A Matter of Time: Part V

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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 V

Interlude 3.18

Uploaded on 9/12/2009

Even after Boyd had settled in the main room, hours passed before Bo-Qin arrived. Boyd had pulled out his palm computer and was passing the time with it when he finally heard the door open and he looked up to see Bo-Qin walking in. The potential Dǐ Zhì traitor didn't look particularly tired despite the early hour.

Pausing with his thumb on the touch screen, Boyd lowered the palm computer toward his lap and nodded in casual greeting to Bo-Qin. "Hey."

"What are you doing here at this time?" Bo-Qin asked with a frown.

Boyd made a face and tilted his head toward the closed door to his shared room. "I couldn't sleep so I thought playing mindless games might bore me enough to get tired." He gestured with the handheld computer.

"You could have finished your work instead," Bo-Qin replied flatly, standing by the door and not moving closer.

"I probably should have," Boyd agreed, a frown crossing his face. He set the computer in his lap and leaned back against the wall he was sitting against. "But I still have a few hours of work and I didn't want to risk waking myself up further. Plus, technically I'm supposed to be guarded and it seemed like a waste of the guards' time at night, when I would think they would want to worry more about escapes or attacks."

"Perhaps," Bo-Qin said gruffly, finally coming into the area and absently rolling his sleeves up both sinewy forearms as his eyes swept the room.

Boyd watched him a moment and then pulled his legs in, resting his arms casually on his knees. "How did the reports go?"

"Acceptable," Bo-Qin replied in the same tone as he moved further into the room, black eyes moving between the two shut doorways that led to what should have been the officer's quarters of CRS before he approached one of the small metal desks instead.

Boyd nodded and then said idly, "The men have seemed especially attentive this week. I'm sure they want to impress Xiaolian with the progress."

"I'm sure," Bo-Qin said in his typically clipped way but his eyes narrowed slightly as he sat down at the desk and pulled a portable computer from the bag he'd been carrying. He spent a couple of moments hooking the two computers up together before he began typing.

Despite the long day, he showed no signs of fatigue or interest in discontinuing his task.

Boyd was silent at first, casually returning his gaze to his palm computer as he flipped through a few screens. "That reminds me," he said, looking up again as he spoke. "Would you like my report on the computers now and the bunker report tomorrow? Or would you prefer if I provided them to you as one cohesive report?"

"Have them both ready before I leave tomorrow."

"Alright. When will you be gone by?"

Bo-Qin didn't look up. "I am unsure as of now."

"I should be done by one at the latest tomorrow regardless," Boyd replied. "I hope that's okay."

Bo-Qin didn't respond and Boyd stretched his legs out in front of him, watching Bo-Qin and trying to determine what he could say to get Bo-Qin to engage in conversation long enough to get anywhere.

"Do you know if Xiaolian plans to stop by again?"

A muscle visibly ticked in Bo-Qin's cheek but his typing did not slow. It was the second time he'd had a reaction to her name and it made Boyd wonder if she was still railing against her husband for Shaoqing's early execution.

"I think she is taking this time to conduct business within Hong Kong. As you know, there are Dǐ Zhì operations here and it is not always necessary for me to accompany her while she is attending to them."

"Xiaolian said you're really worried about her sometimes," Boyd said, setting the palm computer down next to him on the floor and tilting his head slightly. "Is it safe for her to go alone?"

Bo-Qin's dark eyes rose from the computer and he stared at Boyd for a long moment before giving a very decisive, "No. It is not. But despite the near life threatening injuries my wife has sustained through the years, she has not realized yet that she is quite mortal."

Boyd nodded and drew his eyebrows down. "Did she ignore your recommendation for guards like she's done back at the base?"

"I am unsure of that but I gave orders for them to not leave her unattended especially now that potentially hostile forces may be flooding the city when the news of CRS collapse gets out," he replied flatly.

Boyd nodded again. "It's very possible. I would order the same were I you." He shifted and pulled some hair behind his ear, a faint frown crossing his face. His tone was nonjudgmental, more an observation than anything, when he continued. "It must be frustrating the times she does go against them when you only have her best interest in mind."

"It is frustrating any time a relative ignores advice," Bo-Qin agreed without looking up. "She at least will be taking a small convoy with her on her brief return trip to Luoyang tomorrow. I was surprised that she permitted that much. I am well aware that Xiaolian is a master of her own destiny and will not allow even a loved one to control her decisions."

"Has she been like that the whole time you've known her?" Boyd asked curiously.

"Yes. She has always been very independent. When her father was killed, she became even more so."

"Considering how independent she is, I'm a little surprised she got married," Boyd said, watching Bo-Qin thoughtfully.

Bo-Qin looked at Boyd in consideration. "I appreciate your honesty about that and I admit that I was also surprised. She did not agree right away, however. It took time for her to adjust to the idea and I am still unsure if she has fully accepted it years later."

"How did you two meet?" Boyd asked.

"I was a young student," Bi replied with a contemplative frown, as if mentally going back to that time. There was a shift in his demeanor as Boyd inquired more about him as a person instead of him as a soldier of Dǐ Zhì. If he was indeed a traitor it made sense since someone was showing interest in him specifically when he was typically surrounded by people who only saw him as a tool of an organization he wasn't truly a part of.

"I was disillusioned of our government and I met Xiaolian at a rally. My family disappeared at this same rally when the police force began to make arrests. I never spoke to them again and Xiaolian supported me. We became close and I joined her father's organization. He approved of my dedication but not our love for each other."

"Why not?" Boyd asked, actually finding himself mildly intrigued. Even not taking into account Bo-Qin being a traitor, the interaction between Xiaolian and Bo-Qin was interesting to him and it made him wonder what their story was.

"He did not have a son and so he raised Xiaolian as if she were his son. He did not approve of her having romances and thought a connection or marriage would weaken her position and authority if she were to take control."

Boyd drew his legs in to sit cross-legged, his wrists resting on his knees and a faint frown crossing his face. It was unsurprising that Xiaolian, being a woman, had been held to higher standards.

If she'd been a man, being married probably wouldn't be as big of a deal as a woman, because no doubt some people would think she was influenced by her husband. Not to mention the possibility of pregnancy, which would probably compromise her in their eyes. It made Boyd wonder briefly what it would have been like if Ton had stayed.

"How did you two manage to stay together, then?"

"Her father died," Bo-Qin replied bluntly.

Boyd nodded. "So you proposed to her sometime after that?"

Bo-Qin stared at him for a moment before responding. "Why are you interested in these details?"

"I'm just curious." Boyd shrugged, dropping his head back against the wall and watching Bo-Qin with a seemingly open expression, doing his best to make it seem like he wasn't hiding anything. The fact that there was some truth to his words helped. "I've been around all of you for almost a month now and I realized I don't know much about either of you. And while Hsin's or my sex life is apparently open for discussion, I didn't even know much at all about anything to do with your marriage. Xiaolian's independence combined with your protective concern is intriguing so it just made me wonder how you got together."

Bo-Qin looked at him for a long moment before sitting back in the chair and threading his fingers together. "If you are very interested, to be blunt, her interest was merely sexual gratification at first but we grew close after the death of her father and that is when we decided to marry."

Boyd considered Bo-Qin for a moment. "If you don't mind me asking, did you love her? Or was it similar reasons for you?"

"My feelings for her have always been the same," Bo-Qin replied tonelessly, although he gave Boyd a long, considering look. "Why are you so intrigued by relationships and love? It is as though I am talking to a school girl."

Boyd chuckled and he shook his head. "No real reason," he said offhandedly. "Maybe I just find long-term relationships to be interesting because I've never been in one or seen one that works well without getting fucked up in the end. Sometimes it seems like people are incapable of normal relationships anymore."

In truth, he was curious about Bo-Qin's feelings for Xiaolian and why he would potentially be willing to betray her. Because of that, Bo-Qin's answer was interesting in that he didn't actually express any affection for her.

There was a brief stretch of silence before Bo-Qin briefly looked away. His tone was overly casual when he asked, "And what is your arrangement with Hsin?"

Boyd shrugged. He was pleased to see Bo-Qin show some interest because that could help lead into the implication later, and he doubted Sin would care if their past relationship was used as a segue. "We were sleeping together for several months about a year ago."

"I see." Another pause. "Why did it cease?"

Boyd made a face even though Bo-Qin wasn't looking. "Shit happened, like it always does. We had a fall out and we basically decided to end it because it was too distracting."

"That does not sound like you were merely sleeping together," Bo-Qin observed as he looked over at Boyd again out of the corner of his eye.

"I had a thing for him for a bit," Boyd agreed with a one-shouldered shrug. "It went away with time."

"He does not seem gay to me."

"He's not," Boyd said in idle agreement. "He's mostly interested in women, although sometimes he gets with men. We fucked around mostly because we were around each other so much and I'm gay, so it was a natural step for me."

Bo-Qin looked up from his calm appraisal of whatever he was working on and stared at Boyd outright this time. "That does not seem natural to me at all."

Boyd shrugged. "It is for me," he said honestly. "I'm not attracted to women and have no desire to force myself to be with them. I didn't think about what I was for a long time, even though I'd only been with another man, but in the last few years I realized I like men and that's it."

"I see."

Bo-Qin did not say more and Boyd let a pause briefly fall between them. "Does it bother you that I'm gay?"

"No. I am just unfamiliar with such a bold attitude on the subject."

Boyd made a thoughtful noise deep in his throat. "I imagine groups like yours are pretty similar to where I work. Not many people are openly gay so there aren't a lot of people who will talk about it."

"Or maybe many people are simply not gay," Bo-Qin replied with a frown, focusing his attention solely on Boyd. "It is not so normal as you make it sound."

"Well, I would agree that most people aren't gay," Boyd said easily. "I just meant that of the ones who are, some may not be comfortable being open about it. I know several gay men where I work, some of whom are very adept at keeping it hidden. So there may be more than you think even in Dǐ Zhì."

"Maybe," Bo-Qin said shortly, looking back down at his computer studiously as his eyebrows drew together. He looked agitated by the direction the conversation was going, his face appearing slightly flushed, but when he spoke again his tone was sarcastic. "What concern is it of yours even if there were? Is your sexual drive so strong that you seek lovers on extended missions?"

"Sure, I'd take a lover on a long mission," Boyd replied casually with a shrug. "Why not?"

Bo-Qin shrugged stiffly, although he said, "I suppose there is nothing to stop you."

"That's the way I figure it," Boyd agreed mildly, then grabbed his palm computer off the floor and flipped between screens, although he discreetly kept Bo-Qin in his peripheral vision. He paused as if a thought had just occurred to him, then continued idly, "Actually, come to think of it, I think one of the prisoners is gay. Not that I plan to go after him, of course. But did you meet Li Jiang?"

Bo-Qin continued to stare pointedly at the screen although it was becoming clear that he couldn't concentrate by the way his gaze kept flicking back to Boyd, black eyes observing him carefully. He answered very belatedly. "No."

"Oh. Well, he is."

Boyd was quiet a moment as he played hangman on the screen, choosing letters and watching the word spread across the right side while a little stick figure was drawn a body part at a time when he guessed incorrectly. He continued to pay close attention to Bo-Qin but pretended he wasn't. He tilted his head subtly so his hair would fall forward, giving him the chance to pull it back again, pursing his lips faintly in the process as if he was thinking hard for the game or mildly exasperated by how his hair continued to fall into his eyes.

"From what I can tell of the records and Hsin's notes, he seems like he's pretty well-connected here," he continued in a slightly absent tone without looking up. "He was probably on his way to captain position in the next year or so."

Bo-Qin didn't say anything and didn't even seem to be really paying attention to the words now that they'd turned back to the topics of Dǐ Zhì and CRS. His eyebrows were drawn together and he had a distracted frown on his face as he glared at the screen of his computer.

"But I think of all of them, Zhang Longwei was next in line," Boyd said, watching the game reset when he correctly guessed the word.

Bo-Qin grew very still and his fingers froze over the keyboard.

His face remained down turned, although his eyes rose to stare directly at Boyd for a very long moment before he shifted and schooled his expression back into forced neutrality. But it didn't work entirely because irritation shone in his onyx-colored eyes. Boyd didn't know if the other man was angry that the name had been mentioned at all or about the fact that Bo-Qin had allowed himself to become distracted enough to have such a genuine response to it.

"He is here?" he asked after a moment, his words stilted. "I mean, I did not know we had captured such high-ranking members."

"Yeah," Boyd replied off-handedly, choosing a letter for the next game and then finally flicking his eyes up to Bo-Qin. He rose his eyebrows slightly, his expression mild as he acted as though he hadn't noticed the oddity. "I guess we have a few but he's the highest."

Bo-Qin nodded sharply, the distracted expression completely gone from his face now and replaced with careful indifference. "I see."

It almost seemed as though Bo-Qin wanted to say something more and his jaw twitched oddly as though he were physically forcing himself not to speak. After a moment he began unhooking the computers.

Boyd paused, his thumb hovering over the keyboard on the touch screen. He tilted his head, his honey brown gaze idly running over Bo-Qin's movements before rising to his face. "Going to sleep?"

"Yes." Bo-Qin picked up his bag and computer and then stared hard at Boyd for a long moment before turning resolutely to disappear into the empty room. The room that had once belonged to Zhang Longwei.

Boyd watched Bo-Qin leave and waited until a few moments after the door shut behind the other man before he silently turned his palm computer off and left the building.

For the second time that night he walked into the main building where Sin had been spending the majority of the week interrogating and compiling interviews. When he didn't find Sin in the office, he headed toward the main interrogation room and found Ton standing at attention outside. He paused near Ton and then glanced toward the closed door.

"Hey Jimmy," Boyd greeted Ton calmly. "Is Hsin in there?"

"Yes. I think he's almost done," Ton replied, jerking his head towards the door. He had his customary dark sunglasses on despite the fact that he was in a relatively dimly lit hallway.

Boyd nodded. "How long has he been in there?"

"Maybe half an hour. He's pretty quick about getting through them. It's impressive," Ton noted. Despite the fact that it was a compliment, his voice was typically bland.

The comment made Boyd automatically glance at the small window in the door but from his angle, he didn't see Sin.

He couldn't help wondering how often Sin had interrogated people in the past to be that efficient. He didn't remember Sin mentioning having had to do so; it was almost strange to think about because Sin didn't often interact directly with the people they had to deal with on assignments.

It had taken hours for Boyd to get past the initial bout of semi-useful information and move on to the first major piece from Shaoqing, which wasn't really a fair comparison to what Sin was doing since he mostly needed to assess the prisoners for usefulness and background. Even so, the speed with which he could do that was impressive and just showed that, once again, there was something that Sin could excel at to the point of making everyone around him seem slow.

In the past, the consistency of Sin outperforming everyone sometimes made Boyd feel resentful, because a job that would exceed standards around anyone else could seem incompetent next to Sin, but in this case he felt a strange sense of intrigue and almost pride in his partner. Not because Sin was excelling as an interrogator but rather because Sin was just that good at everything he did.

He looked over at Ton again. "How many does he have left; do you know?"

"Maybe less than a dozen."

Boyd nodded and leaned against the wall, crossing his arms loosely as he waited. "I guess I'll keep you company until he comes out, then."

"I'm sure it'll be exhilarating for you."

An amused smile pulled at Boyd's lips. "I'm sure I'll find plenty of ways to entertain myself if you fail to deliver."

"I'll definitely fail. Mostly because I won't even try," Ton deadpanned, eyebrows rising slightly over his sunglasses.

"Oh, I'm sure I can thwart you with that," Boyd returned mildly, his smile turning into a smirk. "Maybe I'll entertain myself by staring at you looking for minute changes. You'll have to succeed, then; if you do nothing, I win, and if you do something, I win. I don't know about you, but I like those odds."

Ton shrugged uncaringly although his mouth quirked.

There was a beat of silence before Boyd tilted his head toward the dim hallway. "What's with those dark sunglasses all the time, by the way?"

"They look cool," Ton said, matter of fact.

Boyd stared at Ton for a portion of a second, maybe waiting to see if it was a joke. But it quickly became apparent Ton was serious, and Boyd burst out laughing. "That's your only reason?"

Ton shrugged calmly although a definite smirk ghosted around his mouth. "Yes. What did you think my reasoning was?"

"I don't know," Boyd said, grinning and still chuckling as he shook his head. "Something deeper or more practical. I didn't peg you as a fashionista."

The door to the interview room opened and Sin stepped out just as Ton cracked a full smile. Sin stared at him before looking over at Boyd and making a face. "Fast friends all of a sudden, are we?"

Boyd smiled briefly at Sin and pushed away from the wall, the amusement fading as he became more serious. "I was just waiting for you."

Ton straightened and seemed to sense that the conversation was about to become business again as he studiously looked in the opposite direction.

Sin studied Boyd for a moment before walking a few steps away from Ton as the door to the interview room opened and a tired-looking middle-aged man was led away by another member of Dǐ Zhì.

"What's up?" Sin asked, not looking at the man.

"Have you done Zhang Longwei yet?" Boyd asked quietly so his voice wouldn't carry.

"No, I was hoping to get through all of the lower ranked people first. It would make more of an impression if his entire base is either dead or a turncoat," Sin replied.

Boyd nodded, glancing briefly at Ton before returning to Sin. He spoke in an undertone that only Sin would be able to hear. "When you deal with him, you should interrogate him about Bo-Qin. I think they know each other."

Sin raised his eyebrows slightly. "Do you have anything substantial?"

"He reacted strongly to his name when I mentioned it," Boyd replied, tilting his head. "He didn't do anything overt or say anything specific but it was the first real rise I got out of him."

Sin looked over at Ton and said shortly, "Have them bring in Zhang."

Ton nodded and began issuing orders into his comm unit as Sin turned back to Boyd with an inquiring stare. "How did the rest of it go?"

"Fine," Boyd said with a shrug. He shifted closer to Sin to continue the quiet conversation with Ton's voice in the background down the hallway. "It was difficult to get him engaged in a conversation at first but he became distracted around the time the topic of my sexuality came up."

"Did he seem interested?"

"I think so," Boyd said, narrowing his eyes thoughtfully. "He seemed a little flustered by the end of the conversation."

"I see." Sin stared at him silently for a stretch and during that time, two Dǐ Zhì agents led the man Boyd presumed to be Zhang down the hallway and to the room.

Boyd glanced over and watched Zhang disappear, the door shutting firmly behind him, before he looked at his partner. "Anyway, you were right; I didn't have to do anything. I just implied. I never even came within reaching distance."

Another pause and then Sin said, "Good."

With that, he turned and followed Zhang inside.

Boyd watched Sin disappear into the room. That was the second time Sin had said 'good' in relation to Boyd not intending to have any sexual relations with Bo-Qin but he didn't really know how to interpret it, especially in context of Sin's earlier reply when Boyd had briefly wondered whether something more was going on. It wasn't important at the moment so he dismissed it.

He moved closer to the door and watched through the window from a better angle this time so he could see Sin.

He could only faintly hear voices inside and he couldn't make out anything that was said; all he could discern was tone, and even that was by concentrating on it. He watched as Sin began questioning Zhang Longwei, who at first seemed dead set on remaining silent.

Sin didn't specifically change his mannerisms as far as Boyd could tell, yet somehow it seemed more intense seeing it in terms of an interrogation. It was obvious that Sin was a dangerous man; the power in his frame could be seen without him having to be overt because it was in the way he held himself, in his confidence.

Boyd knew Sin well enough to be able to see when he was making a threat or otherwise being especially serious, and even during those times Sin's faintly-heard voice sounded calm, quiet. He didn't need to bluster or yell; he didn't need to do anything overt. There was no question when looking at him that this was a man who could and would follow through.

As Boyd watched, he couldn't help running his gaze briefly along Sin's strong back, the hard lines of his broad shoulders and the sleekness of his muscles when he moved. When Sin's face was turned to the side and his calm, undeniably dangerous green eyes flicked along Zhang, Boyd was captivated.

As morbid as it was, watching Sin in such a role just reminded Boyd even more of how attracted he was to Sin. He liked the danger of Sin; the knowledge that there was no question he was so powerful that he could do anything he wanted.

Sin's strength was almost understated yet so inherent in him that it made Boyd remember even more what it had been like to be with him; how intense and sometimes nearly out of control it had felt-- How Sin could overwhelm Boyd and spark a passion, a lust within him that he never felt as powerfully as he did with his partner.

It wasn't only a lust for physical pleasure. As much as he missed the incredible sex with Sin, what it ultimately came down to was that in all aspects, Sin had truly made Boyd feel alive in a way he knew no one else would ever be able to match.

Boyd's eyes narrowed and he looked away from the interrogation room, glancing past a straight-faced Ton. Boyd shifted so he could lean against the wall next to the door, crossing his arms and moving his feet out partially in front of him as his gaze rested blankly on the wall across the hallway. His expression settled into calm indifference. He saw no reason to obsess about what he missed about Sin or why. It ultimately served no purpose and was liable to just make it that much more difficult to interact.

He waited patiently for Sin to finish, wondering what exactly was being said in there and how Sin was doing. He felt bad about asking Sin to interrogate this man regarding Bo-Qin, yet from the mostly quiet conversation he could hear occurring he suspected that nothing particularly traumatizing was occurring on Sin's end. Zhang, on the other hand, was likely going to end up so intimidated he would hopefully spill everything.

Nearly an hour passed until the door finally opened and Sin reappeared in the hallway. Boyd pushed himself away from the wall and looked at Sin expectantly.

Sin stared at him, his mouth set and eyes narrowed. "We have a problem."

Boyd dropped his arms to his sides. "What's wrong?"

"Zhang was something of a mentor to Bo-Qin before Bo-Qin was sent off to infiltrate Dǐ Zhì. In the past few hours Bo-Qin visited Zhang and advised him to agree to join with Dǐ Zhì instead of an immediate execution because, as far as Bo-Qin alluded to in the discussion with him, Xiaolian will never be returning to Luoyang. He is planning something in the near future; a takeover of Dǐ Zhì now that he is firmly in place as her husband and second in command."

Boyd's eyebrows rose. He wasn't particularly surprised by the verification that Bo-Qin had something planned but that meant they had to act quickly. "We have to tell her tonight."

Sin nodded shortly and started to turn towards the direction of the exit.

Boyd caught Sin by the forearm, his hand briefly sliding along Sin's bare skin. "Hsin," he said quietly.

Sin paused and looked back at Boyd questioningly.

"Are you okay?" Boyd tilted his head subtly toward the interrogation room, not hiding his mild concern as he met Sin's eyes. "You've been at this for hours and I know some aspects were upsetting to you. You could go back to the room. I can tell her alone..."

Sin gave him a faint smile that quickly ghosted away from his face. "It's better to get this over with and we likely will be making moves very soon against Bo-Qin and whatever other people he has nearby."

Boyd nodded and let his hand drop away. "Okay." He followed Sin as he headed toward the exit.

The space they were led to in Hong Kong was as nondescript as the building that served as the Dǐ Zhì base in Luoyang. Boyd didn't know if the place was an actual base or just an apartment that Xiaolian temporarily inhabited and the escort of Dǐ Zhì agents did not tell them one way or the other.

The apartment was above a store and they took a narrow staircase up before stopping in front of a battered metal doorway. One of the men in their escort knocked briefly on the door, said something in Mandarin and the door opened from the inside.

They were led toward the main room where they saw that Xiaolian was already waiting for them.

She was wearing black cotton pants and a white t-shirt, looking very casual and not at all like a woman who was currently orchestrating the hostile takeover of a rival organization.

"So, my life is in danger?" she asked curiously, not looking very concerned.

"Probably tomorrow," Boyd agreed, crossing his arms and watching her seriously. "We have proof that you're being betrayed."

She raised an eyebrow but some of the nonchalance left her expression as her eyes hardened. "Do you."

Sin pulled a small device out of the pocket of his black jacket and set it on the table in front of Xiaolian. "Listen to it."

She stared at them for an extended stretch of time before leaning forward and turning on the small digital recorder. She picked it up and an image appeared on the small screen; an image of Sin and Zhang.

The next forty-five minutes passed with complete silence between the trio as they listened to the interrogation play out. Boyd watched Xiaolian's face the entire time, taking in the way her eyes narrowed into slits when the initial line of questioning about Bo-Qin began.

They listened to Sin's low deadly voice as he lied to Zhang, informing him that Bo-Qin had been caught in the act of assassination and claiming that Zhang had been implicated in the plot. Zhang responded harshly, informing Sin that he would rather die than tell him anything but after ten minutes of Sin detailing in a cold, empty voice what exactly would be done to Zhang, Zhang's clearly terrified voice began singing the whole tale.

Xiaolian's hands tightened into white-knuckled fists as Zhang informed Sin that Bo-Qin had always been a mole. A CRS source had spotted Xiaolian at the demonstration so many years ago and sent Bo-Qin in to attract her attention, knowing that the Dǐ Zhì heir had a fondness for attractive young activists.

Her nose flared and she sat up straight but when Zhang confessed that it had been Bo-Qin that killed Xiaolian's father, she clutched the panel so hard that Boyd thought it might crack in half. When the interview was complete, her eyes rose and bore into the two of them like bolts of fire.

"I must admit," she said in a dark tone. "I began to have my own suspicions after Shaoqing's untimely execution, although it was faint and at the back of my mind, something I did not truly want to believe. But it seemed odd. Bo-Qin has always been overprotective but to make such an error, he would have had to have been extremely stupid."

Xiaolian stood and turned away, walking calmly to the window and looking out with her eyes narrowed. "But I would have never expected the depth of his treachery."

Boyd was silent a moment and then shook his head. "I'm sorry it turned out this way but we had our own doubts. And when he made comments to me that seemed especially suspicious, we had to follow through."

"Such as?" she asked with an edge, obviously impatient to hear the details.

"He asked me whether Wei Jianli had been at the base at the time of the raid," Boyd explained, watching her closely. "That was a name Shaoqing had given me in connection to CRS, but I hadn't relayed the name to you. And the guard told me no one spoke to Shaoqing before he was executed so there was no way he would know."

Xiaolian turned and stared at Boyd again.

"Between that and the way he'd dealt with Shaoqing, we suspected he was a traitor," Boyd continued frankly. "So I engaged him in conversation later to see if I could get any information from him. He didn't give much away but when he became distracted and I mentioned Zhang's name, intending to try some of the higher-level names to see what he did, he reacted. He went still, then seemed irritated with himself, and tried to cover it by saying he hadn't realized such high-ranking officers were in custody. I suspected they somehow knew each other so I asked Sin to talk to Zhang about Bo-Qin."

Xiaolian's appraising gaze turned to Sin. "Quite the efficient interrogator, Hsin," she said in a clipped voice.

Sin just looked at her and she turned away again, looking out the window again. "Who else have you told?" she asked coldly.

"No one," Boyd replied, glancing briefly toward Sin before returning his gaze to Xiaolian. "We came to you first."

She nodded and crossed her arms loosely over her chest. "Do you understand that this must not get out?"

"Of course," Sin piped up flatly. "If your men found out you've been fucking a mole for over a decade, I don't think they'll be so quick to worship you anymore, would they?"

Once again Xiaolian turned around and stared hard at Sin. He just arched his eyebrows at her with a smirk.

"You will not tell them," she said in a dangerous voice, eyes narrowing.

Sin shrugged. "Maybe we won't. It depends a lot on you, doesn't it?"

Xiaolian looked at Boyd before her eyes slid back to Sin. "Meaning?"

"Meaning you've been stringing us along for weeks and I know you never had any intentions of working with the Agency," Sin replied matter-of-fact.

Boyd looked over at Sin but his expression remained calm despite the fact that he hadn't known Sin was going to say that. He wasn't surprised by Sin's reaction and he also didn't doubt that Sin was right to some extent, so he stayed silent.

"I could have both of you killed now," she responded in the same low, deadly voice.

"And would, in effect, be declaring war on the Agency," Sin replied, unconcerned. "If you could succeed, anyway. Which is doubtful. I could wipe this entire building of your people and likely come out "

Xiaolian didn't seem surprised by the response and she tilted her head in consideration. "We find ourselves in a conundrum, do we not?"

"You do," Sin agreed. "For me, the options are quite clear."

There was another tense silence and once again Xiaolian observed them both. "I will contact your Agency and agree to negotiations, but nothing more for now. You cannot possibly expect me to agree to full cooperation without discussing the terms in detail with your superiors."

"And in return," Sin replied. "We don't inform your men or anyone else that I wasn't the only one to have you blinded."

"It is done," Xiaolian said flatly.

"Good," Boyd said smoothly, raising his eyebrows slightly as he tilted his head. "Then we will alert the Agency to begin transport for us to return home."

She nodded briskly and a flash of relief flitted across her face, likely glad to be rid of them and happy to have the individuals with the knowledge of Bo-Qin's betrayal to be half a world away.

Xiaolian touched the ear unit she wore, her eyes never leaving them.

"Ton," she said quietly. "It seems my husband is a traitor."

There was a brief moment of silence and Xiaolian didn't look away as she said, "I want him executed and disposed of at once."

Continue to the next interlude: 3.19, Executive Decision