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Medley - Part III

Interlude 3.25

Uploaded on 03/17/2010

 Boyd ended up spending a few hours cleaning up the mess he'd left behind earlier, breaking down the rest of the boxes and shoving the packaging into bags which he dragged out to the curb to be collected the next morning.

When that was finished, he set to work rearranging the Journalist Guild articles by date and subject. He hadn't yet determined how he was going to do this. There were twelve editions per year of Journalist Guild and it had been released for twenty-one years; almost his whole life.

From even the few editions he had, he could see that they seemed to vary in size. It wasn't a dramatic change but enough that he noticed it. Taking that into account as well as the fact that the articles themselves varied in length, there was probably anywhere from six to sixteen articles per edition.

He would probably be best off making some sort of database but that seemed like too much work so he decided instead to jot notes down on a notebook, with detailed information about the edition and where he had found the information. He felt more comfortable working on this project with paper copies than anything electronic, which could more easily be tracked by the Agency.

As he arranged the articles by date, he decided it may not be a bad idea to verify whether there was any consistency to the release dates as well. When he pulled up a calendar and started checking, he was somewhat surprised to see that the Journalist Guild magazines were released on the third Saturday of every month. That seemed like a strange release date to choose but maybe the people who worked on it had regular Monday through Friday jobs and found it easiest to work on their side project on the weekends.

He had to admit that the more he skimmed through the articles, the more he liked the Journalist Guild. He appreciated the way they simply told the facts without taking that irritating extra step of trying to force-feed an opinion in addition. It was left up to the reader as to how to interpret what the information meant.

For almost all of the articles, that was. Yet for some reason, the Lou article seemed to be one of the exceptions...

His gaze inevitably slid over to the article and, after a moment, he picked it up. His back was starting to ache from slouching on the edge of the couch so he settled back, drawing his knees up and resting his arms on them as he held the article in front of him and reread.

Local police appear to be covering up a corruption scandal. At 1:13 pm on Wednesday March 23, 2016, city residents Louis Krauszer and Boyd Beaulieu were attacked outside First Bank on Dauphin Street in the Financial District.

Krauszer and Beaulieu, local teenagers, were walking down the street when they were interrupted by five teenage males. Based on research into the incident, it is the belief of the Journalist Guild that the culprits' names are Seth and Thomas Nguyen, Vincent DeMarco, Kenneth Stratford, and Jared Strickland. The five of them appear to be related to a local gang known as 'the Outlaws,' which has claimed responsibility for a number of thefts and attacks in the area...

He drew his eyebrows down, once more skimming the names. He would never have been able to forget the names of those men, yet if it hadn't been for this article he would not have known their full names. He wondered how in the world the Journalist Guild had tracked that down; and why they even cared. From what he'd so far seen, it wasn't unusual for the Journalist Guild to go the extra step to identify as much information as possible.

But it couldn't have been easy figuring out who was there when it was an attack no one witnessed in the first place. Why did it matter to the Journalist Guild who had been there, when the majority of the rest of the article focused on Jared anyway?

The gang members were led by Jared Strickland. Journalist Guild subscribers may recall his name from previous reports in which he was accused of sexually assaulting two women on separate days as they returned home from work. He has also been accused of multiple accounts of assault with a deadly weapon and manslaughter. At least five incidents can be proven to involve him and yet the police have so far chosen not to investigate...

It was unsurprising to Boyd to find that Jared was already on the Journalist Guild's radar, or that they'd realized even back then how many crimes he'd been committing. It made Boyd wonder whether Lou had known that; whether he'd realized just how dangerous the teenager he'd been messing with was. He had to believe Lou hadn't, or else why would he have provoked him earlier?

At the same time, Lou had always been a bit foolhardy and when it came to a fight, he'd never been willing to back down. That may have been what had happened the fateful night that he and Jared had fought and Lou had won.

The night Jared had probably decided that he was going to kill Lou.

Boyd's eyes narrowed and he leaned back further against the couch. Enough time had passed that he didn't get emotionally unbalanced about Lou's murder the way he used to, but it didn't stop him from still feeling regret that it had happened. And he still couldn't help feeling anger toward Jared's reckless disregard for life; the way he'd seemed to revel in others' pain. It felt good to know that eventually, Jared had gotten exactly what he'd deserved.

Despite that, though, it still struck Boyd as a little odd just how far the Journalist Guild had gone for Lou's death. He knew that the Journalist Guild was all about truth and presumably justice, and it sounded from the article as though the writers were displeased with Jared not being held accountable for the crimes he'd committed.

Yet... The Journalist Guild had tracked down the surveillance footage, they'd submitted it to the local police precinct and requested the case be assigned. They'd pressed multiple police contacts about what standard procedure was in a homicide and why hadn't the case been investigated. They kept following up and found out that the surveillance tape had been destroyed, supposedly an error in the inventory room, and after that they'd submitted the information to the statewide gang task force and even the FBI. That had gotten them nowhere as well.

The Journalist Guild had even done research and determined that there were multiple instances where Outlaw-related incidents weren't investigated or charged, while the crimes related to Outlaws' rival gang Westside saw a dramatic increase in assignments and prosecution.

Boyd hadn't yet seen the other articles where Jared had been mentioned, but he had to wonder if that much effort had been placed on the other incidents. He had to wonder why they seemed so upset...

The Journalist Guild will continue to watch the actions of the police department closely, as it has been proven in this most recent horrific event that the men and women who were hired to protect the citizens of this city will look the other way when particular gangs are involved. This is a travesty for the the city at large and an outrage for innocent victims such as Louis Krauszer and Boyd Beaulieu, who cannot trust the police department to do a proper investigation even in a homicide with clear surveillance footage.

The article stated that corruption would only increase if left unchecked but he wondered whether there was something more to it. Whether someone who worked for the Journalist Guild had been a victim of Jared's at some point as well, and something about the incident with Lou stirred up those sentiments.

Or maybe it had something to do with Lou himself. After all, his parents had been influential left-wing politicians who, as far as Boyd's memory served him, had been interested in a lot of the same ideals the Journalist Guild strove for. Maybe they were partially upset that the Krauszers' son had been the victim of such a horrific crime.

It was also possible, he supposed, that they recognized his own name in relation to his dad's and connected that he was the son of a well-liked journalist. But he couldn't be the only child of a journalist who'd run into hard times after the war so that seemed less likely to him unless the Journalist Guild focused the same amount of attention on any family member of any journalist. Doubtful, he thought, and determined it had to be something to do with Lou.

He couldn't help wondering what Lou would say about this all. About the fact that his killers had been identified by a news source within weeks of his death and law enforcement had apparently all but outright refused to get involved.

He wondered what Lou would have done had the roles been reversed. If Boyd had been the one killed, would Lou have not stopped until the killers were found? Would he have been stronger than Boyd in those initial few weeks? What would he have thought about this article?

That led to questions he'd asked himself so many times since Lou's murder: What would he be like now? What would he be doing? If Lou could talk from the grave, would he consider Boyd's relationship with Sin to be a betrayal or would he be happy that Boyd had moved on and started living his life again? What would he think of Boyd being in the Agency?

If Lou hadn't died and Boyd had instead, would it have changed Lou's life? Would he have gotten out of the somewhat sketchy things he'd been doing and straightened out? Or would he have fallen into it further and ended up losing his life later over something equally inane? Or would he be happy and in love with somebody new? Would he be the one wistfully reflecting over the sort of person Boyd may have become?

Boyd shook his head to himself and set the article to the side. Such thoughts did him little good. The what if's didn't really matter when compared to reality.

Regardless of the Journalist Guild's reasons for anything they did, despite even the invasive feel of knowing that one of the worst moments of his life had been dug up and put on display for anyone to read-- in a way, it was nice to know that someone, somewhere had cared. That someone had noticed the senselessness of the situation and had fought against it.

Since joining the Agency, there had been too many times when people like that were taken out for the supposed greater good. The Finleys and McCalls of the world were not only killed but maligned first, to destroy the causes they'd given their lives for. He felt something like relief to know that the Journalist Guild's presence meant there were probably still some people out there like that who hadn't yet been silenced forever.

He got so distracted by the articles that he didn't realize what time it was until after 8 pm. He hurriedly picked up Sin and ran a red light or two on the way to Harriet's.

Her neighborhood ended up being a quiet, middle-class area with mostly one story, ranch-style homes and well-kept lawns. A few houses had kids toys strewn in the front yard and several of the houses had Halloween decorations. One in particular appeared to have a haunted tour of some sort set up in the back yard.

He recognized Emma's car as he parked his car on the street. The closing of Sin's and his car doors sounded especially loud on the quiet street. He took a moment to take in Harriet's house as they approached.

Her house blended in nicely with the rest of the neighborhood. Pale brown siding emphasized the length of the house while white trim and darker brown shutters made the windows stand out. Her porch light was on and he could see that lights were on in the house as well, although her curtains were closed so the light was diffused. She had a small porch in the front that was little bigger than the size of her entryway. Like the other trees on the street, they were medium-sized but still fairly young, and her landscaping was colorful but looked like it was low-maintenance.

By the time they walked up to Harriet's, it was a little past 8:50. He could already hear voices inside when he knocked on her door.

Harriet answered and blinked at them in seemingly relative surprise for a moment. It could likely be attributed to Boyd actually showing up. It was no big secret among his fellow trainees that he'd mostly gone back to his natural reserved tendencies following the first few months of their training completion. They didn't give him crap about it though; not even Toby. They seemed to accept that it was his way and didn't immediately label him as arrogant anymore.

The expression of surprise lapsed into one of relief and she backed out of the way of the door. She was dressed in a pair of indigo distressed jeans and a dark red sweater that contrasted nicely with her rich caramel skin.

"Hi," she said only a little awkwardly.

Sin looked around with distaste. "I can't believe all of you people own actual houses."

Harriet made a face at him and some of the awkwardness disappeared. She seemed more relaxed around Sin for some reason which was an oddity in itself. "Well. I don't even know what to say about that."

Sin shrugged and looked at Boyd for a cue as to what he should do next. Harriet didn't seem in a rush to move out of the entryway and into the next room where the sounds of voices were coming from. She in fact seemed content to stay in the half darkened foyer.

The air was crisp and Boyd didn't want to spend more time outside than was necessary. He tilted his head toward the house, his hands in his pockets. "Can we come in?"

Harriet shrugged and a grimace stole across her face before she nodded them further inside and shut the door behind them.

There was a hall that led deeper into the home and immediately branched off into an open room that served as a large living room and dining area with a bar separating it from what appeared to be the kitchen. There was another hall leading off from the living room which likely led to the rest of the house. It was a nice space and was decorated modestly in deep earthy colors with the occasional dark red or burnt orange thrown in.

When they walked into the room, Boyd could see that the others were already there with the exception of Jon. Patrick, Emma and Blair were in the middle of a conversation, although Boyd's initial impression was that Blair was doing most of the talking, his eyebrows drawn down and expression serious.

"--ade it there in no time and we still never knew what happened," he was saying darkly.

Emma was sitting in a chair, a frown marring her face in an unusually somber way. "So did you--" She cut herself off when she noticed movement, and when she looked up at the newcomers she broke into a smile. "Boyd! You made it. And Agent Vega, too," she said, sounding pleased.

Blair twisted and looked over, taking in Boyd and Sin with that same intense look Boyd remembered from the first time they'd met. "Hey. I wanted to place a bet on whether you'd show but they wouldn't let me."

Emma made a face and opened her mouth to say something but Boyd merely shrugged idly and said to her, "You should've let him. You could've made some money."

"Well, I don't gamble on my friends," she said seriously.

"No sense of fun," Blair muttered blandly, scooting to the side of the couch to give more room for the new arrivals.

Boyd sat down on the couch in the middle, between Blair and an empty spot to his left, giving Sin the option of sitting next to him or taking one of the other seats in the living room. Instead, Sin just crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the wall.

Harriet sat on the arm of a chair and looked at them. "Blair was just telling us about a mission that went South recently."

"A rescue mission," Blair explained, shifting so he could view the others more easily. "In Palermo. Agents Gidding and Mathaus were on a joint Intel mission. It was supposed to be maybe three weeks long but a week and a half into it we got an SOS from Mathaus. The message said there was trouble, he didn't trust even the secure communication, there was a breach of security, and he'd explain the situation upon retrieval. He referred to something to do with Gidding but it was unclear what he meant. I'm Pararescue," he added, glancing at Sin, "so I was the one of the responders. When we got there, Mathaus was dead and Gidding was nowhere to be seen."

"How did he die?" Boyd asked, shifting further down the couch to give himself more room.

"Professional hit from behind," Blair replied. "Even if we'd gotten there in minutes he probably wouldn't have made it."

"Why don't you think it was directly related to the mission they were on?" Harriet asked with a raised brow.

"A combination of the message, how it went down, and Gidding," Blair said with a shrug.

"Why Gidding? Do you think he ran?" Boyd asked but it was Emma who replied.

"Maybe. Gidding was always," she paused, frowning faintly and drawing her eyebrows down as she seemed to search for the correct word. "Questionable," she said diplomatically. "And Mathaus was an extremely paranoid and hyperaware person. He consistently beat his peers in physical training and even David wasn't able to get the drop on him from behind. Blair was telling us that Mathaus didn't have any defensive wounds. So either the killer was extremely adept to the point of imagining someone taking, say, Jon by surprise, or he knew his attacker."

"That still doesn't answer Harriet's question," Boyd pointed out. "If Mathaus felt they were in trouble enough for an emergency evacuation, it isn't inconceivable to imagine the enemy was that good. It doesn't automatically mean Gidding was to blame. What specifically did the message say in reference to him?"

"That's the problem," Blair said with a frown. "It got cut off and he was hurrying so he did single words. It was something like, 'Important. Gidding.' And nothing more."

Boyd considered that. "It's possible he turned traitor, then, but isn't it equally possible that Gidding was hurt or otherwise compromised? That could be the breach of security. Maybe he wanted to ask for additional help."

"I would probably think the same if I didn't know Gidding," Emma said with a frown. "But I did and, unfortunately, there isn't a better word to describe him than 'creep.'" She seemed to have given up on being polite in her description. She looked at them all before continuing seriously.

"He was good at his job but there was always something a little... off about him. The way he looked at others; the things he'd say to you. I don't want to get too far into it but he never seemed particularly trustworthy. He would've sold out his own mother to get what he wanted. I never heard him say anything against the Agency within the compound but I was on a mission with him once at a hotel. We had to sit in a bar for hours and after a few nights of surveillance he got sloppy and started drinking."

She shifted in her seat, the seriousness not leaving her expression. "I had to bring him back to his room and when he was drunk, he talked about how he wasn't paid enough at the Agency. How the people who raided it did him a favor by taking out some of the people he didn't like. Wondered how much independent, professional hitmen made compared to us. The next morning when I tried to bring it up, he said he had no recollection. I didn't care for him but I didn't want him to get in trouble with the Agency so I never reported it. I thought it was the rantings of a bitter man. But now..."

Her frown increased and her eyebrows furrowed as she shook her head. "Let's just say, I certainly wouldn't put it past him to not hesitate if he was offered something better."

"Some people would describe me a lot worse than creep," Sin finally added in a bored tone. "I wonder what people would think if I'd been there..."

"Do you actually want an answer to that question?" Harriet asked doubtfully.

"I don't need one. They wouldn't suspect me in a second. For some reason they think I'd never turncoat on them."

"You don't seem the type to sell out others for your gain," Emma said with drawn down eyebrows. "You wouldn't have gone so easy on us in training if you had been as callous as they say. I think Gidding would have, to make himself look better. That's the difference in the impression I get."

Despite Emma's words, Harriet continued to study Sin thoughtfully. After a moment she shrugged her shoulders and averted her gaze. "That's assuming, though, that one's gain is monetary. If someone's freedom is at stake, that's not callous. A lot of people hate being chained to the Agency. A lot of people would do anything to get out of the threat of do or be killed."

"Maybe," Emma said doubtfully. She was looking pensively at nothing in particular, her gaze distant. "But to kill a coworker who did you no harm? It seems so cold, especially since they're in the same position as you."

"It's a lot different for some than others," Harriet said a touch impatiently. "You don't have a tracking device implanted in your body and a torture device waiting for you if you misbehave. If Vega went rogue tomorrow and planned to burn the compound, I can't say I would honestly blame him."

Sin's gaze remained on Emma as if he were wondering what her response would be without actually being very interested in it. His expression was relatively unreadable and it wasn't entirely clear whether he even cared about the debate or if he was just stirring things up for impending boredom's sake.

Emma leaned back slightly and her gaze moved quickly to Harriet with an assessing look. She seemed taken aback by the response. "Sorry. I was talking about Gidding. I know him well enough to know what type of person he is and that he's basically in the same position as you or me. Agent Vega's circumstances are different."

Emma looked at Sin. "I don't know you at all so I don't really know what you would or wouldn't do. It's none of my business, regardless." She opened her mouth as if she was going to say something more, glanced at Boyd, and then returned her gaze to Sin. She shrugged a little awkwardly and fell silent instead.

Sin didn't bother to reply and looked fairly pleased with himself for disrupting the peaceful brainstorming session about Gidding's motives.

Patrick frowned slightly but he didn't seem to be aiming it at anyone in particular. He'd seemed disturbed by the conversation and Emma's obvious discomfort with the turn of the conversation likely only made it worse.

"It's possible," he began in his low, deep voice. "That everyone is just on high guard because of the raid. Because we never found out who was responsible."

Harriet shrugged. She didn't seem at all perturbed by Emma's and her impromptu debate but she was by nature a far more confrontational person in general. "I'm not arguing with that."

"I'm still trying to figure out who that bastard is," Blair commented, kicking his feet out and leaning back into the sofa.

Boyd nodded slightly, eyes narrowing. "And I still want to know is who framed Hsin."

"A lot of people think it's the same person who was behind the raid. Whoever raided the compound knew a lot about the compound," Patrick rumbled, eyebrows drawing down.

"Could be," Boyd replied. "Both have the same effect: causing havoc."

"If it's the same guy, it must be one seriously pissed off employee to take it out on another agent too." Blair frowned, crossing his arms and moving his feet back and forth idly.

"Whoever it is probably views the Agency as a whole as their enemy which would include all of its minions and lapdogs too," Harriet said with a raised eyebrow. She stood up, glancing at her watch and moving over to the portal that led to the kitchen area. She could still be seen through the open area through the bar.

"You seem to have a lot of insight on how rogues think," Sin observed mildly. "Given defection any thought lately?"

Harriet snorted quietly from the kitchen and didn't deign to reply as she audibly punched numbers into a cordless phone.

Boyd furrowed his eyebrows as he thought about the situation. "What seems incongruous to me if it really is related to the raid, is why was there over a year lull?"

"We all figured there was a reason they broke in like that," Blair responded with a shrug. "Maybe they stole sensitive data."

Emma absently played with the beads on her long necklace. "If they did, it's possible it took that long to decipher it, given the level of encryption the Agency typically uses. Maybe they used the information to bring down the cameras when the evaluations were starting."

"It seems different, though," Boyd said, shaking his head. "What does raiding the compound have to do with an Investigator from Euro? And why Hsin? There isn't a feasible connection."

"I agree that it seems strange but whoever raided the compound obviously made that move for a specific reason and got what they wanted at the time from it because it wasn't attempted again," Patrick put in, as neutral as ever.

He paused, looking at the wall thoughtfully before speaking again. "I wouldn't think the point was theft. Material is stored electronically and a good enough hacker can get that from thousands of miles away. Perhaps it was just the first step in a process of breaking down the system. Decapitating the Agency by killing Connors and having an entire readjustment occur while all of these other events start spiraling out of control when the new administration is coming to take over. If it is related, the person involved has done a wonderful job at making the Agency look inept. It could be that they want the entire chain of command killed off and replaced."

Boyd's eyes narrowed at that and he looked away, gaze absently resting on Harriet before shifting past. He didn't know what he specifically thought about Patrick's point except that despite everything there was still a part of him that resisted the idea of Vivienne dying.

Emma glanced at Boyd with a faint frown before turning her attention to Patrick. "I hope it's just replacement that happens from now on."

"It'll be interesting to see if everything stops when the new admin rolls into town or whether it'll be unaffected," Blair put in. He drew his eyebrows down in a perplexed manner. "I don't know which way I'd prefer."

"It'd be interesting if Carhart and Vivienne were demoted to field agents," Sin added randomly, completely off topic.

Emma looked over at Sin, mildly startled. Blair looked highly intrigued by the idea.

Boyd shook his head. "Vivienne was never a field agent so if that happened, she would have to become a menial civilian or lose her position at the Agency altogether. I can't even begin to imagine how furious that would make her."

"Imagine her in Payroll," Harriet scoffed as she walked back into the room, still holding the phone. There was irritation written across her striking face but she didn't comment on why that was. Judging from the lack of conversation that had drifted in from the kitchen, it was safe to assume she hadn't gotten in touch with Jon if that was who she'd been calling. The man seemed to always be behind schedule for something to do with Harriet.

"That would be a catastrophe," Boyd said mildly. "She would focus all her control tendencies on our paychecks. We would never receive our money and she would be perpetually angry."

"Sounds a lot like Mona," Blair said blandly. "She's been there, what? Thirty-five years?" He looked around for confirmation.

"Thirty-eight and be nice," Emma replied, making a face. "She isn't that bad. She's just... socially disinclined."

"If you say so," Blair said dubiously. "More than once I've wanted to get her with the Helicopter." He raised his hands in a martial arts gesture. "Some of our enemies have nothing on her glare."

"That's ridiculous," Emma said, shaking her head. Even so, her tone was more dismissive than harsh. She turned her attention to Harriet. "Is everything okay with Jon?"

"Late as usual," Harriet grumbled, appearing peeved. "It's ridiculous how ADD he is off a damn mission."

"What's he doing?" Boyd asked. Because he didn't smell food and didn't see Harriet spending the time cooking for this gathering, he followed up with, "Picking up the food?"  

"Supposed to be," she replied in a clipped tone.

His gaze lingered on her briefly before he nodded. He wondered if Harriet thought something else was going on. Jon had, after all, seemed quite interested in women from what he'd said during their training. Although he seemed to truly care about Harriet, Boyd didn't know Jon well enough to say whether cheating was something he would contemplate. Until there was any evidence, he saw no reason to suspect that was what was happening, though.

"There was a surprising amount of traffic given the time," he offered. "He may be delayed."


Patrick's eyes were also trained on Harriet as if he were trying to gauge the true source of her irritation but after a moment he looked away. A slight crease was between his eyebrows and he looked troubled but said nothing.

There was a lull in the conversation that afforded Blair a chance to stand and stretch. He absently crinkled his can of beer and headed toward the kitchen with only a brief glance toward Harriet. The sound of aluminum against aluminum was muffled as he presumably threw the can into the recycling in the other room.

Emma's eyes were partially narrowed, her eyebrows twitching down thoughtfully along with the edges of her lips. The expression was brief, her eyes sweeping past Harriet and the direction of the front door, before she tilted her head and crossed one leg over the other. Her dark red skirt rode up on her thighs but the black stockings she wore beneath covered what would have been bared flesh.

"Did any of you see the batch of rookies this morning?" she asked curiously.

"I did," Blair called from the kitchen. The sound of the refrigerator door opening was followed by, "Anyone want anything?"

Unsurprisingly, Sin didn't answer. He looked increasingly bored to Boyd but the others likely just thought he was being stoic. Boyd wondered how long he would end up staying around after all and felt a little bad about asking him to come since he obviously wasn't enjoying himself. Then again, Sin had seemed to get along with Harriet decently in the past and Boyd thought it was possible that once Jon arrived, they'd get along as well.

Even so, he made a mental note to thank Sin later and, if he continued to be bored all night, make it up to him in whatever way Sin wanted. Which, knowing them, would probably end up being sexual. He didn't think Sin would be getting a bad deal, in that case.

"I'll have a beer," Emma replied. After a glance toward Pat in which something unspoken passed between the two, she amended, "Make it two."

Blair ended up mumbling, "Okay," and then there was the sound of cans moving around and him juggling with them. There was a faint rattling as the refrigerator door was shut.

He came around the corner and without having been asked, pressed a beer into Harriet's hands with one of his silent, intense stares. Boyd thought it was possible something passed between them as well but it was hard to tell with Blair, sometimes.

Considering that Blair and Harriet had been regulars in Kassian's teams in the past, Boyd wouldn't be surprised if Blair knew Harriet well enough to be able to get thoughts across without having to speak them aloud. Or know what she wanted without her saying anything. But Blair was also a fairly strange person and sometimes it seemed like whatever was going through his head didn't always match up with what was going on around him.

Blair distributed the beers to the others and ultimately plopped down in his spot on the couch again. The hiss of the beer cans opening scattered around the room.

"Anyway," Blair said contemplatively, drawing his eyebrows down and staring intently at apparently the blank wall as he took a long drink. "Looks like it'll be interesting."

"Why?" Boyd questioned, raising an eyebrow.

"Well, it seems like the Agency goes in waves sometimes," Blair responded with a frown. Even so, he still seemed more contemplative than anything. "A few of the recruits looked like a couple of hard asses."

"Prison recruits?" Emma asked and Blair nodded.

"One at least, anyway, I'd venture." He shrugged idly and looked at the others significantly. "He didn't exactly have the crew cut and here-to-follow-orders-Sir! vibe that the military recruits seem to have."

"Rank?" Sin asked, idly interested.

Blair's dark gaze slid to Sin with the same deep stare he'd given everyone else. "Level 1 and up like the rest with no background, far as I know," he said blandly. He paused and flicked a look at Boyd with a slight frown. "Well. Most of the rest, anyway."

There was no reproach or judgment in his tone and Boyd didn't take it as a slight; more than anything, Blair seemed to be amending the statement to be more accurate. Boyd had known for a long time that it had been extremely unusual that he'd been sent straight up to Level 9 without any sort of background at all. Usually, even the recruits who were highly skilled and trained couldn't be recruited at higher than Level 8.

"You know," Emma was saying thoughtfully, her face scrunched up as she didn't seem to be fully paying attention to the rest of the conversation. "I think I saw the kid you're talking about. Asian? Kind of young-looking with tattoos on his arms? Trailing behind the others?"

Blair nodded and took another drink. "That's the one."

"I wonder why they recruited him," Patrick mused out loud, not appearing very impressed with the system of taking felons out of prison.

"The reason they recruit anyone," Sin replied, still maintaining his position against the wall with his muscular arms crossed over his dark grey sweater. "They have a skill that the Agency wants. He could be a master thief, good at infiltration or hacking. Or he could be a good murderer."

The crease between Patrick's eyebrows reappeared and he opened his mouth to speak but paused. He glanced at Boyd and looked at Sin again before saying dubiously, "A good murderer?"

Sin shrugged, pale green eyes focused on the man. "Good at the art of killing. Maybe he knows how to inflict pain in such a way that would make him a good addition to the staff on the Fourth. Or perhaps he was a good hitman until he finally got caught. Or maybe, he killed someone that the Agency wanted dead already and that brought him to their attention."

Harriet looked suitably distracted by Sin's words that some of her irritation at Jon appeared to fade. Everyone was looking at Sin directly for the first time since they'd arrived. He never spoke this much unless he had to.

Patrick's mouth turned down even more and he shook his head. "That's..."

"That's logic," Sin cut him off flatly, seeming to sense that Patrick was uncomfortable with this side of the Agency. "It's a lot harder to find a good assassin than any other position here. Storms, undercover assignments... You people can fool yourselves into feeling noble about your task. You're told there's a bigger reason. A greater good. Assassination doesn't have that wiggle room. It's just you, your target and a gun. Usually in cold blood and from a distance. They don't even know you're coming."

Patrick's deep brown eyes narrowed at Sin slightly. He didn't appear offended but there was something unnerved about the look on his face. There was obviously something he wanted to say but he didn't seem capable of bringing himself to say it. He shook his head and glanced at Boyd before allowing his gaze to move over to Emma.

Sin didn't seem at all uncomfortable with the heaviness his comments had brought to the conversation. In fact he seemed kind of smug about it. No matter how much his disposition changed, Boyd could tell there was always a part of Sin that enjoyed getting under people's skin.

"When did you become an assassin?" Harriet asked bluntly.

"Officially?" Sin raised his eyebrows. "I was 14. Unofficially, I was 11. Maybe 12. I'm a little unclear about my birthday."

Patrick's gaze snapped to Sin but Harriet just shook her head. "Man, you're weird," she said.

Sin laughed out loud at that and the tense moment appeared officially broken.

Boyd lingered his gaze on Sin briefly; he always liked to see Sin laugh or smile. It made him feel good, even when he had nothing to do with it. Especially since they'd gone through their fair share of difficulties over the years, he felt drawn to any of Sin's less serious expressions.

He thought that if he'd had his sketchbook with him he would have drawn Sin. It wasn't that the moment was particularly important, or that Sin was showing an expression Boyd had never seen before. It was just the feeling he got that made him want to be able to remember it. No matter what happened in the future, if he could take snapshots of the good parts of his life by drawing them then at least he would always have proof of those memories.

After a moment he dragged his eyes away from his lover and saw Blair looking unaffected by the entire conversation. That dark stare of his was latched onto Sin, unwavering, but his expression was unreadable as he sipped his beer.

Emma, on the other hand, wasn't quite looking at anyone. There was a small smile on her lips reflecting the mood of the room but it didn't make it to her eyes, which were more sober. He wasn't surprised, since she'd shown sympathy during training about the idea of a child being used in an agent's capacity.

"Well," Boyd said idly to draw the conversation back. "I'm sure we'll run into him and the others at some point."

"Who cares?" Harriet grumbled, looking moody again as she checked her watch. "By the time he catches up enough to matter to anyone in this room, half of us will probably be burnt out or dead or something equally horrible."

"What a charming girl, you are," Sin smirked.

"I try my best," Harriet retorted flatly.

The sound of keys jingling and the door bursting open interrupted any further exchanges. Jon blew in, looking more than a little harassed. His thick black hair was windblown, cheeks red and his eyes narrowed as he carried in bags of takeout that smelled strongly of Indian food.

"And where the hell were you? I could have sworn that Dhaba House was on Breaker Street, not in Sudan," she sneered at her boyfriend, looking unimpressed by his stressed-looking expression.

Jon sighed and disappeared briefly behind the bar to deposit the bags on the dining table. "Well darling, all I can say is Americans can't fucking drive, takeaway boys can't fucking bag-- I smell like I took a bath in a plate of Masala for all the shite leaked all over me in the goddamn car," he griped.

Some of Harriet's hostility seemed to dissipate as she took in Jon's stained shirt and genuine agitation.

On the contrary, Patrick smirked behind his can of beer, appearing to want to laugh out loud. This was the first time most of them had seen Jon lose his cool and it was over such a hilariously domestic issue that amusement seemed to bounce off Patrick and echo on several other expressions as well.

"At least you smell good," Harriet offered with a shrug of her toned shoulders.

"Right. I don't even like Indian food. That's all I fucking ate when I lived in the UK. I had every nearby takeaway on speed dial," he groused, stripping off his shirt without hesitation and exposing his incredibly toned and muscular upper body.

His pale skin was smooth with the exception of the scars that riddled his body. Boyd noticed Sin's eyes briefly lingering on Jon's bare chest but didn't know what to make of it. He'd never actually seen Sin take notice in another man before.

Harriet nodded, not looking sympathetic in the least as she began taking out containers. "Well you have some stuff upstairs. Thanks for going, Jon."

"No problem, my Nubian goddess," he muttered, still appearing grumpy and not his usually overly charming self when he spoke to Harriet.

She scoffed. "Take it easy with that. I'm from Texas."

Jon just smirked and left to change. The rest of them stirred from their spots, drawn by the delicious smell of the Indian food. Emma helped Harriet get everything ready and by the time Jon returned to the room, they were already starting to eat.

They didn't talk about anything in particular over dinner. They mused about the new administration coming in a few months and what that would be like, and at one point the discussion returned to the new recruits although they didn't say much more than was already mentioned. Emma brought up a movie she and Pat had seen recently with his kids, which led to Blair blandly observing that she may as well marry him already if she was already doing kid duty and acting like their mom. In typical Blair fashion, it was uncertain whether he was joking or not and Emma had gotten suitably flustered that she forgot to continue with that topic.

Boyd didn't speak much; he found that when he didn't force himself, he had little to say. Even so, he enjoyed the company of the others. He kept an eye on Sin, half expecting him to leave early since he didn't seem that enthused. Still, the food was good and Sin seemed fine with sitting quietly to the side, interjecting in the conversation once more by the end of the night.

Jon remained in a bad mood for awhile but by the end he'd started to return to his normal self, although he still seemed a little off his game. Boyd wondered if Jon was so unaccustomed to getting stressed out over something that it took him a little longer to recover. After all, the man typically seemed to do everything practically perfectly on his first try.

The conversation started to die down once the food was finished and the takeout boxes were thrown away. Emma, Pat and Blair seemed content to hang around for a little while longer, chatting about nothing in particular, but Boyd didn't want to make Sin stay any longer than he already had. He didn't have much interest in staying, anyway.

He pointed out the time and said he was getting tired, and made an excuse for them to leave. There was the process of saying goodbye and Emma enthusing that it had been fun and she hoped they'd come again. That maybe a dinner party would have to become a semi-regular thing. Boyd gave a noncommittal answer as they left.

The air was cool on their skin when Boyd and Sin walked away from the house. The lights on in Harriet's house glowed through the windows, warming up the immediate atmosphere. Several of her neighbors had lights on in the houses and a few had their porch lights on even if the rest of the house was dark and silent. Boyd and Sin's steps sounded especially loud with nothing else happening on the block. The Halloween decorations on one of the houses shifted uneasily in the breeze. The way the ripped, white cloth danced and twisted in the dark would have seemed eerie if Boyd had been in the mood.

He looked over, assessing his partner for any sign of what Sin had thought. He didn't imagine Sin would be interested in attending another dinner party in the future but he wondered whether Sin considered it to be a completely wasted night. He couldn't read anything in particular in his expression, though.

"Did you have an enjoyable time?" Sin asked, raising an eyebrow.

Boyd couldn't tell if Sin was being sarcastic or not so he simply shrugged and dug his car keys out of his pocket. "For the most part, yes. At times the conversation bored me because I had nothing to contribute but overall it was fine." He walked around to the driver's side and looked at Sin over the roof of the car. "You?"

"It was curious."

Boyd got into the car and waited until Sin did as well before he continued the conversation. His car started up nearly silently. "How so?"

Sin shrugged, threading a hand through his long black hair. "People react very interestingly to me. To us, as well."

Boyd drew his eyebrows down, looking at Sin askance and turning the car off Harriet's block toward the main road. "You, I get. But us?"

"Perhaps," Sin started slowly, rolling the word on his tongue as he glanced at his lover. "They think you are my keeper."

"What are you talking about?" Boyd asked, not bothering to hide his confusion.

"They just act strangely. As if they are either too intimidated to be completely forthright when they address me or they want to ensure that it's okay with you if they engage me directly or something along those lines."

"I think they're probably intimidated. Emma, at least," Boyd amended. "I didn't notice Blair or Harriet acting strangely and Pat's hard to read sometimes. I don't know why you got the impression they needed my okay, though."

"Because they look at you before speaking to me," Sin replied blandly.

Boyd had to take a moment to think back on the night. He hadn't noticed anything particularly out of the ordinary at the time but when he thought about it more, he did remember Emma and Pat doing that more than once. Harriet, Jon and Blair never seemed to. But then, Harriet had been around Sin a few times, Jon wasn't the type to do that sort of thing, and Blair was... Blair.

Even so, Pat and Emma were enough that Boyd could imagine that being irritating or uncomfortable from Sin's perspective.

"I guess they did," he acknowledged with a small frown. He glanced at Sin. "I don't think they meant anything by it, though. They probably just didn't know what to do with themselves."

"Maybe," Sin said noncommittally. "But you don't know what they're thinking."

"I don't," Boyd had to agree. He took a moment to concentrate fully on driving as he merged onto one of the few streets in the city that always seemed to be busy, no matter what time of day or night. "But you don't either." He looked over at Sin. "Have you noticed that happening with anyone other than Emma and Pat tonight?"

"Yes. It happens a lot when we are together."

"Oh." Boyd considered that. "With many different people?"


"Well, that's irritating," Boyd said, unimpressed by this information.

His eyes narrowed slightly. It irritated him if people really did think of him as Sin's keeper, because for all that Sin could tear him apart in a few seconds flat, he still thought of him as his equal.

"I'm sorry I never noticed," he continued. "I'll call them on it next time."

Sin snorted. "Why bother? People are never going to react to me in a way that you'd want them to. And I don't exactly need you to defend my honor."

Boyd gave him a sidelong look. "But what if I want to?"

"I'd still tell you not to," Sin replied blandly.

"Alright," Boyd relented. "I won't say anything." He turned on the last street before he had to make a decision about which place he was headed. He gave Sin a curious glance. "Am I bringing you to your place or mine?"

Sin shrugged. "Either is fine. What do you prefer?"

"I don't have a preference," Boyd replied easily. "I just wondered if you wanted to spend the night with me. I felt bad making you go to the dinner since you didn't seem to enjoy it." A quirked smile flashed across his face. "If you're interested, I thought I'd make it up to you."

There was a brief pause and a small smile played over Sin's full mouth finally. "Well. Since you're offering."

Boyd's smile widened and became pleased. He took the turn toward his house, since it was closer. "Good, because if you'd said no I would've been thinking of it all night. I've been wanting to kiss you since halfway through the party."

"Am I that irresistible?" Sin asked dryly, although his smile inched up a bit more. "Is my blank face that attractive?"

Boyd had to chuckle. "Sadly, for me-- yes. You could probably be staring at paint drying and I'd think you're the sexiest person in the room. And it didn't help when you laughed earlier." He glanced at Sin again, his softened expression showing that despite the slightly teasing smile, he was being honest. "I always love to see that."

Sin just shook his head and looked out the window so that Boyd couldn't see his expression anymore. "You're insane."

"Maybe," Boyd said lightly as he turned onto 5th Avenue North. "But somehow, I doubt you mind."

Continue to the next interlude: 3.26, Abeyance