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-Three

The ticking of the second hand on the clock seemed louder than a jack hammer in the silent room, even with the thunderstorm booming behind the bulletproof glass like horror movie ambiance. The same black clouds that had haunted the sky for several weeks made it seem as though it were closer to midnight than noon, with only lightning to illuminate it every so often. The rain never seemed to stop and although it was pretty miserable weather after the first week, it did provide for filler conversation.

"I heard it's flooding in Bedford," Dr. Slate said suddenly, her voice cutting into the silence awkwardly.

"That's nice."

Auburn eyebrows rose and she tilted her head to the side. "That's a poor neighborhood these days. A lot of people lost their homes. Some people would feel sympathy."

"Some people would."

Thin fingers folded together and the petite woman shifted in her chair as her brown eyes gazed at him intently. "Are you ready to speak now, Agent Vega?"

Sin shrugged one shoulder languidly and stared back unflinchingly. "Depends on the conversation. While I am willing to trade meaningless comments about the weather because I feel a slight mote of pity for people who feel the need to fill silences with idle chatter, I am unwilling to discuss my assignment with you."

Dr. Slate's mouth twitched slightly and it was difficult to tell if she was amused or annoyed by his bluntness; he was going to place his bets on annoyed. "I was given clearance to discuss everything in your case file, Agent Vega. If that's what you're worried about."

"It's not."

She frowned fully this time, frustration evident in the tense way she held herself. She was young, probably newly licensed and probably very annoyed that one of her first cases was with Sin, the Monster and the notorious psychiatrist terrorist. "Then what's the problem?"

Another shrug and he didn't drop his eyes, knowing the steady, rapt stare was intimidating the poor girl. "You've read my case file, yes?" Why did all of these sessions start with this line of questioning?

"Of course," She replied, appearing offended at the suggestion that she would take him on unprepared.

"Then you will most likely find that I have already been diagnosed with paranoia, antisocial personality, schizophrenia, bipolar, DID. pretty much everything in your little shrink manual. So it's already established that I am believed to be mentally ill, they just don't know which specific illness I allegedly have because no one can agree on it, so the fact that I'm being sent to you just because I had a little torture/interrogation session makes no sense to me. Do you know the amount of physical abuse I've endured in my life? Do you think this will have affected my mental health any more than any other incident? Do you really think even if you were to write down that I am 'mentally unfit,' they'd stop sending me on assignments?"

He quirked an eyebrow but didn't give her time to respond. "No. Just like all of the other times. So this is a fruitless effort on your part and it's rather annoying for me to have to sit here. No offense, you're a lovely girl, but if I have to stare at you any longer and wait for this session to end, I'll probably do something regrettable."

"Agent Vega, are you threatening me?" She seemed more than a little alarmed.

"Of course not." He smirked at her. "But the fact that you jumped to that conclusion shows that you have some biased, preconceived notion about me."

Dr. Slate's lips parted, eyebrows drawing together and she shook her head. "No, not a-"

"Nowhere did I imply that I would hurt you. You jumped to that conclusion on your own and because of these opinions you obviously have about me, opinions that are already colored due to outside information that has nothing to do with our interaction, I am afraid that I will have to request a new doctor." He stood up, pushing his chair back.

"Agent Vega that's highly unnecess-"

"I'm disappointed in you, Dr. Slate." And with that being said, he turned around and headed out of her office, ignoring her red face and protests. Highly pleased with himself and his escape from the next forty minutes of sitting there, Sin headed out into the reception area and towards the elevator bank.

There was another meeting in a couple of hours and he was more than a little anxious about it. Not only did it provide him with an excuse to see Boyd, something that had been difficult considering their constant surveillance and his inability to leave the grounds, but he had to admit that he really did want to know more about Thierry and his involvement with their failed mission.

Sin shoved his hands in the pockets of his hooded sweater and distracted himself with thoughts of the previous meeting. It wasn't until he heard a sigh of annoyance did he realize that someone was also waiting for the down elevator and when he looked over, he saw that it was Ann.

She looked as professional and impeccable as always, dark blonde hair twisted in a knot at the back of her neck and curvaceous figure complimented by the black dress she wore. She was the exact opposite of her twin in every way and the hostile look that she was currently aiming at him made the sentiment all the more apparent; Lydia had always looked at him with a strange, sick desperation in her eyes that had made even him uncomfortable.

"It's you," Ann said flatly, bristling. "Wonderful."

He opened his mouth to say something sarcastic, hurtful but then for some reason her narrowed hazel gaze made him stiffen and grow cold. For some reason it made him think of an identical pair of eyes that had stared at him in terror, and it suddenly felt like all of the air had just been sucked out of the room.

Sin stared at her blankly, silently, and as a horrifying train of repressed memories flew through his mind, an overwhelming sense of guilt came crashing down on his shoulders like a four hundred pound barbell and it was all he could not to just turn around and walk away. Because he couldn't look at her; not when his mind was choosing this moment to show him what he'd done to her sister.

So the moment stretched awkwardly and finally he controlled his thoughts, his sudden paralysis and averted his gaze abruptly. "Sorry." It came out in a low mutter and he stared straight ahead at the metal doors, at their distorted reflections, and tried to ignore the way her eyes remained trained on him. He didn't know if he was apologizing because he'd hurt her twin or because she had to be in his presence but he suspected it was for both.

Ann seemed confused at first, surprised, and even slightly curious but she only crossed her arms over her chest and arched an eyebrow at him. "I thought you were dead or brain damaged or useless or something."

He shrugged, still staring at the elevator, saying nothing.

There was another brief silence and to his frustration, she wouldn't turn away. "So they've decided to throw away another psychiatrist by sticking them with you? Have any grand plots as to how you're going to turn this one into a catatonic basket case or do you come up with that stuff on the spur of a moment?"

Her tone was anything but serious and if anything, it seemed to him that she was just trying to see if she could get him to react in some way; it usually didn't take much. But her words didn't give her the reaction she'd expected and his back stiffened, hands tightening into fists and he grit his teeth together, trying to ignore the--

"I just wanted to hel-- Please do-- God, don't!"

Sin's green eyes snapped shut abruptly as he tried to block out the phantom voice, tried to block out what he was seeing and it was only when the elevator suddenly dinged, did he open his eyes, effectively pushing everything to the back of his mind where it belonged.

"Just go," he said flatly. "I'll wait for another one."

He still didn't look in her direction but she nodded shortly, seemed mildly intrigued by his reactions and continued to stare directly into his face until the doors closed between them. Once she was gone, he deflated and took a deep, shaky breath, jamming his thumb against the down button again as he chastised himself vehemently for showing such outward displays of distress.

But he couldn't help it and it wasn't the first time it'd happened since he'd emerged. Ever since that evening when he'd opened his eyes, flashbacks constantly assaulted him out of the blue, haunted his dreams, and although he'd tried to make himself accustomed to it over the weeks, it was still startling. Everything was still choppy and in brief, slightly incoherent fragments and he was thankful for that; some things were better left in the dark parts of his brain and the Lydia incident was one of them. He'd always felt guilt over what had happened but just then. it'd been more powerful than ever and having her twin stand there and stare at him had only made it worse.

The elevator arrived, shaking him out of his reverie, and he tried to ignore his racing heart and the way his forehead had broken out with a cold sweat. His previous amusement had faded entirely and he walked silently, stiffly, to the conference room after getting out of the elevator on the seventh floor.

He was more than a little early but at the moment, he didn't care. He needed to get himself together before the meeting and sometimes being alone in his apartment only made the situation worse.

So he sat and waited and tried not to think about the things his mind wanted him to think about and thought about his current situation instead. He wondered about Boyd, about their partnership, about Connors and his apparently increasing tyrannical attitude, about Thierry and mostly he wondered if they were just meeting or if it was a briefing. If it was just discussion to get what they knew on the table so someone else could go after Thierry or if they were being sent on the assignment themselves. Even though it'd been several days since that first meeting, things were still up in the air and he really had no idea what was going to happen anymore.

Sin let himself be consumed by those thoughts, those questions, and soon all memories of Lydia were faded and gone, and before he knew it the door opened and Boyd was entering the room. His eyes swept over the slight blond man and he nodded in greeting.

"You're early."

"Not as early as you," Boyd said, raising an eyebrow. "Although I confess I stopped by your apartment first. When I didn't see you, I decided I may as well lie in wait for the meeting." He smirked faintly as he passed behind Sin and dropped into the chair next to him, setting his messenger bag on the table. "Are you that excited about the meeting that you came even earlier than I did or were you just bored?"

"I had to do this mandatory psych evaluation and I got out of it earlier than expected," Sin replied with a smirk, deciding not to make some innuendo about being excited. "I had nothing better to do but come here and count the moments until this rendezvous could occur."

"Let me guess," Boyd said in amusement. "You passed with flying colors so they let you out early for good behavior?"

"More like I intimidated the hell out of the poor child and then convinced her that she was being unprofessional and that I could not possibly go on with her as my doctor." Sin shrugged. "I resent having to do those things at all. It's standard procedure for anyone who's been captured and tortured to make sure they aren't permanently mind fucked and can still work, but when it comes to me they always ignore it regardless."

"I would imagine that would result in a new psychiatrist being assigned? If you want to avoid indefinitely being stuck in those sessions, wouldn't it be easier to tell your new psychiatrist everything she wanted to hear so she would quickly mark you off as appropriately rehabilitated?" Boyd asked, flipping open his bag and digging through the contents for something.

"Because that will never happen and the entire process offends me. It's not like I'll ever get someone who doesn't already have some ridiculous idea about The Monster," he replied dryly.

"Hmm." Boyd seemed to consider that, pausing in searching through his bag to look over with a smirk. "You realize that psychology was one of my main interests in school. Maybe I should get a degree and volunteer for the job. I could give you a clean bill of mental health in no time."

"Do it." Sin watched Boyd's hands idly. "We can fu--"

Before he could finish his sentence, the door opened and a harried looking Carhart entered. His brow was furrowed, mouth set in a thin line and he barely even seemed to notice that they were sitting there until he yanked his chair back and dropped his folder down on the table.

"You're early," He said curtly.

"The Agency's amusement park was closed down so I came here instead," Boyd said mildly, finally locating what he'd been looking for. He pulled out a small Carlos V chocolate bar and dropped it on the table in front of Sin.

Carhart gave him a thoroughly unamused look, one that didn't even remotely lighten as he watched Sin tear open the candy bar and eat it in three large bites. "Why are you encouraging his poor diet?"

Boyd shrugged. "I forced plenty of vegetables and meat on him in Mexico. I happened to see that bar and knew he liked it in particular, though, so I just brought it as a gift. You'll notice I did not buy a large bar. I'll bring apples and beef jerky from now on if it helps, though." There was nothing sarcastic in his tone but he did find Carhart's curtness and displeasure with something so small to be a little odd and that much could be discerned in his voice.

"No eating allowed in the conference room." Carhart sat down and opened his folder, glancing up at them briefly before looking down again. "And no smoking, Vega."

Sin rolled his eyes and sucked chocolate off his thumb, gesturing towards the unlit cigarette that had been sitting on the table for the better part of the last hour. "Cojelo suave, boss man, it's not even lit. We all know you're in charge, no need to start waving your dick around."

The comment earned him a mildly startled look and the irritated expression cracked slightly. Carhart shook his head, hazel eyes moving to Boyd's face again. "Who told him how to speak that way?"

"Not me," Boyd said, giving him an innocent look. "Likely he learned it at the night club."

"I love how you people act like I never knew how to swear before going on that assignment," Sin said mildly, feeling rather insulted by the idea. What did Carhart think he was? An impressionable child? "I'll have you know I was quite fluent at it before."

The General raised an eyebrow. "I'll just make a note to prohibit you from getting covers at any other night establishments when you two are on future assignments."

Sin sat up at that, jumping on the comment like a cat attacking a mouse. "So we are going on future assignments together then." It was more of a statement than a question and his tone almost seemed to dare Carhart to say otherwise. But before Carhart could answer, once again the door opened and both Jeffrey and Owen filed in at the same time. It didn't seem to be a coincidence, as they appeared to be in the middle of a conversation that dwindled as soon as they took their respective places at the table.

Boyd gave Carhart a more alert look. "When will we start doing those again?" he asked Carhart, not really paying attention to Jeffrey or Owen.

"Immediately," the older man replied calmly. "That's why we're here "The information you gave us checked out. It turns out that Laguna de Sánchez is in fact an area that warranted more than a little looking into. There is a large plantation style mansion, privately owned by none other than Hale Clemons, out in that region," Carhart informed them, nodding as he spoke.

"We sent out feelers and more than one source in that region has reported a lot of activity there in the past month. There is an excessive amount of security around the place; armed guards, dogs, and so on. The property has been the source of numerous complaints over the years by people reporting suspicious activity to the police. It's located near a tourist attraction so gunshots, screams and threats made to passerby who wander too close weren't taken kindly by the people. However it seems that the police never took action, which leads us to believe that Janus or at least Clemons, must have ties with the authorities."

"Yeah, which is pretty strange, right? Ryan and I both once in awhile see this sort of thing in connection to Janus; you know, across the countries," Owen said, looking a little more alert than usual but not as awake as he had been at the previous meeting. His hair was a mess and there were dark circles under his eyes, as if he'd once again not been getting enough sleep. He trailed off briefly, staring blankly at them then suddenly looking around for something that he seemed to have misplaced.

The mention of Ryan and the pause caused Boyd to glance briefly at the door, as if seeing if he was going to arrive, but he didn't and Boyd returned his attention to Owen. Although it was a little worrisome, he didn't spend much time thinking about it. It was probably better for Ryan to stay away as long as he needed, especially in bad weather, so that he could rest. But at that moment he needed to keep his attention on the mission; he didn't know much about Laguna de Sánchez other than its location and the vague comment by lo más chingón, and he needed to learn as much as he could if they were headed there.

Owen frowned to himself, rubbed his eyes tiredly, then pushed a few pieces of paper around until he found a particular one he seemed to be looking for. He leaned back in his chair, kicking his legs out in front of him, and continued as if there hadn't been an interruption, "Places built like fortresses out in the boonies, crazy protection on otherwise unimportant structures, rumors about strange things going on, and so on." He waved one hand "I mean, some of it's cultural so you can't take it all seriously. Wealthy people in Mexico have guards and big houses and that sort of shit too, but this is different."

He tilted the sheet of paper so he could glance over it quickly then nodded, as if confirming some facts for himself. "Right. So then we saw that Clemons always had the security but it wasn't so hardcore until a few years ago. Around the same time some people started complaining that there were some loud noises coming from the property, not like screams or anything but just the sound of people doing things like construction, and then one person for some reason was mad that there were a lot of shipments going into the gates constantly. Clemons isn't stupid; he said he was adding on to his house, which isn't a strange thing to happen, and the cops never did anything about it. But adding that to the rest of the info makes me think that was when they started fitting it to be something more than just a mansion. Ryan and I both think they probably bring people there who go against them or try to leave Janus, and they interrogate and hold them; there's probably cells and reinforced rooms somewhere on the property. We don't exactly have proof that Thierry Beauvais is for certain there, but we think that's the best place to look."

"So then we're going?" Sin asked, as impatient as always to get to the point.

"Yes." Carhart sat back in his chair and glanced down briefly, extracting two pages from his folder and pushing them across the table at the two agents. "Immediately. You'll find the pertinent information there; once you study it and the maps of the area, you'll be leaving right away. We've already lost a lot of time and for all we know, Thierry may already be dead, but even if that proves to be the case, this is the first time we have a real lead from solid information about the location of a Janus safe house."

Sin was silent for a moment, not even glancing down at the paper as he continued to stare directly at Carhart. "Are we to bring back anyone other than Thierry if it turns out he's dead already?"

The General regarded him closely for a moment before inclining his head slightly. "You're to bring back anything with information on the organization; if possible, a human hostage would be acceptable, but your main goal is Thierry."

Boyd glanced between the two of them but his expression didn't change. "Are we flying? And if so, where do we land and how are we supposed to return? Do we have a time frame we need to work with?"

"You'll be flown into Mexico and dropped off inside the border. You'll have to acquire a vehicle and find your way to the destination, remaining as inconspicuous as possible. The helicopter will be waiting for you approximately twenty-four hours later," Carhart informed him. "The information is all there, as well as coordinates to each location. Unfortunately you will be the first to actually get close to the property so you will have to use your best judgement regarding a plan to infiltrate and escape."

Boyd pulled his folder closer, flipping through it quickly to make sure he didn't have any other questions. Everything seemed to be in order so he closed it and looked up to nod at Carhart.

"Wait, I have a last minute addition," Owen said, then stared at them all blankly in confusion before suddenly looking down at his pile of papers. When whatever he wanted did not prove to be on top of the pile, his eyebrows drew down and he started rifling through his papers again, causing a mess that resulted in Jeffrey raising an eyebrow at him.

"You lost them already?" Jeff asked, slightly derisively.

"No, they're just hiding out of view," Owen said without bothering to look up, though he did start moving things around faster as he tried to hurry. "Time out, I'll find them."

Jeffrey shook his head to himself in disgust then looked over at Sin and Boyd with his eyebrows raised. "Judging by the wording on the distress signal, I would guess that by the time it got to the point of needing to release it, Thierry expected something dire to be happening. We don't know what you'll find there but I doubt they've been treating him to wine and caviar so you should probably at least bring a med kit. Other than giving an idea of the regions to find him, the memo was pretty vague so I don't have much further informa--"

"Eureka!" Everyone looked over at Owen at how sudden and loud he was, but he didn't seem to notice that anyone was paying attention to him. They waited a moment for him to pull out whatever he was looking for, but it became clear almost immediately that he hadn't stopped his search; he was still moving papers around with an intent expression.

Jeff gave him a strange look then finished with a sense of confusion, "--tion..." When Owen still didn't do anything but push papers around, he looked irritated. "Owen, what the hell are you doing?"

"What?" Owen looked over at him curiously.

"Did you find them or not?" Jeff demanded.

"No," Owen said blankly, "they're still almost-found."

"Then why the hell did you yell 'eureka' and interrupt me?" Judging by his tone and expression, Jeff was more annoyed by the interruption than anything.

"Because I thought it might fool them," Owen said, giving him a strange look. "You know? Some people believe you can will things to be by believing them and that sort of thing? Life affected by the mind? Imagining success and then reaching it?" He raised his eyebrows. "It's like how beauty's in the eye of the beholder; maybe lost stuff is found in the eye of the loser."

Jeffrey snorted and looked down at his own perfectly arranged, perfectly organized piles of paper in which he could easily extract any single sheet he wanted within seconds while Owen couldn't even find one without help. "'Loser' is right," he said under his breath.

"What are you looking for anyway?" Boyd asked, staring at the mess of paper Owen had created in front of him.

"These things. Map things." Owen waved a hand as if it were too difficult to explain with words. "Blueprints except it's more like they're white with blue ink and a streak of yellow because the printer was rebelling..." He drew his eyebrows down then his eyes lit up and he leaned over to dig through his bag quickly and pull out a few sheets of paper.

"Aha! See," he demanded triumphantly to Jeffrey, brandishing the papers he'd been looking for. "Once I imagined them and thought of finding them they were easy to find."

"No," Jeff said slowly as if he thought Owen was an idiot. "Once you retraced your steps in your mind you remembered you put them in a different place than where you were looking. Then you stopped being an idiot and looked in the right area."

"You're wrong," Owen said dismissively, and appeared to forget about the entire conversation the moment he turned toward Boyd and Sin again. "Here are the blueprints for Clemons' house." Owen slid them across the table and watched as they each looked down at them.

Boyd picked up the blueprints and studied them carefully but Sin didn't seem too interested, which wasn't unusual.

"It took awhile to find them... I just thought maybe they'd be there and Ryan agreed and then we looked. Anyway, they're several years old; they were attached to an approved work order Hale Clemons had to get for that construction I mentioned. They should be what the place looked like before the construction because of course the contractors are the ones who'd have the blueprints for whatever they did and I doubt he hired anyone legit because we couldn't find anything. The blueprints also aren't complete because some of the files were corrupted, plus we don't even know how many floors there are so who knows how many files could be missing. It's not a lot to go off but maybe it'll help some."

"I think it will," Boyd said, feeling pleased to have any sense of blueprints or floor plans to go off, even if they were outdated. He didn't like going into places without knowing the layout and, if possible, every nook and cranny so he not only knew where he could hide but also where others could be hiding to ambush him. He looked up and smiled slightly at Owen. "Thank you."

For some reason that caught Owen off guard and he gave Boyd a slightly embarrassed look. "Oh. You're welcome."

Jeffrey started placing his papers back into his briefcase; it was unclear why he had unloaded them in the first place as he hadn't had much to add to the meeting, but it was probably a combination of force of habit and the fact that he liked to see perfectly stacked piles of white paper against the dark brown wood of the table.

"I have another meeting I need to be at in fifteen minutes. Are we finished?" he asked Carhart the question curiously but curtly.

"Yes." Carhart looked at Boyd and Sin again as Jeff and Owen filed out of the room, neither of them taking their time. Jeff was in a hurry to get to his next meeting and Owen seemed in a hurry to go back to sleep. When the door shut behind them, Carhart spoke again.

"You leave in two hours; if you have any questions, I'll be in my office. You've been given clearance to get any supplies you think you may need."

Sin nodded shortly and pushed his chair back but before he could stand, Carhart grabbed his forearm suddenly. Sin raised an eyebrow in inquiry although the expression on his face wasn't as hostile or threatening as it would have been a year ago.


Carhart frowned slightly and released Sin's arm, eyes flicking over to Boyd almost self consciously before he sat back in his chair and fidgeted with his folder. "Just..." he trailed off for a moment and cleared his throat. "Be careful. Both of you."

Sin's mouth twisted in a sardonic smirk. "I'm going to start thinking you care in a minute, General."

Carhart shook his head with a grunt and stood abruptly. "You should have started thinking that a long time ago, Vega."

With that being said, he turned and walked out of the room before either man had a chance to reply. They exchanged glances and Sin blinked. "What the hell was that about?"

"Well," Boyd started after a moment. "Consider what happened last time you went to Mexico. He's probably afraid the same thing will happen this time, too. We weren't even near an actual Janus building before and this time we're headed straight for what could be their interrogation center of the area. You could..." He narrowed his eyes. "Well. We'll both be there this time, so... it shouldn't end the same."

Sin watched him quietly for a moment, not missing Boyd's expression and serious tone. "We'll be fine," he said, in a manner he hoped was reassuring. "There were extenuating circumstances last time. I was distracted; it was my own fault I got captured because I allowed myself to become distracted." There was a pause. "Although."

His tone caused Boyd look over warily. "Although what?"

A shrug as though Sin were mentally dismissing what had come to mind but he continued anyway. "Clemons has a vendetta against me so I'm sure if he knows I'm still alive and well enough to raid his mansion, he'll try to do everything in his power to make sure I die for real this time. But that'd probably be the case regardless, unless he's fond of home invasion; I just thought you should know ahead of time so that there are no surprises when we get there."

"Why should that be?" Boyd asked, trying to place this new information in the context of what he already knew. "It sounded like if he had a vendetta against anyone, it would have been Thierry. Jeff said his information led to what happened," he said slowly. "and it sounds like you were just in the area anyway. Do you really think he'd remember you in particular or even recognize you after so long?"

"It was my fault Jessica was involved at all," Sin corrected calmly. "He knew that-- he saw me there with her, it was me they were in a gun fight with when she died and it was him who personally oversaw my interrogation to make sure it was as painful as possible. I think it was his idea to leave me there to bleed to death. I remember him saying as much before I blacked out."

At first Boyd seemed surprised to hear that Hale Clemons had been that personally involved, but it was quickly overrun by a dark flash of anger. "So he was there," he said, tone enigmatic.

Sin nodded, watching his partner closely. "Yeah. I just thought you should know ahead of time that he already has it out for me."

"I see. Thank you," Boyd said, the anger gone from his eyes although the emotion had done anything but vanished. "While we're on the topic, I should warn you that from what I recall of the area, I believe we'll have to drive in the vicinity of Monterrey to get to Laguna de Sánchez. I don't know what the status of the security is like for travelers bypassing the city; I would imagine we will be fine but it's something I intend to look into. If it's anything like it was when I was hiding out or when we left, then we will have to be very careful."

"I figured as much. And even if the heat is off with the local police being so obvious about their search and so indiscriminate about who they picked up and labeled a terrorist, I'm sure there are still agencies down there searching as well as head hunters who want to make a buck off the incident." Sin frowned slightly and ran a hand over his short hair, still not used to it. "But since we're essentially sneaking into the country and not even bothering with security clearance at this point, you're right, we'll have to be really careful because we don't have paperwork backing us up this time." He was silent a moment as he studied Boyd, getting the feeling that there was something more the blond man wanted to say. "Is there anything else I should know before we head out?"

Boyd hesitated but then said in a matter-of-fact tone, "Yes. If I'm entirely honest, I'm not certain sending us on this mission is a good idea. Or reinstating me fully as an Agent so soon. Perhaps especially the fact that I will be your partner again."

A hot flash of irritation shot through Sin and he sat up straight, eyes narrowing. "What the hell is it now, Boyd? Why not?"

"It's not because I don't want to be around you," Boyd said in the manner he typically conveyed information for briefings, seeming unperturbed by Sin's reaction. He glanced briefly at the door to be certain it was closed. They actually had better privacy in the conference room than they would anywhere else in the Agency, even Sin's apartment since they didn't know for certain that there weren't any bugs or cameras.

"If anything, it's for the opposite reason. There wasn't a need to bring it up before if I was going to be a civilian or even if I became an agent in another area. But if we're going to return to our previous partnership, then before we go on this mission I think you should know that I love you."

There was a brief stretch of silence in which Sin just stared at Boyd blankly, not responding because for a moment he wasn't sure how exactly he was supposed to reply to that. The concept of 'love' was as foreign to him as the concepts of friendship and intimacy had been; it was just another thing that he'd never been involved with, never experienced and certainly never had said to him. He knew what the word meant, he knew people said it about things or people that they had a strong positive regard towards, but he didn't really know what one was supposed to think or feel that would lead to them essentially saying this word.

However he knew it was a good thing if Boyd was telling him this and it left him in a state of confusion as to why this would be a complication to their situation. "Why would that be a negative factor to our partnership?" he asked, eyebrows drawing together and looking genuinely baffled.

"It could affect my judgment," Boyd said seriously, then paused to consider that and shook his head. "No, it likely will affect my judgment. For instance, what if you get hurt and I have to make a decision between helping you and finishing the mission? I would find it incredibly difficult to focus on my job with you hurt in front of me, but what if in that scenario I would be helping you most by finishing the mission? What if I get too distracted worrying about you and actually make the matter worse? Which is not to mention the fact that in this scenario I'm not completing the mission either, so I would accomplish nothing except failure. Or..."

Kassian's warning to be careful who he let see his feelings echoed in his mind, followed by a sudden flash of Shane's calm voice asking why those he cared about kept getting hurt around him. Boyd's expression darkened briefly and he looked away. "Or I could endanger us both by getting too concerned and letting my feelings be seen somehow. It could be used against us. Against you. It's a liability that shouldn't exist. But I can't help feeling the way I do and I don't see it changing any time soon. So, I'm questioning whether it would be best if I just wasn't your partner at all."

Sin opened his mouth to voice his automatic disagreement but he closed it again, pausing to truly let the words sink in. He'd wanted to tell Boyd that once again he was being over-paranoid, taking too much on his shoulders, but at the same time when Boyd was saying it that way it did somewhat make sense that he was concerned. However, the scenario Boyd was describing would put Sin in an equally difficult position if their positions were reversed and it was Boyd who was seriously injured, so he didn't see why Boyd would be any more of a threat to the partnership than he would be.

"Well you don't know that for certain, so there's no point making any sudden decisions now," Sin said impatiently. "The fact that you actually care about my well being only makes you a better partner in my point of view, because I know I can trust you to watch my back and I can keep both eyes on the enemy. Why don't we see how this mission plays out before we decide it will definitely end tragically?"

Boyd lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "It's not as though I was going to abandon the mission at the last minute anyway despite my concerns; that would just put you in an even worse position. I just wanted you to be aware of the situation before we arrived so you would know why I may react the way I do if something goes wrong. We'll see what happens; you're right that there is the possibility it will work out decently." He didn't sound very convinced of the idea and he paused, then gave Sin a very serious look.

"But I'm telling you right now that if it seems as though this partnership is going to be dangerous for you, then I am going to have to seriously consider what sort of solution there could be and how to go about achieving it. I won't let myself be responsible for something happening to you just because I developed feelings for you. If need be, I will talk to Carhart about it to see what sort of options we have. I'm telling you that also ahead of time so you won't be surprised if it comes to that, but I'll let you know before I go to him. Because we're currently partners it is your decision, too, to an extent; of course, if it's serious enough I may just ignore your opinion."

Sin rubbed the back of his head with his hand as he stared at Boyd in silent dismay for a moment. He wanted to argue his point some more but he decided there really wasn't much of a point with Boyd being so stubborn about it. In all honesty, he really didn't have a valid point of reason until they went on a mission together and the whole theory was proved wrong. So instead he just shrugged finally and gave Boyd a mildly exasperated look.

"Whatever you say. I obviously have more faith in you than you do in yourself, so we'll just see what happens."

Boyd gave him a scrutinizing look but after a moment he seemed satisfied by Sin's expression and he just nodded, mollified. "We should get ready soon. Do you need anything in particular? I'm about to make a few stops after this."

"Not much. Weapons. I lost my guns in Monterrey," His tone of voice made it obvious that he wasn't pleased about that. He'd been fond of his weapons; for the longest time they'd been the only things he could count on. "Some explosives would be nice," he added after a moment. "Low grade of course, don't want to draw too much attention or the authorities might get themselves involved. And smoke grenades. Or tear gas, for crowd control. And a bungee cord. And a glass cutter."

Sin tapped a finger against his mouth, noting that his list had suddenly become very long. For all that he'd enjoyed the almost dreamlike haze that had drifted through that summer in Monterrey, he had to admit that there was something about getting ready for a mission that had always appealed to him. "Maybe I'll just go take a tour of the supply room."

"I was going to head there first then stop by the medic unit," Boyd replied. "We could go together."

Sin nodded but as soon as Boyd started to get up, he leaned forward and wrapped one hand around the other man's wrist. Boyd looked down in mild surprise and for a moment Sin didn't speak, just staring up into the depths of his partner's honey brown eyes. "Are you sure you're fine? With doing this, with being back..."

A mildly uncomfortable expression crossed Boyd's face and for a moment he wanted to look away but he didn't; he kept eye contact with Sin and said honestly, "I don't know. For part of me, this is the last thing I want to do. But I don't have anywhere else to be, and it's better if I'm here than if I'm alone. I would have preferred that the first mission had nothing to do with Mexico, though." He paused and then smiled slightly. "Besides, doing this and being back means I'm around you. And since I'd prefer that above anything else, I think it works out in the end. I just don't want anything to go wrong."

A shadow of a smile ghosted across Sin's face but it was gone before Boyd was even sure he'd seen it. He pursed his lips and stared at Boyd silently before finally loosening his grip. "I just wanted to tell you before we go..." He trailed off for a moment, eyes narrowing slightly, picking his words carefully. "I don't know what's going to happen in Mexico but I'm more concerned with what's going to happen when we come back, once this whole Thierry and Monterrey fiasco is finally cleared up for good. I don't-- I can't say for certain, it's just a feeling I have mostly but--"

Sin stopped short again, gaze breaking away to flick around the room as if paranoid that somehow they were being overheard. "Things are different here now. Connors is different now. I don't know what's going to happen with you, with both of us, once he finally finds suitable replacements who are entirely brainwashed. Maybe even before that, maybe as soon as we have all of the JKS loose ends tied up. But I want you to know that it's the same for me-- if it comes between you and an assignment, loyalty to this place and their orders, I'd pick you with no hesitation."

Boyd was mildly startled by the statement. "Thank you," he said quietly. "It seems that everyone's behavior has been affected by Connors since we left, even Ryan. Until we have more information though, we won't be able to know exactly what is going to happen. For now, all we can do is concentrate on recovering Thierry and take things one step at a time."

Sin nodded in agreement and after a moment of them looking at each other, he headed toward the door with Boyd not far behind him. Together, they left to prepare for the mission, their first in awhile and possibly their last depending on what happened when they returned.

Despite whatever feelings the owner of the property may have inspired in Boyd and Sin, it would be difficult not to admit that the place was amazing.

There was the mansion itself and an additional building which was actually larger and appeared to be intended for entertaining purposes. Both structures were built on the side of and on top of a hill, which gave the impression that they had a layered architecture on the interior. The actual design was impressive and it seemed that the buildings had been specially designed to wrap around the hill. The actual buildings took up well over an acre of land by themselves, with the pool, gazebo and garages consuming an additional twenty thousand square feet. The outer land was well manicured and landscaped but considering the fact that it was located close to several recreational and tourist locations, it was no wonder why the forceful nature of the compound's guards had inspired several complaints.

Tall gates and trees surrounded Hale Clemons' property, making it difficult to see inside but that did little to hide the intimidating air that the guards exuded to passersby. The security was almost as tight as the security at the JKS, if not tighter considering the fact that it was only a tenth of the size of the property the convention center was sprawled upon. That weighed in with the amount of watchdogs which roamed the five acre lot made it an extremely annoying place to infiltrate and subtlety had never been Sin's specialty.

If he could have his way about it he'd much rather go in with guns blazing and peripheral bombs going off but he knew that in this situation it would never work. The likely outcome of that scenario would be them getting overpowered and overwhelmed far too quickly and that Janus would most likely kill Thierry, if he was still alive, before they could extract him.

So with that in mind, he clung to the ledge of a window in the south side of the guest house as they'd come to call it, and used his glass cutter to slice a small hole into it noiselessly. For all of the manpower that Clemons had on the property, they'd figured out earlier on in their surveillance that there weren't very many bells and whistles as far as an actual security system. They had two theories regarding that knowledge; the first being that the presence of so many armed men gave Clemons a large sense of security that outweighed the presence of technology and the second being that he hadn't wanted to bring strangers into his property to install such an extensive system which would secure the entire property without having to expose anything he may be trying to hide.

There were, however, several cameras around the outer gates but they'd managed to avoid those easily enough; the real trick would be getting in without being seen and getting out with Thierry without being killed by the guards.

He slid his hand into the hole and felt around until he found a latch for the window. He'd been pleasantly surprised to find that not all of the windows in the building were fixed as they'd previously thought from preliminary casings of the grounds. Many of them were operable and that provided them with a more convenient way of sneaking in. It'd taken him longer to find an access area than Boyd had at the main house, most likely because the purpose of the guest home was to be attractive and not to be functional, and thus many of the picture windows were immobile.

Sin pushed the window up quietly, pulled his hand out of the hole and slipped into the building. He'd picked a location that had appeared to be in a shadowed corner behind a column and while that was helpful because he immediately ducked down and out of anyone's range of vision, as soon as he peered around and at the layout of the building he realized that any prior knowledge of the blueprints no longer existed in his brain.

Idly touching the transmitter he muttered a soft 'what the fuck' to Boyd and made a face at the design. He was on what appeared to be the second floor balcony that overlooked the entire ground floor, or at least the ridiculously large foyer area. The entire space was extravagant right down to the serpentine design of the winding staircase; the balcony area wound around in a circle which overlooked the bottom floor and the enormous chandelier that dangled from the ceiling.

He wasn't even sure if foyer was an apt description of what he could see at the bottom; the entrance area and what appeared to be an entertainment or some kind of show room for instruments and artwork was spread out below. There were several doors which he imagined branched out to other wings of the large house but he had no idea where they went and as much as he racked his brain for what Boyd had tried to tell him to study; he could remember none of it.

"What exactly am I looking for again?"

"The northeast rooms that we discussed; the ones that seemed to possibly lead to an extra wing." Boyd's voice came across sounding long-suffering and mildly annoyed. "I don't know why I even bother showing you blueprints or telling you repeatedly what to look for, you never pay attention. Where are you now? I can tell you where to go."

Sin rolled his eyes and made a face even though Boyd couldn't see him. "I don't need you to tell me where to go," he muttered in a stage whisper. "I asked a question, you answered, the end." He rested on the balls of his feet and looked around the column again. "Besides," he added in a droll voice. "Not like you're even sure it's that area. You're just assuming it might be."

"Of course I'm not certain," Boyd replied after a moment, his voice quiet. "If I was, I wouldn't be looking in another building as well, and one would have to wonder why I have exact information on our enemy's complex. That area just seemed the most suspicious in the guest house."

"No unnecessary noise on the radio," Sin said as a response and stopped transmitting, smirking to himself. It was fun to annoy Boyd on assignments. He could just picture the irritated look in his eyes now, glaring into space while indignantly wondering why his partner was such a failure of an agent but Sin didn't mind. He'd been taught by his father to be a killer, not an agent, and even then his father had never been one for following rules.

With that in mind, he studied the layout below him and tried to figure out the best way of getting to where he needed to be without being noticed. Considering the fact that it was just one large open space, he was left with very little options.

There were not as many guards inside as there were on the outside, at least not in the area below him. However, he did see a man standing just outside the glass doors that led to the pool area towards the northern end of the space and through an arch that led to a kitchen area, another man standing near a set of double doors in the northeast corner of that particular room. He was watching a soccer game on a plasma television although the sound appeared to be off. He didn't seem particularly concerned with his surroundings and it gave the impression that he'd probably been doing the same job, probably since the JKS had gone down, for months and that so little that had happened that he doubted anything ever would. He was tall, appeared to be Caucasian and wearing casual clothing although he was making no attempt at hiding the fact that he was armed.

Considering the fact that those doors were the only ones being guarded on that floor, it was easy to assume that that was the area he was looking for but something about it seemed too easy. It was in the correct area though and it was a better shot than searching every other part of the building so it still seemed like the best bet. He half stood, half crouched and moved quietly across the balcony, eyes scanning everything below him as he listened for any sign of doors opening or closing around him. For the most part he heard nothing except for the distant rumble of thunder from an incoming storm; the house seemed silent, empty, and that made sense since Clemons' only guest at the moment was most likely Thierry.

Sin waited until he was above the guard and hopped onto the serpentine railing, walking along it and following the slight curve in the design so that he was directly above and slightly behind where the man was standing. Without hesitating, he dropped down silently behind the guard and broke his neck in two quick motions. It would have been perfect if it weren't for the coffee cup the man managed to knock over; it went skittering across the counter and even though Sin managed to catch it before it shattered to the floor, it caught the attention of the guard outside the glass door.

He froze, crouched down and used his back to keep the man upright as he hid behind the counter. From the angle the other guard was at there was no way he could see that the man was dead, only that he was slightly leaning against the counter and appeared very intently focused on the game. Sin continued to support the man, listening intently for any sounds of the door sliding open, but when it didn't happen he peeked around and saw that the guard had turned away and was even walking slowly towards the pool, idly playing with a hand held game. Hale obviously had some stellar guys stationed here; but then again Sin doubted they saw very much action and probably expected nothing to ever happen.

He moved away, letting the dead guy drop down and looked around quickly. There was a huge walk in cabinet in the corner of the kitchen and he dragged the body towards it, pushing it inside. He searched the man's clothing and found a radio, a wallet with three nudie pictures and a keyring. Sin stuffed the items into his pocket and shut the cabinet doors behind him.

The game continued to play out on the silent television as Sin studied the double doors that the man had been guarding. They were heavy, wooden, and locked. He glanced dubiously at the lock before crouching down once again to examine the set of keys. The door opened after three tries with different keys and the click of the lock seemed to echo loudly in the quiet house. He paused, waited, and when he heard nothing he slowly pushed the door open and slipped inside. It didn't exactly lead directly to some hidden holding area, but he knew it wasn't going to be that easy.

A corridor with thick burgundy carpet and artwork with gilded frames on the walls seemed to spread out to a vast amount of rooms and passages. He tried to remember what had been on the blueprints, failed, but common sense told him that those double doors weren't the suspicious area Boyd had noted; not when they had been so close to the entrance of the building. The corridor led to passages that wound to doors leading to different parts of the mansion; it was entirely possible that this was an area that was generally left open during parties but locked when the house was empty for any other number of reasons. It was even possible that it was locked to keep the majority of the guards out to prevent theft. However it still led to the northeast and that was his target area, so he continued on his way.

The entire layout of the ground floor appeared to be designed specifically for guest activities, which likely meant that the rooms on the second floor were likely spare bedrooms and rest areas. Most areas were empty and seemed as though they'd been untouched for quite some time; it didn't even seem as though cleaning people had been present recently if one went by the light layer of dust which covered statues and other furniture. Not all of the doors in the corridor were locked or even closed; arched doorways led to large lounge areas, game and entertainment rooms, a home theater and more than one bathroom that was most likely intended for the large number of guests that were usually on scene at a time. However as he moved closer to the northeast corner of the house, he realized that there were more closed doors the farther away he got from what had appeared to be the hub of activity.

His feet moved silently across the carpet as he crouched down, moving in the darkened shadows of the wall and being incredibly thankful that they'd planned this for the middle of the night. The entire house was built around aesthetics and he had no doubts that the windows would flood every hallway and room with light during the day, leaving him with very little cover of darkness. Even now he had to be wary of the occasional flash of lightning that illuminated the hallway as the rain finally began to fall.

He paused briefly before turning a corner and tried to figure out where he should go, which room he should investigate, and knew that even if he had paid attention to the blueprints they wouldn't even be helpful at this point since they hadn't really narrowed it down to any specific room and construction had likely changed the architecture dramatically to conceal whatever it was Hale was hiding. Whatever he was looking for had to be somewhere in this area though; he was as far northeast as he could get so one of these rooms had to lead somewhere or else he was likely not in the right building at all and it would be up to Boyd.

But before he could move toward any particular area, there was the sound of a door opening and voices speaking. He pressed himself against the wall, partially in the nook under the window and narrowed his eyes as he waited for them to either pass or go somewhere else. Neither happened and they stood around the corner, talking in low tones.

"--two weeks now," One voice was saying in mild irritation.

"It's not as easy as you'd think. We're not the only ones who know how to hide and cover our tracks. Things take time and this is a sensitive situation. Do you know how useful he could be? Things could change a lot," A woman replied shortly, seeming annoyed with the man's lack of grasp on the situation.

Sin's eyes narrowed slightly as he let that comment absorb; could Thierry have really sold them out? Was Janus going on a lead from him to find out more about the Agency? He stayed in the shadows as they began walking again, intending to be silent and listen for any clues as to where he should go but just as they passed his hiding place, the radio he'd swiped from the soccer watching guard crackled to life and a man's voice demanded for someone named Peters to copy. The pair in the hallway froze, looked around in confusion and Sin made a face at the situation. So much for stealth.

"What the fuc--" The man exclaimed, startled by the noise.

"Don't fucking move!" The woman shouted, yanking her gun out and pointing it in Sin's general direction. "Identify yourself, now!"

He had two choices. Pull a Boyd and pretend to be a guard so that he could avoid confrontation and go about his business without trouble or he could get rid of them both and possibly cause more problems for them later. However at the moment the possibility of the first choice didn't even cross his mind and he reacted automatically, springing forward to grab the woman's throat with one hand and her wrist with the other, twisting it violently until it cracked and she released the gun as he simultaneously sent a booted foot crashing into the man's groin.

The man doubled over with a groan but didn't go down, instead reaching for a knife that was strapped to his thigh. He slashed at Sin clumsily, still slightly thrown off from the pain he was in but was disarmed almost immediately, even as Sin continued to pin the woman to the wall by her throat. "Hands up or I'll break her neck," Sin said calmly, keeping the knife to the man's Adam's apple. It'd be easier to shoot them both but he was still trying to go for half assed stealth and an attempt at negotiation would work more in that favor.

The man grimaced and put his hands up, glaring up at him briefly before moving his gaze quickly to the woman. They seemed to be communicating with each other silently, making it appear as though they knew each other fairly well. "What are you doing here?" He asked finally, voice slightly pained. "Who are you and how did you get in?"

Sin ignored their questions and asked one of his own. "Where's your prisoner?"

The woman scoffed, voice strained as he tightened his grip. "We would rather die than talk."

The pride in her tone at that declaration matched the Janus mentality perfectly. Before he could respond in any way, she suddenly twisted in his grasp and brought her knee up in an attempt to disable him in the same way he'd disabled her partner. The other man spun away from the knife and took off running down the hall just as Sin stumbled from the contact. She dove for the gun again when his grip loosened but he dropped to the floor and swept her legs from beneath her just as he whipped the knife at her partner. It sailed through the air with deadly precision and the force of the throw sent it plunging into the back of his head just as he lifted his own radio to alert everyone else. The man dropped to the floor before he could send a message and Sin's eyes narrowed at the woman in disgust right before he crushed her windpipe.

He stood up, feeling mildly annoyed by the situation and looked around quickly for a place to hide their bodies. The hall was mostly dark as much of the house was and so he settled for dragging them back around the corridor and into a darkened corner, partially hidden beneath the long floor length curtains. A quick frisk of their bodies turned up another keyring, this one including a keycard. He frowned at them for a moment before shaking his head in irritation. He didn't know if he was annoyed because his attempt at negotiation had failed or if he was annoyed at their ridiculous almost fanatical religious devotion to Janus. When he refused to talk it was more because he was protecting people, not an ideology, and even then he knew if he did talk they'd kill him anyway. He had no respect for anyone with such blind sensibilities.

The hiding space was poor at best and he knew it was only a matter of time before their bodies were found and his presence discovered so he moved quickly towards the direction they had come. There were two doors in the corridor they'd emerged from and he tried them both but they were locked; one with a key and the other requiring a card. He knew full well that there could be any number of bad things on the other side but he didn't really have the patience to sit around trying to plan a better way of going about it, so he stared at each door for a long moment before deciding that the one with that required a card was more likely the one where anything of note would be hidden.

The stolen card worked and the door emitted a soft beep before clicking and allowing him to enter. He flung the door open quickly, ducked to the side and immediately had his guns in hand to take out anything that appeared to be mildly threatening. But all he found was an empty room with a dome shaped ceiling and shelves upon shelves of books. The room was extremely quiet but he still slipped into the shadows as he slunk silently throughout the room. It was neither small nor large and it didn't appear to be anything special; but if that was the case, why would it require a keycard to get in?

His eyes narrowed slightly as he did a full lap of the room and found nothing but it was that which made him even more suspicious. There was a small lamp turned on in the corner of the room but it was still cast largely in shadow, so he used that to his advantage and looked around closer, searching for false walls or anything hidden. Once again he found nothing and had almost decided to give up entirely but on a final search of the room, something about the floor caught his attention.

The floor was made of marble tile and when the moonlight hit it, there was a slight shine. However one tile in particular didn't have that shine and upon close inspection, he realized that if he actually tread on it without attempting to move silently, his boot made a slightly hollow sound. It didn't take long to figure out that that section of the flooring was false and it took even less time to open it. The opening led to a steep staircase that led down to a sub level of the building that hadn't been on the blueprints. It wasn't surprising; it had even been one of the scenarios they'd discussed since it was built on top of a hill and the possibility of Clemons building the house into the hill had made a lot of sense. However it hadn't been a scenario that either of them was looking forward to.

Finding a separate wing was a lot less daunting then finding a staircase that led down into the unknown and as he descended, it occurred to him that he had no cover, no backup and no idea what lay below. And even as that realization set in, he realized he didn't fear it... it just made him excited. "Target area possibly in sight," he muttered, transmitting to Boyd once again. "Will verify shortly."

The halls were empty and dark as Boyd passed through them, stopping at each corner to listen closely for any movement or sign of life. Regardless of the amount of money and power Clemons had, he still had to abide by certain rules; keeping the entire complex lit inside and out at all times, for instance, would have maxed out the amount of power reserves probably available in the area and also would have likely been far too expensive even for a man of his caliber. It was possible he would have been able to access that much electricity in the city but his location made it too difficult. That worked out for Boyd, really, since it meant there were more hallways with little to no lighting, and more shadows to hide in to avoid security.

The majority of the guards were congregated outside patrolling the grounds. So far, the guards had all been a variety of ages and ethnicities, which worked in his favor if he wanted to, but judging by the interactions he'd overseen and overheard, they seemed to know each other pretty well which would make it far more difficult to pretend he was one of them. At least they wore casual clothing, allowing him to blend in if he ever happened to be briefly overseen in a hallway. It was probably lucky that Sin had contacted him before he got too far into the complex, where it was quieter and he wouldn't have felt as comfortable responding. He still couldn't believe he'd asked about what he was supposed to be looking for in the guest house; did the man never listen to anything Boyd told him in preparation for missions? Sometimes he swore Sin did that just to annoy him.

From what he'd been able to tell from the blueprints Owen had provided them, there were several places that could have been candidates for suspicious activity. It was difficult to tell for certain, since time had passed since the blueprints were created and all manner of construction had occurred since then. Even if common sense had not told him so, Boyd could tell that much just from memory of the specs; he'd already run into a few places where rooms appeared to have been expanded or merged. He took note of anything that seemed especially different but for the most part he dismissed the discrepancies as they were in areas that didn't make sense for Clemons to have built an interrogation center to house people like Thierry.

The lightning illuminated the halls and doorways around him, casting into relief the pale cream walls, the expensive paintings, and the occasional tapestry. Rain pounded against the window panes and the few skylights that were dotted across the building. He would have preferred to navigate the inner hallways where there was no chance of being seen from outside, but the main house was relatively well constructed and the only way to access the area he wanted to explore was to travel the outer hallways. It was probably built that way for exactly this purpose, to force intruders to expose their position, and he took care to keep hidden, move cautiously but quickly, and do his best to avoid any chances of being detected.

He was nearly to the main access to the wing he wanted to explore when he heard a quiet footstep down a hall at an intersection ahead of him. He stopped immediately and crouched against the wall, hidden by the shadows and a nearby table. He could hear the guard getting closer to the intersection; he nearly entered the hallway Boyd was in when a soft sound of white noise came presumably from a radio the guard had. The guard paused at the entrance to the hallway, just out of view, and Boyd crouched down further by the table, noting that it had a few lower shelves filled with decorations which served to provide him further coverage. He glanced over them quickly, noting that a glass figurine on the lowest shelf nearest him would work as a weapon if he needed it. He adjusted his gloves and slid his hand by the figurine, barely breathing as he heard the guard say lazily into the radio, "Yeah?"

Static answered the man's question at first, then a younger man's voice could be heard asking, "Hey Darren. Anything exciting?"

The guard, Darren, made a soft noise to himself then walked into the hallway Boyd was hiding in and idly glanced up and down the hall. He paused there but didn't seem to notice Boyd several feet away from him, and luckily no lightning flashed to show his position. Finally, Darren turned and said in disappointment into the radio, "No." He started to walk back down the hallway he'd come from while the other man replied over the radio, "Same here," and they started a short, quiet conversation about how nothing ever happened. Boyd could hear the sound of the radio getting quieter as Darren walked away but he still waited in the shadows for a few seconds longer, not wanting to risk getting caught if it turned out the guard had noticed him and was trying to deceive him into moving into the open. He could hear the guard turning down another hallway and the sound of his footsteps and radio faded. He waited another moment then stayed crouched as he peered around the corner. Darren was long gone and he took that opportunity to quickly continue on his way.

The house was almost eerie in the scattered light from the thunderstorm outside. As he moved silently through the hallways, the thunder rattled the windows and made it harder to hear if anyone was around him. Construction had changed much of what he remembered from the prints but he was able to navigate away from the windows, away from the lightning, and reach the muffled darkness of the inner hallways. Due to that, he had to be extra careful as he wound his way deeper into the wing, stopping every few hallways to think of the blueprints and consider where he was in relation to where he wanted to go.

He only saw one other guard as he walked and she had been far enough away that she hadn't noticed him before she passed into another hallway. In a way, it was quite lucky that the mansion had been built the way it had, because the number of sprawling hallways and large rooms provided so much space for guards to patrol that Boyd was able to slip through places they weren't watching.

It took him longer than he'd wanted to arrive at the first place he wanted to look into. The hallway was dark and empty, and the room that had seemed to have some sort of suspicious excess space appeared to be a normal guest room without anything that particularly stood out. The area that may have contained some sort of extra space for a secret passage turned out to just have an especially large walk-in closet. It was possible something less innocuous had taken that space before, but as he quickly but thoroughly searched the room and the rooms surrounding it, he didn't find anything out of ordinary. When they remodeled the complex, that must have been one of the areas that was affected. Without wasting another second, he moved on to his next target.

The second area he checked had pretty much the same result; two rooms had been joined and whatever had attracted his attention in the blueprints was no longer relevant. He barely spent any time there and moved toward the next, paying close attention along the way for any guards or other areas that seemed suspicious. He slid his way through the shadows, pausing any time he thought he heard movement. Following the route in his mind led him through a dark hallway filled with empty, silent rooms seen through open doorways. He glanced in them as he passed; partially to verify no one was in there, and partially an automatic tendency to check for weapons in the area. They appeared to be a series of sitting rooms and studies that were primarily empty, with some heavy, comfortable furniture in the corners. He had a few items with him but as usual they were the sorts of things that could be overlooked or would be used as a last resort.

He was halfway down the hallway when he heard the sound of quiet footsteps at the intersection ahead of him. He had just enough time to throw himself into the nearest room, where he moved around and crouched between the open door and the wall. He kept himself far enough away from the wall that he would not be seen through the space between the door and door frame, although from his angle he could see a small slit of the hallway between the hinges. The hall was about as dark as the room was so it wasn't likely that he'd be noticed but he wasn't going to take chances.

The steady footsteps drew closer and he could see a beam of light appear in the bit of the hallway he could see. The light moved fluidly along the ground, then jerked up across the opposite wall of the hallway, dipping into the room there where he could see a heavy couch with expensive-looking fabric. The light then shifted along the floor and turned toward Boyd's room just as he could hear the guard coming upon him. He stayed very still and held his breath, listening intently for even the vaguest indication that the guard was going to stop there, that the guard knew he was in there, that he would have to fight.

The gait of the footsteps sounded familiar; he was fairly certain this was the same woman who he'd almost run into before. It seemed to take entirely too long for her to pass and each second that dragged by made Boyd think even faster; the room was too dark to make out anything but as the light flashed across the wall he noticed a small decorative statue on a far table he would be able to use as a blunt force weapon if he needed to, and if he could reach it in time. But the guard didn't pause, she just let the light flick across the room and moved on. They probably never expected anyone to actually make it through the tight security outside so the guards inside didn't seem to spend too much time being paranoid, such as actually checking behind doors. Boyd waited until a few seconds after he heard her turn a corner before he let his breath out quietly and wasted no time in continuing on his way.

It didn't take him long to reach his next destination, which was a wing of the house that appeared to be primarily for entertainment. At first, Boyd couldn't see through the shadows well enough to fully grasp the way the wing was set up, but flickering of light caught his attention in one room and he paused, approached silently and peered in to see if a guard was inside. There was no one in the room, but he did discover a large aquarium that nearly took up the length of one wall. Exotic fish swam within, their scales brilliantly colored, their bodies and fins differing lengths and sizes. It was rather peaceful watching them move around so languidly, so he could see why Clemons had installed lighting around the tank to illuminate it even in the dark. The light cast shadows of the fish and water's movements across the room, washing up the walls and casting faint light even across the ceiling.

That was the reason he first noticed the unusual ceiling in that wing and walked into other rooms along the way to investigate. The ceiling had been constructed to be aesthetically pleasing but have little in the way of privacy; down the length of the corridor, large wooden beams passed over the tops of the walls dividing each room. It created a continuity between the rooms which was rather appealing, but also took away much of the privacy and made every sound more likely to be heard in other rooms. The wooden beams did not seem to hold any structural value; they seemed to be there only for aesthetics. The ceiling itself was scalloped and arced over the beams, leaving a few feet of space between the wood and the ceiling all the way down the hallway.

As a result, a person could conceivably get onto a wooden beam in one room and crawl over every other room down the hallway on that side, provided they were small enough to fit in the gap. Yet this wing had no reason for privacy as far as the layman would be able to tell; music rooms, sitting rooms, small art showings and libraries seemed to dominate the area and, somehow, having those wooden beams crossing overhead made everything seem that much more connected on a level more than the literal sense that they were. It encouraged a person to spend their time enjoying each room and then moving on to the next, following the path the wooden beams mirrored. In the play of light from places like the aquarium, the shadows of the beams spread across the scalloped ceiling and created a beautiful pattern that made the entire room seem interesting; from the wooden floors and Persian rugs to the design stretched overhead.

Boyd continued down the hall, keeping mental track of where he was in relation to the blueprints, and stopped in the room he remembered as being suspicious. This room turned out to be a small art gallery with Impressionist paintings displayed across the walls; Boyd knew enough about art from his classes to recognize replicas of Monet and Renoir as he passed them. Most of Clemons' rooms were decorated with art, the man seemed to have a genuine love for it, and this was one of two rooms dedicated to it that he'd come across; there was nothing seemingly unique or suspicious about the room itself and if he hadn't had access to the blueprints, he likely would have passed it by.

He looked around the room to see if he could detect anything that had changed since the blueprints had been created. He checked for anything such as faint cracks or some sort of indication that there was a hidden passage or access to another area. He remembered from the blueprints that the area where the numbers didn't seem to add up was in the southwest corner of the room, so when nothing stood out to him elsewhere, he looked there more intently while still listening closely for any sign that a guard was coming down the hall. It would be difficult to hide in the room if someone appeared; there was no door in the archway to the hall and the only furniture was a heavy-looking, tall-backed couch in the northeastern corner which was probably used by Clemons and his family members to sit and view the art.

Nothing stood out to him despite how hard he looked, so he stepped back a moment and went around the room again, noting that there was a small portion that was slightly discolored on the northern wall, but it was almost entirely hidden by a painting of a woman with a green umbrella, standing in a grassy field with the cloudy blue sky and a small boy shown behind her. Something about it seemed too obvious to him, though, which led him to believe that it was some sort of trap for a person who would suspect the room for whatever reason but did not have knowledge from the blueprints. The same thing was probably done in several other rooms across the complex, leading to traps or dead ends. Even if he wasn't certain there was anything in that room and he knew that construction could have cut off the possible access in the southwest corner, his instincts told him there was something there, that he just needed to search harder.

He scrutinized the southwest corner again, checking the ground as well as the walls, and still saw nothing that stood out to him. Even so, the numbers seemed off to him; he'd been counting his steps around the room, and this wall seemed to be moved in even further than he'd expected from the blueprints. If he was right, the entrance was there but wasn't accessible directly through the wall or floor or even some sort of lever that would trigger a hidden opening. Which meant he just had to do this the hard way.

He looked up at the ceiling with the same polished wooden beams spread above the walls. This time, however, he paid more attention to the fact that the beams did not extend past the western wall; all the north, south and eastern walls were short enough that the beams passed over them and left a gap between the beams and the ceiling. However, the western wall had no beams; it simply extended to the ceiling the way walls normally would and cut off any access from this room to whatever was on the other side. Now that he thought of it, that had been the case in the other rooms along this side of the hallway, yet the rooms along the eastern side of the hallway had beams extending across both sides. That verified to him that what he wanted to access was on the other side of the western wall.

With that in mind, he headed directly toward the tall couch. It was far too large and heavy for him even attempt to move so instead he carefully crawled onto the back of it, balancing with one hand extended toward the nearest wall to catch himself if he needed to. He looked up at the beams, which still seemed to extend far too high above him even if he tried to jump. For a moment, he wished that he possessed far more prowess and strength like Sin, who would have probably been able to jump straight up to the beams from the floor without any help at all. Of course, Sin also had the advantage of being several inches taller.

Boyd's eyes narrowed as he considered the gap between him and the nearest beam, then he looked at the northeastern corner thoughtfully. This was the only corner with no art displayed in it; presumably because the couch would impede the view and the designer did not wish to make anyone seated feel uncomfortable, as though they would need to crane their necks to view all the art. He looked back across the room, noting how it was empty other than the art along the wall. Quietly, he climbed off the couch and checked up and down the hallway briefly to ensure he didn't hear or see anyone coming. He was probably going to make a little bit of noise here but he couldn't help it since he didn't have any rope.

He backed across the room until he was nearly to the southwestern corner, then ran as quickly and silently as he could toward the northeastern corner. He jumped onto the couch, then the couch's back, and jumped up with one foot against the eastern wall followed by the other against the northern wall, one hand against the wall as if for support while he stretched the other above him. He jumped as far upward as he could at an angle and threw both his hands up toward the beam, just barely catching it before he would otherwise have fallen to the ground.

For a moment he just dangled there, eyes narrowed as he tried to get a better hold on the beams even as his gloves made it feel unnervingly as if his hands were slipping. In the end, he managed to get himself close enough to one wall to partially walk up it until he was finally able to pull himself on top of the wooden beam. He rested there a moment, heart pounding and mildly out of breath, and found that with that height he had a very good view of the other rooms surrounding him except for the fact that it was too dark to be able to tell much. However, he didn't see any movement in the hallway or other rooms that implied someone was there, and he didn't think he'd made much noise so he hoped it wouldn't sound an alarm. A quick glance down to the room also showed that, as far as he could tell in that dim lighting, he thankfully hadn't left any telltale marks on the wall.

Satisfied, he crawled across the beam until he reached the southwest wall, where he was able to see that the beam did in fact pass over the wall into a small dark space rather than the next room. The shadows were deeper in that small room than they had been in the room behind him, which was likely due to the fact that the only light that could make it into there was any ambient light that made it above the wall. He peered down into the area and although couldn't see or hear anything, he knew it was empty.

Boyd paused a moment to listen again for any other sounds behind him but there were no guards making the rounds, no one to hear or see him. He was just reaching into his pocket when the transmitter in his ear made a soft sound and Sin's voice breathed, "Target area possibly in sight. Will verify shortly." Boyd paused, studying the room below him; even if Sin found where Thierry was, he still felt there was something to look into here so he didn't intend to stop. He didn't reply at first because he felt that any sound, even a whisper, that was so close to the ceiling would be more likely to echo into all the surrounding rooms. It would be better to wait until he was in a less uncertain position.

He pulled a black hand-held device out of his pocket that was a combination flashlight and hidden trap detector. It had a series of buttons and switches that he pressed in order to gain a quick idea of the layout and any possible obstacles with regular light and any traps by using a thin but wide red beam and a pale, quickly-dissipating mist. He noted a black fuse box was attached to the far wall and what appeared to be a hidden door on the western wall. Satisfied that there did not appear to be any alarms or traps in the room, he hung from the beam into the small room and dropped with a roll to the wooden floor. He couldn't help making a soft noise as his weight hit the floor and he immediately pressed himself against the wall beside the door he'd noticed earlier, ready to attack anyone who may come through searching for the origin of the sound.

He heard no movement on the other side and no one came to investigate, so he used the device to look more closely around the room with the light. The room was empty and small, just a few feet wide but spanning the length of the room he'd just come from. It was dark but not dank, and although it did not look as though it saw much use, there were no cobwebs which led him to believe that this space had to be accessed on a regular basis, even if it was not very frequently.

"I think I found something too," Boyd responded quietly to Sin, partially as acknowledgment for the previous transmission and partially just to alert him.

The black box he'd noted earlier drew his attention before anything else so he walked over and studied it more closely for a few seconds. It appeared to be a fuse box of some sort with flip switches that weren't labeled properly but he suspected had something to do with whatever was hidden on the other side of the door. Although in other contexts the box would have been helpful, at that moment it was irrelevant to him; their ideal outcome was to get in, get Thierry, and leave without ever being noticed. Flipping random switches would only draw attention not only to the fact that there was an intruder, but also to his exact location since he doubted they had other fuse boxes scattered around with access to the same systems.

He shut the box quietly and turned toward the wall with the hidden door, feeling along the edges and searching for any other traps. He crouched down and peered at the bottom, seeing the slightest slit of light peering from beneath. That was equally good and bad for his situation; if it had been dark on the other side, he wouldn't have dared to use his flashlight along the edges of the door to search for a way to open it because the light would probably have bled to the other side and made his presence obvious. On the other hand, if there was light on the other side it also meant that if he entered the space on the other side he would be more likely to be seen or caught.

It took a few moments of intense scrutiny, but Boyd ultimately noticed that there was a slight line in one section of the wall next to the door. Once he knew where to look, it didn't take him long to figure out that there was a panel there that he was able to access by a combination of pressing on one side of it and prying on another. The panel came open with a soft noise of protest and he paused again, listening intently for any indication anyone was in the vicinity, but he didn't hear anything. It revealed a number pad that required a password to open the door. He used the light at different angles and was able to see that all of the numbers except for 3, 6 and 7 were covered with a thin layer of dust.

It was clear that the password involved those numbers but he had no idea how many digits it was or what combination to use. He also had no idea whether there was a computer program monitoring the pad and if it would be alerted if he inputted the incorrect password or even if, should he guess correctly, it would alert the program that the door had been opened with it. Any of those cases would result in an alert going out and he didn't want to deal with that, especially not if Sin was close to finding Thierry. The last thing they needed was for Sin to make his way silently all the way to their destination and for Boyd to trip an alarm; as ironic as that would be, it wouldn't help their mission at all. Besides, Sin wasn't even certain he knew where Thierry was and Boyd didn't know what was on the other side of the door. He could walk right into the wing that held Thierry and it would turn out Sin found something else; there was just no way to tell.

He stepped back from the door and frowned to himself, trying to think this through. The door appeared to be the sort that slid into the wall, so there was no way he could just break the hinges or somehow pry the door open so he would have to work on the password.

He'd brought a simple decoding box with him in case he needed it for this type of situation, but the problem was that it functioned by telling the user how many digits the password had and then inputting random numbers and letters in until it found the correct code. In some situations, that was perfectly fine; a person would have the time and ability to let it try some wrong answers before it found the correct one. But Boyd had no way of telling the decoder that only those three numbers needed to be used and he was fairly certain its first attempted code would include more than 3, 6 and 7. If the decoder inadvertently tripped an alarm, he'd be right back to the scenarios he was trying to avoid. Really, this electrical room was designed quite well to trap intruders; even though there were no hidden alarms within the room itself, if a person used the fuse box or used the wrong code, they would probably alert the building to their presence and have no way of getting out unless the person had some way of reaching the beams from the floor.

He suspected this was the back entrance to the hidden wing or whatever was on the other side of that western wall; there was no way Clemons went to all this trouble every time he wanted to enter the area. They probably couldn't reroute the circuits in the electrical room in order to cut off any excess access to the hidden area; so, instead, they'd made it as inconvenient and difficult as possible. Clemons had probably never expected anyone to pay attention to the dimensions of the other public rooms and compare them, then deduce that there was a small, secret room pressed between that art gallery and the sitting room on the other side. At least the fact that the electrical room was so awkward to access implied to him that if he'd just wandered around longer he may have found an easier way into the hidden area, which also meant he should conceivably have an easier time of getting out rather than having to come back through here.

Boyd decided to use a combination of guesswork and the decoder to figure out the password. He pulled out the decoder and quietly hooked it up to the system, letting it run just long enough to flash that the password was seven digits; he stopped the device before it could attempt to try any codes. Using that bit of information, he studied the three numbers he knew it had to be and tried to approach this from a different angle.

What did he know of Hale Clemons? Judging by the lavishness of the complex, he seemed to have immense pride, a sense of arrogance, expensive taste, and he was paranoid enough to make the secret areas difficult to access, but daring enough to keep them intermixed with the public, open spaces. At the time time, he seemed to utilize misleading clues as traps. What that told Boyd was that he also was a man of subtlety who knew that human nature was to dismiss minor inconsistencies in anything that seemed familiar while at the same time searching for the simplest, easiest solution elsewhere. He also knew Hale Clemons was the sort of person who took his job seriously and, Boyd's eyes narrowed darkly, who held grudges and had the capacity for cruelty and revenge necessary to ensure that Sin was tortured the way he had been.

That also meant he took very seriously the safety of at least Jessica and, presumably, those he cared for or was close to. Of course, added to all of this, Janus would be very important to the man and he was probably just like the other followers of the organization. If that was the case, Janus would be his driving force, the center of his identity, an organization he took pride in belonging to. He was probably also fairly cocky because he had a high enough rank to be in charge of JKS as well as the fact that his property appeared to house the local interrogation center and safe house, which also meant he was trusted to be in contact with defectors, prisoners, and the sort of secrets only those people could betray.

The numbers on the pad caught his attention again and he thought through all the information he'd learned about Janus, about its people, and especially that which he'd overheard or had been told to him when he'd been posing as Kadin Reed. There were a few key phrases and words that seemed to be at the center of the Janus philosophy, but perhaps the most central... He thought of the number of letters it contained, then a cell phone pad and the numbers which were associated with each letter, then raised an eyebrow. Surely it wasn't that simple...

He didn't have time to stand there forever though, and he supposed that if this did raise an alert, at least everyone would come toward his position rather than Sin's. Even so, it would be quite the coincidence if it was not directly connected that a central idea of Janus also happened to be the correct number of digits and used only those three letters on a phone pad. Without wasting another second, he input 3733366 into the keypad, spelling out 'freedom.' At first nothing happened and his heart thundered in his chest while his mind raced, planning escape routes and distractions that would hopefully give Sin the time to keep looking for Thierry, trying to decide how he would manage to make it up to the wooden beams before he was surrounded. But then a faint green light flashed to the right and the door made a shifting noise before it slowly started to open.

Boyd closed the panel and stood to the side of the wall, ready to attack anyone who may come through the opening, but all that entered the small room he was in was the light from the area beyond. He held his breath and peered quickly around the side but he didn't see anything but an empty office room, nor did he note anything that looked like surveillance cameras. He pulled back into the small room for a moment then moved quickly into the office and immediately found cover behind a nearby low-lying chair while he searched the room intently for any movement or sound. He was alone and the only other door he saw in the room was firmly shut; there were no windows so no one outside of the room would be able to tell he was in there unless someone came in.

Letting his breath out quietly, he looked back at the door he'd entered through and noticed a small ornament on the wall that, upon closer inspection, he concluded was actually a button for the hidden door. He didn't know if the opening and closing of the door would be monitored by any programs in the complex but he didn't think it would be good to leave it open. It didn't really work as an escape route because he wouldn't be able to jump high enough to reach the wooden beams and if someone walked abruptly into the room, he would be less likely to be found if he hid and everything appeared to be untouched. He pressed the decoration inward and the door slid quietly closed; once shut it was almost impossible to tell that it was there at all.

Looking around the room more closely, he saw that it appeared to be a regular office with nothing glaringly secretive about it. He suspected if he had the time to tear the place apart he would find plenty of interesting things, but that would make it too obvious that someone had been there and he didn't know how much time he had. So, he went toward the most likely form of compact information: the personal computer sitting on the desk. It was already on, although it appeared to be in standby mode. There was no password but that only appeared to be because whoever had last accessed the computer had forgotten to log off.

He quickly checked the files located on the desktop but nothing seemed particularly important so he investigated further and saw that there were multiple drives; C, D and E. Boyd narrowed his eyes, then glanced toward both doors to make certain there was no movement before removing a small object that was hidden along the inside of his belt buckle. He'd found the belt and buckle in the supply room at the Agency; it was designed to hide one of four small objects that he'd had the chance to choose between. Although the lock picking kit would have been helpful, he'd ultimately decided that information would be more useful for him so he'd opted for a compact, 200 GB jump drive. It didn't take him long to hook the jump drive up to the computer through the nearest USB port and to start copying the C drive.

While the computer struggled to copy the information over, Boyd moved quickly through the D and E drives, searching for anything that stood out to him, anything that seemed like it would contain important information. He wished this sort of thing would go faster; the progress bar seemed to be moving incredibly slowly and he was hyper-aware of the rest of the room. The fact that he could easily be walked in on, that his only real escape route was out the door he hadn't searched yet, and that once he left through that door he wouldn't even know where he was in context of the rest of the building as this section hadn't appeared on the blueprints, left him on edge.

Despite the difficulty of the situation he was in, there wasn't much he could do about it except save as much information as he could and hope not to get caught. He would figure out the rest of it as he went. Even so, just to be sure, he left the computer copying while he silently approached the main door to the room and listened intently for any sound. He didn't want to open the door in case the movement would attract attention from anyone he couldn't hear, but as far as he could tell it was silent on the other side. He returned to the computer and watched the progress bar with a paranoid sense of impatience; it was further than it had been before but still seemed to him to be moving entirely too slowly. As he waited he studied the room intently, noting where all the potential hiding places were (the side of the bookcase, in a corner behind the love seat, beneath the desk) and if anything could be used as a weapon.

Time was skewed to him; the knowledge that he was temporarily tied to the room as he waited for the files to copy made it seem as though everything was taking longer than it should. In truth, it was probably only a handful of minutes before the C drive finally copied over; he immediately started copying the D drive, which seemed to him to have the most likelihood to hold any important information. While that copied he began quickly searching the room, opening drawers and searching through a few of the books for anything that stood out to him. Everything he touched, he made sure to put back in the same position he'd discovered it.

As he flipped through one book with a collection of philosophical essays, a sheet of folded paper slipped out that he caught before it hit the floor. Before he could open it, he heard footsteps approaching the other side of the door. He shoved the book back on the shelf and moved quickly to the computer, detaching the portable hard drive in the middle of the operation. A window popped up saying the file path was lost and he barely had time to close out of that and other windows he'd opened before he heard a key sliding into the door. The love seat was closest to him so within seconds he'd jumped behind it and crouched in the corner, barely daring to breathe. Luckily the fabric extended to the floor, which gave him further coverage, but it also meant he couldn't see anything at all in the rest of the room.

The door opened silently and a single person entered the room and he didn't dare move; the paper was lying on his chest, partially against the back of the seat, and he didn't want it to crinkle and give away his position. But the person who'd entered was very quiet; even the footsteps were faint and even though he heard items being moved on the desk, it was with the care of someone who was used to being in dangerous situations and made little noise by nature.

He couldn't tell at first what the person was doing, but he did hear a low, annoyed sigh. The mouse clicked a few times, emitting a soft sliding noise as it moved across the mousepad. Keys clacked at a varying pace, as if the person was writing something quickly as the thoughts came to mind, paused to think, then resumed the flow once more. He listened intently for any sign that they had any idea that the space had been recently occupied but nothing happened, so he assumed he hadn't left anything out of place.

A few long moments passed as the person continued to type and Boyd became entirely too aware of how awkward his position was and how much his knee was starting to ache. What was he supposed to do if the person remained there for an extended period of time? He couldn't exactly crouch there for hours while Sin ran around trying to find Thierry; they weren't even positive that the area Sin had discovered was the correct one so it could still be up to him. And it would only be a matter of time before something happened to give him away. If it lasted too long, he would just have to try to catch the person off guard and knock them out before they could raise an alarm; but without knowing anything about the person's body build, height, or strength, a surprise attack could prove to be difficult to pull off properly.

"I can't believe this," a woman's voice muttered at length. The clicking of the mouse became a little more pronounced and when she typed she hit the keys harder than was necessary. Boyd tensed, wondering if she'd noticed something after all, and prepared to react quickly when he heard her abruptly push the computer chair back. The chair squeaked in protest; he suspected she'd leaned backwards as far as the chair back would allow.

"Why does he never fucking--?" she started to ask herself heatedly then cut herself off. "This is such bullshit."

He heard her stand suddenly, the pull of cloth against cloth and the clatter of her chair as it rolled back and hit the wall. The mouse clicked again in angry staccato followed by the humming of a computer that was powering down. She grabbed a few things off the desk, judging by the sound of objects sliding across wood, and then fell silent. If the mood it sounded she was in was anything to go by, he would have expected her to storm out of the room; instead, she seemed to pause in the center of the room.

At first he couldn't tell why, but then he heard the faintest buzzing noise and realized her phone was ringing. She made a soft noise of impatience and muttered to herself, "Finally," in a manner that led Boyd to believe she'd been waiting for this call. She flipped it on and the volume was set high enough that he heard a male voice on the other end ask, "Lynn?"

"Yeah," she said. Boyd couldn't hear the other voice again except as a muffled group of syllables; he suspected she had the phone against her ear now and previously he'd heard it only because it had been in transit from wherever she'd been keeping it. Her side of the conversation told him nothing except that she was not pleased; all she said was "yes," "no," and "of course not."

She was quiet for a few seconds as the other person spoke, then she said testily, "That'll take at least half an hour." The person on the other end sounded a little more intent, at least as far as Boyd could tell judging by the quickness and length of the reply. She was quiet a moment after the person finished talking. Then she said with a hint of disapproval, "Fine. But I would really like to talk to you about this later." The other person said something short and she didn't reply. She was on the phone for less than a minute before he heard it flip closed.

He didn't know who she was or what her position was, but he could tell enough about the room to realize that it was the sort of office that would only have access to the higher ranked people. Because of that, he wanted to get an idea of what she looked like; at the very least, he would probably need to describe her later in the debriefing in case it turned out her presence was significant. For that reason alone, he very carefully set the paper to the side and silently peeked around the corner of the love seat. He would have preferred to use a mirror but he didn't have one; instead, he kept his head low to the ground and looked around the edge that seemed to be furthest from her.

Past the desk, he could see that Lynn appeared to be in her thirties, with long, utterly straight sandy blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail that ended halfway down her back. She was standing in the middle of the room with her back mostly toward him and she was breathing very deliberately; he could imagine her counting to ten in her mind as she attempted to calm herself from whatever was angering her.

She straightened suddenly, her expression annoyed but determined from the little he could see. She drew in a deep breath then let it out slowly, her hands curling and uncurling into fists at her side. Her jaw set and she whispered simply, "Okay," before she strode purposefully out of the office. As the door fell shut behind her, he heard an immediate click that implied to him the door automatically shut when closed. That wasn't very promising; if he needed to return to this room to escape, then how would he get in without propping it open somehow and making it obvious someone had been there?

He had no idea what she was irritated with but he wasn't about to analyze it right then. Instead, he waited long enough to hear her footsteps fully before he let his breath out and relaxed against the love seat with his eyes sliding briefly closed. That had been close. He didn't take much time to rest though; he closed the jump drive and clipped it back into the inside of the belt buckle. He folded the paper up and slid that down the side of his sock where it would be less likely to be found if he was searched.

There was no point in even trying to download anything further from the computer; it would take more time to turn it on again and he was sure it was password protected. He just had to hope that he had enough information with what he'd managed to get before the woman arrived.

Continue to Chapter 44