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-Nine

As Archer increased the speed and they drove straight into the desert, the van jolted around more frequently. Boyd couldn't help looking back any time he thought Sin may be hurt more in the movement, but each time he saw the other four carefully holding him in place, protecting him from the shock of movement as much as possible. It gave him enough peace of mind to return his attention to watching for any danger and checking the map to be certain they were on course. They made good time once they were completely free of the city and any surrounding large roads. Archer sped the entire way and Sin's health seemed to have returned to the tenuous stability of when they'd first discovered him.

Even so, the drive seemed to take forever.

Sometimes the undercarriage of the van scraped against something on the ground, a quick high-pitched noise that caused Boyd's heart to leap and throat to close each time, thinking Sin was going to have another seizure. But Sin was always just jostling with the movement of the van and the other four were always holding him still.

Once in awhile, he would see Kassian watching him before he looked away, and other times he noticed Blair's eyes, dark and intense as always, looking up from the back of the van. The silence lengthened and strengthened around them and Boyd let it pass over him. He tried to let it build silence in his mind as well, to take away the extra emotions that caused paranoia and fear to erupt each time he thought he was hearing Sin die again.

It was an impossible task, really, but he at least had other things to concentrate on. In his peripheral vision, Archer's expression seemed perpetually calm and in control. And, somehow, it was reassuring because of that. Even though they sped through the dark alarmingly quickly, Boyd couldn't help feeling like it was taking too long. Like they were inching along while time ran out. The sentiment seemed to be shared by the others in the van, judging by the intense silence and the tension that could be seen in all of them.

The meeting spot was just another part of the landscape and would have blended in completely if it weren't for the dark, sleek helicopter waiting on the ground. Relief threatened to darken the edges of Boyd's vision at the sight and he released the breath he hadn't even known he was holding.

Archer's eyes narrowed and he spun the van around quickly to get the back of it closest to the helicopter. They hadn't even parked for a second before Blair and Kassian jumped out the back and pushed the doors wide open. Blair grabbed one end of the gurney and Michael took the front by Sin's head. They pulled it out then quickly wheeled it over to the helicopter while Harriet moved alongside, still working on Sin without even so much as looking around her.

Boyd jumped out of the van and started to follow but he stopped at the back of the van, hovering there and staring worriedly as Sin was slowly engulfed by the darkness. He wanted to get closer, he wanted to make certain he was alright, but he knew it would only delay help longer so he stayed still and crossed his arms tightly. Kassian stood to the side near him, watching the scene closely with a strange, unreadable look on his face that seemed on the verge of anger.

Archer strode around the van, heading toward the helicopter and ignoring the pilot who leaned out the open door in the cockpit with a sarcastic, "Hey, glad you girls finally joined the party! Don't worry, I've only burned five minutes of fuel; that'll only cost a few thousand bucks."

A medical assistant was there with equipment already set up and she leaned out the back, helping them as they loaded Sin into the helicopter. Blair stepped out of the way, watching intently as the gurney disappeared into helicopter, then turned to walk toward the front.

"Hey Blair," the pilot said loudly over the noise of the rotor blades as he approached. "You couldn't tell them to make the meeting point more interesting?"

"You should bring the interesting with you, Jim," Blair informed him, staring up at Jim as he lounged in the pilot's seat.

Jim snorted. "I did bring something interesting-- my complete lack of fucking patience. I was in the middle of one of those hoagies from Brownie's, you know, where they actually fucking heat it up," he said it with pointed anger, favoring Blair with a glare, "when I'm told to come medevac that crazy bastard. I didn't even get the chance to finish it, and don't try to fucking tell me it'll keep or heat up as good, I've tried that hundreds of time and it just tastes like shit. There's a prime time to eat it and it's gotta be all at once or the whole thing's ruined. Then I get here, and I gotta wait anyway! You know, five minutes would've given me plenty of time to finish. Instead, I had to sit here staring at this wasteland."

"Hmm." Blair considered this for a long moment before he frowned. "You beat me on the last test."

"Barely," Jim said dismissively, looking distractedly toward the back. "Hey, go tell them to hurry the fuck up. We don't got the resources to sit on our asses waiting for Jamie to take for-fucking-ever putting a single man into a pre-prepped area!" His voice rose by the end, loud enough for everyone in back to hear. He received no answer and scowled, turning back to Blair. "Not like she'd fucking listen anyway. She was bitching the whole time over 'cause I played my music too loud. Like she's got any fucking right-- she listens to opera for chrissakes. That shit would've put me to sleep and we would've crashed long before we made it."

"Oh, you got the radio working?" Blair asked, perking up. He started to step into the cockpit, apparently not bothered by the fact that this meant he had to crawl onto Jim, but before he could get a very good view of anything they suddenly heard Jamie yell from the back, "Jim, we're green -- Go!"

"I'll fucking go when I want!" Jim shouted back at her in annoyance, but he sighed when he turned toward the front and gave Blair a look.

Blair crawled backwards out the open door and dropped down to the ground, looking disappointed. "I'll never see it in action. Tammy keeps stealing the boomcopter when I'm around."

"Well, this ain't near that shit yet," Jim said with a shrug. "The stereo system in the boomcop vibrates the whole thing, though. When you're flying, it's like you're in some crazy fucking turbulence when it's really just the bass."

"I know, I've heard the stories and I've decided they all hate me," Blair said with a frown.

"The stories?" Jim asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Everything," Blair said without blinking.

Jim snorted and Jamie suddenly slammed on the wall. "Jim, fucking go already!" she shouted furiously.

"What's her problem, it's not like they don't got all the shit they need back there anyway," Jim grumbled, though he sat up straight and started checking the instruments. "All day long, hurry up and wait, hurry up and fucking wait. Two hours in line at Brownie's and I didn't even get to spend three minutes in heaven." He reached to shut the door then paused, looking at Blair. "Hey, by the way, you're coming over Saturday night for beer and the nastiest barbeque ribs you ever ate. And you're gonna love it 'cause Nellie's making it and it's my ass if anyone says shit about it."

"Okay. I'll just mark 'puking' in my calendar in the following slot," Blair informed him and Jim laughed.

"About fucking right," Jim said, pleased, and grinned at Blair as he shut the door.

Blair was the last one standing near the helicopter so he quickly got out of the way, ending up near Boyd as they squinted through the sand and dust kicked up in the powerful winds created by the rotor blades. The helicopter rose into the air, turned toward the North, and quickly disappeared into the darkness of the sky.

Boyd stared at it, not even realizing that his arms tightened across stomach, barely aware of anything around him. He'd been watching Sin so closely, staring at any bit of him he could see between the people working on him, that it was like nothing else existed. It wasn't until the helicopter was gone and he couldn't see him anymore, not even the helicopter he was in, that he realized his heart was pounding heavily, his body felt shaky, and he felt completely helpless.

The night was heavy and silent around him, making it too difficult to think, and it took him a few seconds to realize that no one was around him.

"Hey, Boyd," a voice said behind him suddenly and he turned to see Blair sticking his head out the back door of the van. He glanced up at the sky then at Boyd again, his expression shadowed but somehow sympathetic. "We're leaving."

Boyd stared at him a moment, the words not totally registering, before he nodded and ran his hand through his hair. "Alright," he said calmly and crawled into the back of the van. Blair shut the door behind them and Kassian glanced briefly into the rear view mirror at them before he started the van and they drove quickly across the desert.

The ride was a blur to Boyd; he rocked with the movement of the van and found himself staring blankly at the floor in the back. The four of them were silent in the van and the only time he glanced up briefly was because they swerved suddenly. When he looked at Kassian he saw that the man's expression seemed to be growing angrier by the minute. Returning his gaze to the floor, Boyd just took his bulletproof vest off then drew his knees up to his chest and rested his head against his forearms.

He felt sick; from emotional and adrenaline overload, too little sleep and food, probable dehydration, and simply the fact that he had been up for too many hours and a headache was starting to form. He couldn't stop thinking about Sin, about how he'd looked, about the torture. It pulled at him and made his heart actually hurt as if it could somehow feel a vestige of the pain Sin had been through.

They made it across the Mexican border with no difficulty at all due to their documentation and it seemed like no time before they crowded onto the Agency plane that was waiting for them in Texas. It was a small plane, although it was big enough to have two compartments, rather like coach and first class. They all loaded their gear into the correct area and moved into the back of the plane. There were short rows of seats against each wall and when they sat down, they had no choice but to face each other. There was a slight delay before take off and the pilot informed them that the flight would be approximately three hours long.

There was complete, almost awkward silence. It stayed that way until they were finally in the air. At that point Kassian's gaze snapped over to Michael and the tension that had been building in him since the incident in the tunnel seemed to boil over. "Who gave you medic training, Alvarado?"

Michael looked up, startled. "What?"

Kassian grit his teeth and took a slow, calming breath. "I said. Who gave you medic training."

"Wh--" Michael hesitated and glanced over at Blair and Boyd before returning his gaze to Kassian. "Smith did, sir. Franklin Smith."

"Franklin Smith," Kassian repeated, blue eyes like chips of ice as he stared. "And did Franklin Smith train you to let men die because of your personal feelings about them or is that something you just made up on the fly?"

Blair studiously looked away and Boyd watched the exchange with a blank, slightly distant expression on his face.

"What th-- I didn't-- What are you--" Michael broke off, indignation and confusion evident on his face as he finally looked Kassian directly in the eye. "I don't know what you mean, sir."

Kassian seemed to lose patience finally and he leaned towards Michael, his mouth turned down in a scowl. "Are you senile and stupid or just plain stupid?" he snapped. "I gave you an order and you ignored it. You looked at me like I was speaking a foreign fucking language when I told you to give Vega CPR. Do you think that's the kind of man I want on my team? The kind of man who would let an ally die?"

The indignation melted off Michael's face and was replaced by an expression of pure guilt. "I--I--I-- It's not that I didn't want to, it's just--"

"You--you--you," Kassian repeated in an obviously mocking tone this time. It seemed that exhaustion and stress had finally brought him to the point where he couldn't or wouldn't remain neutral anymore. "You what?"

"He had blood in his mouth!" Michael blurted out suddenly.

Kassian's eyebrows drew together and he actually blinked in confusion. "...And?" He shook his head slowly. "And you're... afraid of blood? And you've suddenly turned into an eight year old girl?" His voice rose slightly and confusion gave way to impatience. "And what, Alvarado? Please enlighten me as to what the hell that has to do with anything. The man was covered in blood the whole time he was in our care."

"Well excuse me if I didn't want his blood in my mouth!" Michael practically yelled. "You know what they say-- I mean..." His eyes flicked over to Boyd in an embarrassed, almost apologetic way. "You know what they say about the two of them..."

Boyd felt struck by the words but kept his gaze blank.

There was a long, incredulous silence and then understanding dawned on Kassian's face. "Do you mean to tell me that you didn't give Agent Vega CPR because he had blood in his mouth and so because of the ridiculous rumors that circulate the Agency, you thought you'd get what? A sexually transmitted disease? AIDs? Are you kidding me? Are you really this stupid?"

Michael shrugged and stared at his boots, looking suitably chagrined. "Well when you put it that way..."

Kassian raised a hand and held it up to silence further comment. "Just-- Just stop speaking now." Once again he shook his head in disbelief. "I took a chance on you, Alvarado. I didn't want you on my team because of your inexperience but I gave you a chance. If you disappoint me again you're fucking gone. Got it?"

Michael nodded stiffly. "Yes, Senior Agent Trovosky."

"Just... go away. And you too, Blair. Go harass the pilot."

Blair finally looked over, focusing on Kassian with a nod. His gaze moved to Boyd again, that same silent watchful look that was almost unnerving, before he stood. He waited for Michael to stand and move ahead of him before he trailed along in his wake. Michael didn't look at Boyd as he passed him and Boyd didn't bother looking over.

It hadn't even occurred to Boyd at the time that the reason for Michael's hesitation would be something like that and he was too tired to even know what he thought about it. He'd had people saying and implying any number of things about himself earlier in the year but it hadn't been a life-or-death situation. The idea that Sin almost didn't get help simply due to those stupid rumors that Sin could be gay... It was an offensive thought, that simply due to the idea of Sin having any sort of homosexual activity he was somehow automatically contagious or diseased.

By extension, that meant Michael must think the same of Boyd.

And wasn't that just great for Sin? People already considered him to be a monster but now there could be some who wouldn't dare touch his blood, who would let him die in front of them, not because they thought he was anything like a serial killer but just because he could be gay. Because they were afraid he would give them a disease.

The entire situation just wearied him.

He stayed silent, emotionless, and blankly listened to the door shutting behind Blair and Michael.

When the door closed Kassian collapsed against the seat and for the first time, the wearied expression completely overtook his features. He reached up and began undoing his vest as he closed his eyes briefly and rested the back of his head against the cushioned chair. He took a long, deep breath and yanked the vest off, dropping it on the floor before he also pulled off his outer shirt and sat there in a black tank top.

He raised one hand and rubbed his temples, not looking over at Boyd as he said, "How are you feeling?"

Boyd didn't answer at first, feeling like it was a stupid question. How was he supposed to feel? He'd just found out he'd let his partner and lover be tortured and nearly die-- no, his partner actually had died at least twice but had managed to be revived-- all because he had been jealous. Then he hadn't even been allowed to be near him, to touch him again after that brief moment, because he was considered to be a fuck-up of an agent. The mission he'd spent the majority of the year on had been an abominable failure and he'd somehow managed to be seen when escaping so he'd had to be on alert for the past two weeks. Apparently he was also diseased because he liked men. And he felt like shit.


"Liar." Kassian dropped his hand finally and rested his chin against his fist as he watched Boyd from under hooded eyes that were circled by dark shadows. "You've had a rough night, probably a rough few weeks. I apologize if I inadvertently made the situation any worse for you."

Boyd sighed, not really wanting to have to expend energy or mind power on a conversation at the moment. "It's fine," he said, not looking at Kassian still.

One blond eyebrow rose and Kassian made a face. "Well it's good to know I won't have to overextend myself with apologies around you."

"Not usually, no," Boyd said and finally looked up at Kassian. He looked as tired as he felt although his expression was unreadable. "Why did you make them leave?"

"Because when I'm around people on my team I feel like I have to continue being Senior Agent Trovosky and I don't think I can handle that anymore at the moment," Kassian replied with a shrug. "In addition to that, I haven't slept in days and I'm just cranky enough to shoot Michael in the face if he makes any other stupid comments." He watched Boyd quietly before continuing. "And I wanted to speak to you alone."

Boyd watched him for a long moment before he spoke. "About what?"

"I'm curious," Kassian began slowly. "About you."

Raising an eyebrow, Boyd stared. "What is there to be curious about?"

"What's there not to be curious about?" Kassian countered mildly. "At first I thought you were unprofessional, impatient, childish and a bad agent. However as the night progressed, I realized that my initial assessment wasn't correct. Well. Not entirely correct." He looked down the aisle idly. "Now I'm curious as to whether or not my new assessment is correct."

"I don't know what you think of me now so I don't see how I can be any help," Boyd said tiredly. "It would imply I'm still at least one of those descriptions and I don't see how talking to me will change that."

"Well let's see," Kassian said slowly. "Explaining your actions can change first impressions dramatically. But in this case I think I'll just come right out and say what I'm thinking." He tapped his finger against his cheek and stared at Boyd. "I think you're very impatient and very unprofessional, probably because you've only been exposed to Vega's skewed way of operating. However, the parts where you appeared childish and idiotic were probably because you were extremely worried about your partner, because you're in love with him."

The comment was met with a beat of stunned silence. Boyd stared at him, then blinked, and finally managed to convince his tired mind that he really had heard what he thought he had.

"What?" he asked finally, surprised and confused. "I don't..." He trailed off, not really knowing what he'd intended to say.

"You don't what?" Kassian replied. "You don't love him or you don't know if you love him?"

Boyd stared at him for a long moment before he turned his head away with a sigh, covering his eyes with his hand. His palm felt cool against his skin; he hadn't realized how dry and sore his eyes were until then.

"Why are we talking about this?" he asked wearily. "I was worried about him, you're right. He's my partner; I hadn't seen him for two weeks and suddenly the Agency contacted me, telling me he was dead. Then when we found him..." He shook his head, his voice falling quieter although he kept any emotion out of it. "He looked terrible. I don't think anyone would be thrilled to see that."

He dropped his hand and looked at Kassian with an unreadable expression. "If I acted... out of line, it's because you're right. I haven't had as much training and all my experience has been with someone who is not a good example of following the rules. Your team is well-versed, completely different from what I'm used to. I probably overreacted in general."

Kassian stared at him for a long moment before he responded. "I hope you don't think my intentions are to mock you. When I made that statement it wasn't because I found the idea to be particularly outrageous or revolting." He paused and rubbed his temples again, as though he were trying to figure out what he wanted to say. "I can't tell you how many times I've seen people on my team dying. Archer..."

Kassian frowned slightly and shook his head. "Archer in particular has scared the shit out of me on more than one occasion but..." His eyes slid over to Boyd again. "But never once did I look at him how you were looking at Vega." He held up his hand to halt any protests. "You can say I don't know what I'm talking about and hell, it's entirely possible that you don't even realize it yourself at the moment, but I know what I saw. I suppose what I am most curious about is how Vega can inspire that kind of emotion in a person."

This was probably the last conversation Boyd would choose to have at the moment, especially with someone he barely knew. The only person he could imagine he would actually consider it for and answer honestly was Ryan, and even that would take awhile because he really didn't have the mental capacity to consider the thought right then. He searched for some way to get off the topic and thought of something he'd been meaning to bring up.

"He seems to inspire some sort of emotion in you," he replied with a slight shrug. "As I understand it you have a history of rivalry but you seemed... especially concerned for his safety."

Kassian snorted and rolled his eyes. "Is that what he told you? 'Rivalry'?"

That was a curious response. "How would you categorize it?"

"Well," Kassian crossed his arms over his chest and slumped down in the chair, stretching his legs out in front of him. "I would categorize it as our employers being idiotic and him being an asshole. To be frank."

Boyd watched him, finding it interesting to actually get the other side of the story. He'd heard about Kassian infrequently but over a long enough period of time that he'd created a view in his mind that hadn't really matched up to the actual person. "How so?"

"Our employers..." Kassian trailed off and gazed at Boyd steadily for a moment as if he were trying to figure out just how much he wanted to say. "..Have used him since he was a child. I was there in the beginning, I watched it happen. He was talented, insanely so, impossibly so, however I am of the opinion that it didn't give them the right to... exacerbate whatever his problem was. And so I had sympathy for him in the beginning. A lot of people resented him, they resented the fact that a teenager achieved Rank 10 in such a short amount of time. He assumed I resented it too I imagine, but in the beginning I just thought it was ridiculous to put such... responsibility in the hands of a child."

He closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath. "But as he grew older, he became a bit of an asshole and no matter how sad his story is, I can't hold sympathy for assholes for very long. I suppose after awhile I did begin pushing myself harder, trying to catch up to him, maybe to prove to myself that I could achieve what he had because I'm good at my job, prove that maybe... the Agency isn't as fucked up as I've started to realize it is--"

He broke off suddenly and waved his hand in annoyance. "I don't know what I'm talking about anymore, I'm exhausted. Long story short, I work my ass off to achieve the things that he has but I can't do what he does because I'm cursed with a pesky thing called a conscience, called morals. So they don't trust me and it pisses me off because I'm damn good at what I do. I'm better at what I do than he is, but the only exception is that he can kick the ass of just about any man in the known world and kill thirty more in 0.89 seconds. It is difficult at times not to feel competitive with him. He's undisciplined in so many regards, disrespectful-- he's a lot like his father in that way, I suppose."

Kassian paused briefly and shook his head. "And he enjoys making a fool of me so that does not help matters. The times I've sparred with the man, despite the fact that he is allegedly so hungry for any kill, he took great pleasure in toying with me and didn't seem at all interested in taking the fight seriously because he knew there was no way I'd beat him."

It was quiet a moment as Boyd considered that and Kassian fell silent. He could see what Kassian was saying and he found it interesting what he said about the Agency. He wondered what Kassian would say if he knew what Sin thought about this all, about the morals Sin had and how he'd felt about McCall's assassination. And although he'd already seen examples of Kassian insisting that Sin was just a man, it still made him feel somehow better to have him say something about that outright. He made a soft noise to himself; the irony did not escape him that, in a way, Kassian and he were very alike yet they'd definitely reached different conclusions about what Sin was to them.

"I know what you mean, actually," Boyd said after a moment, leaning back against the seat and watching Kassian. "He didn't want a partner so he did his best to cut me down and wait for me to die at first. At the same time, I never thought he was a monster and I never agreed with his treatment. It seemed to me it would just encourage the very cycle of reactions that they resented him for. And the way he can finish in seconds something that takes me so long to even prepare for..."

He shook his head to himself, lifting a hand and then letting it drop on his thigh. "When I think about it, I become frustrated. I can't tell you how many times I've worked hard on something only to have him dismiss it entirely, do his own thing, and rub it in my face that he was faster anyway. So I just stopped comparing us. It would probably be more difficult for you because you were here first, you have more of a history, and you're the same rank. But at least for myself, I don't think it would be productive. He's just... different. It doesn't make him better or worse; he's just not the same. There are things he can do that I can't, and things I can do that he can't. The same with you and Sin. And what Sin can or can't do has nothing to do with your individual ability as an agent. Or who or what you are as a person."

Boyd paused, trying to figure out how to word what he wanted to say. As much as Kassian had annoyed him earlier, the way he'd been ignoring him and acting as if he was simply something to be held to the side so he wouldn't get in the way, he had to admit that his own assessment of Kassian had changed over time as well. The memory of Kassian so desperately trying to revive Sin was enough on its own for Boyd to respect him.

Holding Kassian's gaze, he said honestly, "I personally think that a person who is fair; who, regardless of personal opinions, protects the lives of allies and does not tolerate disrespect, is a good choice for a leader. I may not be a terrifically moral person myself, but... I think that's the sort of person that people can look up to and believe in. And that should definitely count for something."

The side of Kassian's mouth lifted in a half smile and he raised an eyebrow at Boyd. "Well, thank you." He opened his mouth to say something more but it ended in a yawn and he made a face. "Sorry."

He stretched, rolling his shoulders and cracking his neck as he continued to look at Boyd with the same expression on his face. "And like I said earlier, I apologize if you think I was being an asshole earlier. I just returned from a long-term undercover assignment and thought I'd be able to get a decent night sleep in my own bed before they informed me that I was coming here. I was on edge, easily aggravated and honestly wasn't expecting you to be cooperative with my method of doing things. However, I have to say, you impressed me more than once."

He seemed to remember something he'd been wanting to ask. "What was all of that business with... 'Cristobal?'"

The compliment was nice to hear but Boyd didn't particularly believe in it at the moment; he was too tired and he'd fucked up too much for it to give him much solace. He ran his hand through his hair and sat up straighter. "My informant brought me to one of those places before," he explained. "He called it 'the land of the lost' and the people los perdidos, the lost ones. I don't know if it's by accident or design, but several of the particularly useful hidden passages to Monterrey have sections of land surrounding them that seems to collect them. They're Monterrey's scavengers; they'll take a vehicle apart with you in it and still be asking for food, water. The smugglers have an exchange with them; they'll have right of passage through the area as long as they give los perdidos resources whenever they can. But only specific groups have the right in specific areas."

Lifting one shoulder, Boyd returned his gaze to Kassian. "The only other way to pass through is the code that references San Cristobal, Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers. Only los perdidos know the phrasing to use for safe passage and they trust very few with the words. I was extremely lucky; I found an informant who told me." His tone shifted slightly as he repeated the explanation Jorge had first given him. "When traveling through a land of lost people, one should speak of dreams and call upon Cristobal. He will have gone ahead to clear the way and if we are worthy, if we are not calling upon him in vain, los perdidos will let us pass."

Kassian frowned slightly, rubbing his chin. "And this weapons smuggler guy; they gave him passage? I thought you said that was some other guy's territory? If that's the case why did they let him through?"

"That's why I was so surprised," Boyd said, his eyes narrowing slightly in thought. "It shouldn't have been possible. No matter the firepower or intimidation factor he had, if he was going into Santiago's domain he should have had to kill all of them to get past. If he'd given them anything to placate them they would have just taken it and more, would have swarmed over his men until the men were gone or los perdidos were dead. And there doesn't seem to be an end to los perdidos. They'll appear out of areas that you know have no access, that you know it shouldn't be possible for them to have arrived through."

He shook his head, thinking of what Jorge had said, remembering the first time he'd passed through such a place. Remembering the determination and desperation in the sunken eyes surrounding him in the gloom. "For him to be in Santiago's territory, there should have been a massacre. But I saw no evidence of any foul play; no blood on the streets that may have been left even if they'd pulled all the bodies away, no injured people. Nothing. That's why lo más chingón is so dangerous; he's unpredictable, he doesn't follow the rules. Somehow, he can make work what shouldn't be possible. The only way I can imagine it would have worked is if he somehow found out about the phrase for safe passage, went through individually and killed Santiago, then somehow rallied his forces and convinced los perdidos that he was in charge now. But even that seems strange because I was damn lucky I found someone who would tell me. It's incredibly difficult knowledge to obtain, even in the underground, even with extremely reliable connections."

"Somehow he struck me as the kind of person who most likely knows everything. He certainly seemed to know a lot about you and Vega; at least enough not to ask questions or even seem remotely surprised or curious about the situation you were in. Something about him bothered me but I can't exactly put my finger on what it is. It was a strange feeling." Kassian shrugged. "Why didn't he kill us? I fully expected him to and he certainly had the manpower to do it."

"I don't know," Boyd said honestly. "It was the second time he could have killed me and didn't." He lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "Maybe he's amused enough by the predicaments he finds me in that he's in a good enough mood to spare those around me. But to be honest, as dangerous as he is, I don't think he kills for no reason. Although being in his territory is probably reason enough."

"He is an interesting character," Kassian said. "However, I'm glad we did not have to deal with him for long." There was a pause. "Good job on handling the situation though."

Boyd's lips pulled to one side in a reserved expression and he inclined his head in acknowledgment. He didn't know how well he had really handled the situation; in truth, it was probably simply luck that lo más chingón had not felt like killing them.

Kassian studied him, staying quiet for a few moments before he finally cleared his throat. "Just be careful, Boyd, with who you let see that side of yourself. Some people would use your reactions against you." He didn't say specifically what he was talking about but it seemed pretty obvious that he was referring to Boyd's distress over Sin.

Boyd met his gaze for a long moment before he looked away thoughtfully. It wasn't that he'd intended for it turn out that way. Of course, if he'd been in a room with enemies he would have tried harder to act differently.

That was what he thought but truthfully, he hadn't even realized what he must have looked like. The guilt, the fear, the worry-- There were so many situations in which he never would have let it show, but it was just-- He was so afraid for Sin... He drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Regardless, Kassian was right. It was one more thing he'd done wrong; one more thing he needed to work on. But at least Kassian didn't seem to be judging him on it.

"Thank you," he said after a moment, the words quiet but appreciative at least of the fact Kassian was trying to help.

They fell silent and the next few hours passed without incident.

Boyd leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes, the plane seeming to tilt around him due simply to his exhaustion. His thoughts were sluggish, confused, and led him into a half-sleep that was filled with things that made no sense but somehow had his heart pounding regardless. He was startled awake by the PA buzzing and the pilot announcing that they were going in for landing. He blinked, looking around himself in confusion, and didn't feel alert enough to think clearly for awhile even after they'd landed and grabbed their gear to disembark. When he and Sin had gone to Laredo, they'd taken a normal plane with regular civilians in order to keep up their cover so they'd also used a regular airport. But the return trip was by Agency plane and brought them to a small, private airport where an Agency vehicle was waiting to transport them to the Johnson's Pharmaceuticals compound. The ride was silent but more than anything it seemed it was because they were all tired, worn out.

By the time the van rolled through the gates and parked in front of the main building, Boyd felt like the bit of sleep he'd managed to catch on the plane had done him more harm than good. He felt like he couldn't think properly and being back at the Agency after most of a year away was surreal, as if it was just a fever dream and he was actually still in Monterrey, having fallen asleep on the couch and, in a few hours, Sin would be home. He followed the others into the building without really looking around or paying attention; instead, he was slowly thinking about what he would do next. He would go to the medical wing to verify Sin made it back alright, then he would wait until Sin was stable enough that he felt like he could leave for a bit, and then he'd go home to sleep until he woke up on his own, regardless of how long that would take. Or maybe he could stop by Ryan's and crash there for a bit.

However, as soon as they were inside the complex a guard immediately approached the group and informed them that Kassian and his crew were to report to Conference Room 2A for debriefing with General Stephen and Boyd was to follow the guard to Conference Room 5F for the same. Boyd looked at him then nodded tiredly; it made sense, as they were on different teams. Even so, he wished Carhart would just give him the chance to check on Sin first but no doubt he was wondering what the hell had happened. The debriefing would hopefully not take too long and after that he could just follow his original plan.

He shifted but before he could take a step away from the others, Kassian suddenly reached out and grabbed his arm. Boyd turned in surprise, his gaze dropping to the hand on his arm before he looked up at Kassian with a strange look.

Kassian just stared at him with a peculiar expression on his face, one that was incredibly hard to decipher. He opened his mouth to say something but then he stopped, eyes flicking around before he finally focused on Boyd again. "Good luck." He squeezed Boyd's arm and then released it before turning around and striding off in the direction his team had gone.

Boyd watched Kassian go before he just shook his head to himself and followed the guard. They said nothing to each other as they passed through the building, walking up the main set of stairs before they made it to the main bank of elevators. He idly watched the guard hit the button for the fifth floor and they didn't even look at each other on the way up; Boyd stared blankly at the buttons while the guard watched the door as if someone may break through even in transit. At their stop, he quietly followed the guard to the right down a long hallway. He hadn't spent much time on the fifth floor; it primarily housed conference rooms and some offices for people who did clerical work for the Agency.

The guard led him down several turns until they arrived at a heavy wooden door, marked simply with gold letters reading '5F.' He opened the door and stood to the side, waiting for Boyd to enter.

Boyd glanced at him as he walked past, wondering why the guard felt the need to open the door as if he were incapable of doing so himself, but the guard's expression was unreadable. Boyd was already considering what he was going to say to Carhart when he turned and saw the room for the first time.

Connors and Vivienne sat at the long conference table, twin gazes fixed solely on him.

He froze, the words dying in his throat as he glanced around quickly; partially as an automatic response to look for exits and partially to see if he was in the wrong room, as if maybe Carhart was there to bring him somewhere else. But there was no one else in the room and they were both focused on him as he stared with slightly widened eyes back. The door shut firmly behind him; for some reason that made his heart pound, especially when he noted their expressions. Connors was regarding him with a cold, flat look while all he could tell of his mother was that she was incredibly displeased.

"Sit down, Boyd," Connors said coolly, giving nothing away in his tone.

Looking quickly between them, Boyd hesitated briefly before he followed the order. The last thing he expected was to walk into a room with just Connors and Vivienne. Along with everything else that had been happening, his mind was reeling as he tried to understand what this meant.

Connors folded his hands in front of him neatly and continued to look directly into Boyd's eyes. "You're here to be debriefed. I am sure you expected to breeze in here and deal with General Carhart but I'm afraid, due to the nature of this... incident, and the damage that has been caused, I, we, will be dealing with you directly." He paused and leaned back in his chair, never dropping his gaze. "We are aware that the mission was an abominable failure and, in detail, you will explain why that is."

Boyd glanced at his mother again although her expression gave nothing away. He returned his attention to Connors and tried to get his mind to work well enough to formulate a response. The shock of seeing them had scattered his thoughts at first but now the adrenaline was back, giving him a bit of energy to work with, sharpening his senses enough for him to concentrate on the moment.

"Well, sir," Boyd said carefully, "The preparations went well and there were no troubles with our covers. I observed messengers from various preliminary Janus groups from across the world, including Sector 62, and the Janus representatives appeared to be recruiters primarily interested in explaining the propaganda of the cause. I learned that Janus is starting to work on building support in neutral countries as well; they are looking into Greece first and afterwards may intend to go for most of Europe, and later South America. At the moment, they are currently interested in Northeast Europe, specifically Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, and they are having troubles with Di Zhì. However, as time passed I did not observe any of the listed targets nor any leaders from the represented sectors. It appeared as though the convention was an orientation for newly accepted groups with only lower level messengers attending. We waited until the speakers were well into the main speech, which was propaganda and did not mention future plans, before we concluded that the specified targets would not be appearing. At that point, we proceeded with the plan as ordered."

"I see." Connors narrowed his eyes slightly and for the first time, the displeasure truly showed in his face. "So what you are telling me is that the information you so... diligently worked for to obtain from Thierry was, in fact, false."

Boyd was silent for a moment but did not look away from Connors' eyes. "Yes, sir."

"And on top of that, you were seen," Connors said flatly.

"With a rather incriminating description," Vivienne added coolly. Boyd looked over at her and she met his gaze with unreadable blue eyes like ice. "With the sole information being a white male with light-colored hair, you can imagine that they naturally assumed it may have something to do with the United States, given Monterrey's proximity to the border. The tentative partnership we have had with the Mexican government is currently exceedingly strained; they are highly suspicious, distrustful of what we say, and there are any number of innocent foreigners who have been detained and interrogated, with little to no mercy."

She favored him with an extremely unimpressed look. "This is not to mention the reaction of their home countries. The governments are angry, highly suspicious, and quite intent on discovering who was behind the fiasco that resulted in their citizens being terrorized in Mexico. Due to your inability to properly flee the scene and blend in, dozens of people have been brutally harmed, who had nothing to do with the convention center or your incompetence. And we have nothing to show for any of it."

Somehow, by the firm way she stated that and the look she gave him, Boyd knew she was expecting a response. But he didn't know what to say. He couldn't deny what she said and any explanations he would try to give would fall flat. Beyond that, the idea that completely innocent people were hurt while the Mexican government searched for him didn't make him feel any better. He just stared at her before finally saying quietly, "I'm... sorry." He saw her eyes flash but anything he could think to add was only more incriminating so he stayed silent.

"So if one were to summarize the chain of events so far, one would conclude that you, without discussion, questions or any investigative work whatsoever, provided services to an informant and received for us a disc which proceeded to lead us on what was essentially a very expensive and time-consuming wild goose chase. Had we not followed the information that you provided us with, we would have never used so many resources and taken such risks in a country that we previously had good relations with, to murder a bunch of low-ranking operatives from low-ranking Janus cells. In addition to this phenomenal waste of time, your complete lack of awareness and stealth has led several countries on an international witch hunt to figure out which agency was responsible for the mess that has been made in Monterrey. And all you have as an explanation is that you are... sorry." Connors leaned forward slightly, eyes narrowing. "Have I left anything out?"

Boyd didn't think it was a very fair assessment of what had happened with Thierry; they'd only had a limited amount of time and Carhart had been adamant that it was extremely important that Thierry remained pleased with them because the information could change so much. He had done the best he could in the situation; what he'd thought was the right thing. It wasn't that he hadn't considered the situation at all or that it had been his first choice, it was just what he'd concluded to be the quickest, most efficient way to finish the mission. He didn't bring it up, though, because Connors likely wouldn't believe anything he said in the first place and any explanation he'd give regarding Thierry would probably somehow make it all sound worse anyway. And it was a moot point. The absolute truth of it was, the information was bad. People died because of it. Innocents were severely harmed. He couldn't argue his case against that evidence; the truth was, he'd seriously fucked up.

"...No, sir," Boyd said quietly, finally, making himself keep eye contact.

"Oh but I have," Connors corrected, voice growing colder if that were at all possible. "Let's not forget the loss of Agent Vega."

Boyd's heart clenched at the words, the casual phrasing of the 'loss' of Sin, but he stayed silent, not knowing what Connors wanted to hear.

"How precisely did Agent Vega get captured?" The question was spoken more like an accusation and the expression on Connor's face only emphasized it. "What was your plan and, once again, why did it go wrong?"

The weight of Connors' displeasure was intense, and for the first time he understood why no one seemed to stand up to him, why even his mother would sit silently at his side in this situation. Even without raising his voice, he made Boyd feel as though he were very small, as though his words could eclipse him and find all his faults without ever having to grow louder than a speaking tone. In that way, he and Vivienne were comparable in that their anger and displeasure could make a person feel insignificant, imperfect, inherently flawed. He couldn't quite comprehend, in retrospect, how he'd managed to yell at Connors not even a year ago, insulting him through the doorway any number of ways. It wasn't that he'd never consider doing the same again in a similar situation or that he would do it differently if he could go back to the time, but at that moment with Connors staring at him in accusatory, frigid displeasure, disobeying or angering him further was about the last thing on his mind.

He gathered his thoughts and answered in a respectful, even voice. "I don't know exactly how it happened, sir. We had a main plan with a contingency in the event we would be unable to enact the first. In order to properly cut off any exit points for the Janus cells, we had to split up as we detonated the bombs. We used short range radios to communicate our status. We'd intended to meet immediately at a designated point and go into hiding together until we could leave Monterrey. However..." Boyd couldn't help hesitating briefly as he tried to figure out how to word the next part.

He didn't want to explain this, because it implicated them both. He didn't know what Sin's status was, he was hoping to God that Connors was using incredibly poor phrasing and that it wasn't what it sounded like, that Sin wasn't dead after all. But as much as he wanted to keep believing, he couldn't forget the way he'd looked, he couldn't forget the blood and the obvious trauma, and how hard it had been for Kassian to revive him. Sin... could be dead. After all that, he could be dead. Boyd couldn't think about that at the moment, though; not with Connors and his mother scrutinizing him. On the other hand, even if Sin was... gone, Boyd somehow wanted to still protect him. Even if he'd been furious with Sin for his decision to stop to get Jessica, he didn't want Connors or his mother to know about the incident, he didn't want Sin in any way to get in trouble for stopping when technically, according to their training, he should not have. But he couldn't lie and he couldn't hide it.

"On the way out," Boyd said, "Agent Vega reported a delay. He'd... found a wounded civilian that he was going to assist. I had already left the building and was on my way to hiding. I instructed him to desist; the authorities were coming and I felt it was too dangerous. But he felt he had the time so he... paused to help. I was too far away and there were too many people around the building. I did not feel I could return without jeopardizing both of our positions, so we decided to switch to the contingency plan. We were to observe radio silence and meet at a designated point two weeks later. The length of wait was chosen to give time for the immediate search to die down enough that we felt it would lessen the chance of our meeting being discovered. We were to rendezvous three days after the time I received word from Agent Trovosky that his team was en route. It was... the first time I'd learned of what had occurred."

Connors stared at Boyd silently for a long moment before asking, "And who was this wounded civilian?"

Boyd carefully kept any vestiges of dislike or disgust out of his reaction when he thought about Jessica. "His employer from the beginning of the mission; she knew him as Jason Alvarez. She happened to be at the convention center and was wounded during the detonations."

"I see." Connors continued to stare at him with the same expression on his face. "And whose decision was it to switch to this contingency plan upon his decision to assist her?"

"It was mine, sir," Boyd said.

Vivienne's eyes narrowed at the words and Boyd carefully didn't look at her. She hadn't looked away from him once; even as Connors spoke, he could feel her cold stare pinpointed on him as if she were examining his soul for something and was not very pleased with what she found.

"And what was Agent Vega's response to your decision?" Connors asked in the same cool tone.

He could still remember Sin's frustrated yell that he wouldn't leave her, he wouldn't be the one to kill her. And the furiously snapped 'Fuck you' when Boyd refused to help. "He... was angry, sir."

"I see." Connors unfolded his hands and began tapping his fingers against the heavy, glass conference table. "Tell me Agent Beaulieu, what is your job here?"

Boyd's fingers twitched in his lap but his expression didn't change. "To... To be a Field Agent, sir."

Connors eyebrows shot up. "Oh really? Because I was under the impression that you were hired first and foremost to be Agent Vega's partner and to ensure that he does not do the idiotic things that he is prone to do because of his specific peculiarities. Along with that job description obviously comes the job of being a Field Agent, but that is not why we hired you. If we wanted to hire a new Field Agent we wouldn't have hired a scrawny child with no fighting skills or experience. We hired you because you were the most compatible match with Agent Vega. Because you seemed like the best fit and because at the time I was under the impression that you had a shred of intelligence and would manage, if he didn't kill you, to keep him in line because you did not fear him or feel the need to control him." His fingers continued to tap the glass. "Did you somehow misunderstand?"

"I..." Boyd could feel Vivienne's stare intensify and he couldn't help flicking his gaze over to her. There was something foreboding in her expression, almost like a warning, as if regardless of what he said he would just be digging his own grave. Strangely, he almost got the impression that the look was not aimed in anger at him, though; it was almost as if she was warning him silently. But he could not fully understand why that would be the case and the intensity of the expression confused him, made something in him want to hide from that look, from Connors' words, from the entire situation. The adrenaline was keeping him going now but he could tell that later, when he was away from all the dissecting stares and stretches of displeased silence, he was going to crash. But for the moment, he concentrated on keeping his expression and voice even, his breathing unhurried. He met Connors' eyes again and said, "No, sir."

"And were you not also informed that despite the common belief that Agent Vega is a murderer of women and children, he actually has a weakness for innocents, especially innocent females? Were you not aware of the fact that he has strayed from mission parameters on more than one occasion because of this preoccupation and subsequently endangered his own life, the success of the mission and also got himself put on the fourth after an incident in the city limits?" Connors expression did not change, his fingers continued their rhythmic tapping. "If you were not warned of this behavior during your training, I would like you to inform me of this so that I may punish your trainers accordingly. Although I am very aware of the fact that one, Ryan Freedman, has access to private files and has most likely shown them to you, so I do not think your knowledge on this subject can be particularly small."

Boyd could feel his heart beating faster. "No, I... was informed, sir."

"So then please, Agent Beaulieu, enlighten me as to why you were possessed to inform Agent Vega that you no longer wished to follow the original plan and meet after his escape. Is it not possible that he could have met you elsewhere in the city or that you could have waited at your position briefly to see if he really would be hindered? According to you he was not pleased with your decision so there must have been a way to follow through. Or was he completely irrational and so because of his instability you decided it was better to save yourself and completely ignore your job description by leaving him there? Or perhaps there was another motive behind your reasoning." Connors raised an eyebrow and waited for a response.

For a moment, Boyd could only stare at Connors, trying to keep the sickening jolt of surprise out of his expression. It was... such a ridiculously simple solution, yet somehow... In the fury of the moment, in the stupidity that had taken over his mind, it hadn't even occurred to him--

He could have waited.

Rather than just assuming that Jessica would slow Sin down monumentally, that she inherently complicated matters so entirely that it would ruin all their plans, he could have just fucking waited a few minutes. For someone who was accustomed to dissecting every aspect of a plan, creating contingencies for every part and sometimes even back up plans for the contingencies, he couldn't believe that such a simple solution had honestly not even occurred to him. But the fire had been hot at his back, the resounding explosions of the bombs still vibrating through his bones, the screams of people surrounding him and the anger that had been building for months, unresolved, surrounding Jessica, surrounding anyone who threatened... Who threatened his standing with Sin, which he did anyway by his monumentally stupid decision.

At the same time, if they'd tried to create a third plan so last minute... It could have been too confusing, too risky. The reason Boyd had always intended for Plan A to be immediate or not at all was because too much time gave the authorities leeway to find them, to discover one of them before the other could arrive, or would allow their enemies to follow one of them to the hiding spot. He'd been so focused on the idea that Sin's slight change in his plan would mean Boyd would have to either go back to meet up with him or result in them meeting in another place in order to account for wherever Sin was taking Jessica, that he hadn't even thought about just going to Calle Treinta as planned and waiting. Even a few minutes.

The chaos of the moment had made it too hectic, the jealousy had made him illogical. He'd stopped thinking like an Agent and had reacted like a jilted lover. If he'd been thinking clearly, he would have just waited a few minutes at Calle Treinta, not long enough for anyone to find him. When Sin had said he was stopping to get Jessica, he should have suggested that plan and given a time period he would leave by before he attempted to check back with Sin to verify their move to Plan B. If he'd done that, he would have known immediately something was wrong. If he'd done that, Sin wouldn't have...

He felt something go ice cold inside him. He was... He was such a fucking idiot...

In the brief silence of his revelation, he felt their twin gazes intensify on him, the scrutiny a constant pressure mixing with his exhaustion, with the shakiness inside of too much adrenaline and not enough sleep, and the fact it seemed every moment that passed he realized even more how much of a fucking idiot he was, how much he'd screwed up. He swallowed, trying not to let Connors' constant, astute questions dig too deep into him. "I--" he started to say, but Connors' words would not quite leave his mind. Better to save himself, leaving Sin there. He hadn't thought that, he'd just-- He'd been so angry, so stupidly angry... It hadn't... Between the two of them, he wouldn't have consciously chosen to save himself and yet that was exactly what he'd done.

"The situation was intense, sir," he said finally, trying to explain what had been going through his mind without making it into an excuse. The memory of the moment when he'd run away was in his thoughts; the sound of the static increasing, the disbelief in Sin's voice. He tried to ignore it but it was strong, vivid; despite that, his tone remained carefully calm, respectful. "I made a decision based upon my training and my understanding of the circumstances. We had the two plans already decided upon; in the chaos of the situation, to attempt to introduce a third scenario did not seem a good choice. We did not have much time and there was the very real possibility that any attempts to change the plan would result in miscommunication that could have led to neither of us understanding what was expected, possible endangerment of both of our locations, and ultimately a larger failure. Given the circumstances, and considering that the contingency plan had been created specifically for the type of situation we found ourselves in, it made the most sense to wait the two weeks. I made a decision I thought was right, sir. It appears that it was a poor one after all, but at the time it seemed the most logical, sir."

"'A poor one'," Connors repeated and his eyebrows rose once again as he flipped over a file in front of him. "I am willing to go out on a limb and assume that Agent Vega was apprehended in two possible ways. He was mentally unstable and not thinking straight or he was caught off guard somehow and outnumbered. Although I am not excusing his decision, since I am not one to excuse any unnecessary action the man takes, it is entirely possible that he would not have been captured had you been there as his partner." He tapped the file. "But you were not and now we have a crippled Agent who is most likely brain dead. Would you like me to read you the extent of his injuries?"

Boyd felt his throat go dry. The guilt of abandoning Sin rose again, a strong current of an emotion that moved through his body like his blood. 'As his partner.' The words reminded him of the conversation he'd had with Sin regarding his first partners, the people who left or used him, the people who hadn't treated him like a human being. The people who should have been there as an equal, a partner, but who weren't. Connors was right; Boyd had been hired for a single purpose and he'd betrayed that purpose, betrayed Sin and caused him a staggering amount of injuries, torture and agony simply because he hadn't felt like going back. Because he hadn't wanted to see Sin anywhere near Jessica. Because he'd been too fucking stupid to think of waiting. The knowledge that he could have destroyed Sin's life, that he put him in a position to be murdered only to be revived and probably never really live again, overwhelmed him so completely that it silenced any words that may have surfaced.

His gaze turned heavy and dropped. He wanted to say no; he didn't want to hear it, he didn't want to know about any of it in detail because it would just haunt him relentlessly. His imagination would put images and sounds to the words and he would obsess upon it, go repeatedly over his understanding of what had happened to Sin because in a large way, it was his fault. Because he should have been there to stop it. Because even if Janus had overpowered them both, at least Boyd would have known he'd tried, at least he would not have run away, leaving Sin to protect himself and a wounded civilian with no hope of backup in sight. But he didn't think Connors would take too kindly to him saying he didn't want to hear, and truthfully he felt like he didn't really have the right to avoid it since it was his fault. Sin certainly would never be able to ignore what happened so why should Boyd be able to? Feeling his stomach clench, he stared at his lap and stayed silent.

Connors took his silence as an assent, although he would have read the file regardless. "Apparently Janus had the mistaken idea that they could extract information from him with what appears to be medieval-style torture. However, what Janus does not know is that Agent Vega can withstand physical torture; his weakness is mental torture." The tone in which Connors said it clearly implied that he and others at the Agency were the only ones who could control Sin because they knew his weaknesses and because of that they were the only ones who had total power over him. It was almost smug, as if to say Sin was their tool alone, a special toy that could only be operated with directions they had. "They seemed to have used a method called stretching, a lovely technique developed in the Middle Ages by the Europeans, in which the victim's limbs are pulled away from the body, causing excruciating pain, dislocated body parts and destroyed tendons and ligaments." Connors did not look away from Boyd's closed off expression, even though he seemed to be reciting whatever lay in the pages of the report.

"In addition to that, he has a number of third degree burns which appear to have been made with a torch-like device, dozens of broken bones throughout his body, severe internal bleeding, an extensive loss of blood due to the various twin incisions that were made on his body most likely to ensure that he would bleed to death after they left him to die, a blood infection, massive head trauma and swelling to his brain." Connors continued to tap his fingers against the file. "I will be frank with you and tell you that the damage done to his limbs is easily reparable with reconstructive surgery however I am not sure it is even worth it to try. The damage done to his head, the fever caused by the blood infection, all make the possibility of him remaining in a coma or emerging with a severe case of brain damage extremely probable. There is also the possibility that it will have caused his mental condition to worsen or any number of unfortunate scenarios. Until we determine whether or not that will be the case, I do not see the need to waste more resources on an Agent who is most likely unsalvageable. It is because of this that the medical staff was informed not to attempt resuscitation if he flat-lines again."

Boyd's eyes snapped up to Connors, a flash of surprise and alarm not hidden quite quick enough before he was able to smooth his expression again. "But-- Sir," he said, unable to keep a hint of urgency out of his tone, "he's an extremely valuable resource to the Agency and he's already made it through at least two flat-lines; with those odds, it seems probable he could pull through again."

"What is the point if he is not functional?" Connors countered coldly, speaking of Sin as though he were a computer that was no longer up to par with his needs.

Vivienne's stare seemed to intensify on Boyd but her expression did not change, nor did she say anything. He barely noticed her in his alarm at the idea of what Connors was suggesting.

"If he can live through that torture, flat-lining, and a coma, how do you know he won't have the fortitude to become 'functional' again?" Boyd insisted, hating that he was having to talk about Sin as if he was simply a machine or tool, but he believed it was the best way to get his point across to Connors. "You won't know until that point, sir, and in the meantime if you give up on him too early then you don't have a suitable replacement. You probably won't ever have another Agent that is quite like him. For... unique resources, isn't it worth it to try a little longer?"

Connors said nothing for a long moment and then, in the same flat tone, he asked, "Is your sexual relationship with Agent Vega adding to your motivation to plea for his life?"

Vivienne shifted, just a shade of movement but it was enough that it caught Boyd's attention. He didn't look over, though, nor pay heed to the fact that in his peripheral vision he could tell her expression had changed slightly. Instead, he stared at Connors, inwardly shocked as he wondered if he'd heard correctly. "My-- What?"

"Because one would assume," Connors continued as though Boyd had not asked a question, "that if that were the case, you would have put more effort into playing your role as partner."

"Sir, I don't know what you're talking about," Boyd said after a moment, keeping his expression and tone even. He couldn't figure out why the hell Connors would say that, why he would know that. He could only assume it was one of a number of choices; Connors was hazarding a guess and was hoping to catch him in some trap, someone from Kassian's team had somehow managed to send a note ahead regarding how he'd been acting, or the Agency had been spying on them in Monterrey after all. Of the three choices, he thought it most likely that Connors was just expanding on his theory from when he'd saved Sin from the box, that there was something happening between them. "It is simply that, as you've pointed out, this result is largely due to my decisions, so I feel responsible. Despite my inexcusable lapse in my duties in Monterrey, my job is still to be Agent Vega's partner. I feel that his usefulness should not be given up on too quickly, as well as the fact that he is a valuable resource for the Agency."

Connors flicked his hand dismissively. "I am done speaking with you. Officer Brians will escort you to the next stage of debriefing." There was a pause and then he added coolly. "Happy birthday, by the way."

Boyd stared at him in surprise for a moment, reeling from the entire conversation, the abrupt dismissal, and the random comment at the end. In everything that had occurred, he'd forgotten that it was his birthday, not that it mattered. He hesitated just briefly and finally glanced at his mother.

Her expression was extremely disapproving but there was something about it that was off; she seemed angry, but for some reason he didn't think it was solely focused on him. She was probably angry that Connors had made such a comment about a sexual relationship with Sin, that her family was in any way being linked to something she disapproved of, but even so that didn't seem quite right. It was almost as if... she was angry with Connors himself, for some other reason. He couldn't even fathom what was going on between the two of them and he realized that in his surprise he'd stayed seated just long enough for Connors to give him a flat look as if wondering why he was still there.

"Ah-- Yes, sir," he said finally, feeling off balance and confused, and stood to head toward the door.

Brians, the guard, was waiting for him outside and surveyed him seriously before turning and walking purposefully down the hall. Boyd automatically followed him, trying to comprehend everything that had happened, trying not to think about what Connors had said, about how such a stupid mistake on his part could snowball so quickly into something so horrendous, and he was especially trying not to put images to the description of the torture.

They hadn't even made it to the next hallway when he heard his mother suddenly say, "Boyd."

He stopped in surprise and turned, thinking for a moment he could not possibly have heard that because it implied his mother, for probably the first time in his life, had come after him following a dismissal. But it was true; she stood just outside the closed door to 5F and, watching him with an utterly unreadable expression, she strode toward them. Brians stepped to the side but when she came and stopped in front of Boyd, she flicked a cool gaze at him and said curtly, "I will have a word with the child alone."

The words were ominous and made Boyd want to step away from her; was she actually so angry with him that she followed him out, that she felt the need to say more to him after everything else already said? He knew he was a fuck-up, he knew he'd abandoned his job position, he knew he'd made serious mistakes and he knew he had no proper excuses. What else could she possibly want to hear from him?

Brians nodded and stepped down the hall, watching Boyd closely but keeping enough distance that he was not intruding upon their privacy.

Vivienne looked at Brians with approval then returned her ice blue eyes to Boyd, who stared at her in growing paranoia. She studied him for a moment, almost as if he were a bug beneath a microscope, before she raised her eyebrows coolly. "In this profession, it is imperative that you learn your lessons thoroughly the first time; that you do not make the same mistake twice. I would have assumed you would understand this, yet I am apparently mistaken."

"Mother, I--" Boyd started to say, hoping to appease her quickly before she could add anything more to his overtaxed mind, before she could make it impossible for him to feel like he could properly function at all. But she raised one hand in warning and that was all it took for the words to die in his throat. She gave him a scrutinizing look, as if deciding whether she needed to impress upon him with words that she was not interested in his response at the moment or if he would stay quiet. When he said nothing, she nodded once in curt approval.

"Your ability to quickly adapt to new situations does not, apparently, cross over any longer to adapting current reactions to lessons learned in the past." Her eyes narrowed slightly, seeming to cut through his defenses to study the core of him. Her voice was cold, her expression otherwise unreadable though it remained intense. "Do you not recall the fiasco in Canada? You should understand fully by now that recklessness results in failure, that you do not have the luxury to be observed in any suspicious circumstances on any of your missions, and that it infuriates me and endangers every employee here when your actions jeopardize the secrecy of this organization. Do you find it enjoyable to do so or are you simply that incapable of learning?"

He stayed silent a moment, wondering at first if it was a rhetorical question, but she only quirked one eyebrow and he fought the urge to unconsciously cross his arms over his stomach in the face of her displeasure. "I... I don't..." He didn't know what to say; nothing would be acceptable. She was furious with him and she had good reason to be; he didn't know why she felt the need to follow him to say any of this, why she hadn't just let him get to the next debriefing and get it over with so he could go to Sin and then go home.

"Let me answer it for you, since you are so ineloquent at the moment," she said, her expression intensifying. "I do not believe it to be either. You are perfectly capable of learning from past mistakes and you have never been the type to enjoy jeopardizing the safety of others. You remain the same child who avoided confrontations at school, who refused nearly all contact with other children and who, in essence, hid from anything that frightened you by ignoring it. Yet you are also the same person who learned quicker than any of your peers."

She ignored Boyd's surprised look and raised her eyebrows. "Therefore, I find it appalling and inconceivable that you would continually make the same mistakes. There is absolutely no need for us to be having this conversation at the moment. There is no reason whatsoever that you should have failed so abominably, and if you ever attempt to ignore the situation that you put others in due to your mistakes, you are doing them an immense disservice, avoiding your responsibility, and are completely unworthy of the status you have found yourself in. Do you understand?"

He couldn't quite understand what was happening; she was angry with him, and yet... "I-- Yes, Mother," he said quietly and she stared at him for a very long moment, her gaze so intense he felt like it was burning through him.

The silence between them stretched until Boyd thought that maybe she was actually silently dismissing him. He hesitated, but he really wanted to just go check on Sin already and the more time he spent before the next debriefing just meant he would have to wait longer. Almost as if she understood his thoughts, Vivienne narrowed her eyes pointedly.

"Boyd," she said, and somehow despite the coolness of her tone, it almost seemed less remote than usual. "The purpose of learning your lessons thoroughly the first time is for everyone's safety." She stared at him hard. "Including your own, despite any ineptitude you may unnecessarily show."

Surprised, Boyd stared at her, but before he could formulate a response she looked away from him abruptly and said with calm coolness, "I have been delayed from my work long enough." She didn't give him the chance to react before she strode away, giving Brians a pointed look to express that she was finished.

Boyd watched her go in a mixture of surprise and confusion, then glanced over when Brians appeared at his side again.

Without a single word exchanged, Brians started walking while Boyd, glancing once more toward his mother, trailed behind. He was so immersed in his thoughts that he wasn't paying much attention to his surroundings.

What had that all been about with his mother? He was so confused; since when did she go out of her way to follow him, to talk to him like that? He knew she was furious about what happened in Monterrey, yet she didn't take the chance to lecture him as icily as he would have expected. If anything, it seemed her displeasure was spread to more than just him. He had no idea what was going on with that and every conclusion he came to seemed as confusing as the last. The only thing he could figure was that Connors had probably taken it upon himself to make comments to her as he did the first time about Boyd sleeping with Thierry. It infuriated her as it had the first time and now she was as angry with Boyd for messing up again and Connors for rubbing it in her face. So she felt the need to inform him that he needed to start learning his lessons best the first time. That must have been what was happening there.

Brians made a noise ahead of him and he blinked, looked at him and realized he was so deep in thought that he'd almost missed a turn. Without his expression changing at all, he pivoted and started following Brians once more. He didn't know where this second level of debriefing would occur but no doubt it would probably include someone from Carhart's team or else someone from the undercover division. He'd heard that they sometimes sent people who had spent long periods of time in undercover missions over to one of the psychiatrists; it was an added precaution, to be certain the person could handle whatever they'd been through and that they were fully back in their real life rather than still stuck in parts of their persona.

While he walked, he couldn't help thinking about Connors' words, the description of what Sin had been through. It made him feel sick to his stomach, made his heart actually hurt and the regret to rise within him. He couldn't even imagine being through that, he couldn't-- He didn't want to think about it but he couldn't help it. He'd known something horrendous had been done to Sin but he hadn't thought it was that. Now that he knew specifics he couldn't help remembering reading about that torture in school; he could recall the drawings in their books and the way he'd read the accounts without really feeling anything. At the time it had all seemed so irrelevant and he couldn't have cared less what people went through centuries ago. Now when he remembered the pictures, he placed Sin there instead, and his imagination resumed the ghostly images and sounds from before; only this time it was with more vivid details.

Brians led him on a winding route through the building, finally stopping just outside a room down the end of a hallway Boyd didn't recognize. Boyd glanced at him, checking if it was their destination, while Brians inserted a code into a keypad next to the door. Boyd wasn't able to see what the code was and he was still pensive and distracted enough that he didn't bother to really try. Instead, he looked around the hallway, trying to place it in his mind to the areas he'd observed in Johnson's Pharmaceuticals. He was positive this was not an area he'd investigated yet, which meant it was probably one of the corner halls of one of the lesser-used floors, yet for some reason he thought he'd seen it before. He heard the door open behind him and Brians moved aside to let him through.

Still looking out the hallway, Boyd stepped into the room at the same time as he finally turned to look at it, noting that it seemed small and the lights were out.

A stinging pain suddenly centered on his arm and was so abrupt that it caught him completely off-guard. Boyd had no idea what was happening but he automatically tried to jerk away with a startled, "What--!"

Brians grabbed him from behind and held him still despite his struggling, his arms locked in a similar manner that Archer had held him before except this time he seemed to be holding something to his arm. But Brians wasn't as strong as Archer and after his initial reaction of surprised struggling, Boyd was able to think clearly enough to go still and use his feet to kick at Brians' legs. The sudden dead weight combined with attacking his legs was enough to throw Brians' center of gravity off slightly; when Boyd abruptly jerked and the adrenaline raced through his system, he was able to break his hold and yank himself away, feeling something rip at his arm. Brians watched him, unperturbed, as he stumbled, caught himself, and automatically reached up toward his arm which was aching in pain.

He barely had seconds after he'd pulled away to note Brians had a needle in his hand before the man stepped back through the doorway. Boyd's mind raced furiously, calculating whether he'd be able to get past him to the relatively safety of the hallway, whether he even wanted to try. Brians was far larger and stronger than he was but he was probably also slower; there was a chance that if he ran for it, if he distracted the man somehow or caught him off-guard or even just used the advantage of his smaller body to wriggle his way out of his hold, he would be able to escape. Brians held a needle, though; even if he didn't immediately feel any effects, it was likely he'd just been drugged somehow and he didn't know how long it would take to affect him, so he wasn't even positive he would make it far.

Even so, he automatically started to run toward the door, mind already several steps ahead of the present as he tried to plan his escape but in the brief seconds as the door closed and he could have dove, could have fought his way through and tried his best to break Brians' hold on him, he hesitated.

He had to acknowledge that he was already in deep trouble, that Connors and his mother were furious with him, that Connors had told him he was heading to the second debriefing, that he'd been instructed to follow Brians. That he didn't actually have anywhere to go, that he wasn't even positive where he was in the facility and although he knew he'd be able to find his way out, he didn't know how long it would take. That for all that he wanted to run to the med wing to check on Sin, he also knew he was exhausted, that the tiredness and lack of proper food, water or sleep for the last two weeks was bound to slow him down, make him more confused, cause him to make more poor decisions.

If he ran now, he'd be running from Connors' direct orders and although he had stood up to him once, he didn't know what would happen if he tried again. And even though it had nothing at all to do with Boyd as to whether or not Connors would decide to revive Sin if he did flat-line once more, there was still some part of him that twisted in paranoia; what if his arguments for keeping Sin alive had somehow, in the back of Connors' mind, started to convince him? What if by acting so recklessly defiant right now, Boyd would anger Connors enough that it would negate the argument?

So he slowed as he reached the door, as it slid shut in front of Brians' face, and he placed his palms against it, his head tilting toward the ground as a wave of weariness rolled over him. Even supported by the wall he wavered on his feet, and he concentrated all his efforts on stepping back and studying the door just in case so he would know how to escape later if it came to that. But the door was encased in the wall; it slid shut with no hinges and no doorknob on this side. There wasn't even a keypad for him to access and as he studied the door, he realized there would be no way for him to get out. His heartbeat increased at the thought, but he still didn't know why he was there, he still didn't know what was happening.

He turned, leaning against the wall as he looked around the room. It was too dark to really see anything, but then the lights suddenly flipped on. He winced, closing his eyes from the sudden onslaught as afterimages of bright purple circles burned into his retina. Another wave of dizziness slowly rose around him, submerging him as he brought one hand to his forehead as if to steady his head. The dizziness didn't entirely fade, but after a moment he was able to open his eyes without the disorientation being quite so strong, and he squinted as he looked around the room. It was painted entirely white from floor to ceiling with no decorations at all save a metal table in the center and a few small fixtures scattered strategically across the tops of the walls. He looked around quickly for any sign of anyone else but he was alone.

He started to walk across the room, intending to get a better look around, at least to see the table better despite the fact that his eyes still hadn't quite adjusted to the brightness of the light. He headed toward the table and between one blink and the next, he realized someone was lying there. The room fuzzed white on the edges of his vision and he shook his head, thinking at first he was just seeing things, but the person was still there and as he came closer he realized with a jolt it was Sin.

"Si--" His eyes widened and he stumbled over his own feet trying to get there faster, wondering what the hell was happening, why he hadn't noticed him before. Had he been there all along and he hadn't been able to tell because it was too dark, because the light was too sudden and too bright? He almost fell against the table as he came upon it and now he could see it was Sin, he was lying there with his head tilted back lifelessly, his body as damaged as it had been in the basement and when Boyd dropped his hand to the table to catch himself, he felt warm blood sliding beneath his palms--

"Hello Boyd," a voice boomed suddenly, causing him to jerk his head up as he wildly looked around. No one was there and it took him a second to realize that it had to have come from a speaker of some kind. He did not recognize the voice and there was nothing particularly striking about it to give him a clue as to who the speaker may be; it was male, somewhat flat, monotone, and closely resembled the way announcers in advertisements sounded. "We have never formally met, but then, we've never had reason to," the voice continued smoothly. "My name is Shane Dourman, an employee of Johnson's Pharmaceuticals on the Fourth Floor Interrogation and Detainment Facility."

At the words, Boyd's eyes widened and he felt his heart jump. He looked back down at the table, some distant, confused part of him automatically thinking that the Agency had already punished Sin because he had stopped to help Jessica and now they were coming for him--

The table was empty, a dull silver that shone in the light, but the whites of the walls shifted in his peripheral vision, almost like pictures that pixelated abruptly and turned darker, less clear. For a moment, he thought he was back in the abandoned clinic in Monterrey, standing next to an empty table with only Sin's blood surrounding him to tell the story of what had happened. But when he squeezed his eyes shut then opened them again, the room re-solidified around him; white, stark. Empty.

He looked up at the ceiling again and the room rotated; disorientation rising steadily until for a moment he didn't know what was happening, he didn't even know if he'd actually heard the voice earlier, but at that thought he remembered the words and he shook his head again, placing all his weight on the table.

Fourth. He was on...

His mind was working in confusing ways, strange connections being made while other parts, things he thought were probably very logical, left gaping holes of confusion. The hallway... That's why he'd remembered it, from that video, long ago. When Sin was being transported and he'd attacked the generals... And his mother's parting words, suddenly talking about his recklessness, his safety, things she'd never bothered bringing up before but this time-- Had she actually been trying to warn him? Trying to say he needed to be careful because he was headed to--

The idea of being there frightened him, not knowing what was coming, only knowing it was a place to fear, a place even Sin never wanted to go--

Connors sent him there. Connors sent him but could he be too surprised? Sin had been sent to Fourth several times, this was the way the Agency worked. A person fucked up and they were punished. He'd just... He'd never had to come here and somehow, he'd never thought about himself being sent here. Maybe he'd thought he would never fuck up so much that they'd bring him to Fourth, but... Sin lying bleeding in the box and he'd looked dead, he'd looked dead, he remembered how terrified he'd been and what were they going to do to him, if they sent Sin to the box, then what would the equivalent be for him?

"The drugs will take full effect soon," Shane said calmly. "Once they do, you will be restrained by the guards."

The lights dimmed and Boyd looked around, his heart automatically pounding as the disorientation grew. Shane's words washed over him but he didn't quite comprehend them, couldn't quite understand why his heart was racing even while his mind still tried to slowly interpret what had been said. He could hear a distant whirring noise, like a fan in a machine, and a soft click. Spots of light appeared on the walls one after another, surrounding him until they shone brightly like headlights in the dark. He found himself moving away from the table, turning in a circle as he backed up and the spots of light just emphasized the darker parts between, made it seem hazier, the white fuzzing until--

He thought he heard movement behind him and he turned around suddenly, saw lo más chingón sauntering toward him, his form silhouetted starkly by the trucks behind him. Boyd stared at him in surprise, shook his head once to clear his mind, but lo más chingón was still there, walking closer as he seemed to be surveying the area. "Goodness. Lose your toy already, maricón?" he asked in his usual low drawl, a hint of mocking in his tone.

"Not... a toy," Boyd muttered, but he sounded a little confused and as he squinted through the light at lo más chingón, he saw his form waver and start to shift, to get a little shorter, a little stockier.

Connors' voice asked flatly, "Or did you just throw it away because you broke it? Was it too much work for you to bother to fix? Did you feel it was better to abandon it altogether?"

"I see no reason to keep something that is broken," Vivienne's voice said coolly from no particular direction. "It is a waste of space."

"What--?" Boyd said, squeezing his eyes shut and shaking his head again. "What's happen...?"

He wavered on his feet, stumbled and almost fell, caught himself only with a hand on the table and even just the feel of it gave him a strong sense of déjà vu. Fear was eating away at him now, starting at the edges of his perception until it slid into his blood and moved within him freely, completely. He tried to think clearly, tried to understand what was happening, but every time he tried to make any sort of connection it was as if the tide came in and washed it all away, powerful waves sucking his understanding out to sea where it was lost, tossed in the currents and absolutely gone and he couldn't... He tried to think but he couldn't and it frightened him and he needed to make it stop--

His eyes opened but it was just the room again, bright lights against the walls, a soft clicking but even that seemed a step away from reality, as if nothing was truly real anymore, everything was slowing being eaten by dreams that stayed even while he was awake, that stained his perception and made it impossible to understand what was really there--

"Until then, I have something I want to share with you," Shane said calmly, reasonably, his voice filling the room.

The lights on the wall glowed with an especially vivid, unearthly light that seemed to grow until it eclipsed everything around him. He stared at it, feeling like there was something moving just on the other side, ghostly voices that could almost be heard and then--

Something dark caught his attention, a flash of movement and he turned toward it. There was something large, a picture displayed across the entire wall and for a moment he was so disoriented that he couldn't even comprehend what it was. Shades of light and dark spread across the wall in a confusing jumble until something in him clicked and he realized he was seeing a body--

His heart lurched and he didn't even hear his strangled intake of breath, the second he realized--

An autopsy picture focusing on Lou's head and shoulders was spread across the wall.

Lou was lying against a metal table, his head tilted back and eyes wide open, blank and glazed. His mouth was open, showing where a few front teeth were missing or broken-- "It'll make it easier for him to give head," they'd laughed. Boyd had tried to get to him but he couldn't make it, he couldn't get away--

"What?" Boyd didn't even hear his voice, the frightened, lost word, didn't even realize his eyes had widened in horror--

Meat peeled away in chunks at Lou's throat; a stab wound nearly to the spine -- "Now you'll keep your mouth shut, won't you?" -- slicing straight through the larynx -- blood had flown out, his mouth was moving, he'd tried to say something but the words wouldn't come --

"Wha-- No," Boyd whispered in rising alarm, his heartbeat jolting faster, making the blood rush through his body so quickly he almost felt dizzy, almost felt--

-- overlaid by a gash so deep across that it cut straight through -- "Say goodbye" -- his throat was ripped open from Jared's knife, the grotesque wound clearly visible now that the blood was gone -- "I want you to remember this forever" --

Shaking, his hand was shaking against the floor and when had he fallen to his knees, when had he lost his balance? Lou's face was too large for him to look away and he was dead, he was dead, the blood was gone now so he could see clearly every wound and he still remembered the spray of blood--

"Oh God--"

The soft whirring and another click, another flash of black that he shouldn't have looked at but he did anyway--

Incisions neatly made across a chest he'd once touched -- "fucking stop it, Boyd; that tickles. I'm serious" -- and the skin was pulled back, pale pink beneath the layer of skin and muscles to show beneath where Lou's organs were in perfect view, his ribs cracked and cut straight through -- "Next time pick a fuckbuddy--"

"--no, Jesus fucking--"

"--who can actually back up his fucking mouth" -- into his heart, the wound a gaping hole --


Soft whirring and a click and he told himself not to look, he tried not to, but the room spun around him alarmingly. He meant to just slouch forward, meant to bring his hands to his head to make the world make sense again but when he opened his eyes he was staring at the wall.

He couldn't control anything correctly. He tried to look toward the table, to pull himself up, maybe to get away from the image-- But when he opened his eyes (when had he closed them again?) he saw the floor. Close, tilted at an odd angle, the bright white blurring closer to his vision and it wasn't until he saw the picture at an angle on the distant wall that he realized he'd fallen on his side. He tried to push himself back up, tried to turn away from the wall with the new picture, but his body wouldn't listen--

A shot of Lou's overall body was vividly colored against the white, the picture taken before they'd pulled his skin up. A stab wound to the heart -- the hilt had been the only thing he could see after Jared slammed the knife into him -- and three scattered across the stomach --

"No!" he cried out desperately. "Stop it, please!"

"I'm afraid that is not possible, Boyd. You must be shown the error--" Another flash, another image, but this time it was of Sin. "--of your ways. The way your actions and lack of actions harm the ones you care most about. In the past you lacked the skills to save the one you loved but in the present you have the skills and still failed to act."

With the blood cleared away, the wounds were especially visible. Sin was lying on his back, arms at his sides, naked so the extent of his injuries could be seen --

"Oh God," Boyd groaned helplessly, tears gathering in his eyes as he tried to look away but couldn't get his head to shift, couldn't even seem to make his eyes stay closed --

Burn marks and lacerations covered him, looking deep and agonizing, scattered across his body mercilessly but the worst part was his arms -- fingers ghosting up Boyd's thigh, a gentle touch despite how strong he was -- and legs; obvious damage from the stretching resulting in the familiar form of his limbs being lost, twisted -- the woman in the picture had her head thrown back, she looked like she was screaming but Boyd just flipped the page, saw on the next page a man and he was screaming too, his face was twisted in agony, it morphed and looked like -- Sin's arms and legs were broken, Boyd could see the bone showing through the deep, dual incisions -- Harriet leaned forward, the needle moving in and out steadily as Boyd struggled to get back there, Kassian's expression as he tried to revive Sin and Harriet's voice, "Kassian, he's dead. Just st--"

"No!" Boyd yelled, tears blurring the picture as he tried to force his body to move. The room was fuzzy around him but somehow the pictures were entirely in focus, somehow everything on them was perfectly visible --

--Sin's body was pale and lifeless beneath the bruises, the chest and stomach Boyd had run his hands along so many times -- "Don't leave me like this, Sin, let me be with you, please" -- now nearly unrecognizable beneath the deep shades of black and purple -- "Do you like me touching you?" -- that were overcoming him, even his face, making it hard to see -- his expression was strange; raw and beautiful and there were so many emotions that Boyd couldn't pick out even a single one -- the exact wounds, but it was clear he'd been through hell, clear that he'd suffered -- "Why?" -- "Because I trust you... because we're partners" -- and the lifeless slump of his body made him look dead -- "If this gets you caught--"

"Fuck-- No--" Boyd barely heard his voice twisting desperately, a step away from reality and mingling with the voices and memories he could feel too well --

"--you fucking deserve it" --

"No," he shouted, fear and pain mingling into a plea. "Please, God, I won't do it again, I promise, just please, let me go, please--"

"I'm afraid that is not possible at the present time," Shane said calmly.

Boyd's senses were skewed, some taking longer to translate in his mind before others.

He heard the door opening at the same time he realized there were feet in front of his eyes. He told himself to fight them, to break free and sprint out the open door but all he could do was stare blearily at the hallway -- it seemed so distant, miles away; not just the few feet he'd easily walked earlier. Now there was no chance he'd make it.

Hands grabbed his arms and pulled him up -- the room nearly turned on end, white on white on white with the photos in vivid, grotesque color spinning around him and then he was standing but they were the only thing holding him upright. Time jumped and he was suddenly halfway across the room. There were four guards in a circle around him, holding him tightly between them as they brought him across the room--

The table was getting closer and only then did he actually look at it fully, only then did he see the heavy manacles welded into metal and he realized what they intended --


--down, they were going to hold him--

Absolute, blind panic took over, the kind he had only felt once before in his life. Adrenaline slammed through his system while unadulterated terror filled him. He could barely grasp the rest of the room, could barely understand the images shining against the walls around him. All that he saw, all that he understood were the restraints--

"No!" he shouted, the panic making it into his voice and wide, terrified eyes. His voice cracked on each repeat of the word, louder than before. "No, no, no--!"

The darker part of him that rose up when he was held down overcame him; the part that prowled in the back of his mind with the crazed chaos of the way it had once been, when the darkness had been shadows that had leeched inside and stained him irrevocably from the soul outward--

There was no thought anymore to his movements, absolutely nothing logical or rational or even aware; he twisted and screamed and struggled violently without any regard whatsoever for even his own safety or health. All he had was the single thought-- get away, get away, before he couldn't move, before--

Distantly, his toes brushed the floor as they dragged him closer, but all he could see were the manacles growing closer, clearer, and-- dark eyes watching in the dim light, calm and emotionless; silence descending around him and trying to choke him as he screamed-- he could feel his mind quell and shudder in fear--

"No, no, please--"

Cold metal pressed against his back and he felt his heart jackhammer, a violent thump that made his chest ache straight through his ribs. The pain resounded through his entire body and caused his lungs to freeze for one terrifying moment. He didn't remember them setting him down, he didn't remember--

"Oh-- Oh God--"

His head fell to the side and he saw one wrist already encased in the thick metal -- it would be impossible to get out of, just like -- his entire body was quaking from the inside out, bone deep horror making it to the skin --

"Fuck-- Fuck, no! Please--!"

A guard leaned over his face and distantly, Boyd noticed the ceiling jolting -- was it an earthquake or -- no, the guard just tightened something, made his entire body shift -- and he could hardly breathe through the terror constricting his lungs. He was facing the ceiling but he didn't remember his head turning, he just remembered --

--being caught--

The guards moved around him calmly, his head rolled over of its own accord and he saw them head toward the door, leaving him alone--

-- He couldn't move --

His heart was trying to rip its way free of his ribs, a constant pounding that made his lungs stop, made his throat go dry and he didn't even realize he was screaming words still--

-- No, no, this wasn't happening, he had to get away, he couldn't --

-- He couldn't fucking move --

"Oh God, please, no!"

Someone turned the lights down further. It was getting too dark to see: The ceiling, the walls, the pictures shining against them, and where had the guards gone, how long were they missing?

Buzzing filled his ears, muffling sounds like cotton. But even in the dark he could still hear, becoming his sole focus.

"As the drugs work through your system, you will briefly fall unconscious." A calm voice, surrounding him.

The lights were out, or, no, it was his eyes, they were closed but he couldn't open them again--

"But I'm afraid we are not finished yet, Boyd. When you awake, I have a video I'd like to show you."

The buzzing grew, took away control and sensation of his entire body, his limbs. It dragged him down where white static hummed around him and darkness ebbed and surged like memories come to reclaim the living; ghosts among the dead.

Steadily, inevitably, even thought disappeared.

Unable to support the effort any longer, the world crumpled in on itself and went black.

Continue to Chapter 40