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 Forty-Two

Boyd had spent months too tired or depressed to get out of his bed to do little more than wander around the house or eat whatever small amount of food he could bother with at the time. Earlier his dreams and nightmares had been so vivid that they'd spread into the days. He still didn't know which parts he had and had not hallucinated, which parts were only dreams and which reality. But that could not have sustained itself forever; with enough time, even his imagination had lost all sense of color or intensity during the day and instead he'd fallen into an all-encompassing state of apathy. After long enough, it had seemed like he would have nothing else to look forward to; that the days spent in a half-slumbering state were just carbon copied and repeated indefinitely. So when Sin had suddenly appeared one night alive and relatively well, it was with a sense of confused shock that Boyd had responded, and even long after he'd disappeared, he had found himself glancing quickly at the door as if wondering if that had really happened or thinking maybe, somehow, Sin was coming back sooner than either had expected.

Sometimes it was almost like it hadn't happened. But even if the bullet hole was not there, he could recall too clearly the feel of those tense, broad shoulders beneath his hands, the smell that wasn't quite right surrounding him as he'd buried his face in Sin's hoody. But thinking so much about that started to bring back other thoughts, too. When he'd first returned from the Agency he'd found himself snapping awake from the midst of nightmares and the images would follow into reality. When his hands got caught under the sheets or he buried them under the pillow, his heart would jolt and he'd throw himself awake, terrified that he was still being held down, that he was still in that room with those pictures and those words surrounding him. The image of Lou being slaughtered pasted on the ceiling above him and his screams mixing with the screams of himself when he was younger, when he'd lost everything; even, temporarily, his sanity and sense of self. When he'd first been released from fourth, he'd had terrible dreams of Sin; of his death, of his dying, of watching the results of the torture bloom across his body and the echoing crack of bones dislocating and breaking under the onslaught of Janus' disregard for his life. And the entire time Sin would watch him, unforgiving and unrelenting, demanding without words why Boyd had let them do that to him.

Previously, he'd just let it happen; he'd believed every condemning word he could hear whispered in the dark, in his mind, and he'd turned it upon himself. But with the possibility of Sin still being alive, and, most of all, not blaming him for what had happened even if Boyd still couldn't understand why, he was trying to change that mindset. Now, he tried to turn the thoughts in other directions. When he started thinking about JKS and everything that had gone wrong there, he tried instead to think about the times before that; the way Sin looked when he smirked and the sound of that first startled laugh. When he dreamed in slow motion of finding Sin in the basement, of the flickering lights and the blood like paint splashed around the room, when he jerked awake and the shadows were like heavy poison around him, he'd breathe as steadily as he could and try to think instead of Sin's words that he hadn't blamed Boyd for any of that.

Even so, the days stretched endlessly before him. He still felt somehow confined to his house despite the fact that he could technically leave if he so chose. But he had nowhere to go. He wasn't about to try to visit Johnson's Pharmaceuticals for several reasons, the main of which was that he no longer worked there and, if the possibly-imagined Sin was correct, then it was an anomaly that he was still alive so pushing it would probably result in his death.

It was while he was in a similar state of thought while blankly staring at his comforter that he heard a knock at his front door. Boyd stilled, his heart rate automatically increasing, and he turned his attention solely to listen for the sound again, thinking for a moment he had imagined it. A few seconds passed and then, once more, the steady and deep rapping of someone calmly knocking on the door. Boyd walked to the front door feeling a mixture of paranoia, caution, and hope. When he paused in front of it, he hesitated before looking out the peephole just as he started to hear the knocking again, more insistent this time.

Some part of him must have wished it was Sin, returning as he'd said he would, because he felt an inexplicable sense of disappointment when he saw the blank-faced man standing on the other side. Not that it made sense but hope and desire rarely followed a logical path, as he felt was a definite case-in-point for him whenever Sin was involved. Just as the fourth knock was resounding across the wood, Boyd opened the door and warily looked outside, brown eyes squinting against the light. The man was nondescript; dark hair, dark eyes, a forgettable face, nothing particularly noticeable about his clothing, and it was for those reasons alone Boyd knew this was one of the agents that had been tailing him. He didn't say anything, just watched the man silently with an automatic sense of foreboding.

The agent nodded curtly at him then stood to attention, his hands held behind his back smartly. Despite the pose, Boyd knew fully well that he was not compromised; he would easily be able to react to any attack Boyd may have planned. "You've been summoned," he stated calmly.

Surprise and fear mixed as Boyd said, "What?"

When the agent didn't bother replying, obviously knowing it had been an automatic and meaningless question, Boyd looked around them quickly, searching for any other agents. He didn't see anyone else except the SUV, which had moved so it was directly across the street, its sides shining deep black and windows glinting in a manner that made it impossible to see inside.

"Why?" Boyd tried again, returning his attention to the agent.

"Orders," the agent said simply and Boyd shook his head once in a vague sense of annoyance.

"No. Why am I being summoned?"

The agent raised his eyebrows and said, "I just get the orders and carry them out. It's best if you come with me now."

Although he didn't say anything further, Boyd wouldn't have been surprised if the second half of those orders were to bring him in by force if he didn't comply. So, with one last quick glance around, Boyd said, "Just one moment, then," and grabbed the keys to the house so he could lock the door on his way out as he followed the agent to the SUV.

The ride to the Agency was uneventful and silent; Boyd spent the time staring out the window and felt a sense of déjŕ vu from when he'd been passing through Monterrey in a similar van. When they reached Johnson's Pharmaceuticals, Boyd stared at the massive skyscraper with an increased sense of foreboding; the building rose into the air in a manner that was far more intimidating to him in that moment than it ever had before. He didn't know exactly why he felt that way, but it was there and the feeling clawed at him from deep in his stomach. Although he kept the anxiety from showing in his expression, it didn't make it any less real for him.

After a moment the van stopped and when neither agent moved, Boyd glanced at them and stepped out of the vehicle, shutting the door behind him and peering at the compound through the gates. He expected the other two to get out as well but they stayed inside. The first agent rolled down his window and said, "General Carhart is waiting in briefing room 7-D. You are to see him immediately."

Boyd stared at the man in a sense of confusion and disbelief. "What-- Briefing?"

The agent didn't bother to respond; he simply gave him a look that stated he had best follow the orders as well, and the two drove off. Boyd stared after the van as it turned around the corner and, after a moment, he looked distractedly back at the guards who stood stone-faced, one watching him while the other scanned the surroundings. Boyd walked up to the gate, not knowing exactly how this was supposed to work because they had confiscated his agency cards and cell phone after releasing him but the guards just nodded at him and let him in. They probably had been alerted to his visit beforehand and were given authorization to let him through.

Walking through the compound was bizarre and rather unnerving; he felt more vulnerable at that moment than he had even during the previous winter when rumors had run rampant. The paranoia he'd been feeling at home would not quite go away and heightened his senses in a manner that made the situation worse. He felt like everyone was watching him but when he glanced around, very few actually were. He kept his posture and expression calm and intent in order to hide any sense of insecurity he was feeling, but there was still a part of him that was afraid. It was possible that this was as much a "briefing" as the second stage of the "debriefing" had been what he'd expected the last time he'd been on the compound.

However, he found himself going the same route he'd always gone to the room where his unit had met, and very little happened along the way. The conference table was there as always, with the same projector resting near Carhart and the same seats around the table. Carhart looked exactly as he always had, as if no time at all had passed and when he looked over at Boyd, it was with the same expression he'd always given him. Sin was sitting there, his expression bored, but his posture somehow led Boyd to believe that he was impatient although he looked over at Boyd when he entered. His hair was cut short the way Boyd last remembered and he was wearing his usual clothing; an old t-shirt and over-sized black cargo pants.

Jeffrey sat in his usual spot, pouring over a stack of papers with his briefcase at his side with his hair and clothing as immaculate as always. He flicked a glance Boyd's way and something about it seemed less dismissive; more aware than it had been in the past. Owen was there looking awake for once with a large, steaming cup of coffee resting near his hand, though his clothing was as disheveled as always. But to Boyd's disappointment Ryan was missing; he'd really been hoping to see him.

Not saying anything, Boyd simply walked around the table and took his usual seat at Sin's side, feeling that this entire situation was very strange, almost as if he had to be dreaming it even if he knew he wasn't.

The silence stretched uncomfortably and finally Sin's gaze dragged from Boyd's face and focused on Carhart as his fingers tapped against the table impatiently. "Are we going to sit here and jerk off or are you going to get to the point of this little gathering?"

Carhart's eyebrows rose and his hazel eyes observed Sin for a moment before he folded his hands in front of him neatly. "The point is an assignment, of course."

Boyd gave Carhart a confused look. "Wait... I was terminated, so if this is really a briefing, I don't understand why I was summoned here."

The General's calm gaze moved to him and although there was nothing terribly telling in his expression, the slight tilt of his head and the almost too casual way he shrugged his broad shoulders, gave away the fact that he was obviously pleased with what he was about to say. "Termination at Johnson's Pharmaceuticals is only official when an employee is officially terminated." The comment was both vague and telling at once and he continued. "Thus the reason why you were never removed from the system."

Boyd stared at him. "But I received a termination letter that also stated my codes had been wiped from the system. What was that then, if not termination? Unofficial extended leave without pay? Why wouldn't they just say so if that was the case?"

"I imagine that their decisions about what they choose and refuse to disclose are for very specific, intentional reasons." Carhart held eye contact for a brief moment before repeating meaningfully. "And like I said, termination is only official when employees are officially terminated."

"I understand what you mean," Boyd said, shaking his head. "I just meant," he started to say, then stopped. Specific, intentional reasons. It was Connors' idea to 'terminate' him, he had little doubt of that judging by his mother's reactions. If she had been the one in charge, she would have been upfront about it and would have informed him that he was suspended which was in essence what had occurred. He suspected that leading him to believe he'd been fired was also Connors' idea and perhaps the reason was simply to mess with his mind for an extended period of time. If he'd known he was just suspended it would have been different; he would not have had the feeling that his access to everyone he knew or cared about was unequivocally severed. He would not have lost all hope so completely, possibly. It made him wonder about Connors' wording, that being a field agent went along with being Sin's partner. If Sin had died, would they have brought him back or would they have killed him at that point?

"Never mind. So... Now I'm just being brought back to start in missions again?"

Sin's eyes went from Boyd to Carhart and then back again. His eyebrows were drawn together slightly but other than that, his face was unreadable. He didn't say anything and it was Carhart who spoke again. "Correct."

"I've been gone for an extended period of time, though," Boyd pointed out. "What if I'm not agent material any more? Or if I don't want to return?"

This time Sin sat up straight and he sent Boyd a glare so dark that everyone else in the room picked up on it, looking at him before their gazes returned to Boyd. But once again, he didn't say anything, even as his green eyes narrowed dangerously.

"The first question was stupid and the second was ignorant, so I am going to ignore both," Carhart replied flatly.

Boyd looked at Sin with a slight shake of his head, then turned to Carhart. "I didn't say that was the case, I was just curious. I suppose I wondered how obvious and quick the termination would be." More than anything, it was simply that they were such obvious questions to him that he felt they needed to be asked aloud, even if he wasn't serious about them. He noticed Jeffrey giving him a half irritated, half incredulous look but he ignored him. "I apologize for the interruption. You were talking about this mission?"

Appearing mollified by the explanation, Carhart nodded briefly before typing something on the keyboard in front of him. After a brief moment an image was projected before them of what appeared to be a neatly typed memo. It was brief and written in what appeared to be a foreign language of some kind, which was doubtful, or a code, which was more likely. It was on stationary although the header was not in view and was signed in what appeared to be ink, with the initials TB.

"Immediately following the aftermath of the Monterrey debacle, a search was put out for Thierry to be brought in for interrogation," Carhart said it calmly but something in his tone implied that the interrogation would hardly be a pleasant affair. "It was he who provided the faulty information and with little to go on other than that, he is suspected of either having done so unwittingly or because he finally chose a side and deliberately lured us into a trap."

Boyd looked at the memo, recognizing the handwriting as the same that had been on the note Thierry had left him with the disc.

"For months his trail was cold and unsurprisingly, it appears that Thierry used his resources and contacts to go deep into hiding. It was assumed that this was an admission of his guilt and that he was indeed hiding from us but several weeks ago it came to our attention that we weren't the only organization searching for him. Details as usual were difficult to obtain, we are dealing with a man who has perfected the art of hiding his tracks and who has managed to maintain relationships with many of the most dangerous organizations in the world for years, so it wasn't entirely clear who exactly the other organization was or why they wanted him. Investigations haven't turned up much on that matter; however, a week ago a contact of Thierry's who has also proved to be a source to Owen in the past, sent out a major distress signal and sent Owen an electronic copy of this memorandum. A note which, according to the contact, was left with strict orders from Thierry only to be opened if there was radio silence between he and his men for more than seven days. It was locked away, hidden, heavily coded and the second set of orders stated that it was only to be sent to us." Carhart nodded briefly at Jeff.

"In essence, the note gives three regions where he believes he would be held in the event he goes missing," Jeff explained. "The basic regions were listed as New Zealand, Northeast Mexico, and Ireland. Given that Thierry has ties to Janus, two out of those three regions are in Janus territory, and the Monterrey mission was so recent which includes ties to northeast Mexico, it seems that Janus may have been the other organization that was after him."

"I checked into New Zealand," Owen offered, surprisingly alert to the topic of conversation. He paused to take a large drink of his coffee, then grimaced and set it down. When he looked back up, the red in his eyes was obvious, as if he hadn't been getting much sleep lately. Then again, given Owen's typical state, even a normal amount may not seem enough for him. "There hasn't been anything suspicious going down recently in New Zealand, which doesn't really mean much since they could just be hiding it secret agent style. But, since Mexico seems to be the place where all the big kids hang out, we figured that was a good starting place. Also, Ryan was checking around and between us we heard that there are places in both New Zealand and northeast Mexico that have facilities where it's theorized they may perform interrogations or hold prisoners. But neither of us know exact locations."

Boyd's eyebrows drew down and he leaned forward, thinking that through. "Wait, northeast Mexico? You can't mean Monterrey? It's true that Janus may have a connection to the Mexican authorities, and I don't know what has happened since I was there, but I can't think of many places outside of the areas in the city that Kassian's group and I already checked that would work for keeping Thierry. The type of facility they would need that would be used on a regular basis for interrogations and wouldn't be as... haphazardly adapted as the ones we saw, simply doesn't exist to my knowledge in Monterrey. And the black market groups were still growing in strength by the time I left so I would imagine they have an even stronger presence and further control of any such areas by now."

Sin seemed largely unimpressed with the entire conversation; he had relaxed into his seat again and he was waiting with something approaching impatience. Boyd could feel his gaze on him, but he only glanced over a few times; his mind was working with the information they were giving him and his usual need to solve the puzzle was making it so he didn't want to distract himself with staring at his partner who, for the longest time, he never thought he'd see again.

"Yeah, pretty much what we thought, except, you know, without the details that make yours make more sense," Owen said. "I was kind of going by gut instinct and just the way Janus works. They're like lightning; don't hit the same place twice. Except when they do, which I think is only because it would be too obvious for the culture they're in or they get confused. Which is bad when you have a big terror organization like them, losing... Where was I going with this?" Owen looked at the others in confusion.

Jeff scoffed. "Why don't you try including a shot of intelligence in that coffee?"

"No, they only had espresso," Owen said, looking at him strangely. Jeff gave him a look that stated he thought he was an idiot, but somehow that seemed to jog Owen's memory. "Oh, outside of Monterrey, right? I mean it's not like it has to be specifically in that city. But we don't have any addresses at all, not in New Zealand even less in northeast Mexico. It's all pretty vague right now." He wiggled his fingers in a mysterious way.

"But most of northeast Mexico is desert," Boyd pointed out. "Well, there are plenty of towns in the surrounding areas and some large cities, but Monterrey..." He trailed off, thinking. When he had been in Monterrey, he had studied the city intently but he'd also done some research on the surrounding area. During some of the particularly intense days, when the heat had been too strong to wander around outside and Sin had been at work so he hadn't had anyone to distract him, he'd stopped by the libraries to research bits of Mexico's history, the culture, the language, and especially the current state of affairs. It had been helpful to gain a better understanding of where Monterrey fit in with the country, and it had also provided him with random information he otherwise would not have received. Even so, he couldn't think offhand of any place in particular that would make more sense than any other place would, and without knowing what specifically Janus would look for in the sort of place to house an interrogation center, it was nearly impossible to narrow down the choices. So he tried to think of other things; not that which he had read, but what he'd been told, what he had heard. For a moment that led him nowhere, but then something caught his attention.

"Wait," he said suddenly, sitting up straight. "Laguna de Sánchez. That's southeast of Monterrey, somewhere between Santiago and Allende, but I don't know much else about it. Lo más chingón warned me about that place specifically, though. He said," his eyebrows drew down as he tried to remember the wording, "that the people there would not be fond of the company I kept."

Carhart sat up and looked at Boyd with interest but didn't immediately say anything even though he leaned forward slightly as his eyes narrowed.

Sin, on the other hand, looked mildly confused by the information and raised an eyebrow at Boyd inquisitively. "I'm assuming this happened while I was down for the count," he said, mouthing twisting slightly in disappointment that he'd missed yet another opportunity to confront the smuggler.

Boyd met Sin's gaze and nodded slightly, still marveling at the fact that Sin was really there sitting next to him, speaking to him and that his green eyes were as clear and alert as ever; that there were no signs of any lasting damage despite how dire the situation had been. Thinking of that conversation with lo más chingón automatically put him in mind of what Sin's state had been at the time. "He stopped us on our way out of the city," he said simply.

"Who is this person? Why would we even care what he said?" Jeff asked before anyone else could speak.

Boyd turned his attention to Jeff. "He's the leader of the most dangerous and successful smuggling group that I know of in Monterrey. There are very few people who are on his level or would dare challenge him." He looked at Sin again; for some reason, because Sin knew of the man, he felt the need to explain to him further. "I was trying to avoid any of his territory but in the month since I'd had good intel, he'd taken over jurisdiction of the tunnel we escaped through."

"Why would he warn you about a possible Janus base?" Carhart demanded suddenly but despite the intensity of his tone, he didn't seem skeptical of the information, just intrigued. "What exactly happened when you encountered him during the escape?"

"Well," Boyd said, gaze lingering briefly on Sin before returning his attention to Carhart. "We were all extremely distracted when we were stopped by lo más lo más chingón and his men. I'd met him earlier in the assignment so when I recognized his mark, I attempted to negotiate. He called his men off, spoke to me for a bit about nothing in particular, looked in the van and spoke to several of the team members. He seemed... relatively amused by the entire situation until I attempted to stop him from looking into the van. He wasn't really being serious about anything but it was clear he knew we weren't simple civilians due to the riot gear everyone was wearing, and Sin's condition. I'm not certain why he warned me; any number of reasons are possible but it could have been related to the fact that I didn't seem particularly intimidated by him, that he'd seen me before and wanted to see what I'd do with the information, or maybe I just amused him. I have no idea when it comes to him."

Carhart's eyes didn't leave his face for several moments but when his gaze finally dropped, he switched back to the previous topic abruptly. "Laguna de Sánchez," He muttered thoughtfully, with a perfect Spanish accent. "Even if this information seems shady at the moment it's still a lead and the only one we have. I know Mexico is Ryan's forte but do we know anything about this area? It doesn't have to be specifically regarding Janus or suspicious activity."

Sin cleared his throat and looked at Boyd out of the corner of his eye before focusing on Carhart. "My former employer mentioned it in passing at some point. I wasn't really paying attention to what she was saying but she claimed it was a tourist spot because of its location near a national park and apparently she has family with property out there."

"Family?" Boyd echoed, looking at Sin a little more intently than he had before. "Close family?"

One shoulder rose in a shrug. "I guess. I have no idea. She seemed to have a huge family and apparently she kept in close contact with all of them so I don't know who's considered close and who's not, even if they're just extended or not really related by blood."

"Like Hale Clemons, right? Janus extraordinaire and her 'uncle'?" Owen asked, taking another drink of his coffee and grimacing again. He pushed it away too abruptly and it was only with Boyd snapping a hand out to stop it that it didn't spill onto all of Jeff's papers.

Jeff gave Owen a disgusted look. "Stop drinking that if you have such issues acting like an adult. Although you have a point. Hale Clemons was her extended family which is why she never appeared on his initial background checks."

Owen nodded, giving Boyd a grateful look for the coffee, then he turned to Carhart with his eyebrows raised. "But family property plus uncle plus Janus plus Laguna adds up to 100% suspicious. I think we should look into it. That's more coincidence in one area than I have in New Zealand."

"What I don't understand is why they are moving like this now," Boyd said, thinking aloud. "If the entire mission was a set up, then who were they trying to catch? I'd assumed it was the Agency since they caught Sin. But even after that was all over, they captured Thierry as well. And even if Hale Clemons was the Janus contact in the area, he can't be the only one. Why would he bother involving himself further in the matter?"

"He's probably taking it personally that information Thierry gave out led to Jessica dying," Jeff said offhandedly.

Boyd's gaze snapped to Jeff in surprise. "What?" He looked over at Sin, though he didn't seem to be asking him specifically when he asked, "Jessica died?"

Sin said nothing, expression unchanging and it was Carhart who wound up answering. "She was caught in the crossfire of gunfire before Sin was captured."

Boyd looked between the two of them. "I see."

"So we have a new theory to explore," Carhart said finally. "One that hadn't even been on the table before this briefing. We now have to take the possibility that Thierry provided the faulty information to us unwittingly more seriously, an idea that could possibly save his life in the end if it can be proven. If it turns out that he really is being held by Janus on Clemons' property, things will go more in his favor if he can be recovered alive. However before I even think to put any of this information in front of the Marshal, we need to do extensive research on the region. Owen, you can collaborate with Ryan as much as you can to find out what he already knows so that you can find out the things we need to know. Finding out whether or not Clemons owns property in that area will be the easiest part and that won't be enough to prove anything. Dig up any information you can find, anything suspicious about the property or movements in that area by Janus."

"I can do that," Owen said with a nod. He reached for his coffee again but Jeff gave him an irritated look and pulled it away before he could touch it. Owen made a mildly disgruntled face before he turned to Carhart blankly. "Uh... What was...? Oh. Right, I'll work on that right after we scramble."

"Good." Carhart glanced around the table. "If no one has any further questions and comments, we will reconvene as soon as we have more information on the topic. Boyd, see Ms. Green in HR to get your access card back and Jeff, meet me in my office in twenty minutes."

Jeff nodded and began gathering his papers, placing them very neatly and in a specific order in his briefcase. Owen was the first one to get up and leave, although he was far less fastidious about it; the coffee cup almost fell as he manhandled the door open and he could be heard quietly mumbling to himself as he headed down the hallway. Jeff made a face and snapped his briefcase closed a little more firmly than was necessary, only a few seconds behind him.

Boyd glanced at Sin, then moved to leave but before he could even fully stand, Carhart said, "Wait a second." Boyd looked at him curiously but settled back into the chair and waited for him to continue. "Do you have any questions?"

"Yes, actually," Boyd said after a moment. He'd been wondering about this through the meeting but there hadn't been a good place to ask. "Where is Ryan? It's not like him to miss a briefing."

The General observed him for a brief moment before responding. "He's indisposed at the moment, much to his displeasure, but hopefully he will join us next time."

Carhart didn't seem concerned that Sin appeared to be waiting for Boyd and when he seemed certain that Boyd had no further questions, he finally spoke. "I was wondering if you have any more information on this lo más chingón character that you can share with me. As I told Sin when I first debriefed him, I'm interested in gathering more information on he and his group just in case Janus does try to utilize him in the future, especially if he's stationed near what could be a base of their operations." He paused and sat back in the chair, crossing his arms over his chest. "Was there anything of note that you remember? Anything that stood out or can be looked into more?"

"If you are referring to anything out of the ordinary, everything about him stands out," Boyd said honestly. "He seems difficult to predict as well." He thought about it a moment. "He is adept at hiding and trailing; there were several times I felt someone watching me in Monterrey, yet I could never specify who or where it was originating from until he told me that it was him. He speaks Spanish fluently but his accent sounded different than the natives'. When he speaks English, his accent is American though I can't place from where except to say he doesn't have a Southern accent. He's also quite strong and fast. He is feared by many of the natives. He also managed to take over that tunnel apparently effortlessly when it was implausible that it would occur without bloodshed among los perdidos, the people guarding the area. Ah... There are any number of things I could think of. I'm not certain what you'd like to know?"

The General thought for a moment and reached up to rub his jaw. "Were you able to see any distinguishing marks on his person?"

"He always covered himself; I could never see his features. It's a well-known part of his persona and no one has ever seen what he really looks like so I can't even give you details from rumors." Boyd leaned back in the chair, thinking. "Although I can tell you he is about my height but more muscular and stronger than me. He has a tattoo entirely covering his right forearm, but between the fact that he was silhouetted by the headlights at the time and it was otherwise very dark in the tunnel, I couldn't see any details. I just recall thinking that it was strange. Ah... He wore something silver around his neck when I saw him the first time; it may have been a necklace of some sort. The first time I met him he was wearing all black but the second time he was in a flashier outfit; rings, tall boots, a hat and a scarf. He also walks with a swagger."

Carhart stared at Boyd blankly for a long moment before asking his next question. "And this seal you mentioned earlier? The one which you recognized?"

"All his crates and vehicles have '4FF' painted in yellow," Boyd explained. "Though I have no idea what that means. It may just be the name of his group; no one ever gave it a name except to refer to them as lo más chingón's people."

The statement was met with a long stretch of silence as Carhart continued to stare at him with the same strange expression on his face. It was only when Sin shifted impatiently and threw him an irritable glare that the General finally pushed his chair back and stood up. "I see. If anything, perhaps I will be able to dig up information about that phrase or anyone who has been known for using it." He collected his files, looking distracted, and nodded at the two of them. "Thank you for the information, Boyd. Without the things you told us today, we would still be without a lead and without any indication as to where to begin our search. I look forward to working with the both of you again after such a long absence and I will speak to you in a few days."

Although he didn't seem insincere about the things he said, the words were spoken in an almost automatic manner, as if he was too preoccupied to give them his full attention. He nodded at them shortly and exited the room, leaving Sin and Boyd to stare after him.

After a moment, Sin finally looked at Boyd again and shoved his hands into his pockets with a glare. "What was all of that not wanting to come back bullshit about?"

"I didn't mean that I didn't want to; I was just curious what the answer would be." Boyd said, looking at him thoughtfully as he stood. "It occurred to me that Connors probably intentionally made me believe I was fired rather than on leave so I had even less reason to retain any sense of hope. It also made me wonder what they would have done to me had you died; would they have officially terminated me at that point as my position was no longer valid or would they have made me into a typical field agent? So I suppose I was simply curious how immediate or severe the response would be in other terms, such as had I walked out or refused to return. Since I had no intentions of actually doing so, I decided to ask about it instead."

Sin stared at him suspiciously for a long moment before his shoulders relaxed slightly, although he didn't look away. "Well. Good."

Boyd smiled at him slightly, something almost ironic in his expression. "After all that work I went through trying to convince you not to leave, did you really think I'd just walk away?"

Sin's mouth quirked up into a slight smirk and he shook his head, heading towards the door. "No, I guess not." His posture seemed far more relaxed than it had during the entire briefing and he seemed in no rush to discuss anything to do with it. "Seems weird being here now."

"It does," Boyd agreed, walking with him as they went down the hall. He noticed the collar was on Sin's neck once again and his eyes narrowed slightly; although he wasn't surprised that they'd taken the opportunity to replace it, he still didn't like seeing it again. It made him wonder if, along with his access card and phone, he would find a new remote waiting for him as part of what they termed to be the necessities for his position. He wanted to ask how Sin was, what had happened during those few weeks when they hadn't seen each other, but he was very aware of the fact that there were cameras across the facility that were probably being monitored by the guards who would be able to overhear any conversation they had. The conference rooms didn't have surveillance or else they would never be able to have confidential briefings but it was different in public areas.

So instead he said, "For awhile, I honestly didn't believe I would ever step foot in here again."

Sin glanced down at him, his gaze lingering for a long moment. "Hard to say if being back is good or not when you take certain things into consideration," he muttered as they went to the elevator to go downstairs.

There was silence as they did so, both of them fully aware of the stationary camera that hovered in the corner of the elevator, and Sin shifted, looking irritated as he ran a hand over his short hair. When they reached the ground floor and stepped out of the elevator, he ignored the crowd of people who stood there waiting at the elevator bank and the looks they graced him with. A few people immediately backed away as he passed them but he didn't look at them twice. "Are you going to administration?"

"At some point," Boyd said, briefly distracted by a woman who was very obviously alarmed by Sin; she nearly dropped all her papers and turned immediately to walk back the way she had come. "Why? Where are you headed?"

Another lingering look and Sin shrugged casually. "Nowhere in particular. Back to the apartment."

Boyd considered that a moment, wondering if the cameras had been replaced. "Did anything change while we were gone?"

"Not that I'm aware, which is surprising." They exited the main lobby and stepped out into the courtyard. The spring air was cool, slightly moist and once again Sin stood there in the chill totally under-dressed although as usual he didn't appear fazed.

"Nevertheless, good to hear," Boyd said, pausing when he noticed Sin had stopped walking and was watching him. He just stared back for a moment, studying his expression and the way the muted sunlight made his eyes seem especially green, before it occurred to him that he had just intended to follow Sin to his apartment and hadn't even thought to ask if that would be alright. He slipped his hands in the pockets of his trench coat, feeling a little awkward as he asked, "Ah... I don't exactly have a reason to go home, so would it be alright if I accompanied you?"

That earned him another long stare before Sin nodded as he began to walk. "Okay."

Boyd nodded and fell into step beside him. The wind gusted, ruffling Sin's clothing and pushing Boyd's hair into his eyes. He looked around the courtyard, feeling like this was his first chance in over a year to actually see the place. The last several times he'd passed through the compound, he'd had been so pensive about other topics that he'd barely noticed his surroundings.

Now, he saw the pale blue shades of the clouds stretched thin high over their heads with the sun peeking through in pale shafts of light. The windows in the buildings around them glinted, rendering the rooms beyond them impossible to see. As he took in the people around them in the courtyard, he realized that everyone seemed to be in a rush or at least, that they wanted to appear like they were. Everyone had a sense of urgency in their stride and an intensity in their expressions that almost seemed forced. At first he'd assumed that it was only a handful of people possibly concerned about something work related, but as he looked around he realized that everyone was giving off the same vibe, everyone seemed equally stressed.

Despite that, the fresh air felt wonderful to Boyd; even if it was a little cool, he still felt more awake than he had been in a long time. That made him wonder exactly what month it was. He didn't have a cell phone to tell him, he hadn't had the energy or inclination to touch his father's computer, and any calendars that had been in his house were quite out-dated. He knew he had been gone for months, but that was something he could tell by the weather alone; it had been winter when they'd returned from Monterrey and now it was obviously spring. He still didn't know exactly how long it had been since he'd lost touch with the rest of the world.

"What month is it?" he asked it almost absently, looking up at the trees as the leaves rustled pleasantly in another gust of wind.

Sin raised an eyebrow at him as they walked in the direction of his building. "You sound like me when I emerged from the coma. It's early May."

"Hmm." Boyd studied the trees, the leaves colored in healthy shades of green and the sky seen beyond through the spaces in the foliage. He may not have been in a literal coma like Sin but in a way it did feel as though he'd been comatose. At that moment, Sin probably knew more about what had happened in the last several months than he did, which was strange to think about. He didn't care to dwell on the thought; not while he was walking next to Sin with the wind cool but pleasant as it shifted his trench coat against his legs. "It felt like longer."

Sin grunted noncommittally and glanced at Boyd again before they continued the rest of the walk in relative silence. They gained their fair share of long, curious looks from quite a few people as they went but that wasn't really a surprise. Despite the secrecy that the Agency was shrouded in, things had a tendency to get around and even if most people didn't know the truth of what had actually gone on during the year and a half that they'd been gone. However as they got closer to the building, the guards that were usually stationed in that area seemed less shocked by the sight of Sin than the general populace seemed to be.

When they reached the front of the building, two guards were stationed at the door as usual and Officer Daniels, the guard usually stationed at Sin's apartment door, was standing on the steps apparently taking a smoke break. He glanced at the two of them, blinking at Boyd in surprise, while Sin tilted his head in silent greeting and asked, "Mind if I bum one?"

The two guards at the door stared down at him oddly but Daniels didn't seem put off by the question; in fact it seemed that this was probably a typical exchange between the two. He held the pack out to Sin and said, "Keep it. I get them easier than you can, dude."

Sin pocketed the pack, Lucky Strikes according to the logo, and leaned close to Daniels for a light. Once again, Daniels didn't seem disturbed by the movement and he continued to lounge against the railing, looking at Sin idly as he lit one cigarette off the other and effectively invaded all of the guards' personal space. After a moment, Sin leaned back and inhaled deeply, seeming for all the world like a nicotine addict. "Good looking out."

"Anytime." Daniels gave him a half grin and glanced over at Boyd. "Long time no see."

It was a little surprising to see Sin acting in a manner that Boyd had previously thought of as more indicative of Jason than Sin. The fact that he was still smoking, the casual way he interacted, even to an extent the way he spoke, were all different from the way he remembered him interacting with anyone in the Agency. It put Boyd at a loss as to how to respond immediately, but he ultimately inclined his head toward Daniels.

"I see you're still assigned here," he said, and that made him wonder what had occurred while they were away on assignment and before his own return. "Were you transferred back when Sin started living in the apartment again?"

"Yup," the guard drawled with a half grin. "I was one of the few who didn't mind the job so they had no problems assigning it to me again. Which is fine; it's pretty easy work considering all he does is steal my smokes these days."

"That could be expensive, though," Boyd said mildly.

A casual shrug and a slightly wider grin. "It's okay. I get them cheap anyhow."

Sin raised an eyebrow. "How's that?"

Daniels shrugged again and winked at them. "That's for me to know and you to wonder about."

"Okay, enough of you," Sin said with a dismissive wave and shook his head as he turned to head up the steps and into the building.

Boyd watched Sin as he walked away, feeling rather mystified by his behavior, then glanced at Daniels. He nodded at him in farewell and Daniels returned the gesture. It didn't take long for Boyd to catch up to Sin; he followed him as they walked up the stairs, neither saying anything although it wasn't an uncomfortable silence. Boyd couldn't help watching Sin for a few seconds in the enclosed staircase; the scent of cigarette smoke trailed behind him the way he remembered from Monterrey, the casual grace with which he moved. He didn't want to look away; he wanted to study every aspect of his body and expression, to memorize the breadth of his shoulders and the way he could see his muscles moving beneath his shirt, but he knew that there were cameras even in the stairwell so he was careful to look away and act natural.

It didn't take them long to reach Sin's floor; a single guard was standing outside the apartment looking bored. He straightened his back when he saw the two of them, and while he did give Boyd a strange look, he didn't bother to say anything as they approached. Boyd didn't recognize the guard and guessed that he must have been someone new that had to be transferred over to replace the guards who, unlike Daniels, had opted not to return to their previous positions. Even so, he'd obviously been briefed on Boyd's existence or it was alright for Sin to have guests because he didn't challenge them or even ask who he was.

Sin unlocked the door and walked inside with Boyd not far behind him, stepping to the side to look around the apartment as Sin shut the door behind them. It was almost surreal; the apartment looked exactly the way Boyd remembered it from over a year prior. Once more, it made it seem as though no time had passed and nothing had changed even though so much actually had. He didn't notice any cameras in his cursory glance around the apartment and looked over at Sin as he said, "It's just as I remember it."

Sin didn't respond at first; he took a long drag of his cigarette, green eyes never leaving Boyd's face. After a pause, he abruptly stubbed it out on the wall and pulled Boyd further into the apartment. "There's a couple of changes."

"Is that so?" Boyd shrugged off his trench coat, tossing it over one of the chairs in the kitchen. "Where?"

His only answer was to be pulled further into the apartment. Sin didn't stop until they were in the bathroom, and didn't say anything until he'd shut the door.

Boyd's eyebrows drew together. "I don't see anything different."

Sin smirked and closed the space between them in one stride before he pinned Boyd's back against the sink, hands wrapping around the edges of the counter as he did so. "The difference," he said slowly, voice low as his eyes narrowed. "Is that this room is free of any hidden cameras, and furthest from the door. And now I can put that to use." His eyebrows rose slightly and he leaned forward, not giving Boyd the opportunity to speak, before he crushed their lips together in a kiss that was almost rough in its intensity.

That surprised Boyd enough that he took a second to respond, but when he did he automatically deepened the kiss, one hand moving to the base of Sin's neck to pull him closer and the other falling to his back. The familiarity of the taste and feel of Sin was strange after so long without him, but it was something he'd missed immensely and didn't want to let go of now that it was here again. One strong hand released the edge of the counter and slid down, cupping Boyd's ass and gripping it hard as Sin pinned their lower bodies together. He grunted softly against Boyd's mouth and rocked his hips forward, lips moving feverishly as if he couldn't get enough of Boyd, as if he wanted to taste and feel as much of him as he could before someone, somehow, made him stop. All thoughts fled both of their minds and neither of them spoke; for several long moments the only sounds in the room were low panting, wet lips and tongues colliding and fabric brushing against fabric as they began to grind against each other faster, harder, until their hips were practically pounding together in an effort to get more friction.

The sounds they made occasionally grew louder, mostly on Boyd's part when he briefly forgot to be quiet. After awhile he pulled away, breathing heavily and giving Sin an intense look with half-closed eyes before he jerked him even closer by the waistband of his pants. He leaned in to suck on Sin's earlobe and unbuttoned Sin's pants. He started to unzip them with one hand while his other slid beneath, then smirked against Sin's skin when he realized he wasn't wearing any underwear. Long pale fingers slid over Sin's bare ass and Boyd's breathing picked up when his own black jeans were abruptly yanked down. The brass button popped off and went skittering across the tiled floor as Sin shoved him back against the counter so that he was sitting on it. He leaned back on the heels of his hands and kicked off his jeans impatiently as Sin ripped open a drawer in the counter and fumbled around with the first aid supplies inside until he found a small jar of Vaseline.

Lust, excitement, and impatience overwhelmed Boyd; he hadn't thought about sex in so long that it should have been strange or awkward but instead every touch, every gasp or exhalation of pleasure was completely natural, like no time had passed between the present and the last time they'd been together. When impossibly strong hands gripped him roughly or held him tight, he didn't freeze or panic, he had no flashbacks of the fourth or Shane or his phobia. He wanted Sin; he wanted to be able to touch him whichever way he wanted and without having to fear repercussion, he wanted to feel this kind of hot, intense passion, the type that made his thoughts hazy and body sensitized so that every doubt was temporarily blocked out.

"Oh fuck," Sin groaned quietly, green eyes rolling back in his head and Boyd's mind centered on that deep, sexy voice. His fingers wrapped around Sin's erection, smoothing Vaseline over it generously, hurriedly, and he continued stroking it for longer than was necessary, ignoring his own throbbing dick as he focused intently on the look on Sin's face. His need for more led to impatience and he lifted one leg up on the counter, pinning his knee against his chest as he spread his other leg and leaned back further, his upper back resting against the broken cabinet. It was uncomfortable but he didn't particularly care at that moment, not when he could see Sin watching him hungrily as he positioned himself.

Boyd threw his head back, eyes squeezed closed temporarily and teeth gritting at the sharp pain that accompanied penetration. But the pain became pleasure as Sin shoved into him over and over, the cabinet rattling behind him occasionally as particularly hard thrusts shook the contents within. Boyd braced himself with one hand against the counter and slid the other along Sin's skin, finding places to clutch painfully as the pleasure increased until he was slamming himself against Sin violently, desperately, forgetting to be silent as his mouth hung open and loud moans and half gasps escaped into the air. The acoustics of the bathroom made his moans seem louder, to the point that Sin covered Boyd's mouth with one of his hands to smother the sounds. Boyd's eyes narrowed at being quieted, his mind mostly lost in the intensity of the moment, and he sunk his teeth into his hand, not letting go. Sin didn't even flinch, too lost in the feel of the tight, hot muscles encasing his cock. Their movements were hurried, frenzied and Boyd dropped his away from Sin to begin clumsily jerking his own erection just as Sin got more frantic.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck, oh fuck yes," Sin hissed quietly, urgently, and by the time he came and slumped forward, Boyd was practically screaming against his hand as he orgasmed as well. They collapsed against each other, panting harshly, remaining that way for a bit. Sin didn't bother to immediately move his hand and when Boyd had enough presence of mind, he ran his tongue along the skin, tasting Sin's sweat. After a moment, Sin put his hand on the counter beside Boyd but he didn't pull away yet while Boyd drank in the sight of his darkened green eyes and swollen lips. He felt another emotion swell within him, something that accompanied the lust and desire but was not quite the same thing, and didn't resist the urge to pull him in for another few quick, heated kisses. Sin was like an addiction he couldn't give up and for another few moments, they lazily reacquainted themselves with the taste of each other's mouth. Eventually, Boyd broke the kiss by dropping his head back against the mirror and nearly closed his eyes, ignoring the discomfort of his position for a moment as he just slumped and tried to catch his breath. Finally, Sin stood up straight and pulled up his pants as he gazed down at Boyd blearily.

Boyd could hardly pay attention to anything other than the satiated feel of his body, but he felt the stare centered on him and he smirked slowly, one hand resting idly on his bare stomach where his shirt had moved up at some point. He opened his eyes halfway and studied Sin with dark eyes, looking tousled, well-fucked and relaxed. He didn't want to forget any of this, just in case things changed again or something happened to take away his ability to get this close to Sin. He committed Sin's expression to memory, along with the feeling of Sin pounding into him and even feel of the strong hand muffling his voice before he'd bit him.

"You covered my mouth," he murmured, his tone nearly a reproach although he didn't seem angry.

"I almost didn't," Sin said with a raised eyebrow. The corner of his mouth twitched up. "Almost decided to give these idiots what they've been wanting and put on a show." He leaned against the bathroom door and dropped his hand to his crotch in an almost protective gesture. "But everything seems to be in working order so I don't want to push my luck."

"Hmm. I didn't realize our sex life was in such high demand," Boyd said lazily, trying to get himself to bother to move. As uncomfortable as the position was, he was still feeling relaxed enough that he didn't feel like exerting any extra effort at the moment. The rest of what Sin said filtered through his mind belatedly and he finally gathered the energy to slide off the counter. "Are you implying that I was your test ride?"

Sin finally opened the door. "I could have tested it out in another way if that was the case," he said with a snort, making a crude hand gesture near his crotch with a smirk. "But I wasn't really thinking about it too much until today."

"I must just have that effect on you," Boyd said with a smug smile, leaning against the counter. "Although in the interest of avoiding awkward conversations with your guards, it may be best to go to my house more often. Assuming I will no longer be monitored, it's quite a bit more private there. Otherwise, despite my best intentions, I make no promises regarding noise levels. Which, incidentally, is your fault."

Sin shrugged in mock innocence and finally exited the small room, heading across the apartment to the kitchen so that he could light a cigarette from one of the stove burners. He waited until Boyd wandered closer to him before speaking as he inhaled deeply and eyed the blond man for a moment. "That'd be great except I'm still not allowed to go wandering off all by my lonesome," he said but despite the calm tone, there was a definite undercurrent of bitterness in his voice. "That's why I couldn't see you for the past three weeks. That and I was being monitored in the medical facility for most of the time."

"Unfortunately, I assumed that would be the case," Boyd said quietly, so his voice wouldn't possibly carry to the other side of the front door. "You were allowed to leave with me before, though. I would suspect it's the same now unless they no longer trust me enough to vouch for you."

"I'm not sure what's going to happen now. Seems like things have changed since we've been gone. Someone's putting a lot of pressure on Connors and his way of dealing with it is running this place like Hitler. He's gotten rid of a lot of people for making mistakes. It's come to the point where I'm surprised everyone in our department is still breathing after his attempt at blaming that situation on us but I supposed we are difficult to replace and he's decided to focus his wrath on Thierry."

Sin leaned against the counter and watched Boyd, his previous easy going attitude turning into a far more serious one. One long finger tapped against the collar on his neck absently. "But he did make it pretty clear that if I ever 'let myself fall into such a state' again, he'll personally remove me from life support."

Boyd's gaze lingered in displeasure on the collar. "I see he hasn't lost any of his charm since I last interacted with him."

Sin shrugged. "I know that above everyone is a higher power and that he definitely answers to someone, just like Vivienne ultimately does. The way I took this information was that it isn't our unit or our failure that led him to become that way; it was something that was building before we even set foot in the convention center, the entire time we were gone. Although if you want to be technical about it, Janus is after the American government in general and of all the groups and things the Agency deals with, they are the ones everyone most wants gone. They're this generation of politician's focus, the terrorist organization that must be stopped at all cost, even if they're not necessarily terrorists so much as insurgents although the government uses their earlier actions to give them the label."

There was a long pause as Sin fished out the crumpled pack of Lucky Strikes and brought one to his lips. "They're very well known by the people and even the most liberal of the left wing are against them, or at least they are publicly. Defeating them has become propaganda for every politician hoping to get into office. We're not even the only unit that deals with them. There's an undercover unit with people trying to get in on the inside, there's a unit specifically for intelligence gathering... we're involved in something that's a big deal to a lot of people. So when Connors told whoever that we had a chance to decapitate their organization and then that fell through, I imagine he heard some shit about it; although now I suppose he knows that it wasn't our fault, and he still essentially needs us at least until he replaces us if he wants to get shit done, that's probably why he's so frantic to find Thierry. Not only is Thierry too much of a wild card to have on the loose if he is working with Janus, but we can get a lot of information out of him regarding not only Janus, but every other rebel organization he's involved with which would be useful to many other units in this agency." Another brief pause. "I kind of feel sorry for the bastard if we do find him."

"I don't know what I think of Thierry," Boyd said, thinking about the brief time he'd been in contact with the man. "I barely know him and certainly did not spend enough time around him to truly understand how he works. He seemed sincere, yet his very life depended on the ability to appear so to everyone regardless of his true nature. It does make me wonder what really happened and what he will say if we find him, though if Connors thinks finding Thierry will solve many of his problems, I doubt that's the case."

Boyd paused, not knowing what he felt about that. If Thierry had betrayed them, he would have less sympathy for him than if he hadn't. On the other hand, he had seen what Janus did to those it was displeased with and he couldn't tell if he would ever wish that on Thierry regardless of what choice he had made. The only reason he wasn't certain where his sympathies lay was the fact that if Thierry had purposefully given them bad information, then in a way he also shared responsibility for what had happened to Sin.

"Maybe. But he's had Owen and Ryan harassing every contact to find him."

"I see," Boyd said . Then mention of Ryan reminded him of his earlier question. "Have you seen Ryan? I was surprised he wasn't at the meeting."

"No, but I've had no reason to yet."

"Is he working on something special?" Boyd pressed, wondering what exactly had indisposed him. "Owen was missing from a few meetings at one point as well; is that a typical cycle of their position?"

"I have no idea." Sin lit his cigarette, not seeming very concerned. "Why don't you just go see for yourself."

"I will, I just thought you may know," Boyd said with a shrug. "I'll probably ask him after I stop by HR."

Sin didn't say anything and Boyd fell silent, watching him for a moment before he thought to check his watch. It was still several hours until the administrative levels with Human Resources closed but he had no idea how long it would take to get his ID card and phone. Theoretically, it was something that should just take a few minutes where he'd just have to pick them up, verify he was clear in the system, and leave, but it was exactly because of that simplicity that it would probably turn out to take hours; bureaucracy tended to complicate matters unnecessarily.

Boyd pushed himself away from the counter. "I should go. I'll be around the compound, though, and if they've changed my cell number I'll give you the new one if you need to contact me for some reason."

Sin nodded, watching Boyd with a long, lingering gaze as he got ready to leave. It looked like he wanted to say something, but stopped as they got closer to the door. With an irritated glance at the door, or more accurately the guards on the other side of the door, Sin just ran his fingers lightly over the side of Boyd's face. In response, Boyd caught his hand and briefly pressed his lips against it. They looked at each other for another long stretch before Boyd flashed a slight smile and turned to go.

It didn't take him long to make it to HR but it turned out to be good that he'd allowed so much time; in the end, he had to wait around for half an hour and even when he could speak to Susan Green, it was another hour and a half before everything was settled and he was able to leave. It turned out he had the same cell number as before, which was convenient.

He headed towards Complex C and used his newly returned ID card to get inside the building. He didn't recognize the guard at the entrance but he hadn't been to Ryan's in awhile so that was nothing strange. As he headed toward Ryan's apartment, he wondered what he could possibly be working on that would have caused him to miss the meeting. Although Boyd assumed he was probably researching Thierry's whereabouts, it must have been very difficult information to procure if Ryan was missing meetings for it. As far as that went, what had Owen been working on previously that had caused him to disappear as well? Then again, each of them was in charge of researching and keeping tabs on the rebel groups in half the world, which was a formidable job for anyone. It wouldn't be surprising if they temporarily got sidetracked by other things, even if Janus was now their main focus while the unit was active.

Boyd stopped in front of the door labeled 15H and hesitated. He very much wanted to see Ryan but he wondered if he would be disturbing him in the middle of something important. On the other hand, if Ryan knew he'd returned to the complex after over a year and hadn't bothered to stop by, he'd probably think that Boyd didn't care about him and that would hurt his feelings more than being interrupted in the middle of research. That made the decision for him and he knocked loudly on the door, making sure he was standing in view of the eye hole so Ryan could see who it was.

More than a full minute passed without an answer and after a moment of debating leaving and trying another day, Boyd knocked again. This time there was a muffled call through the door followed by a brief fit of coughing and after awhile the door swung open. Boyd was greeted to the sight of a very disheveled looking Ryan who appeared to have just rolled out of bed. His clothing was rumpled and his unruly black hair stuck out all over the place but the most shocking thing was his actual pallor and emaciated form. It looked like he hadn't been outside in weeks, months maybe, and the pastiness of his skin screamed illness; even his lips looked pale. Dark circles shadowed his eyes and his sweater hung off him alarmingly; he'd always been thin but now he looked barely more than skin and bones. But despite this, his mouth widened into a huge smile and his eyes lit up as he focused on Boyd. It didn't take him long to launch himself at the other man and when he wrapped his thin arms around Boyd, he was shocked at how fragile Ryan felt in his arms.

"You're really back!"

The shock of Ryan's appearance briefly made Boyd forget anything he'd meant to say, so he just reacted physically rather than speaking. He automatically hugged him back but didn't dare tighten his arms too strong around him for fear of hurting him. Of course he knew Ryan had an illness, but he hadn't been prepared for the sight or feel of his friend. Concern and worry settled in an uncomfortable knot in his stomach and he wondered how he had grown so much more ill during the time he'd been away.

Ryan didn't pull away from him immediately and Boyd couldn't help holding him a little closer despite himself; Ryan still had the ability to comfort him simply by his presence and he realized at that moment exactly how much he had missed him. He wanted to ask him if he was alright, why he looked especially sick, but he didn't think it would be appropriate to bring up in the doorway where anyone could hear down the hall, so instead he said, "I'm sorry if I woke you; I wanted to see you and let you know that I'm here and I'll be around again."

"Don't apologize," Ryan said quickly, finally pulling away. He grinned up at Boyd before backing up and waving him into the apartment. "I've missed you so much. I know that sounds gay but seriously, I did."

As Boyd stepped into the apartment he saw that it was as unorganized as ever but now the presence of a very large and very hi-tech humidifier and air filter were hooked up in the living room. The entire apartment, at least what he could see of it, seemed to be sealed airtight. He looked around the apartment briefly before refocusing on Ryan. "I missed you too," he said honestly. As happy as he was to see Ryan, the pallor of his skin seemed starker inside the apartment, to the point that he couldn't wait any longer to ask. "Ryan... Are you alright?"

Ryan stiffened visibly, shoulders tensing but he continued to smile and waved the question off. "Yeah, you know how it is. I'm always crappy after the winter months. It sucks that you have to see me like this though. Embarrassing."

"I'm happy to see you regardless of how healthy you seem, and I'm not trying to be rude, it's just..." Boyd brought a hand up without thinking and touched Ryan's cheek, noting that his temperature felt relatively normal. His eyebrows drew down in thought. "I don't recall it being quite like this after last winter. Does it go in cycles across the years as well or have you just been too stressed with work?"

"Who knows," the smaller man responded vaguely. "It comes, it goes, it's bad, it's good. I'll never really known what causes it to behave so erratically unless there's suddenly some ground breaking discovery in the study of the disease. It's not too bad, really. It means I get to do my work in my pajamas and e-mail the heads instead of going in for meetings." He plopped down on one of the sofas in the living room and shoved a stack of comic books and magazine off the neighboring cushion. "How are you? How's everything? Tell me everything."

"I'm alright." Boyd sat down next to him, still studying him despite Ryan's words. He looked briefly around the apartment again, trying to reacquaint himself with the idea of just being around someone he could easily talk to again. Having the ability to be around Sin and Ryan helped to relieve some sense of tension he hadn't realized he'd been holding in. He'd primarily intended to stop by to check on Ryan and hadn't thought about how Ryan would probably have many questions for him as well. It took him a moment to gather his thoughts.

Finally, he looked back at him and said, "I suppose everything is fine right now although to be honest, I'm still a little off-balance being back at the Agency after so long. It seemed surreal when I first walked in and now the routine is returning to me." He paused, running a hand through his hair to get the choppy brown and blond out of his eyes. "As for anything else... I don't know where to start."

Ryan rested his chin against his palm and gazed at Boyd silently for a moment. His lips parted briefly before he sealed them again, seeming to be unsure of what to ask or what to say. Boyd wasn't sure exactly what Ryan knew about what had happened when he'd returned but when Ryan finally spoke, he was relieved that his punishment or meeting with Connors didn't come up. Instead Ryan's wide eyes grew rounder as if he'd suddenly remembered something and he leaned forward. "How was nearly a year of living with Hsin?"

"Ah." That was a logical question, but in a way, an awkward one to answer honestly. "That was... interesting at first, but overall it was good," he said, trying to determine the best wording, his tone relaxed and calm. "Neither of us was accustomed to the heat and, at least for me, being attracted to him but in such close quarters made it difficult at first." He leaned back, having forgotten how comfortable Ryan's sofa was. "Eventually, it got better. I probably should have listened to you earlier, though; you were right that the attraction was on both sides."

Ryan's dark eyebrows shot up and for a moment he seemed stunned into silence but then his lips stretched into a wide grin. "I knew something would happen! Well I was pretty sure anyway. I should have bet someone but I had no one to bet. ...Wait. Something did happen, didn't it? It wasn't just some mutual confession that was quickly ignored? Man, he did actually say it didn't he? You didn't just figure it out on your own and then never mention it?"

"It was initially more action than confession but, no, it wasn't ignored," Boyd said, thinking about the first time Sin and he had fooled around. "I think if the same catalysts had occurred here it may not have turned out as it did, but we were far away from anyone watching us and it made it easier to just do what we wanted. We've had sex several times since then so the physical attraction became pretty obvious. Although it's not exactly information we plan to advertise so it's best if no one else knows."

"Wow. I'm impressed. Seriously." Ryan stared at him in amazement. "Wow." A brief moment passed and he shook his head slowly. "Some day I'll be able to think of something more clever than that to say but at the moment I'm freakin' floored. I mean-- so are you two... I don't know. Wow."

Boyd raised an eyebrow, amused by the reaction. "Is it really that impressive? I suppose it's been awhile since I've seen you so it seems more normal to me."

Ryan shrugged and scratched the back of his head. "Well I mean... he's just so... I don't know. I always had the feeling he was interested in you but now that I think of it, I can't really picture him... not being all... Sin-like. I dunno." He shook his head and smiled again. "Wow that's a hot mental image now that I've conjured it up."

That made Boyd laugh briefly; that was another reason he'd missed Ryan, just by being himself he somehow managed to relax him enough that natural reactions of laughter or amusement were more likely to surface. "Well, I won't lie and say the mental image is probably wrong. His personality became far more relaxed after the time spent there, though, and remnants of that change remain. You may experience some of it when you next see him."

Ryan nodded but his expression grew slightly more serious. "So does that mean he's really okay? I mean they made it sound like he'd never wake up, I was really unsure when suddenly I was told that he was around again."

Boyd's expression darkened and he dropped his gaze to his hands. "I know. I didn't believe it either, even when I saw and spoke to him. I couldn't understand how he was fine, but somehow he seems to be." He paused a moment then looked back up at Ryan. "It's beyond me," he admitted. "I honestly believed he was dead or would be brain damaged. I doubt there's anyone else who would have somehow managed to make it through that and even have a full recovery. I can't imagine I would have."

The other man snorted. "I can't even survive a cool breeze. I'm sure if anyone ever tries to torture me for interrogation my body would give up as soon as the idea was brought to attention."

Boyd shrugged, falling silent as he studied the couch. He didn't particularly want to discuss at length the subject of torture, not after what he'd seen of Sin or even, as much as he tried not to think about it, what he himself had been through; so he didn't know what to say to that. Instead, he looked around the apartment, noting that there seemed to be more piles of paper and perfectly posed figurines than he recalled. It made it seem as though Ryan had been staying in his apartment more often than usual, which made Boyd wonder exactly how long he'd been as ill as he was. He looked back at Ryan and asked, "So what have you been doing lately? Anything interesting?"

"Eh, nothing much," Ryan said, once again in the same vague manner. "Work as usual, there were a couple of big assignments that sucked up months of my life. Oh, and I had a brief romance but it's not much to talk about."

"A romance?" Boyd asked with a raised eyebrow. "Now I'm curious. Is it the same person you were talking about before?"

"Who?" Ryan's eyebrows drew together and he frowned slightly before he seemed to remember. "Oh no, not that guy. Someone else. He's a field op; cute, athletic, friendly, closeted gay. I don't think you know him."

Boyd nodded. "Why was it brief, if you don't mind my asking?"

Ryan shrugged and stood up suddenly, looking around the room before trailing over to his desk as though he were searching for something. "I don't know. I just told him I didn't want to see him anymore. I guess I didn't feel like getting involved," He replied after a moment, not looking at Boyd as he shoved aside a stack of folders and pulled his glasses from beneath. "It was no big deal. It was just something to do I guess. It's probably better for him anyway, I'm kind of a drag."

Boyd watched him. "Ryan, you are the last person I would characterize as 'a drag,' but you have to do what you feel is best for you. Did those assignments have anything to do with meeting him. Or were you briefly suspended like Carhart and Jeffrey were?"

"Nope, me and Owen didn't really get any of the backlash to be honest so we carried on business as usual, even while Carhart and Jeff were out. I mean no matter what's going on with Janus I always have the other groups to keep tabs on; they put me in a couple of other units for two assignments which happens from time to time. Before this unit was created I was moved around pretty frequently. It was pretty busy for awhile; I had one assignment that was totally unrelated to rebel factions entirely so that was kind of new and exciting. I had a lot of fun stuff to research; barely slept for a week because I was so into it." Ryan pushed his glasses up his nose and sat on the edge of his desk. "That's actually why I met that guy. I went on a late night coffee run and he was in the cafeteria just getting back from an assignment."

"What's his name?" Boyd asked in interest, trying to get a grasp on who this man was that had caught Ryan's attention. "What unit is he in?"

"His name is Andrew. He works with Willis a lot, I'm not sure who else. We didn't really talk too much about work stuff because he isn't supposed to talk about most of his assignments even though I probably know more about it than he does generally."

"Damian Willis? I've heard of him in passing; his unit deals with terrorists, doesn't it?" Boyd considered what Ryan had said about him being athletic. "Andrew must be on one of the apprehension teams, then?"

Ryan nodded and a small, amused grin crept up onto his face. "Yeah. He gets all like, I don't know, noble about his job. Like he's saving the world by taking down these bad people and that makes him a superhero or something. It's cute in a way but after awhile I wanted to gag."

Boyd smirked in amusement. That made sense if he couldn't speak about his job; in truth, none of the units really discussed what they were doing with the others, as far as he could tell. It was a general matter of secrecy that encompassed the very nature of being in the Agency. He wouldn't be surprised if even the administrative assistants and clerical workers didn't discuss amongst themselves the information they dealt with on the computers or filing systems. "How much does he know about what you do, then?"

"I just told him I was a geek," Ryan replied, as proud as ever of his self-proclaimed title. "That I'm research and development for the Insurgency units. He seemed to think like, it dealt with kind of the same stuff as he does and I tried to tell him without telling him that mostly we just smack down the people who don't like our government and not the people who just like to destroy stuff because they're crazy."

That response was not one Boyd would have expected from before; Ryan had always seemed very positive toward the Agency and with that viewpoint he never really spoke of the rebels like Janus that way before. Boyd nodded. "Yes, his position could be considered a little more glamorized. Did you go off the compound with him?"

The grin melted off Ryan's pale face again and he looked away, tugging at the frayed end up his sweater. "No, that's why I said I'm a drag. He's all... I don't know. Outgoing and stuff."

Boyd raised an eyebrow. "Ryan, stop calling yourself a drag. You're not. Whether or not you leave the compound doesn't really matter, since I'm sure you were more interested in seeing him and you could do that anywhere. I was simply curious if you two had been anywhere I knew of but it doesn't matter."

"I guess," He replied quietly with a shrug and for a moment they fell into silence. There was something about Ryan's expression and body language that screamed depression; a melancholy in his dark blue eyes that made Boyd think that something had definitely happened to change his friend in the past year. But if Ryan wasn't ready to talk about it, he wasn't going to push.

Ryan looked up finally and completely changed the topic. "Are you happy to be back at all?"

The question caught Boyd mildly off-guard and he opened his mouth to automatically respond but then stopped and actually thought about the answer. He looked away. Was he happy to be back?

"I don't know," he said honestly, absently studying a nearby pile of papers that looked ready to fall. The only thing holding it up appeared to be a little black robot model with some sort of bat wings and scythe. "I don't know if 'happy' is really the correct word for it; so much has happened that I feel like I'm still adjusting. And for a period of time I wouldn't have imagined I could ever feel anything like happiness again." He fell silent briefly, brooding, then looked over at Ryan with a sincere expression. "But at least I can say that I'm pleased to see you. And I was pleased to see Sin and that he was better. It's a relief in both your cases, actually."

Ryan seemed to study him for a moment, eyes slightly narrowed behind his glasses as his lips pursed. "If... you could have just stayed away and like, still seen me and Sin, would you have been happy?"

"I think..." Boyd imagined that but it only seemed appealing if it was a scenario in which Ryan and Sin were as free to wander around as he was, if the people watching him had disappeared, and possibly even if the three of them were somewhere removed and relaxed like Monterrey. "No, I don't think so. Not unless we were all somewhere we could just... do what we wanted or at least we had some sense of equality. If you two were here and I stayed at my house between visits, I think it would just make it worse. I would feel... uninvolved and unable to do anything. Impotent, I suppose. At least now I have some sense of equality; I know I have some control over the situation and I have something to do with myself. Whatever the Agency is or is not to me, it does provide me with a chance to problem solve and improvise, and it keeps me near the people who are important." He tilted his head, making eye contact with Ryan. "But if it was a choice between the three of us in a place like Monterrey and unconnected to anything, and the three of here in our present situation, I would choose Monterrey."

Ryan answered with a solemn nod and for a moment it seemed as though he were choosing his words, or at least his next question, carefully. "It seems like... I don't know. Was it really that different there? What was it like-- just being that free?"

"The largest difference wasn't for me but for Sin," Boyd said contemplatively, remembering how it had been in Monterrey. "He could walk through a crowd without anyone caring or giving him a second glance; people spoke to him without being predisposed to fear or hate him. He had friends, he could joke, he could laugh. People invited him places and were honestly disappointed if he didn't come and when he quit his job. It was a place where he could just be normal and he wasn't used to that. I think... it gave him an opportunity to relax in a way he's never experienced before in his life. And for me, it also provided a sense of anonymity. Here..."

The changes between Monterrey and the Agency were really quite dramatic if he thought about it enough; there were so many things that had been different over there that weren't replicated over here. Considering that transition made Harriet's unimpressed expression and snide comments flash briefly through his mind; the implication that he was simply his mother's son, that he was only there due to her words and he didn't deserve to be. That he was basically a failure. Boyd sighed, shaking his head once. "They see me as someone receiving special treatment and in that way I'm just a Beaulieu and not really Boyd. And for those who don't like Sin or my mother... I'm more accessible and less intimidating to take it out on. There are some who don't care about any of that and that's fine, but for the others..."

Boyd shrugged. "I hadn't had many troubles with that for awhile before we left but I think it's probably something that will always be in the back of their minds. I suppose I hadn't realized until we were away from this environment how much that was wearing on me. But I suppose it doesn't necessarily have to be only on the compound in which that feeling exists; when I'm here, her presence is somehow larger to me, even at home where she is not likely to appear any time soon. In Mexico, she may as well have not existed. It's not that I brood upon the fact that she's my mother or I expect her to suddenly appear and start chastising me, but it's true that she's rarely seemed pleased with me. So in it's own way, I suppose even if everyone at the Agency suddenly stopped caring that I'm a Beaulieu, or that I'm gay, there would be the potential of her presence dampening my spirits slightly. Or perhaps what's really occurring is that I had so many fewer responsibilities there, although it wasn't as though I was doing nothing, that it seemed like a vacation. And, naturally, I wouldn't want to give that up." He paused, then smiled wryly and added on a lighter note, "Besides, it was a hell of a lot easier to fuck Sin over there than it will be here. That alone made it worth it."

Ryan had listened to Boyd with an earnest, intrigued expression for the entire time he spoke but at the last moment he abruptly burst into almost startled laughter. "Man... I'm really, I know it sounds dumb or stupid considering you're both back here where everything sucks for you guys and like... everything that happened when you came back..." He trailed off for a moment but shook his head. "But I'm glad you had the chance to be there and be happy and like... get to get that close to each other. I don't know any people who needed someone to be close to them as much as you two did, even if neither of you wanted to admit it. I'm happy you were happy for at least the majority of the time you were gone... I'd wonder a lot about what you were doing. If you were okay, how you were getting along..."

He stood up and moved over to the couch again, seeming to be over his brief discomfort or whatever it was that he'd been feeling. He paused for a moment, toying with his sleeve again before speaking. "Did Hsin really change that much? What's he like when you're... you know, alone?"

Boyd smiled at him slightly for his words, for being someone who was honestly pleased that they'd been pleased. For caring about Sin and him that much. "I think he did," he said with a nod, his eyes narrowing thoughtfully. "They're all changes that would be normal for anyone but for him seem significant, I suppose." He paused as he tried to figure out how best to explain it to Ryan. The first thing that came to mind was sleeping; not when they were having sex but just the simple act of sleeping in the same bed. He pulled one of his legs up on the couch and leaned back in a slouch, resting an idle arm over his tilted knee.

"For instance, I remember watching him on the cameras and he never seemed to sleep, or when he did he was curled up. In our earlier missions, sometimes he would have nightmares and if I touched him he would react violently before he realized that he knew me and I wasn't an enemy. But even then he wouldn't necessarily relax entirely. By the time we left Monterrey, that didn't seem to be the case. But as for what he's like around me compared to what he's like around others, I couldn't say; I only know my own interactions. And as far as that goes, I suppose it's mostly that he's relaxed and will do things like smile or laugh. Or will talk in sentences that consist of more than sarcasm and a few words, which seems to be the case in the mission briefings and debriefings."

"Maybe you shouldn't have told me that," Ryan said with a wry smile. "Now I'll be hurt if he still acts that way towards me. Well, not really... I guess I always like, just wanted to, you know, I don't know... I always wanted to get along better with him or at least, I wanted him to not think I'm an enemy or a moron or someone he can't trust. But if not, I'll still be happy that at least with you he's that way. I just wish he could also trust the few other people that care about him too." His almost delicate fingers continued to toy with the hem of his shirt. "Y'know... Zachary was really... Well. I can't really explain it. He's such a hard ass. But he was really messed up for awhile."

"I don't think he thinks of you as an enemy," Boyd said, not wanting Ryan to think Sin hated him. "But, Carhart... How was he messed up?"

Ryan shrugged. "Right after he found out that Sin was, well that he was assumed to be dead and that they had no intentions of doing an S&R, he pretty much hit the roof. Honestly I'm not sure if he would have been suspended if it hadn't been for his reaction, like the way he blew up at Jacob. Apparently he went on a total rant pretty much castigating Jacob for everything he's ever done to Hsin, how all he does is use him until there's nothing left and so on... But then after we found out that the entire thing went down wrong, that the mission information had been bad, Jacob really let him have it and told him that the reason Sin was dead was because Zachary sent him off on an assignment with faulty intel and if he has anyone to blame, he should blame himself. I found that part out later after Zachary finally came back to work but while he was on suspension... I don't know. He just totally withdrew. No one heard from him at all-- none of his friends, I tried to get in contact with him hoping he had information about the two of you but it was like he just fell off the face of the Earth. I went to his apartment once towards the end because I began to get worried and he just looked... I don't know. I can't describe it. He just looked strange. But then as usual he came back to work and let himself be consumed by it and since then he's been his usual hard ass self but the whole time Sin was in that coma, I don't know, you could tell he felt this immense guilt over it."

Boyd could understand very well at least a portion of what Carhart had felt during that time. "Connors told me essentially the same thing; it was my fault that it all happened. I was the one who received the faulty information from Thierry, I was the one who made the decision that caused Sin to be in the situation he was in. I was the one who left him alone."

Ryan's eyebrows drew together slightly and his thin lips parted as though he were going to say something more but before the words could leave his mouth, what sounded like the tune from an old Nintendo game began playing loudly and he scowled, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket. With an apologetic look thrown at Boyd, Ryan murmured soft responses into the phone with none of his usual enthusiasm or friendliness and when he hung up, his mouth sank at the corners. "Well, so much for working strictly from home. I have a progress meeting in an hour."

"That sounds exciting," Boyd said mildly. He didn't particularly think Ryan should be running around in the condition he seemed to be in, but on the other hand he couldn't say he minded the interruption. Despite the fact he mentioned what Connors had told him, he could tell from Ryan's expression that he'd wanted to ask details about how it had happened and he didn't really want to talk about it; not yet.

"Not really," Ryan said sourly, disappointment written all over his features. He stood up, shoulders slumping as he brushed his bangs out of his eyes. "Will you come by again?" He asked hopefully.

Boyd raised an eyebrow. "Of course I will," he said, standing up as well. "You can't get rid of me that easily."

Some of the traces of his impending bad mood seemed to disappear slightly and Ryan smiled slightly. "Good."

Boyd studied him then suddenly reached out to ruffle Ryan's hair. "Don't look so serious," he said with a small smile, lightly teasing. "People will begin to mistake you for me and that would be terrible."

Ryan smiled but it lacked his usual enthusiasm. "I think it'd take more than that for them to think I'm you."

"Hmm." Boyd studied him seriously. "You're right," he deadpanned after a moment. "You'd probably have to dye your hair. And then you'd have to deal with blond jokes. Not to mention you would suddenly find yourself the unfortunate son of Vivienne Beaulieu."

The R&D agent chuckled softly and though he still looked more serious and somber than Boyd had ever seen him, at least he appeared to be in a slightly better mood.

"I should go anyway. I have a few things to do today yet and I'd like to finish sooner rather than later."

"Okay," Ryan said, seeming slightly mollified as he walked partially across his apartment to see Boyd out. "I'll see you around, then."

"You will," Boyd agreed firmly and half smiled at him briefly before he turned and walked down the hallway, hearing the door shut and lock behind him.

Continue to Chapter 43