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Based on an original series and alternate future by Sonny & Ais called In the Company of Shadows.

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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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Interlude 3.11

Uploaded on 7/18/2009

Boyd paused at the corner of the hallway, holding his breath briefly as he flattened against the wall and listened closely. He didn't dare peek around for fear of alerting anyone to his presence. He waited just long enough to be sure he didn't hear anything before he moved into the cross hallway and, with a quick glance searching for enemies, he swiftly headed toward the next intersection.

He was wary of the armed security guards, especially since there were double the amount that the Agency had expected and Boyd didn't know how long Sin would be able to distract them without backup.

An anonymous tip sent to the local law enforcement alleged that a businessman, Henry Schafer, was laundering money and funding insurgent activities from inside the City. The police had forwarded the claim to a federal agency but the Agency's R&D staff had intercepted the investigation and locked other organizations out. The anonymous tip had been vague and there'd been a chance that it wasn't even credible but the fact that a possible insurgent connection was so close to the Agency's location had prompted them to immediately dig deeper.

With further research, the R&D agents discovered that Schafer was sending funds abroad but at first they couldn't determine where. When consulted, Thierry said that Schafer was known to fund insurgent organizations; he had funded Revolución in its early stages and had been involved in a number of other groups. He was a high profile man, as he had worked in politics in the past and most people were unaware of where his money went.

Thierry also mentioned that there was some tension between Schafer and the leaders of Revolución, who Schafer had been showing increasing dissatisfaction with. Because he had funded them in his earlier days, Schafer felt entitled to influence the way the organization was run. He wanted their moves to become more aggressive but the leaders of the Revolución disagreed.

According to Thierry, the issue had become heated and intense and he theorized that it was possible that Schafer's constant, open disagreement with the leaders of Revolución had inspired some of the younger members to eventually break away.

With Thierry's information, R&D discovered that Schafer had turned to funding the Nouvelle Ligue des Jésuites after they'd broken off from Revolución a year earlier. He was likely one large reason the group had grown stronger in the past few months, to the point that they were becoming more of a serious threat than Revolución.

The mission had been fairly straightforward-- retrieve data from the location which would contain information including contacts, account numbers and personal information that were stored regarding NLJ and the variety of other domestic insurgent leaders that Schafer worked with.

The plan had been to head straight toward Schafer's office on the sixteenth floor, which was supposed to have a high security entrance to another wing nearby, and download everything they could on the computers in that area. Along with that, Boyd and Sin were ordered to bring Schafer back to the Agency where he would be interrogated and used as an informant.

There was an echo of gunfire somewhere below him and Boyd narrowed his eyes slightly.

When they'd arrived at the location, they'd gathered relatively quickly that there were more than double the amount of hostiles inside than intel had anticipated.

A quick change of plans turned Sin into a distraction for the guards as Boyd entered the building undetected. Without a distraction, the guards would be able to flood the high security wing once it was breached and protect both Schafer and the intel.

The plan seemed to be working so far. Considering the amount of hostiles they'd seen on the lower floors, it was very lightly guarded on the higher floors, probably because most of the guards had rushed down when Sin started attacking.

Cameras were arranged throughout the building and although Boyd slunk through the shadows cautiously, his identity hidden by a mask and gloves, he was still paranoid that someone would be watching. The concern seemed unfounded after awhile-- the only guards he ran into didn't seem to be specifically looking for him. If anything, they seemed surprised that the intruder on the lower floors had a partner.

Sin was playing his role very well but Boyd had no idea how long he'd be able to keep it up before being forced to retreat.

The thought made Boyd look around quickly and say quietly over the radio, "What's your status?"

There was a pause before Sin replied curtly, "There is heavy resistance."

The answer was unsurprising so Boyd didn't respond; he knew Sin would be able to handle it.

Boyd moved through the hallway silently and paused at another corner. He could hear movement as someone headed toward the intersection; he listened closely and could tell it was only one set of footsteps, not more. He slid the tranquilizer gun out of his back holster and held his breath then waited just until the person cleared the corner before he casually pivoted around the corner and shot the man straight in the neck.

The guard looked startled and didn't have the chance to do anything more than grunt before the high potency drug raced through his system, rendering him unconscious. Boyd caught the guard as he crumpled and then set him carefully on the floor.

Boyd looked around to see if anyone had heard but thankfully the hallway was empty. He searched quickly until he found an unlocked door to an empty room. He dragged the guard into the room, then shut the door behind him as he left.

"How much longer can you hold?" Boyd quietly asked over the radio as he continued down the hallway as if he hadn't been interrupted.

The response was even slower this time and when it finally came, Sin's only words were, "Just do what you have to do."

"Copy," Boyd said and quickened his pace.

He headed down another hallway toward a different stairwell. He had to keep pausing at intersections, waiting with a pounding heart and bated breath each time to see if anyone was coming. As he rose through the floors he had to take out three more guards, each time getting them before they could alert others.

It took him longer than he wanted to reach Schafer's office. As the decoder diligently worked, he kept glancing up and down the hall, the ski mask scratchy and uncomfortable against his skin each time he turned his head.

When the lock opened on the door, Boyd went into the office immediately. He shut the door behind him and glanced around quickly; the place was empty with a closed door in the back and a desk to the side. Boyd didn't even look at that computer; he knew none of the files he needed would be on it.

There was another pass code Boyd had to break on the second door. It took another few tense seconds but in the end the lock was compromised. An empty hallway and several closed doors appeared before him as he made his way into the secured wing beyond.

He went into the first room to the right and, after checking to be sure there wasn't additional security, he went to the computer. It took him a moment to break the computer's password but after a short time, he was able to reach the desktop.

Boyd wasn't certain exactly which files to save, since it was unlikely Schafer was going to name them anything like 'Rebel Group Contact List,' so he started downloading both hard drives.

"I'm in," Boyd whispered into the comm unit as he watched the window pop up, informing him that it would be twelve minutes. "I've started downloading and will check the other rooms."

The response was so delayed that it gave Boyd pause but just as he started to speak again, Sin said in a slightly strained voice, "You should be clear for egress."

Boyd hesitated briefly, eyes narrowed even though Sin couldn't see him. "What's wrong?"

There was the faint sound of the beginnings of a word on Sin's end before it was cut off by an explosion of gunfire and a clattering sound followed by several seconds of silence.

There was another long pause before Sin finally answered gruffly, "I'm wounded."

Boyd was mildly surprised that Sin had actually said anything; typically, he tried to hide any such information until later. "How bad?" he asked automatically.

The response came amidst the sound of a door closing quietly on Sin's end as he replied impatiently, "Just do what you're doing."

Although it wasn't good that Sin had been hurt, it didn't worry Boyd too much. Sin had stormed bases while wounded before and it had barely slowed his pace. They had a first aid kit in the van so they could handle any quick patch ups and anything that required more attention could be dealt with at the Agency which was only an hour away.

Boyd left the flash drive downloading and quietly walked across the room, peering out into the hallway briefly to make sure no one was around before he entered the hall to investigate the rest of the wing. He went to the next room, unsurprised to find that it was a nearly identical office that held another computer.

He went down the hall, noting four other computers and a room at the end that had several large filing cabinets that Boyd suspected had information the Agency would find quite useful.

The wing seemed to be built with almost obnoxious symmetry; each office was exactly the same size and set up just like the one across the hall from it. He was just opening one of the filing cabinets when he heard the soft click of a door. He whipped around just in time to see Henry Schafer leaving the room across the hall with an armful of files.

Schafer's expression froze in shock when he saw Boyd.

Even as Boyd started to shift, panic must have taken over for Schafer because he suddenly threw the folders up in a spray of scattered paper and took off running.

Boyd cursed under his breath and ran after him, having to jump over the folders that Schafer dropped. Schafer disappeared through the door to the main office and Boyd had to run into the smaller office long enough to yank the flash drive out before he continued the pursuit.

He made it to the hallway just in time to see Schafer disappearing around a corner and, shoving the flash drive in his pocket, Boyd sprinted after him. Schafer was fast but Boyd had been training hard for months and his speed and stamina had increased dramatically. He was slowly gaining on Schafer, who was either trying to shake Boyd by taking sudden and random turns or who was lost in his panic.

Boyd knew it was only a matter of minutes before Schafer notified his guards so he pulled out the tranquilizer gun and tried to train it on the man but each time he got a good line of sight for a shot, Schafer suddenly took another corner.

"I'm in pursuit," Boyd said into the comm unit as he and Schafer entered a longer hallway. "Meet me at the east entrance in ten."

The reply was delayed and when it came, Sin's voice was noticeably lower. "I can't."

Boyd drew his eyebrows down as uneasiness and confusion moved within him. Schafer was slowing down slightly but not enough to make a noticeable difference. "Why not?"

"Egress points are blocked." Sin's sentences came out in short bursts, his breathing labored as he grit out each sentence. "Bleeding out."

Alarm made Boyd's eyes widen and heart beat faster as a chill went through him. He nearly missed a step as the severity of the situation hit him.

Sin was telling him that the wound was fatal. He was saying he wasn't going to make it out.

Fear eclipsed everything else and Boyd immediately slid to a stop, turning and sprinting back in the direction he'd come; there was a stairwell not too far away that he could use.

He didn't care that he hadn't gotten much downloaded, that the files he'd started to retrieve may have been corrupted in the abrupt removal of the flash drive; he didn't care that Schafer had been in his sight and if he'd given himself a few more minutes, he probably would have been able to capture the target. He didn't care that the mission was going to fail.

"Where are you?" Boyd demanded and his gaze flicked around quickly as he passed an intersection; there were no guards in view.

"Just leave, Boyd," Sin grit out, his voice sounding more strained with every response. There were low sounds in the background that Boyd couldn't make out.

"I'm not going to leave you," Boyd said firmly, increasing his speed as he saw the stairwell ahead of him. He slid the tranquilizer gun under his belt and pulled out his semi-automatic, checking to make sure the safety was off. "You can tell me where you are or not but either way I'll come looking for you."

He could hear sounds on Sin's end and another man's voice; there were scuffling sounds and a resounding snap before silence fell again. Through it all Boyd could hear Sin's low, slightly labored breathing.

"Fuck," Sin hissed in his ear, frustrated. "The second floor," he bit out as the sound of a gun being reloaded echoed in the background. "The auditorium."

"I'm coming." Boyd began running so fast down the stairs that he was skipping several steps at a time, his gloved hand sliding along the railing as support so he could jump over at the bottom of each flight and land on the next set of stairs. He didn't care how much noise he was making or how visible he was in the process; he didn't have time for stealth.

He was just running past the eighth floor when gunfire suddenly erupted; he narrowly avoided a bullet as he turned a corner and ran down the flight of stairs. He could hear several sets of footsteps clambering down the stairs above him and he narrowed his eyes in annoyance, using the railing to jump even more sets of steps, his legs jarring with the impact each time.

"He's heading down past the seventh floor," one of the guards was saying, presumably into a comm unit. "Northwest stairwell."

"Damnit," Boyd growled under his breath, impatience and worry warring within him and leaving him completely uninterested in dealing with pursuit. It was going to be difficult to avoid, since the guards had seen him and it was more likely someone would be looking for him on the cameras now. There weren't cameras in the stairwell but there were in most of the hallways.

Sin's low voice came into Boyd's ear suddenly, his breathing still labored. "They're focusing on the ground floor and closing in." Sin fell quiet briefly before he continued, almost as if he'd heard Boyd's thoughts, "All exits are blocked on the first few floors. They're watching the cameras for me... they may see you."

"Got it," Boyd said quietly into the comm unit, taking the information into consideration as he tried to figure out how he was going to get down to Sin without getting caught himself.

He counted the footsteps he could hear behind him as he ran and determined that there were probably three people chasing him, although it was hard to tell with the echoing.

He only partially listened to the guards yelling updates into their comm units and as he passed the fifth landing, the door abruptly slammed open and two guards came running in. Boyd spun out of the way, narrowly avoiding a bullet to his chest and ducked down.

He was wearing a hard-plated bulletproof vest but even so, his heartbeat nearly tripped over itself in its speed and he immediately returned fire. The hostile went down but his companion didn't hesitate to aim at Boyd again.

He threw himself forward, slamming the guard back and down to the floor. The gun fired with a resounding echo as the man's hand went flying to the side to support himself, making the bullet go wide. Boyd could hear the others behind him reaching the landing above him, just about to turn the corner.

Boyd grunted in annoyance, having no choice but to sprint across the landing and continue running down the stairs. He couldn't afford to get in a fight with anyone if it was only going to allow the others to catch up.

He could hear curses behind him and he had no doubt that the guard he'd hit was joining the pursuit. At this rate, he wouldn't be able to make it all the way to the second floor, and even if he did they would be too close behind for him to realistically be able to run down a straight hallway without getting shot to death from behind. That was all assuming he wouldn't be killed the moment he stepped onto the heavily-guarded lower floors. He was pushing it even hoping the fourth floor wouldn't have the exits blocked.

Once he reached the next landing, he ran to the door rather than continue downstairs. He only had a brief second to check through the small window in the door to see that no one was there before he burst through. He shut the door as quietly but quickly as he could, hoping the guards' own echoing footsteps would keep them from realizing right away that he wasn't below them still. Without waiting to see if the ruse worked, he ran down a side hallway which would take him out of view of the door's window.   

He considered where the auditorium was in relation to where he was now; although it was on the other side of the building, there was another stairwell he could try to utilize. There were also two elevator banks but there was no doubt that the security guards would be watching the elevators.

As he ran through the hall, he noticed dead bodies littered around; evidence of Sin's fight to keep the security guards distracted from the higher levels. As Boyd turned a corner, he nearly ran directly into another hostile. Boyd dodged immediately and threw himself into a crouch along the opposite wall, already drawing his weapon and shooting twice in a row.

The man staggered, eyes wide in surprise; he grunted as his back hit the wall and he slid down. Blood slowly dripped down the wall behind the man as his eyes glazed and he fell over.

Boyd grabbed the nearly full magazine from the man's gun as well as the man's comm unit, which he put in his other ear, making sure it was set so he couldn't transmit and would only receive.

In the distance, he could hear a door suddenly slam open followed by what sounded like a number of people running. Most likely, the guards in the stairwell had realized he'd gotten off on one of the floors and were now checking for him.

Boyd started to run again, trying to keep his footsteps as silent as possible in the process. It was difficult, with wide hallways that echoed every noise.

The guard's comm unit was silent in Boyd's ear which was actually good; it meant they didn't know for sure which floor Boyd was on, or they would have reported it to request back up. Even so, he had to get out of view of the cameras. If he'd known it was going to happen like this, he would have disabled them all immediately but they hadn't wanted to arouse any suspicion.

The layout of the floor was fresh in his mind from when he'd studied the blueprints and he headed straight for a wing that he knew was close by. Judging by the number of bodies littering the floor, Sin had taken care of a good portion of the security, which was lucky because Boyd probably wouldn't have made it through the floor on his own.

He couldn't hear the pursuit behind him anymore which probably meant they'd split up to check the different hallways. Boyd slowed once he reached the wing he'd been searching for and he entered, shutting the door silently behind him before he quickly glanced around for the camera. When he found it, he grabbed a chair, dragged it over and climbed onto it.

Initially, he had intended to break the camera but he found that he could turn the whole thing back toward the door he'd entered. If anyone was quickly glancing through all the cameras they'd notice one aimed in the wrong direction less quickly than they would notice one that was black.

He hopped off the chair, pulling it silently over by the desk so a quick glance through the frosted windows by the door wouldn't show anything obviously out of place, then jogged down the smaller hallway within the wing. Once he reached the office at the end, he shut that door behind him as well and quickly verified there wasn't a camera.

He knew the guards were likely to be watching the stairwells and elevators especially closely so in the interest of getting to Sin as quickly as he could, it really only left one option to Boyd: not to use either.

The office building was an older hi-rise, back when they hadn't used floor-to-ceiling windows; these windows were smaller with screens to keep the insects out. Boyd shut the light off in the office and blinked a few times as his eyes tried to adjust to the change in brightness.

There was a thick, round container with a handle that he pulled from the large cargo pocket along his thigh; it took him a few seconds to be able to remove it, as it was about the size of the pocket. Once it was free, he held down a button near the handle as he fumbled with his other hand to pull on a metal piece that was hidden in the side of the container.

A thin length of rope came out and Boyd's eyes narrowed as he focused on the container. The contraption was a new design that Boyd had grabbed from supplies before he'd left; a thin, braided rope that was supposed to have a breaking strength of 10,000 pounds, rolled up in a durable metal container with a handle on one end to allow easy transport.

He tugged the rope hard once to make sure that the braking mechanism was in place. Satisfied, Boyd quickly walked over to the desk in the empty office, noting that the desk was heavy and large and when he tried to shove it closer toward the window, it barely moved. He tied the end of the rope around the desk securely, making sure to tie it so all the pressure wouldn't be only on the legs.

When he opened the window, warm wind blew in immediately, rushing past Boyd to flutter some of the paper on the desk behind him. He ignored it as he made a quick X in the screen with a small butterfly knife from his other pocket.

He stuck his head out the window briefly and didn't see anyone on the ground several stories below him, so he gripped the handle hard in one hand and crawled out the window, using his free hand to hold onto the window sill even once his entire body was outside.

Wind buffeted him from every direction and his feet slipped on the old stone building; the ski mask was at least keeping his hair hidden and the full black outfit was going to help him blend into the night, but he had to squint his eyes to see through the wind which seemed to overpower all other sounds.

His fingers tingled and his breathing automatically quickened as adrenaline pumped through him; as he realized how this could be an incredibly stupid idea if the desk or rope didn't hold and he fell four stories to solid cement. His blood rushed through his veins and Boyd didn't give himself the chance to think further-- he simply readjusted his grip on the handle and let go of the window sill.

He started to climb down the side of the building and suddenly dropped several feet. His breath caught and free hand whipped out to try to catch himself as his feet scrabbled against the stone-- the wind slammed against him and nearly threw him away from the building before he was able to steady himself.

He kept falling until he was suddenly jerked to a halt, his arm straining painfully and gloved fingers nearly slipping from the metal handle in the process; he had to snap his other hand up to hold onto the handle as well to keep himself from falling. The desk must have slid across the floor in the room above him, hit the side of the wall and held.

Boyd was left awkwardly crouched against the building, heart ricocheting in his chest as he looked up at the window above him, half expecting the desk to break and wooden shards to come flying down at him.

When nothing happened, Boyd drew in a breath to steady himself and shifted his grip on the handle to access the button, letting his other hand free again to steady himself against the building.

The process of getting down the side of the building was slower than he'd hoped. The rope kept catching and suddenly releasing a little too quickly, making his body drop in jerks that jarred his arm and made him imagine the desk creaking each time. The wind kept pushing at him strongly, occasionally making him slide to the side before he could stop himself, and more than once his body partially lifted away from the building before he was slammed back against it with muffled grunts.

As he passed the first window he had to go slowly to make sure no one was in the office looking out. He was unsurprised to find no one was since the guards were probably too busy searching the interior.

When Boyd arrived at the second story he slit the screen on the window along two edges to hopefully make it less obvious at a glance that the window had been compromised. Bracing himself with his feet on the building and elbow jammed in the side of the window, he struggled until he could slide the window open as well.

Once he could get inside the empty office, he half balanced inside the room, bracing his legs against the wall while he stretched his upper body outside and, awkwardly but as quickly as possible, he rolled out several more feet of rope then dropped the mechanism down the side of the building, where it hovered a few feet off the ground.

Ideally, hiding the rope would have been better but there wouldn't have been an easy way to do so with the rope attached to the desk and he didn't have time to deal with the details. Instead, he was hoping that if someone came across the rope they would at least think he had escaped and it would draw some of the guards' attention away from the building. He quickly shut the window behind him to continue the ruse.

When he left the wing, he was careful to stay out of the camera's view as long as possible, sliding along the walls until he could quickly move to the door and crouch behind what seemed like a potted indoor tree of some sort. He didn't hear anything of note on the guard's comm unit and Sin hadn't said anything in awhile, which was starting to worry Boyd.

The hallway outside the wing was empty and, with so many of the guards focusing on the ground floor and the exits, there were few guards for Boyd to run into as he moved silently and quickly through the halls. Even more bodies littered this floor and Boyd had to jump over several of them until he was finally able to reach the auditorium.

The auditorium was a huge room, presumably used to give presentations to large audiences or for training purposes for the staff. There was a main entrance in front that Boyd saw two guards walking past so Boyd slid around to the back instead; there was a smaller exit off the backstage.

Just as he turned the corner, he noticed movement in the shadows of the back entrance to the auditorium. He instantly pulled out his gun, aiming at the guard he saw before his instincts told him something was off; almost immediately after that he recognized Sin's brilliant green eyes burning behind the man. Boyd's heart pounded as he dropped the gun to his side, his adrenaline spiking as he realized he could have shot his partner.

Boyd approached silently and as he drew closer he could see that Sin was staggering along, holding a guard hostage in front of him with an arm around the man's throat. The man looked terrified but even as his eyes flicked to Boyd, he didn't make a sound.

Sin's normally olive complexion was bleached nearly white from the blood loss and he was holding his free hand to his side where blood drenched his clothing and stained his fingers. Boyd couldn't see all of Sin but he knew there would be more blood and possibly more wounds; it made the worry sharpen considerably but he didn't let himself dwell on it-- they still needed to get out of there before he could think about any of that.

Once Boyd was at Sin's side, he said so quietly it was nearly under his breath, "There are virtually no guards to the south but I can't vouch for the exits."

Sin didn't answer immediately and instead slammed the guard, who he'd likely been using as a meat shield, into the wall head first. The plaster cracked around the man's head and he slumped to the floor unconscious or even possibly dead considering the force Sin had put into it. Even severely weakened, Sin's strength was nearly unparalleled.

Just as the thought crossed Boyd's mind, Sin began coughing violently, leaning against the wall with a shuddering groan as he closed his eyes. His hands were trembling more visibly now and for the first time in their entire partnership, he didn't try to hide the excruciating pain that he was obviously feeling. His face twisted and he pressed his hand tighter against his side where his black shirt was shiny with the leaking blood.

"Just go," Sin said finally from between grit teeth, looking up at Boyd from beneath a curtain of sweat and blood-dampened black hair. "You can still get the data... Schafer."

"I have partial data and I don't care about Schafer," Boyd said without hesitation, forcing himself to look away from Sin's face. He moved to Sin's side and pulled Sin's arm over his shoulder to help support him, gaze darting around to make sure there were no guards in the vicinity as he started to walk.

He couldn't think about how dire the situation seemed; instead, his mind was firmly on their escape, already trying to figure out how they would get out. "We have to get you to the van right away."

Sin didn't respond verbally and he sagged against Boyd, his eyes slipping nearly shut as another wet cough escaped his mouth. He nodded stiffly, obviously either seeing no point in continuing to argue or not having the strength to do so, and staggered alongside Boyd, drops of blood falling to the floor with every step.

Boyd's fingers tightened on Sin but he didn't say anything as he half-dragged Sin along. They paused briefly at the end of the back hallway, each of them drawing a gun in their free hand. Their eyes met for a moment but neither of them spoke before they entered the main hallway together.

They only made it about halfway down the hall before the first hostiles noticed them, yelling out alarm to the others and immediately turning on them. Even severely injured, Sin was a phenomenal shot and took out four guards right after another, one bullet each. Boyd simultaneously shot the other two guards, whose bodies collapsed against their companions'.

Without blinking they continued moving, Boyd glancing at each hallway intersection and keeping in mind the layout of the building and constantly determining the fastest way toward the eastern entrance, which was nearest to the van.

Sin staggered at Boyd's side; his breathing was labored and a trail of blood followed them, his brilliant green eyes were dull with pain. Despite that he seemed alert, gaze darting around and hand surprisingly steady on his gun.

They made it to a large intersection in the hallways when Sin suddenly muttered, "Left corridor... three."

Boyd looked sidelong at Sin; he didn't hear anything and he couldn't imagine how Sin would have been able to, especially in his state. But Boyd didn't question the information; as they came up on the intersection, he already had his gun aimed to the left where he quickly dispatched the three guards he was only mildly surprised to see were actually there.

They kept moving but the bloody trail was to their disadvantage, as was the fact they had to go slower than either of them would have liked. Hostiles appeared from side corridors, from rooms, from behind them-- but even then Boyd could see that their numbers were significantly lowered. Sin had played his role well and now he was dying because of it.

It seemed like an endless journey out of the facility, agonizingly slow and constantly pursued by the remnants of the security force. Most of the guards on the lower levels had either retreated or been wiped out but the hostiles from the higher levels were now trickling down to stop the intruders from escaping.

Sin fought well but he was obviously weakened and after awhile it was more than obvious that he was starting to lose concentration due to blood loss. At one point Sin staggered just as a quartet of hostiles exploded out of an elevator bank and Boyd threw himself in front of Sin, gritting his teeth when the bullets slammed into his bulletproof vest and one hit him in the upper left arm. Pain erupted violently across his torso but he ignored it, already jerking his gun up with narrowed eyes and shooting two of the men in a row while Sin took out the other two.

When the bodies hit the floor, Sin sagged against the wall briefly as the hallway went silent around them. Boyd was at his side immediately, sliding his bad arm around his partner as he started to drag him along again. It hurt like hell trying to support Sin's weight with an arm he'd been shot in but he didn't hesitate and he didn't concentrate on the pain; he simply grit his teeth, letting out a low breath, and focused on dragging Sin along.

They half ran through the compound, Boyd listening as intently as he could to the occasional chatter on the guard's comm unit. The main information he received was that they were monitoring Boyd and Sin's progress on the cameras so he started shooting out the cameras as they passed, including down side hallways if he could see the camera. He didn't slow as he did so-- his hand was steady and quick, much more accurate than he'd been before his level 10 training.

He knew it wouldn't do much to slow down the pursuit but it may help.

Not long after that, the comm unit fell silent and Boyd surmised that the guards had switched channels or were communicating another way because they realized Boyd and Sin could listen in. Boyd didn't particularly care-- it was clear to him this was going to continue to be an all-out brawl and the guards weren't planning any sort of elaborate trap; they didn't have the time or people to be able to do so anymore.

The next few minutes were a blur of gunfire resounding around them in echoes, of guards appearing suddenly and just as abruptly being killed. Boyd's vest took more than one bullet during their escape and he was glad that he'd worn it even though it did slow him down.

He could tell that Sin had ditched his vest at some point but it wasn't a surprise and not even something Boyd could fault him for. In order to function as a distraction, Sin had needed use of his maximum speed and the heavy metal plated vests would have hindered that and likely gotten him wounded far earlier than he'd been. When surrounded by hostiles on all sides, a vest didn't protect him against head shots.

After what seemed like an eternity, they reached the East exit but were once again engaged by hostiles guarding the vicinity.

Boyd shoved Sin down a side hall and scrambled to the far side of the intersection. He had to crouch and move around more than once but one by one, Boyd and Sin worked together to dispatch the hostiles. Boyd's hands shook from adrenaline, blood loss, pain and the constant backlash of the guns but he paid it no heed.

Boyd was just rising to his feet when he heard gunshots resound behind him. He looked over his shoulder to see that Sin had dropped and rolled to the floor, aiming from a lying position as he killed three guards in a row behind them before they could shoot at Boyd's exposed back.

Two more hostiles appeared before Boyd could react to the fact that he'd left himself open and he dodged backwards, skidding down the linoleum as a bullet barely missed his forehead and drilled into the wall behind him.

Boyd rolled around the corner, leaped back out almost instantly and fired several times at one of the hostiles, downing him but getting clipped in the arm in the process. A pained hiss escaped Boyd's teeth and he knew that he'd be a mess of bruises and lacerations in the following days.

Boyd's gaze skimmed across the perimeter and he saw that Sin had jerked the other guard down to the floor with him. Sin snapped the man's neck so violently and with such strength that the man was nearly dismembered. Blood and gore erupted from the large tear that caused the head to drop at an angle completely unnatural to the body.

Disbelief moved through Boyd that even in this state Sin could manage something like that but he didn't dwell on it. Sin's strength was unparalleled by anything but his willpower and it would probably always be that way.

Sin sagged against the floor, his blood mingling with the man he'd just killed; the corpse that had half-collapsed on him. Boyd shoved the body off his partner, listening and darting his gaze around briefly to see if there were any further attackers.

They didn't exchange words or waste time; Boyd once again grabbed Sin, nearly manhandling him in his haste. Sin assisted as best he could, using what strength he had left to push himself up but once he was standing, almost all his weight was on Boyd and he kept stumbling as he tried to keep up.

Boyd's gloved fingers were slick with Sin's blood as well as some of his own and their enemies'; his hands kept slipping against Sin's clothing and skin and Boyd felt true fear that despite all of this it could be too late-- that maybe Sin was going to die.

That galvanized him to move faster, to put more strength into holding his partner up and dragging him along. As they moved into the small open area near the exit, Boyd was relieved to find only dead bodies littering the floor. It was probably only a matter of time before more backup came but Boyd didn't intend to wait for that.

He yanked Sin along at his side and as they stumbled into the darkness outside the building, Boyd couldn't help feeling relieved. At least out here the night would hide their movements a little easier than the cameras inside.

It was a harrowing trek across the lawn toward the small cluster of trees nearby; Boyd kept half his attention on their surroundings and the other half on Sin, whose clothing was now slick not only from blood but from sweat as well. That wasn't a good sign, nor was the chill to Sin's skin, and Boyd tightened his hold on his partner.

Together they staggered through the rest of the trees, bursting onto the empty street where their uneven footsteps echoed around them eerily. They were in a mostly industrial and commercial area; the few nearby residences were silent and dark, without a soul stirring.

They reached the van without further incident and as Boyd fumbled with the keys, blood making the metal slip in his fingers, Sin leaned against the side of the vehicle, chest rising and falling with labored, harsh breathing. Once the vehicle was open, Boyd had to help Sin into the seat and he shut the door behind him then ran around the front to jump into the driver's seat.

Boyd hastily pulled off his mask and gloves, grabbed the first aid kit from beneath the seat and tossed it on Sin's lap. Without taking more time, he started the van and took off, driving as quickly as he could away from the scene. Even if more hostiles didn't appear, he'd be shocked if law enforcement didn't.

He looked over at Sin, fear and concern sharpening his features and making his fingers tighten on the steering wheel as he noticed that Sin looked nearly unconscious. Boyd sped down a few more blocks before concern forced him to pull over to better examine his partner.

He leaned over the center console and popped open the first aid kit, ignoring how his arm screamed at the movement and how his fingers shook. He reached for Sin's shirt and pulled it up, professionally running his hands along Sin's body to determine where the wounds were exactly beneath all the blood.

When he found the bullet wounds, he pulled out the gauze and wrapped them as tightly and quickly as he could. Dark red spots almost immediately stained the white gauze, spreading at an alarming rate.

His eyes narrowed. The area needed pressure applied to it but he wouldn't be able to do so while driving. Thinking quickly, he yanked off his outer shirt. The movement caused an agonized cry to escape him before he was able to cut it off with gritted teeth.

He tilted his head forward, blond hair brushing against his cheeks, shoving the pain aside in his mind before he balled up his shirt. He pressed the bloody shirt firmly against Sin's stomach and reached over to pull the seat belt over Sin, tightening the belt over the shirt. It was the best he could do under the circumstances.

Boyd wiped his bloody hands on his pants and immediately put the van in drive again. He sped away, ignoring the reverberating pain in his arm and body to the best of his ability. He knew Sin's only hope was to get back to the Agency as soon as possible; all Boyd could do was drive as fast as the van would allow and hope it would be enough.

The streets weren't empty even at that time of night, which quickly became aggravating for Boyd as he felt like every moment he had to slow down behind another car was a moment too long. He kept glancing over at Sin, anxiety rising as he saw Sin's eyes shut, as Sin slumped forward in the seat.

"Hsin," Boyd said intently, not bothering to hide the fear and concern in his voice.

Sin's eyes slid open and he stared at Boyd for a moment before muttering, "You shouldn't have come back. They'll terminate you..."

Boyd shook his head, wanting to keep his eyes on Sin but having to pay attention to the road.

He abruptly swerved around a car ahead of them, bringing them into oncoming traffic to speed around the older Chevrolet. He jerked them back into the correct lane just before an oncoming blue truck could hit them. Boyd barely registered the man in the truck laying on the horn and putting his hand out the window to flip them off; the man's loud cursing was muffled by the van's closed windows.

Although what Sin said was entirely possible, Boyd didn't care.

"Just stay with me, okay?" Boyd glanced at Sin, honey brown eyes dark and expression taut. "I'll get you to medical as soon as I can-- they'll be able to help you."

Sin's eyes had already slid closed again and he slumped against the door, although his hand was still gripping his side. His face was bleached of all color-- the striking features made to look unnatural and almost phantom-like in the gloom of the car as the dim blue light from the dash illuminated his skin.

Boyd felt his stomach drop. "Hsin?" His voice was quiet and uncertain.

Sin didn't respond and even though Boyd could still see the faint rise and fall of his chest, it wasn't enough to allay his fears that Sin wouldn't make it to the Agency.

"Don't die," Boyd whispered, his eyes bright as he looked away from Sin and concentrated fully on the road.

He swerved around vehicles, made abrupt turns down side streets when he realized it was going to be too backed up ahead of him, and ran a red light more than once. He didn't care that he was making a spectacle and that it was possible he could be seen by local police. The only precautions he took were to make sure they weren't hit.

He had to drive one-handed at one point to input the security code into the GPS screen that was located on the dashboard. The screen changed and its hidden function was made clear after he input another string of code; it was a touch screen computer that allowed him direct contact with the Agency.

He sent a short, coded email to Carhart saying that the mission had failed and they were going to need immediate medical assistance at the unloading point. His fingers left smudges of blood on the screen and streams of it came down his arm from his wounds.

His gaze darted between the faint blue light of his screen and the streets flying by them. He had to abruptly grab the steering wheel with both hands when he almost hit a car ahead of him that suddenly screeched to a halt to avoid a woman darting across the street.

A window on the computer flashed and he looked over. He received confirmation that the email had been received and he had no further contact after that.

Even driving like he did, it took nearly forty minutes to navigate the streets and traffic, and every minute made Boyd's heart beat that much faster, made him look toward Sin more often. He couldn't even feel a sense of relief when the Agency finally loomed ahead of them and he headed toward the nearly hidden back entrance; the one that went straight down to the underground unloading point and was typically used for emergencies and bringing in detainees.

He slammed on the brakes when he reached the check point and impatiently opened the window, holding up his identification badge. "Let me in." His voice was a tense command and the guard looked closely at him, the ID, and past him to Sin, before stepping back with a curt nod toward the other guard.

The gates opened and Boyd drove in, having to stop at a second set of doors to give an iris scan. Boyd put his face close to the scanner, keeping his eye open wide for a moment before it recognized him. A green light flashed and the doors automatically opened in front of him; he waited just long enough for clearance for the van before he sped through, pulling to an abrupt stop.

Medical staff was waiting for them; Boyd had barely put the van in park before two men in white medical coats opened the passenger door to extract Sin. Boyd got out of the van and came around the side as the men carefully secured Sin to a stretcher.

Two women approached Boyd; one immediately checked him for injuries, pausing at his arm. He grit his teeth as she prodded the area, trying to determine the extent of the wound.

"What happened?" the other woman, whose badge read Kerry Spiegel, asked briskly as the men were already wheeling Sin away quickly. She had red hair that looked natural but was obviously dyed judging by the faint blond and silver roots that were just showing.

Boyd's gaze tracked Sin briefly before he returned his attention to Kerry. "He received multiple gunshot wounds to the torso approximately an hour ago," he reported, keeping his expression perfectly even. He saw no reason to let everyone know how worried he truly was for his partner-- especially not where such information would be recorded on camera. "He fell unconscious forty minutes ago and has not stirred since."

Kerry nodded, gaze dropping to his black clothing shining with blood and his arm sticky with it. "And you?"

Before he could answer, the first woman said, "He's coming with us. He's injured as well."

Boyd didn't respond as he was brought to the medical wing in the Tower. He tried to keep an eye out for Sin or any word on him but he knew it was too early to tell. Kerry brought him into one of the side rooms where he removed his bulletproof vest and undershirt so they could scrutinize him for wounds.

They had to dig the bullet out of his upper left arm, which was unpleasant and not helped by the stitches he had to get for a few of the other wounds afterward. His arm ached even after they'd bandaged it and had given him some painkillers.

Although he tried to ask about Sin, they just told him that they didn't know anything yet and they wouldn't give him any further information.

He felt worried and on edge; his mind kept returning to the sickly pallor of Sin's skin, to all that blood leaking through the clothing, the bandages... He thought about Sin's deep voice, gruff and raspy with pain and weakness, and Boyd imagined waking up tomorrow with Sin no longer in his world.

It was a terrifying thought and one that hit him no less hard than it had the first time he'd truly had to contemplate it after Monterrey.

Tension built in his frame, made him anxious for any word from the doctors-- desperately hoping that he'd made it back in time. That Sin would be okay.

But he couldn't dwell on that even now; there was procedure to follow and he could do nothing useful waiting around the med wing.

His expression was unreadable as he headed toward the main computer room and typed up the report. His arm hurt like hell during the process but he almost welcomed it; the physical pain was a good grounder and gave him something to think about other than Sin.

He sent the report to Carhart and sat there for a few moments afterward, staring distantly at the screen before he shook his head to himself then logged off and stood.

Only a handful of minutes passed as Boyd left the room and started to head outside before he was summoned to his mother's office. Given the fact that this had been a level 9 classification assignment, that typically she would have nothing to do with this and Boyd would normally only debrief with Carhart... It wasn't a good sign.

He felt strangely blank as he walked back into the Tower and waited for the elevators to arrive.

Although he knew it was entirely possible he was walking to his death sentence, he didn't feel bad about it. They could kill him, they could send him to Shane for eternity, and Boyd still wouldn't change anything. Sin was more important to him than anything or anyone else and he would gladly give up his life for the opportunity to try to protect and save him.

Even if Sin died after all, Boyd would not regret his decision. He would only regret not being faster.

The elevator finally arrived and enough people piled in that it would have been claustrophobic if Boyd were prone to feeling constricted in small spaces. The ride to the seventeenth floor was uneventful and seemed longer than usual, although that could have been because it seemed like someone was getting off or on every floor along the way. Boyd finally reached the administrative level and made it through all the checkpoints, then waited patiently for Aisha to buzz him into his mother's office.

His features were set in the stoic mask that he'd learned over the years. His back was straight, his arms loose at his sides, although he held the injured arm more gingerly and he could tell bruises were going to form across his torso. He walked in with the same professional unreadability that he would have shown for any other mission.

The door had barely shut behind him before he could feel the tension in the room. He didn't have to be a mind reader to know from his mother's frosty, unrelenting stare that she was angry. She held herself stiffly, her fingers tightened as they were laced in front of her, and the glint in her narrowed ice blue eyes was matched by the tightening of her lips.

Carhart's expression was unreadable but his posture was tense as he focused fully on Boyd.

"Sit down," Vivienne ordered in a clipped tone that made it seem like two separate sentences rather than a single command. Boyd obeyed without question, walking in and taking the seat in front of her desk.

"Your claim is that the intel was bad?" Carhart asked without delay, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Regarding the security it was, General," Boyd replied, shifting his focus from Vivienne to Carhart. He kept his tone professional and gaze steady. "There was at least double of what we expected."

A frown crossed Carhart's face and he glanced at Vivienne briefly before looking at Boyd again. "Is there reason to believe they were prepared for your infiltration or do you believe that Owen's intel was simply lacking?"

Boyd narrowed his eyes slightly, taking the time to consider that. "There were a lot of them but they were quite organized. It leads me to believe that something was happening, but whether they were aware of our particular mission or if it was something unrelated, I don't know."

Carhart's eyes narrowed slightly and a glimmer of impatience shone through. "Owen is a valuable agent, Boyd. His mistakes in the past thirteen years have been less than one percent. If his intel was faulty he would be punished but be in no danger of termination. Your record is nowhere near as spotless so don't try to cover for him. Worry about yourself and the events that led to Schafer escaping and you returning with less than an eighth of the information that should have been on location."
"I'm not covering for Owen." Boyd's eyes narrowed slightly but it was more in thought than anything. "I don't know what happened. All I know is that when we arrived, they seemed more prepared and on guard than we expected. As a result, we had to change our plans. I don't necessarily believe that Owen gave bad information but I can't say with one hundred percent certainty."

Carhart glanced at Vivienne again but the expression seemed more significant somehow, as though they were silently communicating when they exchanged a look. The moment passed quickly and Carhart began questioning Boyd again.

"How did you come to only download a partial file?"

"While I waited for the hard drives to download, I explored the area and was interrupted by the target." Boyd could feel his mother's even stare burning into the side of his face as he watched Carhart.

Carhart nodded and his lips thinned slightly, eyebrows drawing together. His cerulean eyes flicked to the side for a moment before refocusing on Boyd but this time it was Vivienne who spoke.

"Did you pursue the target?"

Boyd looked over at her and nodded. "Yes."

Her eyes narrowed and she watched him intently. "If that is the case, how were you 'unable to successfully apprehend him?'" The tone in her voice showed she was repeating Boyd's own words from his report.

"I pursued the target at length but between the security and his intimate knowledge of the building's layout, I lost track of him during the chase," Boyd said calmly, giving no indication that he was lying. "I was subsequently advised of Agent Vega's condition and determined that, with the additional security, the best way to complete the mission was to ensure that the amount of data that had been procured was successfully returned to the Agency."

Vivienne's stare only seemed to intensify, scrutinizing him as if he were an insect. "So it was fully your intention to bring the target back to the Agency. You tried everything and it was solely the circumstances that forced you to be unable to." She said it as a statement of fact but it was obvious that she expected him to reply.


Carhart's eyes narrowed slightly and he once again looked to the side but he said nothing.

Vivienne speared Boyd with a hard expression, her lips tightening. "You are aware that it is one of the highest forms of insubordination to lie to the Marshal," she said flatly and Boyd didn't let his expression change.

"Yes, Marshal," Boyd said.

"Then why would you?" Vivienne demanded in a low, ice cold tone, and Boyd stared at her calmly even as he started to feel uncertain inside. There was active displeasure in her eyes and she didn't seem to be bluffing-- it was as though she knew more about what had happened than Boyd had let on, and it made him nervous.

"I'm not sure what you--" Boyd started to say but Vivienne leaned forward, her face a mask of disdain.

"Even injured, Agent Vega ordered you to finish the mission. You had ample time to download more information or to apprehend Schafer. Agent Vega even encouraged it." There was no doubt or hesitation in her voice, her light blue eyes seeming like they were nearly burning holes through Boyd. "You were the one who decided not to."

A chill went through him even as his heart began to beat faster but Boyd didn't let the nervousness make it to his demeanor. "I don't--"

"In fact," Vivienne continued frostily. "I believe your exact words were 'I don't care about Schafer.'"

Boyd's mouth went dry and he kept his expression unreadable, although this time he was completely still because he didn't know how to react. He didn't understand how she could possibly have known that and he tried not to let the 'oh shit' feeling make it to his body language.

When Boyd didn't respond, Vivienne gave him a look of contempt. "We reviewed the audio files of your communication, as we do on any mission that fails. It is entirely clear that you showed blatant disregard for the mission's success and instead foolishly chose to focus on a dying agent, who himself was intelligent enough not to request assistance."

Carhart's expression didn't change but he still did not meet Boyd's eyes or look at Vivienne. It wasn't clear if he agreed with Vivienne or if he was just conflicted and upset by the entire situation. Given his attachment to Sin, the latter was more likely.

Boyd stared at her, uneasiness making him stay silent.

He'd had no idea they did that because no one had ever told him or implied they knew what had happened on failed missions-- not Connors, Carhart, his mother... He didn't know why the Agency hadn't mentioned it after Monterrey, but then, that had been in another country and an extended undercover mission on top of that. Those were probably different than the shorter missions so they may not have monitored any communication. And he suspected that Sin didn't know or he would have mentioned it at some point.

He tried to remember everything he'd said but he didn't recall all of it; he'd been focused on Sin, on getting him out of there, and since they'd been away from the glare of the Agency he'd been more free in voicing his thoughts.

He knew that his chances of not being terminated over this had just shrunk until it was much closer to zero. She was right that he'd shown blatant disregard for the mission-- because that was how he really felt.

"I am well aware of your ridiculous infatuation with Agent Vega in the past," Vivienne said coolly when Boyd didn't respond. "As well as your assertion during training that you loved him." She said that with contempt as well. "I was under the impression that you were finished with making irrational decisions based upon emotions when he is involved."

Boyd kept his expression perfectly even and didn't allow a hint of his thoughts to make it to his face. "With all due respect, Marshal," he said neutrally, "it was not an illogical decision based on emotions. There were a number of reasons I returned. I was reprimanded in the past for abandoning Agent Vega, and it was made quite clear to me that it was my duty to protect my partner or see to it that he did not make rash decisions himself."

Before he could continue, Vivienne leaned back in her chair. "That is entirely different. In that case, you had successfully completed the mission and afterward failed to aid Agent Vega due to an emotional reaction on your part. That decision nearly cost us a valuable asset and, you are well aware, caused many more issues on an international scale."

"But Agent Vega remains a valuable asset to the Agency and was important for the mission's success," Boyd countered in a reasonable tone. "I could have continued the pursuit but the moment Agent Vega died, the security would have moved their attention from the distraction he provided toward checking for any other security breaches."

Vivienne scrutinized Boyd but she did not interrupt so Boyd continued.

"If you were able to listen to our exchange, you already know that the guards were focusing their attention on the ground floor and moving up, and it was possible they could be monitoring the cameras. Were I to have continued, even if I had been able to catch Schafer, I would not have been able to extract him from the building alone."

Boyd spoke with the same simple, professional tone that he always used when relaying details of a mission. "Not even taking into account the mechanics of dragging or carrying a man who is taller and heavier than I am such a distance and the extent to which it would have slowed me down, I would not have been able to battle my way out alone. It was far more likely that Agent Vega would die, I would be killed or captured, the target would be saved by the additional security, the partial data I recovered would never be returned to the Agency, and the mission would be a complete failure. I opted to salvage the mission as much as possible instead."

There was a long moment of silence after Boyd finished. Vivienne's expression did not change and Boyd couldn't tell if his explanation had helped or hindered. Although he hadn't been thinking any of that at the time, he felt that it was true; it would have been nearly impossible to successfully complete the mission on his own.

"You could have acquired the target and removed him while Agent Vega was still alive," Vivienne said pointedly. "His death could have provided adequate distraction while you ran."

"There were no guarantees that would have worked," Boyd replied evenly. "And if it didn't, it would have resulted in the scenario I've already overviewed. As it is, Agent Vega and I both made it out alive only because we were able to watch each others' backs."

"So you are attempting to argue that, despite what you said on the mission, your primary loyalty remains to the Agency," Vivienne said flatly.

"In a stressful situation with security surrounding us, I didn't think to explain my entire thought process," Boyd said. "If I had been aware that the communication was recorded, I would have made more of an effort to clarify."

Vivienne's eyes narrowed and Boyd knew at that moment that he probably should not have said that; although his tone and expression had been perfectly professional, it had been a somewhat sarcastic thing to say.

Something akin to anger seemed to flash briefly through her eyes. "Stating that you do not care about the target does not require explanation. It is perfectly clear what you meant."

"Determining that the target is less important than salvaging the mission does not equate to a lack of loyalty toward the Agency," Boyd countered. "We are trained to improvise and make decisions based upon new information at any point in time. If I were to have continued toward the mission goal without the capability of compromise, you would have deemed that a failure on my part. If I had let Agent Vega die and especially if the target provided less useful information than we anticipated, that would have counted against me. When a mission is likely to fail on some level, there is going to be something that the agent will be held accountable for."

"Some agents are more well-versed than others in rectifying the situation and still ending with a success," Vivienne observed coolly.

"I had a short span of time to determine whether to proceed with a course of action that was in line with my original instructions but I did not feel would result positively for the Agency," Boyd said neutrally, straightening his back and holding his head higher. "Or to change the direction and do something that I felt would work better overall. Even if we lost this target this time, by retaining even the small amount of data I retrieved it should ultimately be of use. And if Agent Vega recovers, he is far more useful to the Agency in the long-term than a single target will be."

"Determining the efficacy of any project or person for the Agency is not your prerogative," Vivienne replied, leaning forward with her eyes narrowed and mouth set in an unimpressed, flat line. "You are making excuses for a failure."

"I did fail," Boyd replied bluntly, his eyebrows raising slightly. "I'm not arguing that. I take full responsibility for the outcome of the mission. I'm simply explaining my reasons because you asked."

"Do not test my patience," Vivienne said coldly, seeming displeased with the way Boyd was almost talking back. "I could mark you for termination immediately."

Carhart's eyes focused on Vivienne and a muscle in his cheek ticked but once again, he didn't speak. His lips pressed together tightly as if he was fighting the desire to say something but there wasn't really anything he could say.

Boyd's gaze did not flicker, his voice did not change from the even-tempered tone as he watched her. His hands rested on the chair and his fingers remained perfectly still. "If that is what you deem is best for the Agency, I will not argue against it."

Vivienne raised her eyebrows, giving him a look that made it clear she did not believe him. "And yet you would for Agent Vega."

"Agent Vega is more valuable to the Agency than I am," Boyd said calmly, shaking his head. "I am easily replaceable. Losing me would mean nothing to you and the Agency; losing him would cause difficulties in finding someone who can do all that he can. Although I'm sure Agent Emilio Vega is closer than anyone else, I imagine even he would be hard pressed to hold his own against an entire floor of security guards and still make it out alive."

Vivienne quirked one perfectly shaped blond eyebrow. "So you went back for him because the Agency would have wanted him back."

"I went back for him because I deemed it to be the best decision at the time," Boyd said firmly, eyes narrowing stubbornly. "If you question my judgment in that, I can't argue against it. You know what is best for the Agency and if you feel that my failure as an agent at this time outweighs my usability, if you terminate me because of this, then I will accept that. But I will not express doubt that I feel what I did was the optimal solution for the circumstances; I would only be lying to you if I did."

There was a long beat of silence as Vivienne watched Boyd as coldly and closely as if she were dissecting him in her mind, taking him apart and weighing the options. Boyd did not fidget or flinch; he met her gaze evenly, his back straight and face emotionless, and waited for the verdict.

At length, she leaned back in her chair and rested her hands on the desk.

"As of this moment, you are on probationary standby; you will not leave the compound until your next assignment and you will keep your cell phone accessible at all times until otherwise instructed. A follow-up mission will be assigned shortly that you will do alone."

Vivienne's eyes narrowed. "You will successfully complete this mission, fully and without excuses, or you will be terminated the moment you return. I will see to it that you are brought to the incinerator the second you step on compound."

Her eyebrows rose imperiously. "And if you think to flee, that will simply ensure that your death becomes quite drawn out and painful. Do you understand?"

Boyd couldn't even feel a sense of relief at the knowledge that he wouldn't be killed immediately, although truth be told he was a little surprised that it wasn't happening.

He nodded, sitting up straighter. "Yes, Marshal. Perfectly."

She watched him for another long, tense moment before she looked away. "Dismissed."

Boyd didn't wait around for her to change her mind; he stood and glanced between her and Carhart before he turned and headed toward the door.

Vivienne waited until he was reaching for the doorknob before she said suddenly, "Agent Beaulieu."

Boyd paused and looked over his shoulder but didn't need to verbally respond before she continued.

"Do not mistake this as acceptance. Your failure will be duly noted in your file and will be taken into account in the future as well. Even with a successful mission, you are close to termination. Your record is far from exemplary."

Boyd watched her, not knowing whether she was telling him that to further emphasize how much she thought he was a failure or if she was trying to warn him of the precariousness of his situation. Considering it was his mother, he suspected it was the former.

He nodded and said calmly, "I understand, Marshal."

When she looked away from him dismissively and Carhart didn't move, Boyd turned toward the door again and left.

He probably should have felt anxiety or fear about the news but he didn't; he felt strangely calm and the only worry he felt was about knowing Sin's condition.

He went straight to the medical wing and learned that Sin was still in surgery but he was expected to be out soon. They didn't tell him anything else and Boyd ended up sitting in the waiting room for an hour, leaning forward with his forearms resting on his knees and hair curtaining his face, feeling uneasiness grow with every second that passed.

It seemed like it took forever for Boyd to finally get the medical staff to give him an update on Sin's condition. Even knowing that he was Sin's partner, the staff was reluctant to give anything away to anyone but the higher ups.

After awhile all he found out was that Sin had made it through surgery and was stable for the moment. The information did little to assuage Boyd's fears but one of the nurses did allow Boyd into the room Sin was temporarily being kept in.

When Boyd walked in, the room was stark and the machines hooked up to Sin made steady background beeps that somehow seemed more alarming than silence would have been.

Boyd quietly shut the door behind him and walked over, standing next to the bed and looking down.

Sin was incredibly pale, his skin tone coming far too close to matching the crisp white sheets. He was unconscious but breathing steadily, his eyes closed and lips just barely parted. When Boyd dragged a chair over to the side of the bed and sat down, Sin didn't make a noise. When Boyd stared at those familiar features, when he raised a hand and gently pushed hair away from Sin's forehead, Sin didn't so much as stir.

Boyd felt his heart clench suddenly and he let out a low breath, lightly threading his fingers in Sin's hair before leaning forward until his forehead rested on Sin's chest. Boyd closed his eyes and wished with all his might that Sin would make it through this safely.

He drew in a short breath and let it out long, slightly shakily, and tried not to let the worry or fear become too strong. After a few seconds of resting that way, he blindly reached down until his fingers brushed against Sin's slack hand, which he intertwined his fingers with and squeezed.

Sin's heartbeat was a reserved tempo for Boyd's thoughts and he turned his head so he could hear it better, so the left side of Sin's chest rested against his ear. Golden blond hair fell messily around Boyd's face, partially covering his features and tickling his cheek.

He concentrated on the quiet ba-dump, ba-dump of Sin's heart and kept his eyes closed, kept the darkness surrounding him.

As the worry and fear continued to breed in the background, Boyd was still able to find a sense of peace from Sin's heartbeat, from the feel of that chest rising and falling. Each time it made Boyd feel that much more centered, that much more grounded.

Boyd knew then that he couldn't live without Sin.

It wasn't a dramatic realization that he would kill himself if Sin died, or even that he would let Sin's death destroy him like he had Lou's. But that wasn't because Sin meant less to him; it was only because Boyd had grown enough to realize that he couldn't just give up, even if the people he loved in his life were ripped away.

Instead, it struck him deeply just how much he loved Sin.

And even as he acknowledged that, he realized he felt the emotion on a deeper, less chaotic level than he had before. He had known he loved Sin for over a year but it had never felt like such a simple statement of fact for his life before; it had never seemed so undeniable and yet at the same time without any negativity.

Whereas there had been times before when the love he'd felt for Sin had seemed almost desperate or painful, now as he hunched over Sin with his fingers grasping Sin's slack hand, Boyd felt at peace with the knowledge. It was as if a weight were lifted from his shoulders and he understood that he could be no other way.

Even without the possibility of Sin dying, even if Sin had never found anyone else, Boyd knew it was inevitable that he would always gravitate back to Sin. Yet the combination of both created an urgency that reinforced Boyd's feelings even as he knew it wasn't the right time to tell Sin.

The right time may never come.

Maybe he would go on the mission and not be able to finish it successfully. Maybe he would adequately complete the mission but he would still be considered too much of a liability. Maybe he would be terminated by the end of the week. Maybe Sin wouldn't make it after all. Maybe he would never get to talk to Sin again.

The thought made his heart ache, made him treasure this quiet moment even more. Sin wasn't awake but his presence grounded Boyd; the warmth of his body beneath Boyd's cheek, the faint and familiar scent of him infiltrating the crispness of the freshly washed linens, the feel of his own fingers curled tightly around that powerful hand.

There were so many maybes in their lives, so many things they couldn't affect whether or not they wanted to, but what he knew with certainty was that his feelings for Sin wouldn't change.

Time passed without him realizing it and he didn't know how long he stayed in the same position, feeling increasingly centered. Sin's even breathing and muffled heartbeat lulled Boyd on one level even as he could still feel the worry and doubt prowling in the background.

He was still leaning against Sin when the door opened.

Boyd was so caught off guard that he looked up with slightly widened eyes and an expression that was unusually open for him as he sat up straight.

Ivan looked at him evenly, his expression as neutral as ever although his eyebrows rose slightly as he shut the door behind him. "Hello, Boyd."

"Hello, Ivan," Boyd greeted him calmly after the briefest pause, his expression becoming unreadable even though he still felt thrown off by Ivan's sudden appearance.

He realized he was still holding Sin's hand so he casually released it and rested his hand on the sheets next to Sin instead. The movement was subtle and pointless since Ivan had probably already seen it.

Ivan stared at him silently for a long moment before he shook his head slightly and walked over to Sin's bedside. A frown crossed Ivan's face and his thin lips turned down, slate grey eyes narrowing.

He reached over to run a hand down the side of Sin's face gently and Ivan grimaced afterward, likely because of how clammy Sin still felt. After a brief moment, Ivan looked at Boyd again and his concerned expression turned into a narrow-eyed blank stare.

Ivan stood up straight and crossed his arms over his faded green hoody, lowering his eyebrows. "What exactly is it that you're doing here? Out of curiosity," he added in his typically mild tone.

Boyd watched Ivan neutrally, ignoring the discomfort he felt from seeing Ivan touch Sin.

Not liking having to look up at the other man, Boyd stood, moving away from the bed and keeping his posture straight but without challenge.

"I came to check on his health," Boyd said simply.

"I see." Ivan nodded and studied Boyd thoughtfully before saying in the same tone, "So you were checking his pulse just then?"

Boyd saw no reason to outright lie but he supposed he had been listening to Sin's pulse, even if he wasn't checking it. "More or less," Boyd replied in a tone of agreement.

Ivan nodded and the serious expression didn't leave his face which made it difficult to tell whether or not he believed Boyd. "What happened to him?"

"We encountered heavier resistance than expected on a mission." Boyd said, flicking his gaze briefly to Sin before returning it to Ivan. "He was shot while acting as the distraction."    
Ivan didn't look very surprised by this although he did glance at Sin again. There was another slightly awkward pause before Ivan gave Boyd a puzzled look and asked quizzically, "So are you feeling guilty?"

Boyd drew his eyebrows down, confused. "I have no reason to; I didn't do anything wrong."

Ivan shrugged and nodded agreeably. "I don't think you did. But considering the way you looked when I walked in, I figured you either were feeling guilty or feeling... something else. And I assume, Agent Beaulieu, that you're not the type of person to start sending mixed signals to Sin now that he's coincidentally become somewhat involved with someone else so I assumed the former; that you may feel responsible for his condition."

Boyd narrowed his eyes a little and watched Ivan evenly for a moment. Ivan's comment didn't entirely sit well with him, especially since it seemed to imply Boyd was trying to steal Sin back.

"I don't feel responsible for his condition. He was dying and I did everything I could to make sure he stayed alive," Boyd replied neutrally, crossing his arms and raising his eyebrows slightly. "But just because I was worried about my partner and I was in here while he is unconscious does not mean it would have happened the same way had he been awake. I have no intentions of interfering with what he wants to do in his life or what makes him happy."

Ivan watched Boyd calmly for a moment and his eyebrows raised after a brief pause. "I'm not questioning you out of some kind of competitive possessiveness. I'm questioning you because I think it's unfair to Sin to be so inconsistent. You broke up with him, broke his heart and now that he's finally come to terms with that, here you are... holding his hand and looking a lot more like his lover than his partner."

The R&D agent shrugged easily and gestured to Sin faintly with one thin hand. "In my opinion, you should be more careful with your behavior if you don't want to send a certain message."

Boyd didn't let the mild irritation he felt over the comment make it to his face. Ivan was making it sound like it was all Boyd's fault, like he arbitrarily broke up with Sin for no good reason and was acting like this now because he was bored or selfish. Especially since Boyd had been trying to be careful around Sin, to not interfere with him and Ivan, and he felt like even now Ivan was judging him-- it just frustrated him further.

"I appreciate that you're looking out for him but unless he explained to you the entire situation, I doubt you have all the pertinent information," Boyd said steadily. "And as for the rest... I wouldn't have done that if he'd been awake. That isn't to say I would repeat the gesture if I have the opportunity to visit him again."

Ivan just smiled slightly, studying Boyd through his wire rimmed glasses. His ash blond hair hung around his face but it didn't hide the slight arching of one eyebrow, as though he found something about Boyd's statement to be lacking or incorrect. However he didn't say anything about what he was thinking and nodded instead. "Okay."

Boyd watched Ivan silently then looked toward the door. He didn't know how much longer he had until his mission but there was no point in staying around any longer, not with Ivan there.

"I should go," Boyd said, returning his gaze to Ivan. "I have a mission to prepare for and I'm sure you'd like to be alone anyway."

"It doesn't matter," Ivan replied with a shrug. "I wouldn't mind if you stayed."

Boyd studied Ivan with slightly drawn down eyebrows; he couldn't figure the man out.

Although he did believe that Ivan wouldn't care if he stayed, there was no reason for Boyd to do so. And despite the fact that the situation was awkward and not entirely comfortable for Boyd, he had to admit that he did honestly appreciate that at least Ivan seemed to be looking out for Sin.

If Boyd never returned from his mission, if he was terminated now or in the future, at least Sin had someone around him who seemed to care.

"It's alright," Boyd replied. "I'll be late if I wait too long."

Ivan nodded again. "Good luck."

"Thank you." Boyd started to turn toward the door then paused with his hand on the doorknob, half tilting his body to look back toward Ivan.

If he was going to be completely honest, Ivan was right that he shouldn't be sending mixed signals, that he shouldn't have been in the room holding Sin's hand. Boyd had to admit that he'd been out of line.

He should have just come in, checked to make sure Sin was breathing and relatively okay, and left. He shouldn't have lingered; he shouldn't have touched him. Sin could have woken up and then what would Boyd have said to explain the situation? He couldn't tell him the truth; what kind of person would he be if he ever took advantage of Sin's vulnerability to push his own desires? Especially since Ivan was right that Sin had finally come to terms with everything.

It was frustrating to realize that once again he'd done something that in the end was selfish when it came to Sin but at least now he knew not to do it again.

Trying to get everything right was going to be a long process of trial and error.

"You're right about before," Boyd said with a faint, pensive frown. He glanced toward Sin and added, "Take care of him."

Ivan didn't respond and his steady gaze followed Boyd as the senior agent left the room and shut the door behind him.

Continue to the next interlude: 3.12, Entre Nous