A Matter of Time: Part III

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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
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A Matter of Time - Part III

Interlude 3.18

Uploaded on 9/12/2009

"You are alone."

Sin looked up from the stream of water that flowed below the bridge. He was unsurprised to see Shaoqing. He'd heard the Dǐ Zhì agent approaching moments ago.

"Your observation skills are amazing," Sin replied dryly.

Shaoqing shrugged, unfazed, and stopped near Sin. He looked out at the water before allowing his gaze to focus on the temple that stood not too far away. "Your partner is alone with Xiaolian?"


Shaoqing nodded, his eyes narrowing slightly in thought. "She wants to see how you interact when apart."

Sin stood up straight and took a drag from the cigarette that had been dangling from his fingers. He gave Shaoqing a narrow-eyed stare and didn't comment on the fact that he'd already deduced that fairly obvious fact.

"Why are you here, Shaoqing?"

Shaoqing shrugged and crossed his arms over the black suit jacket he wore. "I was searching for you and I remembered that you frequent this spot. Do you enjoy the view of the temple?"

Sin didn't stop his scrutiny of Shaoqing. "Yes. It's peaceful here."

Shaoqing nodded in agreement, his bleached blond hair looking nearly white in the dim moonlight. "Yes. This is a very old temple. In the past, many tourists would come here but there is no longer so much tourism and the temple has returned to the people." He looked at Sin, brown eyes contemplative. "Are you Buddhist?"

Sin scoffed at that. "Not likely."

The other man recoiled, frowning. "I see. Christian, then."

Sin exhaled smoke and tried not to lose his patience with the completely pointless line of discussion. If he did that he'd be abandoning his own plan to catch Shaoqing for one on one conversation. "I was never taught to follow or understand the beliefs of a religion and there is little chance I'll do it on my own as an adult."

"Oh." Shaoqing smiled slightly, appearing relieved. "You are half Chinese, I was told. I thought you were perhaps South Asian."

Sin couldn't help a slight smirk as he took another drag and pushed himself up to sit on the edge of the bridge. Very few people could identify his ethnicity or nationality. "I'm half Chinese and parts Mexican and South American. I was born in Hong Kong but my mother was originally from Shanghai as far as I know which is why I speak Mandarin and hardly any Cantonese."

"Ahh, I see." Shaoqing nodded and continued to stand ramrod straight, his piercings glinting beneath the night sky. "Do you feel at home here in the mainland?"

"I don't feel at home anywhere," Sin replied with a humorless laugh, smoke bursting out of his mouth in a cloud. "I don't belong anywhere. No matter where I am, people make sure I'm aware of that."

Shaoqing's dark eyes finally flicked away and he looked past Sin and at the temple even as he replied. "That is not true for everyone. Some people do not care about things like that."

"Oh please," Sin scoffed, making a face. "Your Dǐ Zhì boys look at me like I'm just another Western outsider. Even if I wasn't from America they'd probably still disregard me as a halfie. As far as I know, Dǐ Zhì is all about the Chinese heritage and roots."

"Well perhaps I wasn't speaking about Dǐ Zhì," Shaoqing said quietly.

Sin raised his eyebrows and flicked the cigarette away. "Who are you speaking about?"

Shaoqing didn't respond directly and he narrowed his eyes at the temple, his thin fingers curling around the stone wall of the bridge. Indecision warred visibly on his face and as Sin watched him closely, he couldn't help thinking that Shaoqing was probably the worst choice for a double agent that anyone could have chosen.

"There are other groups in China that are not as obsessed with national purity," Shaoqing replied carefully after a stretch. "Other groups," he continued, looking up at Sin. "Who do not humiliate their liaisons for fun."

Sin's eyebrows shot up and he tried to adopt a look of surprise but probably failed miserably. In truth, he wasn't shocked at all. Shaoqing hadn't seemed like a Xiaolian fan from the start. "What are you trying to say, Shaoqing?"

Shaoqing grimaced and shook his head slightly. "I am saying merely that there are other groups in China--"

Like China Reform Society, Sin filled in silently. The CRS was the only other organization in China's mainland that had enough skill and power to pose as possible competition to Dǐ Zhì.

"--who may better suit the needs of your Agency. Dǐ Zhì looks at Xiaolian as though she is a deity. They believe she will lead China to greatness but to me, she is like a child with power and does not know how to use it. She holds Dǐ Zhì back. Proof of that," Shaoqing paused to look at Sin pointedly, "is her alienation of such a formidable possible ally."

Sin stared at Shaoqing hard and pushed himself off the bridge. "If I were you," he said coolly. "I wouldn't repeat that to anyone else."

Shaoqing shrugged, although he was beginning to look anxious now that he'd pretty much let the cat out of the bag that he was a CRS spy. "Your partner wants this alliance. He will not listen to me but perhaps, if you think closely, you can convince him to listen to you."

Sin put his hands in the pockets of his jacket and began walking away from the bridge. "We'll see."

He could feel Shaoqing's eyes burning into his back as he left the area and started a meandering and roundabout way back to the base. He knew someone was shading him but he'd grown accustomed to the feeling.

It took thirty minutes of leisurely walking to get to the base and by the time Sin made it through the security checkpoints he found that Boyd had returned from his outing with Xiaolian and a few other Dǐ Zhì operatives. Sin had no idea what they'd been doing, didn't particularly care, and shut the door to their room casually before turning to look at the younger man.

"I had an interesting conversation with our tour guide."

Boyd had been in the middle of doing something with his duffel bag, which he had sitting on his bed. At Sin's comment he glanced over his shoulder and paused before turning around to face Sin. He raised an eyebrow, looking intrigued. "Did you get him to say anything outright?"

"He was recommending an unnamed organization, claiming it may be a better fit with me and the Agency than Dǐ Zhì. It seemed obvious that he's a spy, likely from the China Reform Society."

Boyd didn't look surprised by the information but he did sit down on the side of the bed. He drew his eyebrows down thoughtfully as he watched Sin. "What did you tell him?"

"I didn't tell him anything. I left it open ended, implying I'd think about what he said." Sin shrugged. "We should probably contact the Agency and see if they actually have any interest in an angle like that before going to Xiaolian."

Boyd nodded. "I agree. They may even want us to go that route since we don't seem to be getting anywhere with Xiaolian at the moment, although I doubt it. The Marshal seems very interested in a connection with Dǐ Zhì."

Sin shrugged. "I was thinking more along the lines of do they want us to string him along and bleed information out of him on CRS or just tell Xiaolian and get him killed right away."

"Yeah, but if Xiaolian found out I doubt she would be appreciative is all I meant," Boyd replied. "If it turns out she's at all aware of his duplicity, which is likely, then it's possible it's part of a test. We should contact the Agency tonight. Xiaolian wanted to meet with both of us tomorrow so if we can know which way they would like to proceed, that would be best."

Sin shrugged, uncaring.

It made no difference to him what they did; he would just be glad when the assignment was over. Things were odd enough between him and Boyd without being stuck in the same room together, especially when someone was most likely watching and even possibly listening in. The scanners routinely came up negative for bugs in the room but it was also possible that Xiaolian had access to technology that could evade the scan.

He sat on his bed; legs sprawled out in front of him, and slid his palm computer out of one pocket. Within a few minutes he'd sent off an encoded message to the Agency. "What did she have you doing today?" he asked more out of boredom than curiosity.

"Nothing terribly exciting," Boyd said with a shrug, looking down at his duffel bag again. "I accompanied her on some lower level training she was overseeing but I mostly observed." He dug around in the bag a little more, almost absently. "We visited some areas of the city and she and some of the others were probably testing me on skills or whether I'd give them away in a public setting. She introduced me to a man off Zhujiang Road."

Boyd frowned slightly to himself then zipped the bag up and tossed it to the side of the bed, then looked over at Sin again. "I wish I could understand Mandarin. I know they're saying one thing to me and something else to each other. But I think that's one thing she's testing me on, too; whether I'm savvy enough to function even when I don't know what the hell's going on."

"I wouldn't be surprised. She won't be satisfied until she thinks she knows us inside and out." Sin laid his head against the flat pillow and slid his eyes closed, finding that he actually missed his own bed in his own apartment back at the Agency.

Sin could feel Boyd's gaze on him but at first Boyd didn't reply other than a slightly absent, "Yeah." After a moment, there was the sound of fabric against fabric as it sounded like Boyd shifted on his own bed.

Sin tilted his head to the side, black hair falling over his forehead and shadowing his face as he tried to force himself to relax against the stiff twin bed. His legs were far too long for it and they hung off at the end if he stretched out completely and the mattress felt a lot like a slab of wood beneath his back.

He wondered if he was starting to get spoiled by his comfortable Agency quarters and along with that thought, he couldn't help thinking that Ivan had made a good point months ago when they'd talked about the compound's design and function. If Sin ignored everything else, it would be entirely possible to think of the Agency and the compound as his home just because of how accustomed he was to the relative luxury they provided there.

"I was wondering something," Boyd said after several moments of silence.


There was a pause before Boyd asked, sounding mostly thoughtful although also a hint hesitant, "That night we had the party... Why did that happen in Kassian's pool?"

Sin opened his eyes into slits, peering at Boyd through his long eyelashes. "Why did what happen?" he asked slightly hesitantly.

Boyd quirked an eyebrow briefly as if to say he didn't think he should need to clarify. But then he shook his head, his gaze clouded with confusion more than anything, and his mouth pulled down at the edges in thought. "Why were you coming on to me?"

Sin stared at Boyd, taking in the stray strands of blond hair that had escaped his loose ponytail, his brown eyes that looked golden in the lamplight and the beginnings of a tan on his otherwise pale skin. Sin almost had the automatic reaction of, 'Why not?' but just shrugged one shoulder instead. "I was very emotional at the time. I let it dictate my actions."

Boyd's gaze seemed to intensify as he studied Sin. "Emotional how?"

"After everything that happened, it was difficult not to be. Once again I thought I'd lost control, once again I was locked up on the Fourth, I thought I'd never see you again but then you found a way to get me out of it." Sin sat up partially, looking across the room at Boyd evenly.

Leaning back against the wall that his bed was pushed up against, Boyd simply watched Sin for a long moment. It was hard to tell exactly what he was thinking but his intense gaze tracked across Sin's face and his fingers curled at his sides seemingly absently.

"What does thinking you'd never see me again have to do with coming on to me?" Boyd asked with only the slightest bit of hesitation. "I understand feeling emotionally charged and reacting to anything in front of you but was it only that?"

Sin gestured vaguely, holding Boyd's gaze. "Well, I've never stopped being attracted to you but that should be obvious and we all know how I have a tendency to express myself physically when I don't know how to deal with what's going on in my head."

Boyd's gaze was unreadable but his eyebrows drew down briefly, a faint frown on his lips. After a long moment he nodded and broke eye contact, the questioning hesitation disappearing as he seemed to come to a conclusion.

"Makes sense," Boyd said simply, shifting and pulling his knees in to sit cross-legged. He didn't speak again immediately and seemed content with letting the topic drop.

There was silence between them for a few minutes and Sin idly glanced at his palm computer, running his thumb along the screen as he considered the conversation.

He realized that his response wasn't exactly the entire truth but at this point, he didn't really think it was a good time to tell Boyd that he'd reacted that way in the pool because he still wanted Boyd in every possible way and it was getting more difficult to ignore by the day.

Sin had idly wondered over the past few days if it would really be so bad to make an overt pass at his partner, if it would really be so out of line to ask if he wanted to fuck around. But by now Sin knew himself enough to know that he wasn't really capable of no-strings-attached fucking with Boyd and any attempt at it would likely just end in miserable failure on his own part. This wasn't really the time or place to get into an awkward and messy situation.

Aside from that, he didn't even know if Boyd would agree. He'd stated awhile back that he wouldn't do anything casual with Sin and even though Boyd still seemed attracted to him, Sin had no idea if he'd actually act on it.

Even so, Sin couldn't stop himself from saying idly, "You didn't exactly seem repulsed yourself."

A mildly uncomfortable look crossed Boyd's face and he shrugged but when he met Sin's eyes again, his expression was honest. "I'm still attracted to you, too. And sometimes I guess that comes out whether I intend it to or not."

Sin nodded absently and shifted on the bed, resting his head against the flat pillow again. "If I was more comfortable with casual sex, I'd probably have tried something more in the pool."

Eyebrows twitching down as he studied Sin, Boyd's lips pulled down slightly in contemplation. He dropped his hands to his calves and was silent a moment.

It was unclear what was going through his mind, yet he ultimately shook his head. "I was caught off-guard by your proximity so honestly, I almost did something myself."

Boyd's frown increased briefly and he hesitated, his fingers playing with the folds of his black jeans. When he continued, he spoke a little more carefully, "But I don't... intend to interfere with anything and I don't want meaningless sex to mess anything up. It's just... It's not worth it."

"I agree." The panel beeped quietly and Sin looked at it, thumbing his finger across the touch screen and quickly going over the message. "They said to find out who he works for and whatever we can about the other group before he dies but not to let him impede our relations with Dǐ Zhì."

Boyd nodded and dropped his head back against the wall, watching Sin through half closed eyes. "So I guess that means we do some recon and later tell Xiaolian. Maybe he'll give you more info if you don't seem immediately opposed to the idea."

"Any information I obtain, we can present to Xiaolian in the guise of us digging deeper to verify the truth before telling her."

Nodding again, Boyd closed his eyes completely. "I agree. I can see if I can find any information from other sources as well, although I doubt I'll be as successful because of the language barrier. The Agency has to have some sort of a file on them so I'll check with Owen too."

As it turned out, CRS was a rebel organization not very unlike Dǐ Zhì. They had the same goals, the same desires and the only major difference was the way they wanted to go about accomplishing them.

They were a smaller and younger group, not as ethnocentric as Dǐ Zhì, and were interested in quick results which meant they aligned with foreign organizations in order to gain more power and support. That tendency made them susceptible to Janus, which would likely swallow them up sometime in the near future to gain a foothold in China. It was this same desire for power and insurgent networking that drove them to become interested in the Agency.

It didn't take long for Shaoqing to seek Sin out again. The CRS spy appeared to have severe anxiety issues and by the time he approached Sin the next morning, Shaoqing was practically wringing his hands with worry, likely paranoid that he'd made a mistake.

They walked a few blocks away from the base before Shaoqing spoke. "Did you think about what I said?"

Sin raised a derisive eyebrow as they stopped in front of a small food cart where he pointed out a fig pastry to the man behind it. "How could I? You didn't exactly give me any information other than some alleged group was out there somewhere."

Shaoqing grimaced and likely didn't relish the idea of saying the name of his group out loud so Sin made a face, paid for his pastry and did Shaoqing the favor.

"I assume you're talking about CRS but if you are, I don't really see why you'd want to hook up with us. It's well known that CRS will do business with whoever has the most numbers and the most power and while we're a number one contender for their attention, so is Janus." Sin took a bite of his pastry as they walked down the road.

Shaoqing reached up to idly run a hand lightly over his spiked up blond hair as if checking to see if it was still in place. It seemed like a nervous gesture. "There is nothing in stone with CRS and Janus yet," he said evenly. "If you ally with us, there would be no need. America and Janus both want to end the corruption here."

"They also want to take over the American administration," Sin added dryly.

"Well yes, but that was never our interest," Shaoqing quickly replied, shooting him a worried look. "Their separate goals are their own business. An alliance with the Americans would be preferred by us. We know that your Agency would not suck us in to your other troubles. Janus would."

Sin nodded, appearing to mull this over although he was canceling out the idea of any such union.

He was glad that they'd kept any overt talk of a joint attack on Janus out of discussions until now. If Shaoqing had found that out, he'd likely have never made the offer. CRS seemed content to use bigger organizations for their own political battles without reciprocating. A union with them would be pointless since the entire point of collaboration was to get an ally in Asia that would be strong enough to feasibly help in the war against Janus.

The good news at least was that CRS and Janus hadn't officially gotten into talks yet. If Xiaolian played nice, Dǐ Zhì and the Agency could join together and wipe CRS off the map which would ruin any notions of Janus gaining a foothold in the mainland any time in the next few years.

"Have you always been a spy?" he asked abruptly, looking at Shaoqing inquisitively. "I was under the impression you'd been in Dǐ Zhì for some time."

Shaoqing shrugged his thin shoulders as he checked his watch. He knew Sin and Boyd were meant to meet Xiaolian as soon as she arrived at the base that morning. "Not always. In the beginning I was as passionate for Dǐ Zhì as the others. But Xiaolian is single-minded, she does not listen to others and she has isolated us from the world. I became a part of Dǐ Zhì to see change and I do not believe that in her lifetime, she will accomplish those changes."

Sin stopped himself from making a snide comment, feeling randomly defensive of Xiaolian. It seemed to be a trend among idealistic young rebels to think they had all the answers to change the state of things and to do it more quickly than the people who'd been toiling for years. Change happened slowly-- change that was permanent anyway. Sometimes it took decades for things to change; anyone who paid attention to world history should be aware of that.

"So what exactly do you gain by staying on the inside?" he asked, unable to keep skepticism out of his tone. Shaoqing was so transparent that Xiaolian would have had to be an idiot not to sniff him out months ago. It was unlikely that the man had reported anything of use in a very long time.

"Knowing her next moves and staying one place ahead on the chess board," Shaoqing said confidently and possibly even smugly. "But my time here is drawing short."

Sin almost wanted to ask where exactly he was returning to but he highly doubted that Shaoqing would say. "Then I'll be talking to my partner as soon as possible," Sin said with a grim half-smile that was likely nowhere near as reassuring as he'd meant it to be.

As they returned to the base, Sin couldn't help thinking about Gregory Wick, the last foolishly trusting person he'd betrayed on a mission.

Xiaolian was standing in their bedroom when Sin returned. Bo-Qin and two bodyguards accompanied her.

For a moment Sin had the fleeting thought that something serious was going on and tension spread through him until Xiaolian turned in his direction and graced him with her customary sideways smirk.

"So I'm allowed to come on today's field trip?" Sin asked dryly, crossing his arms over his chest and looking from Bo-Qin to Xiaolian to Boyd. His eyes lingered for a moment on Boyd's face and he nodded discreetly after catching the blond's eye.

Sin was aware of Bo-Qin carefully watching him and Boyd's interaction but it didn't concern him. Ever since the whole gay confession the man stared at them with increasing intensity as if he was wondering if they would suddenly start mauling each other while whistling show tunes.

"Yes," Xiaolian replied. "This one is more educational."

Sin glanced at Boyd again.

Boyd met Sin's gaze in passing before he focused on Xiaolian. "There's something we wanted to tell you first." He glanced at the guards briefly then tilted his head. "And you probably wouldn't want them here for it."

Xiaolian gave him a considering look and Bo-Qin's eyes narrowed with suspicion. The guards glanced at Xiaolian and she raised one eyebrow in a silent dismissal. They trooped out of the room without delay, shutting the door behind them.


"Shaoqing is a spy for China Reform Society," Boyd said bluntly and without delay.

Bo-Qin's eyes nearly popped out of his head and he spluttered something in Mandarin before shaking his head as if in denial, outrage clear across his features either at the idea of such a betrayal or because he didn't believe the claim.

Xiaolian, however, just gave a demure shrug. "And how long did it take him to try to lure you to his side?"

"He overtly tried to recruit Hsin yesterday," Boyd replied, glancing toward Sin. "But there were signs before then. We just wanted to be certain first."

Bo-Qin put his hand on Xiaolian's shoulder and once again began talking in low, curt tones in Mandarin, demanding if this was true, how long she'd known, why she hadn't told him.

"Because not everything must be shared," she replied evenly in English, narrowing her eyes at her spouse and pulling her shoulder away in a movement that was firm and subtle at the same time. "I had my suspicions of Shaoqing for some time but it was only that, suspicions. His mannerisms changed but he was very careful in every other regard and I never confirmed it."

"You should have told me," Bo-Qin repeated coldly, still speaking in his native tongue. He stared hard at his wife for a long, charged moment before looking away.

Sin arched an eyebrow at Xiaolian. "I think you hurt his feelings."

"You, shut up," she barked at him and gave him a dark look. For a moment, the Xiaolian that inspired devotion and fear in the hundreds of Dǐ Zhì agents was right in front of them and not the joking sarcastic woman who had strung them along for a week.

Sin raised his eyebrows appreciatively. "Are you done playing games now?"

She just stared at him with the same expression before relaxing and crossing her arms over her chest. "What else did the two of you learn?"

"Since the beginning, Shaoqing seemed especially interested in your history with Hsin and whether Hsin would be able to beat you in a fight, which was likely because he wanted a strong ally but it's possible there's something more to it." Boyd shook his head slightly. "Regardless, he ended up approaching Sin mostly, especially when I wasn't around." He looked over at Sin.

Bo-Qin glared at Sin as if the entire situation was his fault.

Sin smirked at him. "He defected long before I came along. He apparently became disillusioned with Dǐ Zhì's ethnocentrism. The CRS apparently branches out more in their recruitment and likes to pick up stronger allies."

"Like Janus," Xiaolian said coldly, displeasure crossing her face. Despite the fact that she'd had an idea of Shaoqing's betrayal, the confirmation caused anger to radiate from her voice.

"And us, apparently," Sin said blandly. "He thought he could get me to switch sides. He doesn't know that we're only bothering to waste time with you people because we want you as an ally against Janus in this area of the world. He made it clear that they wouldn't get involved in our or Janus' external issues but was apparently too oblivious to realize that that's what the Agency wants."

"How long ago did he defect?" Bo-Qin demanded; his voice low and furious as his face contorted with unconcealed contempt. "How was he approached?"

Sin shrugged. "Seems like he's been a spy for quite a while but I don't know who reeled him in or how they knew to go for him." He looked at Xiaolian and arched an eyebrow. "You might have other traitors in your gang, for all I know. Or perhaps even a mole that infiltrated for that purpose from the start."

Bo-Qin's head looked like it was about to explode but Xiaolian just gave Sin and then Boyd a cool look. "If that is the case, we will find out."

There was a brief pause and her eyes continued to drift between the two agents before resting on Boyd. "You will detain and interrogate him."

A brief flicker of surprise passed through Boyd's eyes before he nodded; gaze steady on Xiaolian and expression calm. "I can get started on that today if you prefer. Do you have a timeline that you would like answers by?"

"Take as long as is necessary and use any means necessary," she said in the same dark tone. "But you will acquire him now."

Boyd nodded again and stepped back. "Alright."

As Boyd was turning and his head was angled away from Xiaolian and Bo-Qin, he briefly met Sin's gaze. Despite Boyd's calm expression and voice, there was apprehension in his eyes that Sin knew Boyd wouldn't have shown the two Dǐ Zhì agents. But it was gone almost immediately and Boyd looked away as he headed toward the door.

Sin speared Xiaolian with a dark look and followed but there wasn't any time to speak with Boyd before things began occurring one after the other.

Within the next few minutes a group of guards were accompanying he and Boyd to Shaoqing's quarters and the failed spy was in their custody. Sin tried to ignore how the betrayed look Shaoqing shot him actually stung and he was quickly distracted by the fact that Boyd was being forced to become a torturer.

Even though Boyd would put on a strong front and keep it together, Sin had no doubts that it would affect him. Shaoqing was treacherous in Dǐ Zhì's eyes but to Sin, he hadn't really done anything more than agree to a stupid plot because his loyalty had switched. It wasn't something Sin thought anyone deserved to die for; it wasn't something that Boyd should have to torture and potentially kill someone in cold blood for.

None of it seemed worth it and Sin grew resentful of Xiaolian and Bo-Qin as the hours passed.

Sin found himself pacing the small sitting area outside the room he and Boyd shared. He felt more than a little restless as anxiety gnawed at him and he wished not for the first time that they'd told him to do it.

He pictured Boyd down in the basement, using tools and devices on Shaoqing, putting on his cold, unreadable mask and behaving like Shane.

The picture was disturbing not only because Boyd had to endure it but because Sin feared deep down that at some point in Boyd's career, he would become accustomed to cruelty.

"You are worried for your friend."

Sin looked over and scowled at Bo-Qin. "Am I?"

Bo-Qin walked further into the area and out of the doorway, leaning against the wall and crossing his arms over his chest as he studied Sin. "I believe it is so."

"Why didn't she have me do it?" Sin demanded instead of addressing the comment but even as the question left his mouth, he knew the answer. Xiaolian would have expected Boyd to have a harder time with it; she didn't know him very well and judging by his appearance alone, even after a few years of being an agent he still looked very young and people always underestimated that.

"It would not have bothered you?" Bo-Qin asked, eyes narrowing as if he were analyzing everything Sin said and thought.

"That's irrelevant. I've done worse in my time," Sin replied acidly.

Bo-Qin seemed to consider that and shrugged after a moment as if dismissing the topic but he continued to survey Sin. "You do not seem like a homosexual."

Sin stared at him.

"Your partner does," Bo-Qin continued neutrally but Sin detected definite remnants of curiosity in the other man's tone. "I do not understand why men do such things."

Growing irritated by the pointless discussion, Sin sneered. "Maybe you should try it sometime and then decide. You might enjoy having your cock stuffed in a tight ass."

Bo-Qin's thoughtful expression slid into a dark glare and he turned away, leaving the room as abruptly as he'd entered.

Sin glared after him for a moment before sitting down on one of the worn sofas and tried to rid himself of the tension that was filling him. It didn't work and after awhile he went into their shared room and looked around wearily.

The entire situation aggravated him to an extent that was nearly surprising, especially because part of it had to do with guilt toward Shaoqing. He was young, idealistic and obviously in over his head. Xiaolian had likely suspected him for a while and any headway Shaoqing had believed he was making in his mission had been false. He was an inexperienced soldier and an even worse spy and likely only being used by CRS to gather any scraps of information he could find before being discarded.

If there was one thing Sin had learned after years of dealing with insurgent groups, they considered loyalty to be one of the most important aspects of a soldier and he highly doubted a group like CRS would ever seriously consider taking in a turncoat. Once a traitor, always a traitor, and Shaoqing was obviously prone to flip-flopping.

Sin felt bad for the poor idiot but he supposed that the saving grace for the entire situation was that it was very unlikely that Shaoqing would last too long under interrogation. He'd spilled his entire treacherous history with Sin after one brief conversation.

The day turned into night and the hours dragged by painfully slowly.

Sin lay on his bed and stared at the ceiling, wondering when Boyd would return. He knew that Boyd would never leave until Shaoqing released something of use; one of the first things the Agency taught in torture training was that prisoners would crack faster if their interrogation was relentless, without giving them the opportunity to regain strength and regroup mentally to withstand another bout of torture.

As selfish and heartless as it was, Sin also found himself wondering if the entire situation would change Boyd's demeanor. He wondered if their brief and nearly accidental flirtations would come to an abrupt end.

Frustrated and irritated with his own preoccupation, Sin got out of bed and began doing push ups. He worked out until his body grew weary and sore and when he stopped he realized over two hours had passed.

The morning sun was already lightening the sky and Sin scowled, mentally willing Shaoqing to just cut the shit and give up what he knew. It was inevitable anyway, as far as Sin was concerned.

This was proven a few hours later when Boyd emerged from the depths of the basement. He went straight to Xiaolian, who notified Sin and Bo-Qin. By the time Sin got up to the top floor and into a side room, Boyd was sitting in a chair looking tired and strained, his expression studiously blank although Sin could see the disquiet in his golden brown eyes.

Xiaolian seemed oblivious to this fact and a smug smile curved across her lips as she looked at her husband.

"The boy succeeded so far. We know where their main base is located."

Bo-Qin's eyes narrowed and he stepped forward. "Does the information check out?" he demanded in Mandarin.

Xiaolian's smile turned cold, her teeth bared. "I believe it is the truth but it is currently being examined. I would like you to monitor the progress, ensure that it is done quickly. I want this cleaned up soon."

Bo-Qin stared at her for a moment before giving a curt nod and striding out of the room.

Xiaolian stared at Boyd and Sin for a brief moment before turning her back to them and picking up her phone. Apparently she was done talking to them for now.

Boyd stood and for the second time in two days, Sin followed him out of Xiaolian's small office. He shadowed the younger man quietly down the stairs and shut the door gently when Boyd entered their room ahead of him.

As soon as they were alone, the stubborn surety of Boyd's body language faded; his shoulders slumped and his fingers twitched, his head tilted toward the floor and even if he'd been turned toward Sin, his blond hair would have hidden his features. He hesitated, glancing around almost distractedly, and ended up heading across the room.

He didn't even bother taking his shoes off before he crawled into his bed, yanking the sheets and blankets up over his shoulder as he curled on his side facing the wall. Golden blond hair fell messily against the pillow behind him and it was only when Boyd shifted that Sin could see blood staining the ends of his hair in one area.

Boyd didn't speak or move although he seemed to be breathing unevenly judging by the muffled sound of his breath and the rise and fall of the blankets.

Sin watched him for a moment before walking closer. He stood at the side of the bed and frowned slightly before crouching down and resting a hand on Boyd's shoulder. "Are you okay?"

Sin could feel the tension in Boyd's shoulder but Boyd didn't pull away; at Sin's touch, a shiver went through him even as he let out a shaky breath. "Yeah."

His voice was heavier and thicker than usual and after a second, he turned onto his back and looked over at Sin. His eyes were dark and reddened, seemingly from lack of sleep more than anything else. Yet as he met Sin's gaze there was no question that he was upset.

"I--" Boyd stopped and his eyebrows twitched, the disquiet in his eyes intensifying. He shook his head, the faintest of movement against the pillow beneath him. "I just really don't like this part of the job."

Sin lifted his hand and smoothed hair back from Boyd's face, his fingers damp when he pulled them away. "I'm sorry," he said quietly, not really knowing what else to say. Being comforting wasn't Sin's strong suit. He could never find the right words, the right gestures, even though seeing Boyd so distraught made his eyes narrow with concern and anger.

At the moment he wanted nothing more than to drag Xiaolian into a fucking torture room for a few hours.

Boyd's eyebrows drew together and he let out a shaky breath, his hair shifting as he shook his head again. After a moment he abruptly covered his face with his hands, his fingers digging into his skin.

"It's my fault," Boyd said, voice strained and muffled. "I shouldn't-- I shouldn't care about this; I should be stronger..."

"That's stupid," Sin said bluntly, eyes narrowing as he stared at his former lover. "I've met many of the Agency's torturers. They're all like Shane. Cold, empty, completely lacking of empathy. Sociopaths. That's not strength."

Boyd let out a half laugh that was completely humorless. "It is to the Agency."

"Why do you care so much about what the Agency wants you to be?" Sin demanded, frustration clear in his voice. He dropped his hand entirely and stared hard at Boyd. "Are you really getting that sucked into their world?"

"No." Boyd dropped his hands, his wet eyes red-rimmed and somber as he looked at Sin. He pushed himself up finally, untangling himself from the sheets and swinging his legs over the side of the bed. He leaned forward, fingers curled around the edge of the mattress, shoulders slightly slumped.

He looked down at the floor, his hair partially falling forward to cover his face as he continued soberly, "But I can't screw up; she's not protecting me anymore and she'll have me killed or worse. She--" He flicked his gaze toward Sin almost guiltily. "I think she almost terminated me already for," he shrugged a little uncomfortably. "For everything. And Bridget told me my failure rate is well above what they usually terminate agents for and that they're stricter, so..."

He looked up at Sin fully, his eyes less openly distraught even though he still didn't seem his usual self. There was a strong sense of uncertainty in him that Sin wasn't accustomed to seeing. "There's nothing special about me to keep me around if my worth is questioned. If I'm not a good enough agent in their eyes, if they still see only my flaws, then once the shift happens I'm dead."

"Well you haven't failed at anything here," Sin said evenly, unable to stop from once again reaching out to brush hair out of Boyd's face so that he could see it entirely. "You're doing what you have to do. The way you feel about it has nothing to do with the Agency. Your feelings and thoughts are your own and fuck them if they think they can control them."

He sat back slightly, eyes narrowed. The recurring fear he'd had for months ran through him again; that Boyd was changing to suit the Agency, to become their idea of a model agent.

It would be so easy for Boyd to go back to blocking off his emotions. He was accustomed to it after years of living that way and Sin had no doubts that if Boyd put his mind to it, he could become the unaffected killer that the Agency would want him to be. And even if he didn't do it out of the desire to please them, he could do it out of fear and that was even more dangerous.

"Don't let them turn you into something you're not, Boyd. I've been on the chopping block for years and even though I follow orders, I've never changed who I am."

"I won't," Boyd said thickly as his eyebrows twitched down. Faint determination passed through his face even though his shoulders were still slumped. "I don't want to become someone else; I'd rather be terminated than become Shane. It's just..."

He dropped his gaze to the floor and he crossed his arms loosely at his stomach. He shook his head, his tone becoming troubled. "Even if I follow their orders, if I keep feeling this way and can't do anything about it because they're watching me especially for that, then eventually something has to give. I've always dealt with it before by acting on it or cutting my emotions off. And I'm afraid this'll force me to think that not feeling anything in the first place is the only way to keep going. And--"

He looked up at Sin and seemed at a loss. "I know you hate your job but somehow you keep going and even if you rescue civilians, you don't end up fucking up the mission. I don't know what to do-- I don't know if I can handle feeling like this indefinitely."

Sin shook his head, his face drawn as he shrugged helplessly. "I don't know what to say. I know I've told you not to interfere with something to do with me if it means your own death but I also know how hypocritical it is for me to say that because I'd never stand aside while your life is in danger. Some things matter more than the mission, even if it's a risk, even if it puts me on the list for termination."

He frowned slightly, trying to find the right words and struggling. "Despite everything I've done and what everyone has said about me, I've realized lately that somehow I've stayed more human inside than a lot of other people on the compound and I won't compromise that for anyone when it comes to fighting for something I believe is right. I know you're the same way and that's why--"

Boyd was silent, waiting for Sin to continue. When he didn't, Boyd drew his eyebrows down, searching Sin's eyes as if he could find the answer to all his dilemmas there. "That's why what?"

Sin faltered, inwardly cursing himself for being ridiculous enough to nearly blurt out a very awkwardly timed confession of affection to his partner. When had he gotten so soft and mushy?

"That's why I think you should pick your battles carefully," he finished after a brief pause. "It's hard to choose. It was hard for me to kill McCall while I chose to save that girl in Canada. Sometimes I don't even know what the deciding factor was-- maybe because she really was a complete innocent or maybe because I felt especially strong about it at that moment. But whatever the case-- half of it is enduring and doing what you have to do and deciding when it's important enough for you to take a chance."

Boyd studied Sin closely, seeming as though he was running the words over in his mind. His eyebrows drew down and after a moment he nodded, some of the tension releasing from his shoulders even as the vulnerability started to fade from his expression.

"I think I can do that," Boyd said mostly to himself, sounding grateful and almost relieved.

Sin stood up and put distance between the two of them, no longer able to handle being so close to Boyd without being able to physically comfort him. "All we can do is try."

Boyd nodded and was silent at first. After a moment, he drew in a deep breath and rubbed at his face briefly, then pushed his hair back and exhaled slowly. He stood as well, looking at Sin in distraction. "I think I should go down there again."

Sin nodded, watching him. "Do what you have to do."

Boyd nodded again and slid his gaze away, eyes narrowing and already becoming distant as he seemed to be preparing himself.

He turned toward the door and by the time he left the room, his expression was so calm and unreadable that there was no indication he'd ever been upset.

Continue to A Matter of Time: Part IV