skin painfully, barely daring to breathe as if somehow the air in his lungs would be transferred to Sin's.

What seemed like several moments passed and as Kassian finished the fifth cycle and started on the sixth, Harriet put a hand on his shoulder. "Kassian, he's dead. Just stop."

Boyd would have turned a cold, furious glare on her if he wasn't completely absorbed in watching Kassian work. He thought in distant, frantic fear that somehow looking away would mean he abandoned Sin again.

"He's too stupid to die," Kassian muttered stubbornly and breathed into his mouth once more, then again, before sitting up and doing a violent set of compressions. "Come on," he growled, almost seeming angry, pressing down on the center of Sin's chest hurriedly. "Come the fuck on, Vega. How am I ever going to win a fight with you if you just fucking die?"

Nothing happened and it really did begin to look hopeless. But Kassian refused to give up, even as his teammates began shooting each other mildly concerned looks about his own state of mind. But then Kassian practically punched Sin in the middle of his chest and--

Suddenly there was a low, hoarse gasp, and Sin began breathing once again.

"Jesus fucking Christ," Boyd whispered shakily, trembling as he slumped against the seat, his hands still holding onto Archer's arm tightly as if it was some sort of anchor. He stayed in a position so he could watch Sin's chest as it rose and fell, a deep sense of paranoia growing within him that each time would be the last.

Before he had a chance to do anything more, white light abruptly flooded around them, throwing stark relief on the inside of the van and making Sin look even sicklier. Everyone's heads snapped up and Kassian looked at Archer immediately; from his view, he couldn't see anything.

Archer looked out the windshield, finally letting Boyd go so he could shade his eyes as he peered into the bright light bathing them from in front of the van. Three trucks blocked their way completely, their headlights set to bright. Dark figures of several men were silhouetted against the light, their shadows long and casting odd blind spots across the ground as they stood there aiming assault rifles at the van.

Boyd whipped around, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the sudden light while his heartbeat and adrenaline increased with a violent jolt that shook through his body. He could barely see anything so he squinted, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. He knew for a fact Santiago wouldn't have that many people with him at once and they certainly wouldn't

use their brights. They were the type to use flashlights and big words, sauntering up to the side of the vehicle before they bothered saying anything at all.

"We have company," Archer informed them calmly as he slid one hand to his waist to clear his gun from the holster. "Armed, M4s. Ten men, three trucks, the others are filled but the front is empty aside from two men. Probably thirty men in all."

Kassian stared at him incredulously before his gaze snapped over to Boyd. "I thought you said this tunnel belonged to some pushover?" he demanded, voice no longer holding the calm, controlled quality that it had earlier. The situation finally appeared to be affecting him as much as it did Boyd. In the bright lights of the truck, his bloodshot eyes and the dark circles under them became visible for the first time that night. The man looked as exhausted as Boyd.

"That's not--" Boyd started to say but he was finally able to make out the side of the truck. '4FF' was painted in bright yellow letters along the doors and he felt his heart nearly stop.

"Fuck!" he yelled viciously and without stopping to explain anything he suddenly threw himself out of the van, holding his hands up as he peered through the light at the front truck.

The men aimed their guns at him immediately, appearing to be on the verge of shooting when a man's voice called out casually, "Paren."

There was a long pause as the men continued to aim their rifles at Boyd and he continued to stand there awkwardly with his hands in the air. After a moment, the passenger side of the truck was kicked open and a tall, muscular figure jumped out. The man turned towards Boyd and sauntered over to him casually, thumbs hooked into the loops of his pants as he went. There was no doubt in Boyd's mind as to who he was; the almost cocky stride gave it away entirely.

Lo más chingón's figure appeared more clearly as he came closer although he was still mostly shadowed by the lights of the truck. He wore a wide brimmed hat pulled down so low that it completely hid his eyes and a black and gold scarf which was pulled over the lower half of his face. It was looped over his ears and hanging down the front of his shirt, making him look like some kind of Wild West Mexican bandit straight out of old movies.

It seemed that Jorge had been right when he'd said the man was paranoid about showing his identity if he was wearing that getup in the heat.

He wore a loose, white shirt rolled up to his elbows which showed a strange tattoo that entirely encased one forearm although the shadows and darkness made it impossible to see exactly what it was. His fingers were adorned with chunky rings of silver and turquoise and his scuffed combat boots came all the way up to his knees, encasing his faded leather clad legs. A gun sat on either side of his hips in a low hanging ammunition belt and a large hunting knife could be seen strapped to one leg although Boyd knew for a fact that he carried several more somewhere on his person.

He didn't stop walking until he was standing directly in front of Boyd.

Boyd stayed still, keeping his hands held up harmlessly as he peered at him although he couldn't see his expression at all. Between the man being silhouetted and the bright lights, it was too hard to focus on him. His heart was pounding from adrenaline and stress but he didn't say or do anything, opting instead to wait for Lo más chingón to make the first move. It was just his fucking luck that of all the people to take over Santiago's passage and happen to be using it while they were trying to flee the city with Sin in critical condition, it had to be Lo más chingón who appeared.

Lo más chingón was completely silent as he stared at Boyd for several long moments but then his arm suddenly shot out, fingers gripping his chin as he turned Boyd's face from side to side.

"Awww, qué lindo," he cooed. "¿Lo que pasó a tu pelirrojo bonito?" He clucked his tongue as if he were trying to get the attention of a stubborn pet. He examined Boyd's now-dark hair without a trace of the red left.

"No lo quise más," Boyd answered, letting Lo más chingón move him however he wanted.

The man made a disapproving sound. "Qué vergüenza," he said mildly. "Tenías cierto estilo antes." His grip tightened painfully and Boyd could practically feel the glare radiating from under the brim of his hat. "Now tell me what the fuck you're doing in my tunnel. And don't answer in Spanish. Your accent is one of the worst I've heard in awhile, blanquito."

"I didn't know it was your tunnel," Boyd said calmly despite the tension increasing at the glare. He didn't want this to end terribly; they desperately needed to get out of there, Sin didn't have time for him to fuck this up by angering Lo más chingón before they could even leave Monterrey. His expression and body language stayed carefully blank and without any sense of challenge. "It was Santiago's a month ago."

If it weren't for the scarf covering his face, Boyd would have been sure that Lo más chingón's mouth had curled into a roguish smile as he responded in a low purr, "A lot changes in a month, chico. I made Santiago the nonfactor that he always was."

"I can see that," Boyd said and though there was nothing disrespectful or demanding in his tone, it was clear he felt a sense of urgency. "I'm sorry we inadvertently entered your territory but we have an injured colleague and he needs immediate medical assistance. We were on our way to save him."

There was another long pause and Lo más chingón released his chin, looking up and surveying the surrounding area as though he were waiting for someone else to appear. When he didn't find whatever he was looking for, he shouted something back at his men in Spanish and the closest one tossed him a flashlight. Lo más chingón caught it without even looking back and studied Boyd for another stretch before shifting and walking past him, shoulder brushing against him almost rudely.

"Well, what do we have here?" he asked mildly, speaking loud enough for everyone in the van to hear him. "A van full of unemployed artists in SWAT gear perhaps? Or is this a kinky maricon costume party?" He stopped in front of the open van door and shone the flashlight in Archer's face. "Hi."

Archer's eyes narrowed and he kept his hand near his gun, though he didn't bother answering.

"Goodness," Lo más chingón drawled in mock concern. "Your friends are mighty aggressive, chico. Perhaps you should teach them some manners before I begin to feel offended." He tsk tsk'd at Archer, appearing highly amused by the entire situation, and shone the flashlight toward Harriet and Kassian, who could be seen peering through the space between the front seats. The beam of light stayed on Kassian's unflinching face for a long moment before finally sliding away to hover on Harriet. "Mmmm. Who knew there would be such an attractive woman with this group of gringos," he said in an almost scandalized tone. "You should come be in my gang. I'll even give you a nickname. How do you feel about La Chingada?"

Harriet made a face at him. "I know enough Spanish to tell you quite confidently that I'll never be fucked by you, buddy."

Lo más chingón laughed, seeming genuinely amused, and tilted his head to the side. "I love a woman with spirit. What fun are they if they don't put up a fight?" He gazed at her for another long moment before shifting the flashlight to whatever he could view of the vehicle from the angle he stood at. "Now why do I think I'm not seeing everyone?"

Boyd tensed, watching Lo más chingón closely as he approached the side door. "I already told you we have an injured colleague," he said calmly, taking a step closer to him.

The man didn't respond and reached for the handle, sliding the door open so that Blair, Michael and Sin's prone body were all in full view.

Lo más chingón barely had a chance to see inside before Boyd suddenly slid between him and the open door, his back straight and gaze intense. There was something almost protective about the way he stood there between Sin and Lo más chingón and even though he didn't seem to be challenging him, there was a warning in his eyes.

The taller man stared at him silently for a long moment. "Move."

Boyd didn't say anything but it was clear he had absolutely no intention of following the order.

There was another tense stretch of silence but this one was broken by a handgun suddenly appearing in Lo más chingón's hand a portion of a second before he pressed it between Boyd's eyes. "I said move." The humor was completely gone from his voice and for the first time he sounded completely serious. A deadly threat was evident in his tone.

"I heard you the first time." Boyd didn't even flinch although his eyes did narrow. There was no fear in his face; only determination.

"Hmm." Lo más chingón tilted his head to the side, letting the muzzle of the gun slide against Boyd's face like a caress. "How very brave," he drawled softly. "Are you brave enough to die protecting your... colleague?" The way the word rolled off his tongue clearly implied that he knew Sin was more than just that.

"Pull the trigger and find out," Boyd said unflinchingly.

The man made a sound in the back of his throat that seemed like a mixture of amusement and disgust. "How sweet," he said, tone heavy with sarcasm. "But unfortunately your gesture would be highly unnecessary as I do not consider myself to be a scavenger." He pressed the gun against Boyd's face harder. "I don't attack the weak or the dying. Now move out of the way or I really will blow your fucking brains out since you are obviously neither."

Boyd hesitated, giving Lo más chingón a strange look at the comment. Even though he would never say he could trust this man, he did still stand by his initial impression that he could probably take him at his word. Considering the fact that he'd had multiple times to kill Boyd and he hadn't, he didn't believe Lo más chingón would actually shoot Sin. It was, more than anything, his need to protect Sin from anyone else who could potentially hurt him. It was the fact that since they'd found Sin, Boyd had been held away, able only to watch, incapable of doing anything to help. After a moment, he stepped to the side enough for Lo más chingón to get past him.

The man shone the flashlight into the van just enough to illuminate Blair's alarmed, deer caught in the headlights stare and Michael's blank look of confusion and surprise. However the beam didn't stay on them for long before finally dropping to Sin. Lo más chingón kept the light trained on his pale, slack face for a moment before sliding it along the entire length of his body. He seemed to focus on every major wound, on each of his broken limbs before finally returning it to his face.

The moment stretched for quite awhile until Kassian shifted in the van and stared at Lo más chingón with narrowed eyes. "I think we're done here," he said to the man flatly, obviously more than tired of the games.

Lo más chingón didn't respond, didn't even seem to register that Kassian had spoken, but he finally turned away from Sin and focused on Boyd once again. "You should take better care of your toys, chico," he said mildly.

"He's not my toy," Boyd said, watching him with an unwavering gaze.

Lo más chingón watched him for a moment without replying before he gave a languid, one shouldered shrug. "Whatever you say." Although Boyd couldn't see the man's eyes, he had no doubt that they were staring intently into his own. For awhile it didn't seem entirely obvious what would happen, what the man would do, but then he tucked his gun away and hooked his thumbs in the loops of his belt again. "One more strike and you're out. ¿Comprende?"

Boyd nodded. "I won't get in your way again."

The man nodded, shrugged again, and began to stroll casually away.

There had been any number of sarcastic comments that had come to mind during the course of the conversation, but Boyd had stopped himself so that he wouldn't offend him. But he couldn't help it this time; it was probably a combination of his frayed nerves, his tiredness, and the relief that the man was going and that they'd be able to get Sin out.

"Sorry for interrupting your clandestine overnight bread delivery. Hopefully it won't ruin too many breakfasts," he said suddenly.

Lo más chingón paused mid-stride and turned towards Boyd in a manner that was obviously incredulous. He stared at him for a long moment before reaching out to almost casually shove Boyd into the side of the van. "You're an idiot." His tone was a mixture of amusement and something not as identifiable.

He shook his head and strode towards his truck, gesturing at his men vaguely although they seemed to understand since they immediately lowered their weapons. Lo más chingón yanked the passenger side door open again and slammed it behind him, leaning out the window and pounding his hand against the side of the truck. "¡Vámanos muchachos!"

The men jumped back into the front truck while the vehicle engines revved and in a single file they drove past the van without another incident. Boyd stared as they passed, watching Lo más chingón in the front truck. However before it passed him entirely, it slowed down and the smuggler leaned out the window to stare down at him for a moment before jerking his thumb towards the South. "Beware Laguna de Sánchez, boy. Some people there wouldn't be too fond of the company you keep."

The truck took off before Boyd had a chance to reply. He watched the taillights disappear down the tunnel before moving back towards the van. He had only vaguely heard of Laguna de Sánchez, but he knew enough to realize they wouldn't be headed in that direction anyway. It was an odd thing for Lo más chingón to say, but it fit him somehow. The man was so strange and although there were any number of things that caught his attention when they interacted, he was frankly too exhausted to even try to decipher any of it at the moment.

He shut the side door on the van and strode around the front. He hopped back into the passenger seat, shutting the door behind him. Archer was already putting the van back in gear and resumed their course as if nothing had stopped them. Boyd stared blankly out the windshield, feeling jittery and a little scattered with all the adrenaline spikes he'd been experiencing that day and the lack of proper sleep he'd had the last two weeks.

After several long moments of stunned silence, someone broke it. "What in the hell was that?" Kassian demanded in a tone that implied he couldn't quite believe the entire incident had actually occurred. "Wha-- Boyd. Who the hell was that?" It was the first time the man had used his first name and Boyd wasn't quite sure what that meant exactly.

"The leader of the most successful and, probably, dangerous smuggling group in Monterrey," Boyd explained, his tone tired, although he kept it professional. He turned his head so he could see Kassian, his expression unreadable. "He deals pretty much anything he wants, though I believe it's primarily weapons, and sells to the highest bidder. The locals won't touch him and I've heard of very few underground groups that would stand up to him. He calls himself lo más Lo más chingón and marks his property with '4FF.'"

Kassian stared at him for a moment and then glanced out the back window where he could see the barest glimmer of lights disappearing down the tunnel. "And how did you come to know this man?"

"He caught me staking out one of his bases." He said it simply, not bothering to defend the fact that as an agent that was sloppy work.

Again, Kassian stared at him for a stretch before speaking. "Why did he seem completely unsurprised to see... everything that he saw inside of this van?"

"I don't know," Boyd admitted. "He knows Sin exists but just as Jason Alvarez. I came off as interested in shady deals so he may have just assumed you were an underground group I was working with. Or it may just be his personality; he's strange and not very predictable."

"Strange is right," Michael muttered, shaking his head.

Kassian's eyes slid over to Michael and the expression on his face was anything but pleasant. "Let's just get the hell out of here," he said to no one in particular and pressed his back against the side of the van, with his arms crossed over his chest.

Boyd looked down at Sin, studying him intently to make certain he could see he was still breathing, that nothing had changed while he was outside the van. Although he still looked as sickly and lifeless as ever, at least he was alive.

Even so, the tension wouldn't leave his shoulders. He didn't know if the delay with Lo más chingón had been too long; if they'd still be able to make it to the meeting place on time; if Sin would have another seizure; if that seizure meant that there had been too much damage to his brain for him to even recover in the future...

And what if his heart stopped beating again? He knew the image of Sin lying there, completely unmoving and unresponsive while Kassian desperately did CPR, was going to haunt him for a long time. He looked up to see Kassian watching him; they met eyes for a moment, neither saying anything nor giving their thoughts away in their expressions. Boyd broke the look by turning toward the front in case Archer needed him for navigation.

The van fell silent as Archer quickly drove the rest of the way out of the tunnel. They had to stop briefly for Boyd to open the gate on the other end of the tunnel while he also checked for anyone watching.

At least one part of Boyd's predictions had come true; there was no presence of the Mexican authorities in that area and they were able to drive straight into the night without further incidents.

Continue to Chapter 39