In the Company of Shadows

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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-Five

The drive to Silver Lake Park didn't take long but as they passed through the streets, everyone unconsciously glanced up at the Agency's tower looming in the distance. Approximately one minute after the initial flickering, the lights in the tower went out entirely. It was odder than it may seem to an outsider but the truth was that the tower, just like many other parts of the Agency, never shut down. Although people, especially the administrative staff and non-field agents who worked in the tower, kept specific hours there were still many people who worked through out the night and early morning depending on what needed to be done for assignments.

Never in Sin's employment at the Agency had he seen the tower shut down entirely, it just didn't happen; it was almost like the moon abruptly blinking out of the sky, that's how startling it was to him. The compound operated on its own generators and electricity system so it was possible that there was a power surge or an accident but there was no reason to take unnecessary chances now. Not when so much was going on; not when they'd just, for the first time, gone head to head with Janus.

"What are we doing here?" The driver, who turned out to be Agent Brian Dibrachio, asked as he stared warily at the vine covered gates of the park. "This place is off limits-- don't you see the signs?"

"Contaminated by radiation?" Thierry queried slowly, bare toes balling up as his feet touched the cold concrete. He stared at the sign and then at Boyd, as if hoping for some kind of rational explanation but Boyd just shook his head and looked at Sin, not knowing exactly what they were doing there either.

Sin strode down the sidewalk as they trailed behind him and didn't stop until they reached a spot in the barred fence that had just a little bit wider spacing than all of the other bars. "What's off limits to civilians isn't automatically off limits to us," He said pointedly and squeezed through the bars with relatively no trouble given his lanky frame.

He raised his eyebrows and stared at Brian. "You can stay here if you want, I don't need you to come but you--" He reached through the bars and grabbed Thierry's arm, yanking him through. "Are staying close to me." Thierry yelped in protest as his feet sank into the damp earth on the other side of the fence, wrapping his arms around himself as he looked around at the park through the early morning gloom.

Boyd followed without hesitation and they looked out at Brian who stood stubbornly on the other side. However after only a moment he sighed and shook his head, not willing to look like a coward, and squeezed through the space in the bars with far more difficulty considering he had a bulkier and more muscular build. His brown eyes swept across the park, across the barren edges of the places closest to the fence and into the shadows that dominated the inner most area.

Sin glanced at Boyd and began walking deeper into the park as the darkness and shadows engulfed them entirely. His eyes flit around quickly, searching for a sign that anything was out of place, that anyone was close to them, but all he saw was tall dead trees. As they moved closer and finally crossed the famed lake that ran through, the place became abruptly crowded with plants, vines and wild flowers.

"This place is supposed to be off limits because of radiation," he said finally, his voice low. "But I suspect that's only because of what's in here."

Boyd looked closely around the area but all he saw was the shrubbery. Obviously this had something to do with the Agency, as Sin wouldn't have brought them there otherwise and his comment earlier about not going through the front suggested they would be using a back entrance, but all the less utilized entrances Boyd knew about were inside the compound itself and had nothing to do with Silver Lake Park. He looked over at Sin.

"Is there a path through here that leads to a back entrance to the compound?" he ventured, not fully thinking that was the case because he'd never seen anything to suggest that, yet he wasn't certain what else to deduce.

They continued to follow Sin as he shook his head, his eyes on the leaves and grass that thickened as they went in further. "There's a system of tunnels under the compound," he explained after awhile, green eyes flicking up calmly to look at Thierry and then Brian as they narrowed slightly. "Not many people know about it since it was only used during the war and the people that do remember it are probably under the impression that it was sealed long ago. Its purpose was for shelter against nuclear bombs; its existence is the only reason why there were so many survivors at the Agency, which actually wasn't many at all considering 60% of us were wiped out."

"It's not on the blueprints, either," Boyd said, surprised by this information. "How do you know about them?"

Sin paused and stared at the ground for a moment before his gaze swept across the park again. His eyebrows twitched slightly but he began walking again, following the lake.

"Well they were built and used for the last time before my time at the Agency, back in 2000 when this area was nuked. After that they started building the shelters we'd use now because they realized that a couple of tunnels wasn't really adequate shelter for a larger group of people and that they definitely didn't have what was needed to camp out underground for an extended period of time, which is why so many of the original survivors died later on due to radiation poisoning. Not only that but the original tunnels are only built about 500 feet underground as opposed to the shelters which are about half a mile beneath the surface, so they accounted for a lot more when building those."

He stopped talking again and for a time the only sounds were their feet splashing quietly in the water but then he seemed to realize that he hadn't actually answered the question. "I found out about them years ago in the original plans for the compound but those, I assume, have since been destroyed as the compound has been rebuilt and renovated. I'm not really sure why they aren't sealed off but I assume it's for the same reason; a more secretive escape route in case there is another attack in the future."

Boyd had always wondered how Sin had managed to leave the Agency when he'd appeared at his house; he suspected he must have used the tunnel system, knowing others didn't realize it existed. "Where does it come out in the compound?"

"There's a couple of entrances on the compound but the one I use is inside of an unused lab because it's the easiest to access now."

They approached an overpass that went over the Lake and Sin led them to a partially enclosed area. There was nothing of note inside but he knelt down and indicated a hatch on the ground which looked like nothing more than a manhole or something that would be a part of a sewage or drainage system.

"Just so you know, there's no lights at all down there and it's entirely possible that it may be compromised given the fact that it seems the park has been somewhat recently inhabited."

Brian's eyes widened slightly and he stared at the cover. "So we could just go down there and be killed?"

Sin shrugged. "Maybe. It's also likely that kids snuck in the park to do whatever kids do in fenced in, prohibited areas. Like I said, you have the option of staying behind if you're not comfortable with this."

Thierry stared down dubiously. "I don't have any shoes..."

"It's not a sewer, if that's what you're worried about." A pause. "There are rats though."

Thierry's blue eyes widened slightly and he looked at Sin in horror.

Boyd considered the distance between the Agency and the park and how long it would probably take them to get there, then he looked at Thierry. "I'm guessing it will be about a half hour walk. Depending on the situation inside the Agency, there may be some shoes available then. It won't help in the meantime but we don't have anything else to work with."

"Just try to keep up," Sin said flatly; it wasn't clear if he was directing it at Thierry or Brian, but Boyd suspected he was talking to them both.

The manhole cover was removed and they peered down briefly at a long ladder that led to the tunnel below before Sin ushered them all down first, going last so that he could pull the cover closed behind them. Once the cover was closed and blocked most of the natural light, Boyd saw that Sin hadn't been exaggerating when he'd said there were no lights at all down there. It was dark, dank and smelled strongly of mildew and as they tread through the water, several times they did hear rodents scattering across the concrete. However no one complained and there was very little speaking as they moved quickly through the darkness.

The twenty-five minutes it took to reach the entrance seemed like an eternity though and everyone was relieved when Sin stopped, even if the anxiety about what was going on above pressed down on everyone. More than once during their journey they paused briefly as Sin stared up at the top of the tunnel, looking perplexed. He couldn't explain it but several times it was as if he'd heard something, like a distant rumbling or thunder without sound, to indicate that something very wrong was going on up there. But he didn't know what exactly it was and he didn't want to jump to conclusions, so he continued on without comment.

However, as they climbed the ladder to the hatch that led into the lab, he couldn't shake the feeling that he wasn't just being paranoid and that something was happening. Something that shouldn't be happening because the Agency was supposed to be protected, safe, a haven for all of the weary agents who'd watched their families and friends burn during the war.

The hatch led to the basement of the building and they took the stairs quickly to the upper floor. A burning smell permeated the air around them and when they slid out of a side entrance and into the shadows around the lab, there was no doubt that the muted sounds he'd heard had been explosions going off above them.

Smoke drifted through the air like low hanging fog and the stench of extinguished fire was stronger than ever outside. However, despite that, the place was not active at all and for the most part the courtyard was empty. There were no patrolling guards, no agents rushing to start their day and as they looked around in relative confusion, the unmistakable sound of muffled gunfire could be heard somewhere on the complex. The distinct lack of activity made it hard to understand exactly what was happening.

Thierry looked at the three agents and seemed incredibly weary at that moment. He'd managed to escape one war zone just to be caught in another one. "What now?" he asked tiredly.

"We find General Carhart," Sin said quietly and without hesitation, mouth turned down in a confused frown.

Brian surveyed the area with wide eyes, no doubt never expecting anything like this to happen. "How the...?" he started to ask, but he trailed off and just stared dumbfounded at the scene.

Boyd searched the surroundings, feeling wary and unnerved, wondering how the hell this could have happened. The Agency had tight security in the compound and even if somehow enemies slid in unnoticed, it was a place filled with people trained to know how to respond quickly to danger. Any enemies should have been quickly neutralized in a concentrated effort. Then again, if the enemy was good enough to infiltrate the Agency, they were probably also good enough to compromise the Agency's response.

Shutting down the electricity was very intelligent, for instance; it was already dark so early in the morning without the traffic of the city or the pale ambiance of the sun to give clarity to the shadows, but Boyd had never realized how much darker it would be without the lights of Johnson's tower and the surrounding buildings to help them see. Now although he couldn't see any bodies in the courtyard, with the smell of gunpowder drifting through the air and dust from what he assumed was some kind of explosion surrounding them, he couldn't imagine there hadn't been any casualties. He also had no idea who could have managed this. Was it Janus? But how the hell did they know where the compound was? Even people in the American government had no clue this compound housed anything like the Agency; how would any of their enemies find out?

He thought he saw movement on a roof across the way, a quick darting of a figure that was there and gone before Boyd fully had the chance to see it. His eyes narrowed and he slid back further into the shadows. A sniper, perhaps, but on whose side; the Agency's or the enemy's? The sniper appeared to have been heading for the opposite direction and hadn't seemed to have noticed them, but it would only be a matter of time before they were discovered.

"Where will he be?" Boyd asked Sin, looking over at him seriously.

The other man shrugged slightly, eyes flitting around to take in the shadowy figures in the darkness.

"I don't know," he said honestly. "This has never happened before. I don't know where anyone would be. There's emergency plans in place in case of natural disaster or another attack on the city but the idea of someone actually directly invading and attacking the compound was never put on the table. It's not supposed to be possible." He paused, looking aggravated. "I'd say we head to the tower but it's right in the middle of the compound with no cover and that seems like a bad idea at the moment. If he's alive he's either fighting or giving orders, but I'm betting surviving officers are somewhere secure to keep some chain of command in order in case the heads are assassinated."

Brian paled considerably at the words but he seemed simultaneously shocked and impressed by the matter of fact way Sin spoke about the situation. He swallowed and his hand dropped down to the gun that lay at his side.

"Maybe we could check one of the fallout shelters?" He looked surprised that he'd actually spoken out loud but seemed encouraged by the fact that no one immediately shot the idea down and continued. "They're secure, well fortified and they only have one exit and entrance so anyone who tried to infiltrate wouldn't be able to realistically take it over unless they have a whole army but from the looks of things--"

"It seems like one relatively small but well organized group, judging by the lack of open combat," Sin finished the sentence and nodded. "They'd be more likely to strike quickly and silently instead of drawing everyone into one big fight, which is most likely why they are using darkness to help them with the element of surprise. A direct attack on a bunker would be foolish for such a plan."

Boyd quickly ran through what he remembered of the blueprints, the placement of the bunkers, and where it would make the most sense that they would develop a command post under these circumstances.

"From what I recall of what Lenny told me, the three shelters have an interconnected camera system to monitor each other. The bunker near the courtyard was the most recently built and also has several well-fortified cameras on its own circuit that monitor the area directly surrounding the entrance to the shelter. Given that the electricity and generator seem to be down, all the cameras are probably down in the compound but that shouldn't affect the bunkers; they have their own generators that I doubt have been compromised yet since I seem to recall they were more difficult to access."

He looked at the others thoughtfully. "Assuming that the camera system hasn't been destroyed there as well, that bunker may be the most logical choice; it's centrally located and has additional surveillance capabilities allowing them to see whether an enemy or ally is approaching the shelter. We could check there."

Sin nodded and immediately began to move in the direction of the bunker, "Sounds good."

He tossed one of his guns to Boyd and the two of them moved ahead slightly while flanking Brian and Thierry. They remained in the shadows of the buildings, the lack of light from lamp posts providing them with the same cover of darkness that the intruders depended on and the four of them spread out enough to not make them a single target. Despite the fact that there was obvious activity going on elsewhere judging from the random bursts of gunfire that sounded in the distance, they didn't come across any enemies, any agents or any bodies in the short distance between the lab and the courtyard.

The courtyard was quite eerie because of how deserted it actually was; even late into the night or early into the morning there were typically small groups of people going to and fro. But now there was nothing except dark splatters on the ground that seemed to indicate drag marks and blood, soft scrabbling sounds that echoed off the walls of the surrounding buildings and the unmistakable feeling that from somewhere around them, they were being watched. But no one attacked and if it was an ally, no one attempted to call out to them or join forces. So they continued on with Sin and Boyd slinking stealthily through the darkness as Brian supported the now limping Thierry, whose feet were covered by bruises and bleeding lacerations that had accumulated since their escape from Hale's compound.

At one point Sin heard low whispering somewhere around them but when he lifted his gun, aiming it in the precise direction the sound came from, the whispers abruptly stopped and he could hear nothing more. It seemed like an eternity to get across the courtyard but when they finally reached the entrance to the bunker, the weight of what felt like thousands of pounds lifted from their collective shoulders in the hopes that in the next few moments they'd find out exactly what was going on.

However the relief didn't last long; as soon as they approached the doorway a shot rang out and slammed into Brian's shoulder, sending the young agent careening into the concrete archway that housed the bunker's blast door. Thierry yelped in alarm, automatically ducking for cover as he simultaneously pulled Brian deeper into the doorway, pressing his hands against the wound. Sin and Boyd pinned themselves against the walls, ducking down and behind the railing as they sent gunfire through the darkness and in the direction the shot had come from. A moment passed without them knowing whether or not they'd successfully killed their assailant but before anything else could happen, there was a low beep and the door to the bunker slid open.

Boyd immediately grabbed Brian and helped Thierry pull him into the bunker; although he'd only been hit in the shoulder, none of them were about to stand up until they were out of danger and Brian couldn't put weight on his hand to crawl in on his own. Sin briefly stayed outside as cover but no one else shot at them and he ducked inside seconds before the door slid firmly shut. Boyd glanced quickly around the open room they found themselves in but they were alone; the door was obviously automated. A set of stairs led down and Boyd flipped the safety on the gun and slid it into his waistband.

He returned his attention to Brian; Thierry remained crouched next to him, looking pale and in pain although he was currently concentrating on pressing his hand to Brian's wound.

"Are you alright?" Boyd asked Brian, although his gaze flicked down to Thierry's feet as well.

Brian nodded slowly, wincing as tried to sit up straight and looking simultaneously relieved that they were in the bunker and mortified that he'd been injured. He glanced at Sin, who brushed by and clamored down the stairs, before returning his gaze to Boyd as they helped him to stand entirely. "Yeah. My first time getting shot though-- hurts like a bitch."

"Yes, it does," Boyd agreed, moving to Brian's good side to help support him. He noticed that Thierry had moved off to the side and was standing there silently, his expression becoming more difficult to read now that they were in an area that was going to lead them directly to people from the Agency.

He could see that there were small smears of blood beneath Thierry's feet each time he moved and it almost made him feel bad for him; as far as he could tell, Thierry had not betrayed them yet who knew what he would face now. Janus had intended to kill him and the Agency had rescued him, but Boyd didn't know what Connors intended to do with him. There was the possibility that Thierry had given Janus the location of the Agency but Boyd highly doubted that Thierry had been privy to the location in the first place so he didn't see how he could have betrayed them that way. Even so, he supposed it was a possibility; yet Thierry had seemed so believable in the car.

"They should have a small medical facility down there so we should be able to get you both help," Boyd said finally, and he looked at Thierry so he knew that meant their health was equally important and he didn't consider him to be an enemy at that moment.

Thierry looked at him silently and inclined his head slightly before the three of them made their way down the stairs to join an impatient Sin, who stood in front of a second doorway. Thierry moved as quickly as possible but given the considerable distance between the first doorway and the second doorway, the torn soles of his feet caused him to lag slightly behind. Despite that, they made the long descent fairly quickly and reached the bottom just as the door opened and a disheveled General Carhart appeared on the other side. It didn't seem as though he'd been in any combat, but it did seem as though he'd either been in bed when the events had begun or had been working out, judging from the t-shirt and athletic sneakers he wore. His hair was spiky, uncombed and his jaw was shadowed by stubble; it was a far cry from the professional manner he usually dressed in and everyone seemed to note that except for Sin.

"What the hell is going on?" Sin demanded as a greeting, green eyes narrowed accusingly at the General.

Carhart stared back at him, his face a mixture of relief at seeing them back safe and aggravation over whatever was going on in the room behind him. "We have a problem."

"No shit," Sin said sarcastically and moved further into the room when Carhart stepped aside to allow them entrance. His eyes rested on Thierry briefly, who studiously avoided his gaze, but other than that he didn't speak to the man or ask them about the assignment.

The doorway led into a large room that seemed to be the size of the Agency cafeteria; in addition to cots, there was a mess area and a latrine but in the far corner of the room there was a monitor system set up as well as a desk with communicative tools. It could easily hold a couple of hundred people and the additional doorways most likely led to rooms that could contain even more. However despite the size, there were only about thirty agents in the area at the moment, two of which Sin recognized as General Stephens and General Willis.

"Is this you people's idea of a secure compound?" Sin demanded after a moment, drawing the attention of the others in the room as he stood there glowering at them all.

Carhart made a face and closed the door, moving towards the other generals as he ran a weary hand through his already unkempt hair. Boyd saw that both General Stephens and General Willis were there.

"A lot has happened in the last hour, Vega. We're not entirely sure how it came to this. We only recently managed to group here and piece together what's happened and what locations have been hit so far but we have scouts out gathering information as we speak so that we can formulate a more specific plan."

Boyd glanced toward Carhart again, finding it difficult to reconcile the casually dressed, unkempt man in front of him with the impeccable General he was used to seeing.

One of the men at the table looked at them with a weary, mildly put off expression. Boyd recognized him as Stephens, although he'd never met either general formally. It took him a second to realize that must be Kassian's supervisor, the person Harriet had mentioned.

General Stephen was a lean but well-built man in his late fifties, whose black hair was flecked with grey along the sides. His eyes were a piercing dark green and a large scar crossed from his temple to his jaw on the left side of his face. He glanced briefly at a nearby agent but that was enough for the man to jump to attention and immediately move over to Boyd's side, reaching out to pull Brian along with him toward one of the doors, presumably to a medical treatment facility. The agent didn't so much as glance at Thierry, though, leaving it clear but unspoken that he was to remain in their sight.

The other general just stared at Sin with unconcealed hostility. "Doesn't anyone teach it to be respectful?"

"Didn't anyone teach you how to keep militants off your base?" Sin countered flatly, staring at Willis and not seeming at all impressed by his rank.

"Hsin, shut up," Carhart snapped before any more could be said. He glared over at the other medic present and jerked his head in Thierry's direction. "Take care of him but I don't want him out of our sight."

The medic nodded, not seeming to know who Thierry was or why he was important, but following the order regardless. He led the French man over to a table and instructed him to sit down before he went about the process of examining his wounds and especially his battered feet.

Boyd's gaze lingered on Willis, not pleased in the least to hear him referring to Sin as 'it.' The man was large and muscular, looking as though he could easily have a second job as a professional wrestler even at his age of what appeared to be late fifties to early sixties. His dark eyes glittered intelligently even as he looked at Sin as though he meant less than dirt to him and distaste made his expression turn harder.

"This isn't the time for a pissing match. We were in the middle of an important decision," Stephen said curtly and turned to Willis. "As I was saying, I realize that in a perfect world, consolidating the non-combatants into a more defensible position would be preferable, but in this setting that would be opening ourselves up for disaster. Most of the support staff and non-field agents on this compound have no practical training in how to respond to combat situations; whether or not they meant to, they would just get in the way. It's better to keep them in contained areas where we know they won't cause more trouble or put themselves or others at risk."

"And in the event that one of the intruders managed to infiltrate this area, or if the attackers actually turn out to be rogue agents, we'd be a bunch of sitting ducks. This whole situation is too complex, too confusing, to even consider such a simple solution," Carhart said wearily, not seeming at all happy about what he was saying. "Maybe if we weren't shrouded in darkness with no communication at all--"

"And how would they manage to infiltrate?" Willis demanded, cutting him off. "There would be an escort, we could gather the trained field agents--"

"So you're saying you know all of the maintenance, service and clerical staff by sight?" Carhart asked flatly, staring at the older man with little to no patience on his face. "I think we need to end this argument now before we waste any more time on it. It's already been vetoed by two of us and if the Marshal or Inspector were here, they'd both agree."

"I don't mean to interrupt, Generals," Boyd said as soon as there was a natural pause long enough for him to speak, "but we just returned from a mission and... What exactly is happening? I don't know about Marshal Connors, but I would be surprised if the Inspector wasn't in the tower right now. Have we lost communication with them? How did this all start?"

"Are we briefing every random agent on the situation now?" Willis snapped, seeming more interested in his losing argument than in answering Boyd or Sin's questions.

"Considering Vega is the only rank 10 field agent we have on the compound at the moment and that their unit is one of the most classified, I don't think writing them off as random agents is very wise," Carhart replied tiredly.

When Willis didn't reply immediately, Carhart looked over at Boyd finally. "We know for a fact that both Connors and your mother are on the compound, both of their cars have been in the parking lot since last night or very early this morning but contacting them is another story..." He crossed his arms over his muscular chest and shook his head in irritation.

"At some point around 0400 hours, the compound was attacked, but I'm sure you gathered that much already. Before anyone really knew what was happening, the electricity went down and the back-up generators were most likely tampered with or destroyed because it never came back up. The phone lines were found to be useless and whoever is attacking had the foresight to use some kind of frequency jammer because radios and cellular phone signals are not responding either."

"Great," Sin said aridly, looking unenthused by this information.

"Precisely." Carhart frowned. "There were a series of explosions powerful enough to damage a number of areas but not flashy enough to garner attention from the outside, which is actually helpful considering the mess that would be caused if civilians were to alert the authorities. Even though the police department knows we're out of their jurisdiction, we don't need civilians getting too involved. They can be misled about the sound of gunshots and the cause of it but not by something as obvious as a large fire," he said dryly.

"But with everyone scattered around the compound in the darkness and with an unknown amount of assailants and casualties, all we could do was gather as many of us as we could and come here to formulate some kind of plan before these guerrilla terrorists could pick us off one by one."

"No one's been up to the tower?" Sin queried, eyebrows drawing together.

"It's been barricaded," the General replied. "But with no way to contact those on the inside, we're not sure if that was a defensive move on the part our people or something that was done to keep our people out so that the assailants could have free run of the place. We were hoping that the amount of guards that are positioned there would be able to provide a somewhat decent defense though."

Boyd glanced around and recognized four of the people inside the room as field agents of ranging ranks; some of them were people he had seen in the training room before or sparred with. He didn't know most of them very well except a few by name, but they obviously must have lived on the compound to have been able to respond so quickly or make it to the bunker. He tried to think of the others he knew that lived there who would also be trained in combat. "What about Senior Agent Trovosky's team?"

It was unclear whether Stephen decided it was worthwhile to answer the question because it was related to his unit or if he just wanted the random side discussions to be finished already. "Agent Archer is currently set up as a sniper; the others have not checked in or live off the compound. Agent Torres from General Willis' unit is attempting recon as well. Both agents have been checking in periodically and should return shortly. There are no doubt many other field agents who are already engaging in combat but unless our communication starts working again we won't know their positions or status. And, of course, we have those who have already gathered here."

"So where are you at as of now?" Sin asked after a moment, seeming as impatient as Stephen was. "What's the plan to get this under control?"

Carhart looked at Stephen and Willis before he spoke. "Our first move was to get as much information as we can with the men we have out there now and once they return with some insight as to what the state of things is, we can go from there. But two things are certain; we need to get an idea of exactly what we're up against and we definitely need to get inside the tower."

A dark eyebrow rose as Sin eyed them doubtfully. "You don't have any ideas of what you're up against? Thirty seconds before we arrived we deduced a possible scenario."

Willis scowled at him, leaning forward with his hands flat against the table. "I think this situation would be a lot easier if we put him back in his cage where he belongs. All he's doing is exacerbating an already difficult situation and I will not have him disrespecting his superiors while you," he gave Carhart a disdainful look, "do nothing to control him."

Boyd's eyes narrowed at the words but he didn't have the chance to say anything.

"Exacerbating a difficult situation?" Sin asked incredulously. "Excuse the fuck out of me for wanting to know why you're sitting here with your thumb up your ass whining about why you can't go play savior to the whole world when you don't even know how many militants you have out there or who they are. Even Brian over there figured out that it's probably a small but well organized group of people who are trying to do their best to confuse you all with their explosions and darkness so that they can do whatever they planned to do while you're distracted. If they just wanted to kill us all, they'd have a much larger force with them and they'd have already fucking blown us to high hell with remote detonated bombs. And they most likely got in the same way we did-- with the goddamn tunnels that are sitting unblocked and unmonitored under the entire compound."

Willis continued to glower at him but after awhile he looked away, not having a suitable answer and after a time it was Carhart who replied as his brow furrowed. "Those tunnels have been a security breach ever since Connors decided to keep them unguarded but I suspect he had his own reasons for that. I'd assumed they were sealed after the creation of these bunkers but obviously that is not the case."

"I was under that impression as well," Stephen said, seeming annoyed with the side arguments and the messiness of the situation. "If that's the case, then the fact is that they are unsecured and Agent Vega is correct at least that if they came from the outside then it's very possible they entered through them. We have to decide what to do about that now." His piercing gaze turned to Sin and Boyd. "You have just come from the tunnels? Did you note any enemy activity within them or at the entrance outside?"

Boyd answered before Sin could, mostly because Sin still looked annoyed and he didn't want the conversation to continue going down paths that resulted in General Willis and him at each other's throats.

"No enemy activity, sir," Boyd verified. None of the generals had sounded surprised about the idea of the tunnels so he had to assume they knew everything about them or at least their entrance and exit points. "However, the park appeared to have been disturbed sometime previous to our arrival so that could have been one of the entrances they used although it's a possibility that was a coincidence. We didn't encounter anyone until we made it to the bunker's entrance, however; that was the first time we were shot at. Otherwise it was clear from the lab to here."

Stephen stared at him a moment, his eyes sharpening on Boyd's face; it didn't appear as though he disbelieved him, rather that he was thinking harder about this. "It was clear? Were you alerted by someone to come to this specific bunker?"

"No, sir." Boyd met his gaze straight on despite the intensity of it. "We just guessed you would be here. We were looking specifically for General Carhart."

Stephen considered that, seeming somewhat dubious of the idea, but his mind was going down another path because he didn't bother to ask further questions about that. "That's unfortunate; we need more manpower available down here or accessible to communication; it would be best if someone was telling others to come down." He looked over at Willis and Carhart.

"Obviously in their case, leaving the tunnels unsecured resulted in additional backup we wouldn't have had with the tunnels sealed, but so few people know of the tunnels that it's not likely there will be more allies coming through. Regardless of the number of militants present on the compound now, we can't afford to have their numbers expand. Ideally, the outside entrances to the tunnels should be at the very least guarded right now but without some sort of communication our agents would be too far away to send messages to. We should post guards on the entrances within the compound and assign one of them to be a runner to alert us if additional enemies are approaching. That will address the issue of if they are outsiders."

Carhart nodded in agreement and started to turn to the small group of officers to their left but paused. "There's four internal entrances into the two tunnels; one of them leads directly into the basement of the tower. If we send a team in through the connecting tunnel, we'll be able to penetrate it and find out what's going on in there."

He looked over at the group finally. "Captain Darrell, I want three groups of three agents posted at the other entrances, the lowest ranked agent will serve as the runner. We need to organize a team of the most experienced agents we have here to penetrate the tower, Vega will serve as team leader."

Three sets of eyes snapped to Carhart incredulously and even Sin's mouth pulled down in a slight, dismayed frown. "You can't be serious."

"With all due respect General Carhart--" Darrell began but Willis cut him off.

"You're out of your mind and that is out of the question. We already have very little manpower and you want to send in an entire team with that psychopath? How do we know we can trust him? How do we know he won't turn on them?" The outraged general demanded.

Sin stared at the man coldly. "As long as you're not there, it shouldn't come to that."

Willis leaned across the table again, eyebrows drawn down. "Are you threatening a commanding officer?"

"Enough of this nonsense," Carhart snapped. "Willis--"

"No, it's bad enough that you and Stephen want to leave our allies unprotected and exposed but now you want to send the good men we do have out with a raving lunatic. The man is a freak, a monster, he enjoys killing--"

Sin's eyes narrowed dangerously, his entire body growing tense as his hands flexed.

"--and he is just as much of a threat as these cowardly intruders who bombed residential buildings at four in the damned morning. He should have never been released," Willis raged on.

Carhart looked over at Sin but before he could interrupt, the other man continued with his tirade. "He belongs in that box because he's nothing but an animal. Don't any of you remember what he did to poor Lydia Connors?"

Before anyone had time to react, Sin had one impossibly strong hand wrapped around Willis' throat, fingers tightening. Everyone froze and stared at the scene in shock; Thierry looked up from the medic with widened eyes at the sight before him and the same frightened expression that he'd had in the truck returned.

"Keep your fucking mouth shut about things you know nothing about," Sin said flatly.

Everyone watched in shock as Sin effortlessly held the general, who outweighed him by fifty pounds or more, nearly off the ground. Boyd watched the scene, his fingers twitching nervously as he struggled to decide whether he should intervene. But it didn't look like Sin was about to go into one of his berserk fits-- it just seemed like he was pissed. Even so, Boyd stepped forward and touched the back of his partner's shoulder.

"Ignore him," he said quietly, looking over at Willis briefly. "Calm down."

For a moment it didn't seem like Sin would heed the advice, and Captain Darrell fumbled for the small remote that all officers and guards carried, the remote that controlled Sin's collar. But then Sin's shoulders slowly relaxed and the unchecked anger dissipated. He released General Willis abruptly and stepped back, glancing at Boyd for a long moment and then at Carhart.

"Just keep him away from me," he muttered and stalked over to the door, looking anxious to be out of the bunker and away from everyone in it.

Stephen, however, was the first to respond. He looked between Willis and Sin with narrowed eyes, seeming very unimpressed with the entire situation.

"This is the last time I will say this; now is not the time for pissing matches. Agent Vega, if you can't control yourself, remove yourself from the situation until you can." Despite the words, it was calmly said.

"Willis." Stephen looked at his fellow General with a hard expression but didn't directly reprimand him; it would be a poor decision in a crisis situation to show disrespect to fellow commanding officers. "I trust Carhart will take appropriate measures with his men. We don't have time to waste squabbling in here. Our people are in danger as we speak and the longer we wait to execute our orders, the more likelihood for casualties there are."

Willis rubbed his neck and glared at Sin warily, seeming simultaneously furious at the assault and confused by the fact that he'd backed off. "I've given my opinion on every matter you put on the table and I've been subsequently ignored and disrespected each time. From this point on, I remove myself from the discussion."

Carhart stared at the man in incredulous exasperation and crossed his arms over his chest.

"Your concerns have been addressed Willis, and both General Stephen and myself are in agreement about everything that must be done. By getting on your soap box every time an issue is brought forth and ignoring common sense to perpetuate inappropriate behavior based on misinformed gossip and assumptions, you make yourself look ignorant and childish. And if you want to discuss the issue of disrespect, please do not forget that despite the fact that I am the youngest General here, I am still technically your superior and you have second guessed me and insulted me long before Agent Vega arrived."

He paused and took a deep breath, running a hand through his hair and causing it to spike out wildly, not looking at all like the superior of a sixty year old man. "

Your expertise in handling terrorists is needed here, Willis. I'm hoping you will utilize your knowledge and skills to help us in this situation and realize that despite your personal feelings regarding Vega and despite the fact that he allows others to provoke him," Carhart sent a pointed look at Sin, who rolled his eyes in response, "it has been proven time and time again that he is capable of completing assignments alone that other men need an entire team to tackle. Not only that, but he is one of the agents that we have on hand who obviously has knowledge about the tunnels and the locations of their entrances and exits. If you can think of someone more fit to infiltrate the tower, please enlighten me."

Willis said nothing for a long moment and straightened his jacket before he finally cleared his throat. "Fine. Then I will at least say that I'd feel more comfortable if a more... controlled agent of rank also went with the tower team."

It seemed that he wanted to add something, so he spoke again before anyone could respond. "When our scouts return, I also highly suggest sending out the remaining men in groups to the areas that have seen the most activity. It is unlikely that this bunker will be attacked and we gain nothing by hoarding the men in here instead of sending them out to engage."

"Agreed," Stephen said, seeming glad to get the argument behind them. "Agent Archer will accompany Agent Vega."

Willis looked slightly mollified by the comment but before he could speak, an insistent beeping erupted from the computers. Thierry jumped as he looked over at the computers in alarm, as if thinking it was an alert that a missile was launched in their direction or something equally dire, but the medic treating him explained quietly, "That's just the proximity alarm."

Most of the people in the room turned toward the screen that was showing movement. One of the monitors displayed what appeared to be the camera's view by the door to the bunker. A group of people were crouched in the area while two men could be seen shooting into the darkness rapidly. Although the men were turned away, the camera apparently included an infrared light because the view was surprisingly clear, detailed, and seemed more like it was looking out at daytime rather than a nearly pitch black scene.

The quality was good enough that even Boyd, despite having met the man awhile ago and for a relatively brief time, could recognize Archer's broad shoulders and military crew cut. Watching Archer duck back while the other man inched forward, a flash of a grin seen on his face as he looked to the side briefly, Boyd wondered if that was he and Sin had looked like on the monitors, minus the pleased expressions.

"Excellent timing," Stephen said in approval, as if it was a testament to their skills that Archer and the others had known to arrive at that moment. He looked toward an agent who immediately pressed a button, causing the bunker door to slide open up by the group of people. They filed into the bunker's main room shortly after with Archer and the other man ducking in last.

The three generals looked expectantly toward the door; a group of seven agents entered the room with Archer in the lead, his serious eyes darting around the room the second he entered even as he reloaded his gun. His gaze only lingered briefly in assessment on Thierry, Sin and then Boyd, before returning to Stephen. The other man who had been at Archer's side on the camera came in last. He looked to be in his twenties with light skin, brown eyes, and short cropped dark hair. His build was lean and very athletic and he held himself with a casual sort of grace even as he glanced around the room quickly.

"General," Archer greeted, checking that the safety was off his gun and then sliding it back into the holster.

"Report," Stephen said immediately.

"The tower remains inaccessible," Archer said evenly, seeming unaffected by the entire situation. "I counted fifteen of our agents who'd congregated there to try to contact Marshal Connors; eight of them were already dead and I brought the rest with me. Visibility is low. Night goggles don't help; they don't provide sufficient details to distinguish enemies from allies so I had to stop my sniping detail. I found two snipers of theirs and killed them but there may be more. It's unknown why they did not have similar problems I did deciding between enemy and ally. They were targeting the tower so they may have told their people to stay away from the entrances outside. The snipers are probably the reason for the high casualties in that area."

Willis looked at other agent expectantly. "What did you find, Andrew? Were you successful in infiltrating the kill zones or getting an idea on how high the casualty count is among our people?"

The young looking agent, Agent Andrew Torres presumably, frowned slightly and raised his shoulders in a rolling shrug. The name and the relation to General Willis immediately caused something to click in Boyd's brain and he had to wonder if this was the same Andrew who'd had a brief relationship with Ryan. It seemed to fit; Willis' focus on search and rescue missions and this Andrew's almost crest-fallen expression fit perfectly with Ryan's description of the terrorist apprehension unit.

"Unfortunately sir, all three kill zones are currently too hot for me to get in solo. I'm still unsure as to how stable the actual structures are but I viewed a number of corpses around the immediate area, which does not lead me to believe that most people inside were unharmed. Upon trying to move closer I was fired at from multiple directions and had to retreat. I wasn't able to meet up with Agent Archer until just recently, on my way back to base, but since he's managed to pick up more people it's possible that a group of us will be able to split up in teams in order to investigate further."

General Willis looked away, clearly frustrated with the situation. "If three out of five of the main residential halls have been attacked directly, it's no wonder we haven't been able to get much manpower down here. Especially since all three house a high concentration of our field agents." He shook his head. "Did you notice any activity anywhere else aside from those particular sites?"

Andrew nodded, brow furrowing as he thought about it. "There appeared to be snipers stationed around Residential Complex A as if they are trying to keep anyone from getting too close or entering the building and that wasn't even one of the structures that was bombed. And, of course, the shooters that are focusing on this bunker and most likely trying to take out additional reinforcements. I heard a lot of shooting at various points during my run but whenever I got close enough to an area, the fighting had already ceased and the spot was deserted with the exception of a corpse sometimes. Also I'll note that there were several corpses that I suspect were a part of the infiltration team as they were all dressed the same and had black masks."

Carhart's eyebrows shot up and he immediately jumped on the information. "Was there anything distinguishing about them?"

"Negative, sir. The handful I came across were of varying ages and ethnicities."

"Hmm." Carhart looked at Stephen and Willis as he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Obviously our people are engaging sporadically with the enemy but it seems that we should focus on the areas that have constant activity. Archer and Vega will lead the tower team, that much is certain. The team who will guard the second entrance to that tunnel, which I believe is in the main Infirmary, will accompany them until they ensure that the area is clear and then remain at their station. So that leaves the other two entrances."

Sin looked up finally. "Well the first entrance to the second tunnel is in the empty lab building on Havit Street but that seemed pretty deserted when we came through. The second entrance is in the basement of Residential Complex A though, which is most likely why the enemy is guarding it."

It was no wonder that the enemy hadn't been dispatched from that area already though-- most of the inhabitants of Complex A were upper echelon agents but the majority were non-combatant types like Jeffrey, who lived on the eleventh floor.

Carhart and Stephen looked at each other as if in silent agreement about something. "We'll need a strong team for that area."

Before the conversation could go anywhere else or they could designate any more team leaders, Andrew blurted out suddenly, "I'd like to volunteer for Residential Complex C, sirs."

Boyd spoke up immediately: "I would as well."

The fact that Ryan lived there wasn't lost on Boyd and that was where he knew he had to be to help him. Even if the bombs hadn't directly impacted his floor, smoke or fire could have reached it. The fact that Andrews had mentioned seeing corpses around the buildings wasn't promising either. Even if Ryan had made it out of his apartment he could have been attacked and even though Boyd had been teaching him some moves, he didn't think Ryan was anywhere near ready to be in combat with these enemies.

Carhart glanced between Andrew and Boyd, not seeming very surprised that either of them seemed in a rush to go to that specific location. However, he seemed torn between ordering them to go with Sin's team and giving the okay, but in the end he nodded. "If the others are fine with that, then I am too."

In the end, nobody had any real objections and the next five minutes were spent designating teams for specific locations. Captain Darrell ended up leading the team that would assault the entrance at Complex A and aside from the teams chosen to take on the tunnel entrance in the lab, to guard the entrance at the Infirmary and the other residential complexes, two snipers were selected to attempt to clean the area around the bunker. There were at least two members of the tech support staff who'd had the foresight to make it to the bunker on their own and they were chosen, along with two agents, to make their way to the location of the diesel backup generators in an effort to fix or re-enable them and get some of the power restored. Everyone was given instructions to pick up more manpower along the way and either bring them along or direct them towards the bunker for further orders.

Once orders were given and plans were created it didn't take long for the teams to assemble and consult on a few last minute issues and to arm themselves in the supply room. Sin and Archer's team was assigned an additional three agents who were introduced as Green, Banks and Williams, while Boyd and Andrew were pairing up with Agents Thomas and Lowe. The teams were ordered to leave in staggered groups so the snipers aiming at the door to the bunker wouldn't have the chance to kill them all in one spot. Captain Darrell's team was the first to depart, disappearing silently out of the room and up the stairs. The team heading toward the lab left a few minutes later.

Agent Thomas moved closer to Boyd and Andrew, asking for specifics of what they were heading into and Andrew ended up moving to the side with him. Eventually Lowe approached as well, so Andrew waved her over, appearing to want to introduce himself and get acquainted with the last-minute team. Although Boyd was interested in what was being said, he wanted to talk to Sin before one of their teams left and he lost the chance.

After a moment, he approached Sin's side and silently tilted his head toward the main door to the room before heading in that direction. Sin followed him out into the hallway where they had some sense of privacy away from the background murmur of several conversations occurring at once. They stood for a moment and just looked at each other, noting how weary the other looked after a long night of running and fighting, something that obviously wasn't over yet. Blood splatters still stained Sin's clothing and although he most likely looked as impervious as ever to the others, Boyd could tell that he was tired mentally if not physically.

"Hey," Boyd said somewhat pensively and glanced at the door before searching Sin's expression and deciding to get straight to the point. "I know you'll have a lot on your mind, but if the enemy is targeting the tower I can only imagine they're going for the administration. My mother is really just a civilian; I doubt she's ever had real combat training. She wouldn't stand a chance against an attack and... I don't want her to die." He hesitated then asked, "Can you go help her? I'd go myself, but Ryan..."

Sin stared down at him silently at first, his eyes an almost startling contrast to the darkness of the room and the pitch black that Boyd knew awaited them outside. But then he raised one shoulder almost casually and readjusted the strap to the shotgun holster which lay across his chest.

"I will if she'll let me. You know how she is."

"Yes, I do," Boyd said mildly, looking away to search the shadows as if he would find an answer there as to how to deal with his mother. "But if she's really in trouble I hope she will accept help. If not, there's nothing we can do about it." Despite the fact that she had never been a particularly loving woman, she was still his mother, his only living family, and he had to admit that the last few times he'd seen her she had actually seemed to be trying to help in her own way.

He ran a hand tiredly through his hair, noting now that he had a brief moment of respite just how much his jaw hurt and how annoying the blood was dried on the side of his face and neck. "Even so, thank you."

Sin shrugged again, nodding slightly and although it seemed like he wanted to say more, his eyes skipped briefly to the door and he stopped. His team was assembled, armed and heading past them and up the long staircase that led to the main door. He and Archer made eye contact briefly but the other man didn't so much as say anything to rush him, although the look on his face made it clear that they needed to be moving out. Sin didn't think the man was particularly fond of him but at the same time, as long as he was technically the team leader, Archer didn't seem in a rush to step out of line either.

When they were partially up the stairs and mostly out of earshot, Sin looked at Boyd again. "Don't get killed or I'll be very annoyed with you."

Boyd gave him a brief ghost of a smile, amused by the wording and pleased that Sin was concerned for him. At the same time, he couldn't deny he felt the same in return; they'd barely managed to escape Janus already that night and they'd at least had an idea of what to expect going into there. Here, they not only had no idea who exactly the enemy was but also had no idea what the enemy was truly capable of. Sin would be heading straight for the tower which seemed like it could be a focal point of the enemy's attack.

Ever since he'd realized how mortal Sin actually was, Boyd couldn't help but feel a sense of paranoia and fear each time they parted or headed toward danger.The same to you."

They exchanged another lingering look and Sin turned to go, intending to sprint up the stairs and after his team but before he could take even one step, he turned back and gave Boyd a curious narrow-eyed look. "There's been something I've been meaning to ask you since Monterrey-- I may as well do it now before I might potentially get killed and never get a real answer."

"Alright," Boyd said slowly, taken aback by the sudden change in topic, and looked at Sin almost warily. "What is it?"

There was another pause as Sin studied his partner but then he raised his eyebrows. "That night at Lunar when you told Estella I gave you a 'vibe'... what exactly did you mean?"

The question was so random that for a moment Boyd just stared at him; he'd been expecting something serious and alarming and instead he was asking about vibes? He looked at Sin in confusion, not knowing for a moment what he was even talking about, but then he remembered the conversation.

He glanced around, noting that no one was nearby but stepped closer to Sin just in case. "I saw you the night before," he said so quietly that only Sin could possibly hear him. "You had my shirt and moaned my name." He quirked an eyebrow, meeting Sin's eyes. "Aside from the fact that it made it incredibly obvious, it was also very... stimulating."

Sin stared at him blankly for a stretch before shaking his head slowly. "You're such a--"

The echo of someone's voice calling down to him interrupted the sentence and he grimaced slightly. "Nevermind. We'll talk about this later." He jabbed a finger at Boyd for emphasis, "Be safe, voyeur."

With that being said, he turned around and sprinted up the stairs, disappearing into the darkness.

Sin could hear the faint sound of Boyd's quiet laughter drifting behind him and although a slight grin touched his lips, it quickly disappeared as he made his way up to the surface. As his legs moved automatically, he pulled his thoughts back in order and began to think more about the situation they were in.

He'd said on more than one occasion that he didn't respect his superiors and he'd told Boyd flat-out that he wished he could have stayed in Mexico under his assumed name but... But for some reason knowing the compound was being attacked unsettled him in a way he couldn't possibly understand. The Agency housed the people who had made his life hell for the past fifteen years, who had driven him to the brink of insanity and dragged him back just so they could control him again-- but it also was the place where Carhart lived, where Ryan lived. It was the place that tied him to Boyd. It made him wonder if he did have some sense of loyalty for it after all, even if he didn't feel the same sentiment for specific individuals that worked there.

The whole thing irked him for a number of reasons and while he was confident in his abilities and knew that the other agents were more than competent as well, the whole thing just seemed terribly odd. Who were these people? How did they know about the tunnels? Yes, they were unsecured and generally unwatched, but the only people who should even know of their existence worked for the Agency. And how would they know to specifically bomb residential buildings that were mainly occupied by field agents?

Was it just coincidence or was it an inside job? Was there a mole on the compound? Someone who knew where everything was so specifically; someone who had a detailed map of the compound and of the location of the backup generators and tunnels? Someone with ties to Janus? And if that was the case, why weren't they launching a full scale attack? Why hadn't they done as he'd suggested earlier and just used the mole to plant a number of remote detonated bombs to wipe them out? Why were they sneaking in and playing distraction games? What was their real goal?

There were too many questions, too many unknown variables, and it made him wary.

When he caught up to his team, they jogged up the stairs silently, no one speaking until they finally reached the outer blast door. Archer raised his arm to unlock the door manually but before he could do it, Sin grabbed his arm. "Wait."

Archer stopped and looked at him, though he didn't say anything.

Sin glanced at the other three agents in the team before raising an eyebrow at Archer. "How about we make a deal." He said it as more of a statement than a question.

Archer narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "What kind of deal?"

A sly smirk crossed Sin's face and Agents Green and Williams looked at each other, unsure of what the notorious man was up to. "I'm not very good at this whole team player, team leader business so... how about I just let you take over that role and in return, you don't give me shit if I wander off on my own once we're in the tower."

Raising an eyebrow, Archer studied Sin for a long moment, appearing to consider the proposal very seriously. It was too hard to read what he was thinking but he didn't seem to dislike the idea. Finally, he nodded curtly. "Deal."

Sin inclined his head slightly, pleased, and released Archer's arm so that he could open the door. They moved out quickly, ducking for cover in the expectation that they would be fired at, but nothing happened. Sin wondered if that meant that the hunters had become the hunted now that their agents were finally on the move. Whatever the case was, they headed towards the Infirmary with caution and although they heard the faint sound of sporadic gunfire deeper in the compound, they didn't encounter anyone until they moved closer to their destination.

"I wish the sun would rise already," Agent Banks muttered quietly, pushing unruly strands of red hair out of her eyes as she tightened her grip on her gun. Her dark eyes flicked through the shadows in paranoia as they jogged towards the tall building to meet up with the other team.

"We still have another hour for that," Williams replied quietly. "And even then, the light won't be strong enough to break through the smog until after seven. We'll have to make due with the night vision for now," He said, touching his goggles absently.

Before Banks could reply, Archer looked at them briefly, a silent order to cut the conversation and the two agents once again fell into silence.

As they approached Hart Place, the tension in the air picked up considerably and Archer gestured for everyone to spread out. Sin ducked down slightly and crouched behind a low stone wall across the street from the building, eyes scanning the perimeter as he quickly located the position of the other team, the team that would remain at the first entrance as they made their way down the tunnel and to the second. He spied Agent Jared, the team leader, at the northeast corner of Hart Place and started to make eye contact with Archer to signal the man's location before he realized that Jared was crouched next to a prone figure.

Shaking his head in disbelief that they'd already lost a man, Sin crouched behind the wall again and made his way quickly to where Archer had ducked behind a tree. "They already have a man down," he muttered softly. "They're laying low so it's probably another sniper."

Archer leaned farther to the left and allowed his gaze to skim briefly over the area. "Make your way to Agent Jared. You'll possibly draw out the location of the shooter."

Sin shrugged and stood up entirely; he didn't mind being bait. He stepped out into the open and not even a second later, the crack of a gunshot exploded in the otherwise eerie silence and he dodged out of the way just in time, barely missing a direct shot to the head. Just as soon as he escaped the first bullet, another one whizzed over his shoulder as he zig-zagged across the road, making his body a small and constantly moving target as the shooter attempted to take him out.

Sin could hear Banks and Green hissing at him to take cover but he ignored them and continued to take a meandering route over to Jared until the direction of the shots became obvious. The moment he realized the shooter was on the roof of a small residential building across the street, he rolled out of the way of another bullet and ducked behind a lamp post as he finally made eye contact with Archer. But it seemed Archer was already on it and Sin watched as the older man crouched behind the wall and positioned his rifle, aiming it at the sniper before firing two quick shots. There was a clattering sound in the distance and their assailant tumbled over the side of the building lifelessly.

Waiting a moment before moving again, Sin jogged over to Jared and recognized the prone individual as a lower ranked agent who'd just been promoted from being a guard. His skin was pale and a considerable amount of blood was spread across his torso, but for the moment he appeared to be alive. Jared looked at Sin warily, moving almost protectively closer to the downed agent and seemed almost defensive as he said, "There were two of them. We managed to take out the other but Agent Shield was wounded before we located the position of the second."

Sin shrugged, not really sure why the man was explaining this to him. "I didn't say anything."

Archer and the other three agents approached quickly, although they stayed relatively spread out across the area. "Where's the rest of your men? Didn't you have three others on your team?" Archer asked, eyes searching the area for signs of them.

"I have two," Jared said as he glanced down at Shield. "They'd made it into the Infirmary just before Shield was taken out and as I didn't have a good vantage point to find the shooter, I ordered them to move ahead while I wait for back-up."

Archer nodded briefly at the logic of that order and continued to scour the area but ultimately he didn't seen any sign of enemy movement or any other agents. He finally looked down to study Shield, gaze tracking the way his blood was spreading through Jared's clothing as well. Sin knew as well as Archer did that Shield stood little chance of surviving even if they got him help immediately. He'd already lost a lot of blood and judging from the location it seemed to be flowing from, the bullet had likely struck a vital organ. It was incredibly unlikely he would live past the next few hours.

Even so, Archer jerked his head toward the Infirmary. "Bring him," he ordered to Jared, who looked relieved by the fact Archer wasn't telling him to leave Shield behind. "Carry him alone; we can't afford to lose another gun."

Jared nodded and struggled to half carry, half drag Shield along with them. Banks and Williams spread to the sides while Green covered their backs and Archer and Sin led the way. The Infirmary was not far away and it was likely that there would still be medic staff inside, even if they were hiding.

The door opened silently to the building and Archer silently motioned Sin and Banks to accompany him as they moved quickly inside and secured the area. The main room was empty and didn't appear to have been disturbed by the fighting outside; the glass windows were unbroken, the tables and chairs were upright, and everything was in its place. Archer's hawk-like stare scrutinized the room quickly and efficiently; he seemed to come to a satisfactory conclusion because he motioned the others inside. Once the door was quietly closed, the muffled silence of the building seemed almost eerie compared to the bursts of noise from outside.

They moved quickly through the building, making their way toward the back where the entrance to the basement would be found. They didn't encounter anyone along the way, neither enemies nor hidden allies, and the only sound they made was the occasional scrape of Shield's boots along the ground as Jared dragged him along. They almost reached the back hallway when Archer suddenly raised a hand to stop them. He was staring into a room through his goggles with narrowed eyes and it wasn't until he moved closer that Sin saw what had caused Archer to pause.

One of the larger staff offices was found inside and although the entire room was in disarray, as if the people inside had rushed out in a panic, the main thing of note were the two bodies sprawled on the floor. Sin nudged one of the bodies over with the toe of his boot and he saw that it was indeed a member of the staff, his white jacket stained irreversibly with blood as he stared up at them lifelessly. However it didn't seem that the intruders had simply murdered the man in cold blood; closer inspection showed that both dead employees were armed and had their weapons in hand. It didn't bode well for what had come of the rest of Jared's team, especially considering there were no signs of them at all so far and the intruders seemed to quickly take out anyone who could potentially pose a threat.

Not taking much time to examine the area, they continued on their way to the very back of the building. The infirmary was typically active at all hours of the day and night just like any hospital would be, but the complete lack of staff members indicated that they'd either been able to flee the building and were allowed to do so because they were non-threatening to the enemy or were being held somewhere upstairs with the in-patients. It was obvious that Shield would likely not survive even with help and the extra time it would take to send one of their small team to find a doctor would only put the rest of them in danger. Sin didn't bother to voice these opinions out loud though, he assumed Archer had come to the same conclusions and he seemed rational enough to do the most logical thing in the situation.

At the rear of the building there were two additional examination rooms, the back exit and the door which led to the staircase. They needed to head downstairs to the basement in order to reach the tunnel entrance but before going there, Archer indicated them to stop in front of one of the rooms. Banks, Green and Williams stayed fanned out across the hallway and rear exit to stay alert for any sign of the enemy while Sin stood in the doorway to the room watching Archer and Jared work.

Together, they lifted Shield onto a table where he grimaced and laid back, the sheen of sweat now coating his skin so thoroughly he looked as though he'd been doused in water. His forehead was cool to the touch and he was absolutely coated in blood. Archer didn't seem to notice these points, or perhaps he simply chose not to make it obvious how dire Shield's situation was. He found a roll of bandages and in his typical manner, quickly and efficiently bound Shield's wound as best he could in a short amount of time. Shield hissed at the treatment and made a soft, pathetic groan that caused Jared to watch him with a mixture of guilt and disquiet.

It didn't take long for Archer to finish and although it had seemed like he would probably leave without saying anything, he leaned close to Shield and said quietly, "We'll be back for you, Agent." They left Shield lying on table and exited the room, closing the door behind them.

If there were still enemies in the building, it was obvious that they would be found exactly where the team was headed; in the basement. It put them in the difficult position of managing to get down the completely darkened staircase and down into the basement, where they could be ambushed at any time. In the end Archer opened the door carefully, everyone staying to the side as they did so and Banks tossed in a couple of light sticks, mostly to see if anyone inside would react to the sudden movement.

Nothing happened immediately and Sin slipped inside, crouching down and pressing himself against the wall as he glanced around the area. Through the green glow of his goggles, Sin could see the two bodies that lay sprawled on the staircase. There were no doubts that they were the two remaining members of Jared's team and when Archer slipped inside, he shook his head grimly. He motioned for Jared and Green to remain outside the door to guard the rear exit and hall so that their backs were protected as Williams and Banks slipped inside the stairwell.

It was silently and simultaneously understood that Sin would go down first and he did so without hesitation, stepping around the bodies silently as he disappeared into the pitch blackness that lay below. His boots moved noiselessly down the stairs and as he went down the second flight, he could make out the outline of a man standing near the basement door in the darkness. The man was leaning against the wall, twirling something in his hand and it was obvious from his body language that he didn't sense that anyone was behind him.

Sin crept down slowly, slipping his knife out of his belt and before the man had a chance to react, the blade was drawn across his throat. Sin cradled the body and moved to the side, propping it against the wall as he slipped out another light stick and signaled the others to come down; the brightness of the green glow was a quicker and easier way to signal than using a flashlight. As he did so, he leaned closer to the heavy door and could hear the faint sound of voices on the other side although he couldn't understand exactly what was being said.

Within seconds Archer, Williams and Banks crowded the stairwell and as Sin shoved the light stick back into his pocket, he indicated the corpse on the floor and the fact that the enemy was obviously also using night-vision goggles. He then pointed to the door and gestured that there were at least three people on the other side. Archer immediately responded by pulling a stun grenade off his belt and first pointing to the door, then himself and Sin. It was likely that the people on the other side would hesitate before attacking immediately after the door opened since it could very well be their own comrade, and that brief moment would be the key to the plan working successfully.

Archer grabbed the door handle and turned it, pushing the door open slightly. The conversation on the other side came to an abrupt halt and that fraction of a second of hesitation was just enough time for Archer to throw the stun grenade inside and slam the door shut again. Within seconds there was the sound of a loud blast, muffled on their end by the steel door, and Archer yanked the door open quickly as he and Sin dove into the room to take advantage of the momentarily stunned intruders. Not only were their ears effected by the blast but night vision goggles had a tendency to strongly amplify the already blinding flash of the grenade.

There were four men in the main room immediately on the other side of the door and between the short, controlled blasts from Archer's MP5 and Sin's accurate shooting, all of them were down in under twenty seconds with little to no resistance due to the effects of the grenade. Williams and Banks moved into the cleared area and Archer signaled for them to investigate the hallway to the left as he and Sin made their way down the right side.

The entire basement was nothing more than several wide open spaces that were designated for equipment storage and other supplies with a large electrical room at the back. The hatch door that actually led down to the tunnel was very subtle and had probably been ignored and forgotten about in the many years of disuse but as they approached the area that it was located in, it was obvious that it wasn't being ignored anymore.

Given the gunfire that had just occurred in the next room, the masked intruders weren't caught off guard this time. Sin and Archer ducked for cover as soon as they entered the area that housed the hatch as gunshots were fired at them from three directions. There was a brief stand off from across the room and it was only when Banks and Williams entered and provided a distraction that Sin get the chance to unload his shotgun into the small group. They didn't go down quickly or easily though and one managed to shoot Williams in the leg just before he died. Thankfully it wasn't more than a flesh wound and he still had enough mobility to be useful to the team.

They secured the area quickly, ensuring that there were no enemies anywhere else in the basement or in the immediate area below them in the tunnel. Banks went back to find Jared and Green, who would remain in the basement to secure the entrance as Jared's team was originally supposed to do, and after a brief exchange of instructions the rest of the team climbed down the long ladder and into the darkness of the tunnel, making their way to the tower.

Despite Andrew's warnings of the dangers in the residential areas, Boyd, Andrew, Lowe and Thomas didn't run into any more snipers or enemies along the way. That was primarily due to the fact that other agents appeared to have passed through the area shortly before they'd arrived, judging by the combination of slain Agency employees and masked bodies that were sprawled out along the sidewalk and behind bushes. Boyd and the others didn't stop to look for their allies to see if they were in the area still; it would have delayed them getting inside to check on the building and they couldn't trust that other intruders wouldn't come to replace the ones who had fallen. This was their chance to infiltrate Complex C without a fight and they took the chance quickly.

However, the damage to Complex C did not look promising; there were massive chunks missing in the lower levels, leaving rubble and broken cement in its wake. The metal structure of the building was still relatively in tact; the upper floors hadn't caved in but with fourteen floors rising above the severely damaged foundation, it could only be a matter of time before the structure became too unstable to be safe. As they headed into the building, they could see bodies strewn across the debris; the victims appeared to be people who had still been asleep when the complex was hit, or who had been crushed while trying to escape. Boyd thankfully didn't recognize anyone as they passed by but that wasn't saying much since he couldn't see a lot of faces and in some cases the corpses had been reduced to body parts.

Andrew, Lowe and Thomas looked between the bodies and the way ahead with tense shoulders; Andrew especially seemed to be affected and his loping stroll became more of an angry stride as they headed deeper into the building. Without the night vision goggles, Boyd could tell they would have had a very difficult time navigating the area. Not only was it dark out, but the air was filled with smoke and dust from the collapsed building, making it hard to breathe in some places without wanting to cough continuously. He held his shirt over his mouth and nose as he passed through a particularly heavy cloud and noticed the others do the same.

In spite of the severe damage, it was exactly as the generals had noted; there were no fires to put out and no other damage than the structural collapse. It suggested that rather than using bombs the enemy had actually rigged the lower floors for demolition, probably with TNT and nitroglycerin, and had weakened the structure. If they had demolished the entire lower floors properly, it would have caused the building to implode and collapse in on itself but that kind of project would have taken weeks to months of prior preparation. Instead, it appeared as though they had created enough damage to weaken the structure considerably but not enough to destroy the entire building while still causing a suitable enough distraction for whatever they intended to do.

As they made their way into the building and through the rubble, they didn't see any living residents or intruders and with such a large building there was no point in searching in a group of four. They decided to split into two groups to more efficiently search for enemies or any allies that may be in the area so that they could direct them to the bunker for orders. They decided to split up; one group would start on the lower floors and move upward while the other would head to the top and work downward. It made the most sense for Boyd and Andrew to head toward the top while Thomas and Lowe started on the lower levels. One main reason was that Andrew and Boyd both knew that they each wanted to check on Ryan on the fifteenth floor and for that they'd be heading in the same direction. In addition to that, Thomas and Lowe had worked together previously and understood each other's style so they seemed satisfied pairing up and appeared comfortable with the decision.

Andrew and Boyd moved quietly upward through the building, slipping in and out of the stairwells as they ran into places they couldn't pass through or heard sounds of unknown origin ahead. Andrew seemed intent on taking control of the situation, not because he seemed to be power-hungry but because he seemed more passionate about getting back at the enemy and deciding how to do so.

He seemed to be a little more reckless than Boyd; there were a few times when he intended to wait to get a better idea of the area ahead of them while Andrew seemed primarily interested in making sure no one was immediately around the corner or obviously in the way before he headed in. Boyd suspected that was due to a difference in training. While he and Sin were trained in subterfuge and assassination, Andrew's unit was trained specifically to stop terrorists and prevent the kinds of things that Boyd and Sin did to others, from happening to their allies. The end result was his style of fighting being more upfront than stealthy, which could also be due to the fact that he was used to being with a team on assignments rather than solo or with only one other person to have his back.

They didn't see many people around for the most part but in some areas in the lower levels, the dust had yet to dissipate fully and it greatly hampered visibility. Sometimes they could hear low talking but the people speaking never seemed to be in the places he and Andrew were passing through and it was difficult to tell if it was residents of the building making their way out or if they were the enemy. As they moved as quickly as possible, Boyd noticed Andrew glancing at him occasionally, almost as if he wanted to say something. Andrew had briefly introduced himself when they'd initially left the bunker and Boyd had barely done more than say his own name back. Given the tense situation and how intent they both were on the mission, it was no surprise that they hadn't had much in the way of conversations.

They passed through an empty hallway connected to the stairwell that would take them toward the area of fifteenth floor that Ryan's apartment was situated. As Boyd paused at a corner and Andrew headed around first, he was finally tired of being distracted by Andrew's occasional glances so he looked at him directly and asked quietly, "What?"

Andrew didn't answer for a moment but finally gave a one shouldered shrug. "Nothing. Ryan just told me a little about you, is all."

Boyd considered that briefly, then said, "I see." He paused; he could have left it at that but he had to admit he was somewhat interested in the person Ryan had been seeing. He also wondered what Ryan had said about him. "Was it anything interesting?"

The other man's mouth quirked up into a slight grin. "Depends on what you think is interesting. Mostly it was about how awesome you are and how everyone sucks for not thinking so as well. He mentioned your partner too."

Boyd couldn't help a smirk at that; Ryan never changed. "I suspect he had rave reviews for Sin, too," he said mildly.

Andrew shrugged again as they entered Ryan's floor. "He didn't go on about him nearly as much. He mainly kept trying to tell me that Vega isn't as bad as everyone says and that he isn't as scary as he looks."

"Well, I won't argue with that assessment," Boyd said quietly.

They continued silently down the hallway and would have kept going but Boyd heard the faintest of sounds. He paused and turned his head toward Andrew; it was difficult to read expressions with the night goggles covering most of their faces but he could tell well enough what he was thinking. Boyd jerked his chin toward the hallway and Andrew nodded then followed him as they headed toward the source of the noise.

They passed several open apartment doors but no one appeared to be in there. Several of the apartments seemed to have been left in a state of disarray and at first Boyd thought it was due to the situation; the bombs hit the building and probably knocked things down. It wasn't surprising that many apartments and floors appeared to be abandoned; given the state of the lower levels, there was no telling how stable anything above them actually was and the startled residents had most likely evacuated immediately, or tried to until they ran into the enemy.

He suspected that was partially the case but as they passed a few more open apartments, he noticed drawers that were left open, boxes strewn across the floor, and invaluable items scattered carelessly across tables and chairs. Although it was possible that the residents had been trying to grab all their valuables before running off, he highly doubted that anyone at the Agency would be that concerned about material things to put that above the alarming situation that was whirling around them.

The implication was clear; it seemed that someone had been in there afterwards, looting and the apartment doors that had been left open in each staff members rush to get out had given them the chance to do so. Boyd couldn't see Andrew's expression but he did notice that his shoulders seemed to tense the more he looked in the open apartments and his stride seemed to loose a sense of the casualness it held before.

Partially down the hallway there was another open door to an apartment; Boyd didn't hear any voices inside but there the distinct sound of things being shuffled around and fabric rustling. Andrew paused briefly on one side of the open door and peered in, then flattened himself against the wall again and waited a second before moving quickly to the other side. Boyd briefly looked into the room, noting that a masked man was facing away from them as he rifled through a hutch against the far wall. Boxes were strewn across the room, looking as though they'd been carelessly thrown to the side when they yielded nothing interesting.

He didn't appear to be armed but that didn't mean guns weren't hidden beneath his clothing. His pockets appeared to already be filled with items and as Boyd watched, he held up what appeared to be an old necklace that had been encased in wrapping to protect it. The man immediately shoved it in his pocket and let the case fall to the floor. He didn't seem aware of their presence and no one else could be seen or heard in the apartment.

Andrew jerked his head toward the door and the two of them silently slipped into the room. Boyd automatically assessed the layout; an open kitchenette sat to the left with an island counter in the center and a half wall that separated it from the living room. To the right of the door, an old heavy couch sat several feet in at an angle, facing the far wall where the television sat in the hutch the man was looking through. An inner hallway led further into apartment with what appeared to be at least three doors, all shut.

Boyd suspected that set up was similar to Ryan's place, which meant one was a closet, one the bathroom and one the bedroom. From the better vantage point, Boyd still didn't see anyone else in the apartment so he returned his attention to the man. It was obvious from the way the enemy had overtaken the Agency that these were professionals who had no qualms with killing people and would know better than to be alone without a weapon.

"Drop it!" Andrew yelled abruptly at the man, who was caught off guard with his hands still occupied, but almost simultaneously Boyd automatically shot the man in the head.

Andrew looked at Boyd in a manner that showed even without a visible expression that he was startled but before they could say anything, Boyd noticed movement in the hallway. He ducked just in time to avoid getting shot and saw Andrew drop behind the couch. Boyd was too far away and had to throw himself behind the counter; he was almost too slow and felt the bite of a bullet grazing his leg. He stayed crouched behind the island, hearing the gunfire between the man and Andrew like staccato thunder claps encased in the room.

Boyd started to look quickly around the side and almost got shot in the head; he had to jerk back behind the counter again and waited a few seconds then tried from the other side. He nearly got hit again and with narrowed eyes had to pull back. The man was a fast shot; he was able to hold Andrew off and yet each time Boyd tried to so much as peek around the edge he was able to almost kill him.

The cover Boyd had chosen put him at a disadvantage; both sides of the island were well within view of the inner hallway so he was caught there. He wouldn't be able to get to a new hiding place without running straight into the open, a perfect target for the enemy who he had no doubts would be able to kill him in the space of time it would take him to get to a new vantage point.

As for himself, he wasn't very well-versed with guns; although he'd had training with them, he could hit people when he aimed at them and he could shoot people in the head provided they weren't moving around too much, he was a relatively average shot. Truthfully, he didn't even feel completely comfortable with them, although he wasn't as uneasy about them as he was with knives; he preferred other weapons and improvisation. As a result, without a better vantage point, the ability to look long enough to be able to properly aim at the man or access any other weapons within reach, he was basically unable to do anything.

Andrew and the man continued to exchange gunfire; although Boyd couldn't see what was happening, he could tell from the sound of their fight that they each were very good at aiming and didn't need to waste extra bullets. He heard the man suddenly make a muffled noise of pain and he quickly glanced around the edge of the counter, noting that he appeared to be holding one hand against his lower leg.

Boyd fired at him but missed; he started to jerk back behind the counter and the man shot at him, missing Boyd but hitting the end of the side of his gun as it disappeared around the edge of the island. The sudden pressure jerked it abruptly to the side, causing it to fly out of Boyd's hand and skitter across the floor. It twisted against Boyd's finger violently in the process, causing him to hiss in pain. He moved his fingers to try to get the ringing sting to dissipate; as it was, he didn't feel like he'd be able to hold the gun properly or pull the trigger for a moment, even if he could reach it without putting himself in danger. He couldn't tell if that man had done it on purpose or not but whatever the case, for the moment he'd effectively cut the danger down from two people to one.

From what he'd seen, Andrew seemed to be aiming for non-vitals on the man. If he was able to hit the man's leg during that chaos, Boyd didn't doubt that he would have been able to get a lethal shot.

Boyd looked down at his hands; he couldn't see color properly with the night goggles on but he could tell that his fingers were a little darker, probably red from the abrupt pressure of the gun. He tried looking around for any other weapons in view but he was stuck; there was nothing within reach and the counter didn't even have any cupboards for him to search through.

He was just reaching for the gun again when the gunfire abruptly stopped and he heard the unmistakable sound of a body sliding to the floor. He stayed still for a moment, not knowing whether it had been Andrew or the man who had fallen, and he grabbed the gun and peered quickly around the corner. The man was slumped at the end of the hallway and at that same moment, Andrew appeared by the hallway with his gun drawn as he quickly checked the other rooms for any other enemies. While he did that, Boyd stopped to check the bodies for any identifying information that could give them an idea as to where they came from. There was nothing that stood out though; the only similarity between the two was that they were both men that wore all black and were masked.

Boyd was just standing from checking the second body as Andrew returned to the living room with a shake of his head to indicate no one else had been around.

"Are you okay?" Andrew asked as he drew closer to Boyd, sounded a little perturbed.

Boyd nodded, absently rubbing his fingers. They ached but he could move them; he was lucky he hadn't been any slower and the man hadn't shot him in the hand or fingers instead. "I'm fine." He looked toward the man then to Andrew. "You're a good shot."

Andrew lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "Top of my class." Inclining his head in acknowledgment, Boyd started to pass by Andrew but was stopped by a hand on his arm. He looked back expectantly, noting that Andrew was frowning. "Why'd you kill him right away?"

"Because he would have killed us," Boyd said simply.

"He may have had information," Andrew pointed out.

"What good is information if we die before we can relay it?"

"It's worth it to try to take hostages, to try to flip people," Andrew insisted. "If we can get inside information now we could save lives. What if they have other devices planted somewhere that they plan to detonate sometime soon? What if they plan to attack again in the future? We need to know these things, to prepare for it, to protect ourselves. How many good people have already died or been severely injured because we were caught by surprise? If you just kill them without even asking anything, you'll never even know where they came from. It leaves you vulnerable to similar attacks in the future because you didn't stop to get any intel."

Andrew's body language and tone was strong with determination. "There are a hell of a lot of bad guys that can be flipped to give up info on the higher-ups. They don't want to be caught or hurt anymore than the next guy and some of them don't care about their cause or boss so much once their own life is in danger. It's worth it to try; if we don't, we're leaving a lot of peoples' lives up to chance. I don't know about you but I couldn't live with myself if I knew a lot of allies died just because I didn't want to take the time to ask the enemy a few questions ahead of time."

"I don't trust them," Boyd said seriously. "You shouldn't either. Obviously they're our enemy so I know you're not about to invite them out to coffee but the more chances you give them the more time they have to figure out a way to take advantage of you, to catch you off guard and kill you. How would we have carried a hostile hostage around anyway? And if we left him here it's entirely possible he'd escape. Or what if we decided to drag him around with us and we ran into his comrades? They would simply have to free him and we'd have one more enemy, which is not even assuming by that point we've found allies we're trying to escape with and would be endangering with his presence."

Boyd raised an eyebrow although Andrew couldn't see it behind the night goggles.

"It's impractical in this situation. These people are professionals so a few light-hearted questions in this room wouldn't have gotten anything out of him. We wouldn't have had any way of transporting him to a more secure facility, not that one really exists in this situation except possibly the bunker and then we'd just be showing him exactly what our command post looks like inside including the number of generals and agents and camera angles we're privy to. He was trying to kill us and his comrade would have done the same if we'd given him the chance."

They stood there a moment facing each other, perfect examples of the different training their units had received, before Andrew looked away with a frown. "I don't agree." He didn't sound angry; he was stating a fact.

"That's fine," Boyd said, uncaring. "Right now I'm more concerned about Ryan." He turned toward the door again and started to head out.

Andrew let Boyd's arm slip from his grip, then sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Yeah, okay. Me too." He was only seconds behind Boyd and together they silently but quickly headed toward Ryan's apartment.

Although they didn't say anything, this time the same thing was on their minds; if the enemy was armed and still inside the building trying to loot the apartments, that posed a threat to Ryan if he hadn't left his apartment yet and his door was somehow open or damaged. There didn't appear to be any obvious damage in the hallway outside the apartment but that didn't mean there couldn't have been damage elsewhere or Ryan couldn't have been hurt in other ways. Or, worse, decided to leave his apartment and was caught by an enemy somewhere else in the complex.

For some reason, Boyd found himself growing more uneasy as they drew closer and it sounded so silent in the area. It wasn't that he expected Ryan to be watching anime with the sound blasted in the middle of a situation like this but the total silence was a little alarming. He'd expected for there somehow to be a sign that he was alive.

They paused at the door, one on either side, and looked toward each other for a moment although they couldn't read each other's expression with the night goggles on. Andrew tried the doorknob even though he didn't really believe it would open. With the power out, there was no way to unlock the door even if they'd had the keycard to get in unless Ryan opened it from the inside. "Ryan! It's Andrew and Boyd! You in there?"

There was no answer and once again, no sounds to indicate that anyone was actually inside the apartment.

Andrew's mouth tightened and he moved back to the side, looking toward Boyd then nodding at the door with his gun raised. Boyd shook his head and motioned for him to move away; Andrew tilted his head in silent question but stepped back and monitored the hallway, gun raised in case any enemies appeared.

Boyd crouched near the lock, then took the night goggles off and pulled the small detector he'd used at Hale's mansion out of his pocket. He hadn't bothered to grab a flashlight while he was in the bunker because night goggles were far better in the dark but in this instance he wanted to see what he was doing without the color deadening aspect of the goggles.

Andrew had seemed ready to try to slam his way into the apartment but Boyd wasn't comfortable with that; if Ryan was in there and wasn't answering, it was possible he had made his way to the door before something had happened. Perhaps he'd been overcome by his illness or something had fallen on him when the building was damaged. If they slammed the door out of the way and went running in there with guns half-cocked, they could potentially hurt Ryan even more. Boyd was also fairly certain that the enemy hadn't made it inside; as far as he'd been able to tell, they were primarily opportunists and no apartment doors had appeared to have been forced open.

With a little jimmying he was able to pull the cover plate off the lock; using the flashlight function of the detector, he peered at the wires and the mechanisms inside. He'd been told once that there was a way to manually open the Agency's keycard locks but he'd never attempted it; with the electricity out it wasn't like he could unintentionally trip any alarms or electrocute himself so he decided to try. After a few long moments of working on the lock while Andrew remained alert, Boyd finally heard a soft click. He stood, placing the detector back in his pocket and putting the night goggles on again and then glanced toward Andrew, who nodded then returned his attention to their surroundings.

"Ryan," Boyd called as a warning, "we're coming in." He didn't receive an answer or any indication that he'd been heard.

The door opened with little trouble and the two of them entered the room, automatically looking around for any sign of Ryan.

The living room itself was a mess; when the detonation devices went off the entire building had likely shaken violently and the end result was several pieces of furniture being knocked over on their sides. Ryan's desk had fallen backwards, his laptop, mess of papers and action figures dumped on the floor in disarray. The bookcase in the corner had also fallen over and a mess of books, manga and comics were strewn across the rug. However, nowhere in the mess did they see Ryan and the silence of the apartment alarmed Boyd considerably.

They picked their way through the mess carefully and Andrew called out urgently for his ex-lover, body tense beside Boyd as he shoved large obstacles out of their way. "Where the hell could he be?" Andrew demanded out loud, frustration evident in his voice as he peered into the empty bathroom.

Boyd shook his head and didn't answer. The idea of Ryan being out in the courtyard somewhere was worse than him being trapped in this mess. An even worse thought was the idea of him being among the mutilated bodies in the bottom floors of the building. His chest tightened and although he didn't show any outward signs of emotion, his heartbeat sped up. He pushed the bedroom door open and swept his green tinted gaze over the dark room for a moment, almost starting to turn and leave when a soft sound caught his ear.

It wasn't exactly a moan and wasn't exactly a whimper, but it was a definite pained sound. Boyd moved quickly into the room and surveyed the surroundings; the overturned chest of drawers and the bed. "Ryan?"

There was another sound and this time it sounded almost smothered, strangled. Eyebrows knotting, Boyd moved toward the mattress which had slid off the box spring and yanked on it with all of his strength, struggling with the weight of it for a moment before he realized that Ryan's thin, sickly body was trapped beneath it and that it was angled so that the corner was crushing into his chest.

Swearing out loud, Boyd yanked on the large mattress and righted it, sitting it on the box spring before he scrambled over the side of the bed and called out for Andrew. Ryan's face was slack and covered with dust, his breathing labored as he made an occasional wheezing sound that at least no longer seemed strangled. He didn't appear entirely conscious but he had no other visible injuries and Boyd was just thankful that he was alive.

"Goddammit," Andrew hissed, voice thick with concern as he stared down at the slender man.

Boyd crouched awkwardly beside Ryan. "Ryan? I'm going to check for injuries. If you can understand me, say yes." Ryan didn't answer as Boyd had expected but the comment served two purposes; one, to tell Ryan what was happening in case he was conscious enough to understand, and two, to verify the level of his awareness.

He conducted a quick head to toe assessment to check for any injuries that may affect their rescue. There wasn't any airway obstruction, there didn't appear to be blood anywhere, he didn't feel any broken or fractured bones, but Ryan was probably in shock; they would have to deal with that outside the building. He examined his neck next and didn't notice any obvious signs of closed head, neck, or spinal injuries that would complicate their removal of him; however, they wouldn't know for certain until they could get him to better treatment.

With Ryan mostly unconscious it was difficult to check for anything like pain in the neck so they had to operate on the assumption that there were injuries they were unaware of that would be made worse if they handled him too roughly. At the same time, in an unstable building and situation, it was most important to get Ryan out of there and they didn't have the luxury of time to find a perfect solution to get him down fifteen flights without any trouble.

"No sign of C spine or other major injuries but we should still be careful." Boyd turned to look at Andrew, who was standing there still staring with a grim look on his face. When he didn't move immediately, Boyd ordered, "Help me. Find something to carry him with."

Andrew seemed to come back to himself and quickly scrounged through the living room until he returned with a simple, sturdy chair that hadn't been broken in the chaos. It took quite a bit of maneuvering but between the two of them they were able to support Ryan's back and neck as they sat him on the chair. Andrew stood behind the chair and carefully tipped it back on its hind legs so it leaned against his stomach while Boyd carefully moved Ryan's to the side just enough to grab the front legs of the chair. Ryan's head tilted forward in that position but they couldn't help it; Boyd just hoped he didn't have a spinal injury this was worsening.

Although the carrying Ryan with a chair was the best way to deal with narrow, uneven spaces and going down stairs, it also meant neither of them had a free hand for a weapon. That forced them to go a little slower than they would have preferred, but they couldn't afford to run headlong into enemies with an injured comrade and no guns drawn.

As they passed through the building, they set Ryan down on each floor. Andrew stayed with Ryan to monitor his health while Boyd silently and efficiently checked the hallways and main apartment rooms for signs of walking wounded; people who were uninjured or barely hurt and still in the building. Normally he'd yell out to such people, telling them to come to the sound of his voice, but since there was still a large chance of hostile activity in the area, he didn't want to alert anyone to their presence.

He found plenty of abandoned apartments, some corpses of people who had been crushed under debris, and a few other victims who were severely injured or unable to move but were still alive. Although their orders had been to eliminate hostiles from the area, Boyd suspected that Carhart wouldn't exactly complain that they'd also taken the liberty of assessing damage of one of the largest residential buildings on the lot.

The generals had been adamant that they take out the enemy before worrying about the wounded but Boyd highly doubted that Andrew had suggested this area because of the high level of enemies present; he probably hadn't even known that there were enemies inside when he'd suggested it. It was possible that Andrew's goal of rescuing Ryan hadn't been as transparent to Carhart, who didn't know about he and Ryan's past relationship, but Boyd didn't particularly think Carhart would be upset about it considering he had his own ties to the sickly young man.

So with their main shared objective fulfilled, they went about taking in as much of the layout as they could so that at least others could be saved later before the building really did collapse in on itself. They didn't have time or the ability to stop to rescue everyone who was seriously injured so Boyd kept a running tally in his mind documenting the number of victims he found, where they were located, and anything he noted from the quick glances into the apartments such as if the people were caught under something heavy. Over the course of several floors, he found seven people caught under debris that looked heavy enough that he suspected it would require cribbing or equipment to extract them.

A few of the people were awake enough to realize that someone had come and gone and some of them, likely staff who were not used to combat or crisis situations, yelled out in fear and pain, frantically wondering why they were leaving. The best he could tell them was that help was coming; although he didn't say it aloud, he knew they were injured severely enough that he would be unable to help them anyway unless they were brought to the infirmary. With the instability of the building, he didn't dare try to move anything too heavy or roughly on his own; although the enemy had failed to hit the most crucial points in the foundation, they had still damaged the building enough that they had to worry about dynamic weight of people moving around, impact weight from something that could still fall down, and even the wind itself could affect the balance and stability of the building.

As a result, it was important to minimize their exposure in the building and get out as soon as possible, even if that meant leaving people behind him. If he and Andrew were injured or killed on their way out then no one would know what the inside of the building was like or where the victims were that needed help. Ryan would be helpless and probably die without ever regaining consciousness, Thomas and Lowe could put themselves in danger by attempting to rescue them and if none of their team returned then the command post would likely send in another team that could meet the same fate.

They were lucky in that they didn't run into the enemy on their descent back down the building but even Ryan's alarmingly light weight was a strain on their muscles by the eighth flight. Boyd could feel his body trembling lightly with a combination of weariness, stress, and simply the fact that he had already done so much that night and he needed to rest. They didn't dare slow or stop, though; Ryan's breathing had become more labored as they descended closer to the heavier clouds of dust and other airborne debris hovering in the hallways like fog. He'd started to cough and there were a few times when his breath caught briefly in pauses that were startling each time, as if he'd stop breathing. They tried to keep his head tilted back as much as possible in order to keep his airway free but it was difficult with the chair carry and they didn't have a dust mask to give him.

Boyd found himself searching the floors even more quickly than before, barely taking the time to even glance inside rooms whereas before he'd at least poke his whole head inside provided he felt it was safe. Considering the fact that the enemy had detonated the bombs in the middle of the night with people still asleep, there were surprisingly few people who had been killed, although the number did seem to rise the lower they went. It made him wonder what sort of scenes Thomas and Lowe were running across. And what of the enemy Andrew and he had run across upstairs; was anyone like that down here? From what the generals and Sin had said regarding the exit and entrance points of the tunnels, it didn't seem likely that there was any real reason for hostiles to still be in the area after using it for their initial distraction.

It was entirely possible, considering the level of skill and professionalism that the other intruders had displayed so far, that the looters had simply been rogue agents and had been acting alone in their quest for money. That still didn't mean that others weren't lurking around with other goals, though.

As if bidden by the thought, he heard scraping of boots against debris ahead of him and he ducked into an empty apartment, his gun drawn as he waited with a pounding heart for the person to pass so he could see if they were friend or foe. As the footsteps approached he was able to determine that there were two people but they weren't speaking to each other. He watched sidelong as they moved quietly past the door and was relieved to recognize Thomas and Lowe. He put his gun away and moved into the hallway behind them.

"Thomas, Lowe." He said it quiet enough not to let his voice carry in case the enemy was nearby but even that sudden noise caused them both to spin and aim their guns at him, mouths in taut lines even as he held his hands up to show he had no weapon. Within a few seconds, they recognized him; he saw their shoulders relax as they held their guns down to the side.

Thomas let out a low breath, shaking his head. "Sorry. It's just this place..." He waved his free hand vaguely to indicate the entire situation.

Boyd didn't see reason for him to apologize for being on guard, although if he'd been an enemy he could have killed them before they'd turned around. He just shook his head at them and passed between the two of them, heading toward Andrew. "How many?"

"A lot of dead," Lowe replied, her voice carefully neutral but there was a slight tremble to it as if she were troubled. The hint of emotion was not otherwise visible in the bit of her expression they could see or her body language so Boyd didn't think about it too much other than to assume she was disquieted by the situation. "No walking wounded, no agents; I think they already escaped. There were fifteen injured that will need further help."

Boyd inclined his head. "I found similar; seven need immediate attention. Did you run into the enemy?"

"One guy," Thomas said flatly. "He's dead." Beside him, Lowe seemed to hold herself stiffly but she didn't speak.

Nodding again, Boyd led them toward Andrew, who seemed relieved to see the rest of the team. Thomas and Lowe turned their heads toward each other at the sight of Ryan on the chair but they said nothing; it wasn't exactly normal procedure for Andrew and Boyd to have extracted Ryan like that.

Without them speaking, Boyd knew what they were thinking. Technically, Ryan should have been left behind like the other victims they'd found who had been unable to move, to be recovered by rescue teams. Even though they'd managed to bring him down the building without any major incidents, how were they expecting to get him safely to the bunker in such an uncertain situation with enemy fire that could rain down on them at any time? They needed access to their weapons, they needed to be unburdened.

Lowe's mouth seemed especially set in a tight line; Boyd didn't understand exactly why until he overheard Thomas say quietly into her ear, "You couldn't have done anything for her, Rachel. It was too late."

Lowe just shook her head once, an angry gesture, and stepped away from Thomas to flank one side of the chair with her gun drawn; Thomas simply drew his gun and moved to the other side without speaking again.

Ryan's complexion seemed paler by the second and this close to the lowest floors he could hardly seem to breathe. Lowe very studiously didn't look at him but there was tension in her arms and shoulders that increased with each ragged breath Ryan audibly drew in.

Boyd looked toward Andrew who just shook his head once and carefully tipped the chair backward. The two of them didn't need to speak to understand that they were each extremely concerned for Ryan's health and needed to get out of there as soon as possible. Boyd faced forward once again and grabbed the front chair legs. Ryan's legs lifelessly rocked against Boyd's sides as they walked and even through the layers of clothing he could feel the heat of his skin. He was worried that it would all be for nothing, that Ryan's illness would prove to be the death of him even if they managed to make it to the bunker unharmed.

Together, the four of them made their way as carefully and quickly out of Complex C as they could. As they headed out into the night, Boyd couldn't help but glance up at the tower which loomed in the distance; wondering silently how Sin was doing and whether or not he was okay.

Both tunnels ran underground between the two buildings that held the entrances and branched out at some point in the middle, leading off the compound and to whatever exit point that had been designated. The lab and Complex A led to Silver Lake Park and as far as Sin knew, the tower tunnel led to another restricted zone that was on the outskirts of the city.

They approached the branch with caution, expecting another fight as they drew closer, but there was nobody at the immediate opening and so they continued on their way. Williams asked whether or not two of them should search the exit point and see if militants were guarding that area as well but since their team was already a man short, Archer decided against such an action when they still didn't know how hot the actual tower was.

They jogged through the tunnel quickly, silently; the only sounds were their booted feet splashing quietly in the thin layer of water that flowed above the concrete. But as they moved closer to the tower entrance, anxiety picked up and the tension was thick in the air. Once again their opponents had the high ground; once again there was a high chance of them being slaughtered before they even made it into the tower. All it would take was two enemies with sub-machine guns at the end or top of the tunnel, and the entire team could be killed before they even got a shot off. The only thing they could count on at this point was somehow gaining the element of surprise and hoping that despite the relatively small groups of intruders found outside on the compound, there wasn't a large concentration of them inside the tower.

Sin moved ahead of the team automatically, mostly because he was faster and seemed to have better awareness of sound, but no one objected to the matter. Even though he was anything but leader material, it was generally accepted that he was the best fighter and had the best chance of surviving situations that most other people did not. He was a risk taker while most other agents put more caution into their actions; trying to change him would be a fruitless effort and so no one objected to his behavior as long as it didn't endanger anyone else.

So he continued to run ahead, listening and looking as he waited for a sign that this would either get ugly or be really simple. There was still the possibility that agents had been the ones to block off the entrance to the tower and if that was the case, there would be no more fighting after this point.

But he didn't think that was the case.

Not when the militants seemed to know the compound so well; not when they'd done little more in other areas than cause distractions. And certainly not when Connors, Vivienne and a large quantity of sensitive information was located in the tower.

There was no way the intruders had just bypassed it entirely.

For most of the run, nothing happened and no one got in their way but as they drew closer to the entrance, Sin's eyes narrowed slightly as he zeroed in on the end of the tunnel. They were still a quarter mile away from the exit and although it was difficult to see that far in the darkness, even with the illumination from the goggles, he stopped abruptly as he saw the distinct forms of two men standing near the ladder.

He automatically ducked down and flattened himself against the wall, turning to look back at Archer and the rest of the team in the hopes that they would get the picture and do the same. Although it was hard to see from this distance, sounds echoed off the tunnel walls loudly and their footsteps would be a dead give-away.

Archer and Banks immediately followed his actions but Williams hesitated, staring ahead to get an idea of what Sin could be seeing so far in front of them. The hesitation and the sounds of his boots splashing, something he couldn't avoid considering he was now moving with a limp, cost them the element of surprise and a burst of gunfire exploded in their direction. Williams was thrown back from the impact and his body slammed against the side of the tunnel with a resounding thunk as he cried out in pain. Banks scrambled over to his side but continued gunfire forced her to freeze in place and pin herself tighter against the wall.

Archer scowled and glared in the direction of their attackers, unable to see clearly because of the distance that still remained. The gunfire continued sporadically and as they remained ducked down, it became obvious from the direction of the shots that the intruders were firing randomly and really did not know exactly where they were.

Banks started to sit up and move towards Williams again but Archer grabbed her arm to keep her from moving; that was what had drawn attention to them in the first place.

"How far?" he hissed to Sin, his voice barely a whisper.

"Four hundred yards, give or take," Sin replied and fingered his Ruger as he debated the effectiveness of it in this situation.

Archer looked over at him silently for a moment but didn't say anything and slid down into a prone position on the ground as he unhooked his rifle. Through the scope of the M24, he could easily make out the two men who were hunkered down at the far end of the tunnel. One man appeared to be talking as the other frowned in their direction and sent another burst of gunfire their way.

The bullets ricocheted around them wildly, one bouncing off the wall and slamming into Archer's arm. He grit his teeth violently, not making a sound even as his hands shook slightly from the pain. Another blast of gunfire echoed down the tunnel.

"Take them out," Sin growled at him quietly. Their assailants weren't stupid; although they couldn't tell their exact positions, they were aiming for the spot that Williams' scream and fall had come from. It'd only be so long before their random shots struck something vital.

Archer ignored the pain that spread through him and focused on his targets once again. Forcing his hands to remain still, he fired. One man fell and as the other began spraying bullets in their direction indiscriminately; Archer took him out as well with a clean head shot. After the resounding ring of gunshots died down, there was complete silence.

Sin stood up and looked over in the direction of Williams with a slight frown but didn't say anything. He wasn't here to tell these people what to do; that was Archer's problem now. All he cared about at the moment was keeping his promise to Boyd and getting up to Vivienne. At this point, the team was slowing him down. He was used to doing things on his own and not having to carry the weight of others; it was aggravating and that had been one of the things that he'd disliked about the idea of being with a partner before he'd actually gotten to know Boyd.

"Did it penetrate your vest?" Archer asked shortly as he got to his feet, voice gruff but not impatient with the unfortunate agent. This was the second time he'd been shot since the team had assembled and there was no doubt he was going to be left behind if the bullet had managed to hinder him any more than his leg already was.

"No," Williams grunted faintly. There was the sound of water sloshing around as he struggled to get upright. "But it still hurt like a motherfucker."

"Then get up and stop wasting time," Sin snapped, unable to keep his impatience to himself anymore. "I have an objective and if I fail it because you're taking too long splashing around in the puddles, you'll find the next bullet penetrating your skull."

There was a brief silence but no one seemed ready to argue with him or antagonize him further. Not when his voice was already darkened with a sharp undertone of danger and not when he really did make a good point.

Within the next minute they were on their way again and as they carefully climbed the ladder that led up into the basement of the Tower, surprisingly they didn't run into any more hostiles in the immediate area. Sin didn't know if that was a good or bad thing though; he didn't really know how to take anything that happened in this situation. The entire tower was full of non-combatant types on a regular basis with the exception of field agents who were briefing, debriefing or training. The situation could have already been handled by the agents inside or the hostiles could have already corralled and overpowered the defenseless employees who typically worked in the tower at this hour of the morning. Anything was possible.

As soon as they reached the main floor, the muted silence of the area disturbed him. As they spread out across the floor and the rest of the team began doing a sweep, Sin was not surprised by the number of unconscious or dead people he saw in the halls and lobbies. They appeared mostly to be field agents, trainers; he recognized David Nakamura sprawled outside the training room but didn't know if the man was unconscious or slain. Despite that, there were no hostiles present and as the team split up to find survivors and to open the main doors, Sin went his own way just as he'd said and began to sprint up the long flights of stairs.

The silence, the presence of so many dead and no killers, could either mean that the intruders had gone floor by floor decimating any threats or that they'd already finished what they'd come to do and had escaped already. If that was the case, Vivienne was most likely already dead and he'd have failed Boyd before even getting into the tower. If that was the case, who knew what sensitive material the intruders could have gotten their hands on. Who knew what the hell this event would lead to for everyone, he and Boyd included?

But something told him that it wasn't the case. Something told him that they were still here somewhere. Why else would there have still been guards at the base of the tunnel?

His feet moved automatically, skipping rows of stairs as he made his way up to the seventeenth floor and ignored the eerie muted silence that accompanied the feeling that there should have been some sign of life behind the doors he passed but that for some reason there wasn't. By the time he reached the tenth floor, suddenly the lights flickered on briefly before dying again. By the time he reached the twelfth, his goggles were off and the dim, bluish light from the backup generators flooded the staircase.

At least the tech support guys had been successful in their mission which was a damn good thing; otherwise he would have had a lot of trouble even getting onto the seventeenth floor with the keycard system down if the intruders hadn't already destroyed the door in order to get inside. When he reached the executive level he saw that the door was indeed damaged; the lock was dismantled and melted through, and he scowled darkly at what that could mean.

Sin pushed the door open slightly, slipping inside and immediately ducking down as he crept across the main lobby that separated Vivienne's area from Connor's. The silence in the area was heavy but it didn't have the same muted quality as it had downstairs; he didn't have the feeling that there were dead people in the immediate area, the feeling of a presence that no longer really had a presence. But even so, considering the state of the door it had obviously been infiltrated and he had very little hope as to what he would find. It was possible that Vivienne had been killed in her office far off in the other wing or that she'd even been kidnapped for some purpose.

His mind continued to wander down these dark avenues but as he moved closer to the hallway that led to Vivienne's wing, he heard the faint sound of speaking drifting from Connors'. His eyebrows drew together slightly and he turned, going in that direction instead, the sound growing slightly in volume as he moved closer.

When he entered the inner lobby of Connor's wing, he immediately crouched down further and pressed himself against the side of Samuel's desk, peeking around it at Connors' door. It was closed but he could distinctly recognize the sound of Connors' quiet anger, the loathing in his tone evident even if Sin could only make out a scant word here and there of what was being said. It seemed that he was arguing with a man but the other voice was too faint for Sin to understand any of what was being said. He saw shadows moving under the door and by the sound of Connors' voice, there was no doubt as to where the conversation was going to lead.

He began to move automatically, to eliminate the threat, his hands automatically tucking away the Ruger so that he could blast a hole in whoever was on the other side of the door with his shotgun but just as he started to rise... something caught his eye.

Vivienne stood pressed against an ancillary hallway, looking both eerily beautiful and spectral in the dim light. She was staring around the corner at Connors' door and for a moment he didn't think she could hear them, that she didn't know what was happening, but then her pale blue eyes turned on him and the look she gave him caused him to freeze in his tracks.

Sin had never been accustomed to reading Vivienne's expressions, mostly because when she didn't want anyone to know what she was thinking she had a cold look that was impossible to interpret. It didn't happen often, but occasionally there were certain aspects that she and her son shared that made it obvious they were related. He had been around Boyd long enough to recognize certain expressions, to be able to read what was happening in his mind and in this moment he found that he could do the same to Vivienne.

Surprisingly, he found that although all she did was give him a quelling, narrow-eyed look, something about it was very reminiscent of Boyd, enough that he knew what she was silently telling him. She was fully aware of what was happening in that room; she knew that Connors was in there alone with a militant and that it was a dangerous situation for him. She knew that if no one came, Connors would likely be killed. Rather than trying to help Connors or encouraging Sin to interrupt, she was telling him silently that she wasn't about to interfere and although he could do what he wanted, she didn't want him to do anything. It was an unspoken understanding that she would prefer if he stayed exactly where he was, if he pretended he didn't know what was happening behind the door.

They stared at each other silently for a tense moment and Sin's hands tightened on his weapon. Indecision plagued him and he closed his eyes briefly, trying to decide what to do, what he was supposed to do, but in the end it was the sound of Connors' voice that made the decision for him.

The sound of that low voice, so heavy with disdain, so sure of itself, made something in Sin's head click. In that brief moment flashbacks raced through his mind; he saw all the things that Connors had done to him, all the things that he'd said to him... all the threats regarding his freedom, his partnership with Boyd, the looming question over both of their lives now that the Monterrey mess was finally cleaned up...

He thought of all of these things and opened his eyes again, hawk-like gaze spearing into Vivienne directly as the door to Connors' office suddenly creaked open and the sound of the Marshal's alarmed voice spilled out loudly into the lobby. There was a low murmur, the sound of the other man offering a quiet 'goodbye' and then the loud bang of a solitary gunshot that left their ears ringing.

Vivienne didn't even flinch at the noise but the look she gave him seemed at once thankful, more determined and, somehow, heavier. A small amount of tension seemed to leave her shoulders but she didn't dare move from the wall, the scant amount of protection she had from the man now in the inner lobby.

Sin's gaze finally left her face and he twisted slightly to peer around the corner of the desk just in time to see a figure all in black standing in the doorway of Connors' office as a pool of blood spread outward from the door and under his booted feet. He was standing calmly, looking completely relaxed, and even though his back was to Sin and Vivienne, the mask was pulled up from his face. He was staring down at Connors' body quietly, watching the growing crimson puddle, as he fingered the trigger of his gun.

Hands tightening on the shotgun once again, Sin shifted and began to rise but before he could totally react, there was the sound of footsteps coming towards them from the main lobby and a female voice calling out to Connors' killer:

"Everyone else is out-- we have to get moving if we're finished here."

Just as the man began to turn and Sin intended to blast a hole in him, the woman came jogging into the lobby and her eyes zeroed in on Sin's back. Gunfire erupted almost immediately and as Sin ducked out of the way of the rain of bullets, the man yanked the mask back over his face and quickly made his way across the room.

The man looked in Sin's direction, paused briefly, but before Sin could react the woman noticed him. She aimed her gun at him, shouting out a warning to her teammate, and Sin swore under his breath. He leaned out abruptly, sending a powerful blast at the woman with the shotgun. She jumped out of the way, dropping her own gun in the process, as the shell tore through the wall. The woman landed on the opposite side of Samuel's desk and glanced back at the man briefly before Sin rolled out from his side of the desk, abandoned the shotgun and grabbed her by the throat in an attempt to drag her up.

She cried out in pain as his powerful fingers dug into her skin brutally but sent an elbow slamming into the side of his face before twisting out of his grasp and sending a flying knee directly into his midsection. Sin grunted in pain but didn't let it phase him as he pounded a powerful uppercut into her face and wrenched one of her arms behind her back as he pinned her against the side of the desk. He'd done it with the intention of using her as a human shield for the barrage of gunfire that he expected to come pouring in from the outer hall but when it didn't come, he looked up and saw that the man was already gone.

The woman tensed against him and began struggling frantically as she realized she was now alone. Her panic only increased as Sin pressed his Ruger against her temple but before he could pull the trigger, Vivienne stepped out of her hiding spot and stopped him.

"Don't," Vivienne commanded, her unreadable, cool expression back as she studied the woman struggling against his grip. She calmly walked over to them and yanked the mask off her face. The woman looked to be in her late twenties to early thirties, with light skin, long black hair that was mussed from the fight, and light brown eyes that were currently glaring furiously at Vivienne. Although Vivienne's expression gave nothing away as to whether she recognized the woman or not, Sin knew he'd never seen her before. "She could be useful."

The woman wrenched against Sin forcefully, looking ready to tear Vivienne's head off as she spat, "I won't talk, if that's what you're thinking. You may as well let him kill me now."

Sin snorted softly. "That's pretty loyal considering one of your guys just left you to die."

She twisted to turn her glare on Sin. "You don't know anyt--" She stopped speaking abruptly as soon as her gaze fell on his face, eyes widening in a strange mixture of shock and alarm as she took in his features. The sentence died in her throat as she continued to stare up at him and his eyes narrowed suspiciously, quickly picking up on the fact that she recognized him from somewhere.

Vivienne's eyes narrowed very slightly at the woman's reaction but she didn't bother asking her about it; it was obvious the woman wasn't willing to cooperate. "Knock her out. We will bring her with us."

The woman turned back to Vivienne and started to speak but before she could, Sin brought the butt of his gun down on her head without hesitation. She went limp in his arms and he picked her up effortlessly, slinging her over one shoulder. He stared down at Vivienne silently for a moment, not knowing how he felt about this entire situation although he did know that his goal was still to get her to safety. "Temporary command post up until now has been the central bunker."

Vivienne nodded but didn't move to leave immediately. "Summarize the situation first; I have not been off this floor since this began. Who is in control at the command post, what mission did they give you that resulted in your presence here, do we know who the enemy is and what is the status of the rest of the compound?"

"Stephen, Willis and Carhart have been in control up until now but it seems they'd only managed to group up shortly before Boyd and I returned from our assignment so at that time the only information they had came from hypothesizing and scouts. All they know so far is that the enemy is operating in small bands, that they know the compound very well and that they got in through the underground tunnel system. They used demolition on three residential halls and killed the lights to cause confusion and distraction as they came here, which I assume now was their ultimate goal. It was also assumed that many agents were down because of the damage to the residential buildings but the agents that managed to gather at the bunker were sent in groups to the hot spots in the compound to get control of the situation."

Sin paused briefly, deciding that he would leave out the fact that Boyd had been the one to ask him specifically to help her. "Me and a few others were sent here because we figured the Tower was the main target and because it was assumed that you and the Marshal were still inside even though it'd been blocked off until now."

She considered that a moment. "The woman said everyone is gone. As a worst case scenario, assuming she was lying because she was somehow aware of our presence and it was a trick, what sort of resistance do you believe we will run into between here and the bunker?"

Sin couldn't help but note that this was the first time she was speaking to him as if he was an actual intelligent being and not just an entirely irrational psycho. "They've been operating in small bands from what I can see, using the cover of darkness to their advantage. Now that some light has been restored and Agent Archer is patrolling downstairs, assuming he hasn't been killed, I should be able to get us out effectively unless for some reason they suddenly swarm us and I become outnumbered."

He stopped talking briefly, glancing out the window. "Although the sun is beginning to rise and since darkness was their only ally here, I'm assuming she was being truthful when she said they were out. Sunrise was probably their signal to retreat. Unless they suddenly double back to save her, which is doubtful since the man left her to die, I think going back should be relatively painless."

Vivienne nodded. "If it is only a rescue party for her we would need to fear, then I doubt we need to worry."

She started to leave then paused and looked back toward Connors' body, which she could finally fully see from her angle. Sin couldn't see her expression but she held herself still for a moment and said nothing. Her gaze slid over to Sin as she appraised him intently, probably deciding the likelihood that he would talk. After a moment she quirked an eyebrow with a look that seemed to say she would not tell anyone about their role in Connors' death and she expected the same of him.

He only nodded in response and together they moved out of the office and made their way down the seventeen flights of stairs in the dim flickering lights from the backup generators. As they expected, they encountered little to no resistance and it really did seem that with the exception of bodies, the only militant left on the compound was the woman that was currently draped over his shoulder. After all that had happened, all of the damage and casualties, it frustrated him that they'd basically gotten what they wanted and left.

They'd achieved whatever their goal was, whether it was assassination or information retrieval or both, and escaped just as they'd planned. Even though they had a prisoner who could potentially talk, he couldn't shake the tension, the anxiety, that they still didn't know what that had been about... who these people even were and how they knew all that they'd known. Still he couldn't help feeling as though the entire confrontation, as brief as it'd been, had ultimately rocked the core of the Agency as a whole and left them with unanswered questions and an overwhelming sense of helplessness at the idea that someone had managed to pull off such a presumptuous plan and that they could very well do it again.

And for some reason he didn't believe it was Janus. This group had been too tightly organized, too deadly, too quiet and stealthy. When Janus attacked they wanted everyone to see it, hear about it and know it was them. They wanted their power to be known and their propaganda to be spread; this just wasn't their style at all.

Even though that was possibly a good thing, that Janus was still in the dark about their base and their identities, it just meant that there was some new threat out there and that this one knew the Agency like the back of their hand.

It was a disturbing thought.

The thoughts crowding his brain kept him tense on the walk down to the lobby and as his gaze swept the area and they took in the gore in the Tower, the unease only built inside of him. The metallic smell of blood was heavy in the air in the main lobby and it seemed that many of the dead were agents would had tried to fight off the intruders as they'd initially stormed the building. Archer caught up with them as they headed towards the now unsealed entrance and he shortly reported that many of the non-combatants had simply been hiding or locked away by the intruders while many of the field agents that had put up the initial fight were dead. He also reported that Williams had been killed as the militants had begun to make their escape and that Banks was badly injured but holding up for now.

Sin took in all of this information with little reaction and they continued on their way as the non-wounded employees of the Tower slowly began re-emerging from their hiding places to find out exactly what had gone wrong in the compound that was supposed to have served as a safe haven for them after the horror of the war.

The walk across the courtyard was no better; the area immediately surrounding the tower had a large quantity of dead agents and intruders alike and they passed more than one dead or wounded person on their way to the bunker. The entire time, Sin kept one hand on the woman and one hand on his gun as they strode quickly across the courtyard although he stole a couple of glances at Vivienne now and then. Her face was as frozen and unreadable as always, lips pulled together tightly and shoulders tense as the clacking of her heels seemed to echo across the ground eerily because of the silence.

When they reached the bunker, there was no sniper fire this time and they were granted entrance without delay. They were greeted with mixed emotions and expressions as they entered but Sin released a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding when he spotted Boyd standing off to the side; when he saw that he'd returned safely.

Boyd looked over the moment he heard the clicking of his mother's heels striding into the room. She appeared physically unharmed but he could tell from the way she held herself that she had something grave on her mind, which he suspected was the fact that the Agency had been infiltrated. She never appreciated it when situations were not fully in her control and he could imagine her taking it as a personal affront that the organization she had spent much of her life working for had been so easily taken over for even a short period of time.

The second he knew she was okay he looked at Sin, quickly checking him visually for any signs of injuries, anything that implied he was putting on a front when in truth he needed to be in the medical wing. Sin seemed to be perfectly fine; the only thing that seemed out of place was the person draped over his shoulder.

Carhart glanced between Vivienne and Sin with an unreadable look but the way his shoulders relaxed slightly showed that he'd been worried. Stephen glanced at Archer as he entered and seemed pleased to see him safe while Willis only looked irritated to find that Sin had managed to survive.

Vivienne strode directly across the room toward the generals, for the most part largely ignoring the people around her. A few of the agents turned to watch; she often spent much of her time in her office so there were some people who had still never seen her in person and others who simply followed her movement because she was the highest ranking person in the room. When she passed two nearby agents who were watching her dumbly she suddenly stopped and turned a cold blue gaze on them, causing each to straighten to attention.

"Relieve Agent Vega of his burden," she ordered coolly while the two of them glanced quickly over to Sin. "See to it that she is for the moment sedated, secured, and under constant watch. She is not to escape and not to be given the opportunity to do anything inconvenient such as killing herself. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Inspector," they both said with a nod, looking a little surprised and alarmed that the infamous Vivienne Beaulieu had singled them out. Furthermore, neither seemed particularly thrilled about having to get in Sin's vicinity but together they were able to carry the unconscious woman toward the rooms in the back of the bunker.

Vivienne let her cool gaze rest on the other people who had been watching her; it was enough of an unspoken order that they jumped and returned to the duties they'd been doing before. The generals greeted her with the proper respect given her station which she acknowledged with a simple nod of her head. Although they were in the center of the room, with plenty of activity surrounding them as the agents went about their assignments, there was enough of a space around them that when she leaned in and spoke quietly, no one but the generals heard what she said.

As Boyd watched, he did not miss the reactions the three generals had to whatever she said. Willis looked upset and displeased while Stephen just slid his eyes closed gravely and nodded. Carhart however, straightened and raised his eyebrows slightly before giving Vivienne a sharp look that clearly showed he grasped the gravity and the meaning of whatever her words had been.

While Boyd was wondering what she could have said to get such reactions, he suddenly felt Sin's presence at his side. He turned his attention to his partner immediately, unable to keep from looking him over quickly once more, before smiling slightly as he looked up to meet Sin's intense gaze.

"Hey. I'm glad to see you're safe. And thank you." He didn't have to specify that he meant for helping his mother.

Sin shrugged. "You don't have to thank me. How's Ryan?"

Boyd's expression darkened and he looked away. "I don't know. He wasn't severely injured in the impact to his building but he could barely breathe and that hasn't improved even after we got him to the bunker. He's in a medical room now but they want to move him to the medical building as soon as they're certain the enemy is gone. It sounds like the equipment they have here isn't sophisticated enough for what they need."

Sin's mouth turned down at the corners and his gaze wandered back over to Vivienne. "Well they should have no problems doing that when full power is back up. All hostile presence with the exception of that lovely young lady I carried in, is gone. I guess they got what they came for." There was a slight pause. "Whether that was information or killing Connors or both."

"What?" Boyd looked sharply over at Sin. "Connors is dead?" He asked it quietly so the question didn't carry beyond their conversation.

"Pretty dead." Sin tilted his head slightly and dragged his eyes back to Boyd. "And you know what that means, don't you?"

Their eyes met as Boyd studied him seriously. "My mother's in charge now."

Regardless of what Vivienne's rise to power meant for them, it was clear that at the very least it meant great change for the Agency.

Continue to the Epilogue