News Flash

This site is..

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

The story contains..

Slash (M/M), het (M/F) and graphic language, violence and sexual situations. Not intended for anyone under 18!


Book One: Evenfall See Evenfall chapter list.

Book Two: Afterimage
See Afterimage chapter list.

Interludes list

Book Three: Fade
See Fade chapter list.


Our AFFN profile

Site hosted by 1&1

News Flash

Interlude 3.6

Uploaded on 6/21/2009

"What is all of this?"

Sin walked along the wall in Ivan's loft, taking in the dozens of news clippings from international magazines and periodicals. It was the third time he'd been inside the other man's apartment but the first time he'd actually felt at ease enough in the foreign environment to walk around.

He stopped in front of the whiteboard and stared blankly at the tiny words that were scrawled across it. He recognized that it was coded but he didn't care enough to attempt to figure it out -- it was unlikely that he'd be able to anyway.

"What?" Ivan looked up from where he was sitting crouched by the television, doing something with the wires that were strewn across the floor and to the computers. "Oh."

Sin looked over his shoulder and raised one dark eyebrow at the other man. "You don't have to explain. It just makes you look stranger than I've already figured out you are."

Ivan smiled and shook his head, getting to his feet and walking over to where Sin stood surveying the mural of newspaper articles. "Is that a bad thing?"

Sin shrugged indifferently. If he thought it was a bad thing, it was unlikely that he would have spent so much of his free time with Ivan as of late.

It'd been a month since the first time he'd come over and he had to admit that Boyd and Ryan had been correct. It was surprisingly pleasant to have someone to spend time with who didn't make him tense all the time.

He still spent time with Boyd from time to time but it wasn't nearly as frequent as it used to be and in addition to that, Sin was always left feeling unsure of how to act around his former lover for fear that Boyd would misinterpret his actions or words. The last thing Sin wanted to deal with was for Boyd to think Sin was trying to coerce him into getting back together.

It wasn't even that he didn't want that-- to an extent he did, he missed being with Boyd and he missed the way things had been briefly between them. But even then, it didn't stop the bitterness he still felt at times towards his partner or the fact that he didn't intend to grovel after being rejected.

But even with all of that in mind-- it didn't stop him from looking at Ivan at times the way he looked at Boyd and Sin cursed the R&D agent on a regular basis for physically resembling Boyd so much. It was ridiculous and almost felt like the entire situation was a practical joke or something-- like someone was playing a trick on him, or testing him, to see how he'd react to someone with the same physical characteristics even if the personality was entirely different.

"That's my Agency Bullshit Wall," Ivan informed him seriously, rubbing his eyes and leaning closer to peer at his own handwriting for a moment. He'd taken off his glasses earlier and apparently had trouble seeing the words clearly.

Sin arched an eyebrow and looked at the newspaper clippings again. "Agency cover ups?"

"Yes." Ivan crossed his arms over his chest, surveying his work intently as if seeing if he'd missed anything since the last time he'd added something. "The spin Vivienne puts on things for the media to cover up the things that we do. For example--"

Ivan walked forward and extended one slender finger, indicating a two-page spread that was tacked to the wall. The headline read, 'Drug Cartel Strikes in Laguna de Sanchez.' "That was one of yours, wasn't it?"

Sin leaned forward and skimmed the article with interest. It blamed the gunfights they'd had on and around Hale Clemons' property on alleged ties Hale had harbored with the Mexican drug cartel. Sin had no idea whether or not that part was true but the article seemed credible as it cited many 'sources' although he knew that the entire thing was false.


Ivan nodded. "Poor drug cartel. Being blamed for your handiwork," he said with a frown.

Sin glanced at Ivan out of the corner of his eye and managed to keep from laughing at the comment. Ivan still had the same serious expression on his face-- sometimes it was difficult to tell if he was being straightforward with his comments or if his sense of humor was really that deadpan.

"And what's all of this gibberish?" Sin queried, nodding at the whiteboard.

Ivan just gave him a flat stare and raised one slender, naturally arched brow. "Why would I spend so much time encoding it if I was going to tell the first attractive man to enter my apartment? I'm not that retarded. You could be an Agency spy for all I know."

"That's very likely." Sin scoffed and crossed his arms over his chest, eyes dropping to another clipping that was faded and yellowed. It dated back years ago but he recognized it as another high profile mission that he'd botched during one of his trial runs with the first handful of potential partners.

Ivan watched him with a neutral expression on his face and seemed to be waiting for Sin to comment further.

"And what's the point of all of this?" Sin asked finally when Ivan just continued to watch him.

Ivan shrugged again and scratched the back of his head, his ash blond hair loose and spilling over the collar of his button-down flannel shirt. Flannel shirts and combat boots seemed to be his uniform of choice. "To remind myself daily that the Agency is bullshit."

This time Sin turned to Ivan fully and he observed the other man, not entirely surprised by the statement. In the half dozen times they'd seen each other in the past month, many of Ivan's comments regarding the Agency had reeked of bitterness.

"It is," Sin agreed plainly, seeing no reason to dispute the statement.

Ivan gave him a long look before his wide mouth broke into an abrupt and rare full smile. "See, that's what draws me to you, Hsin."

"The fact that I hate the Agency?" Sin asked dryly, walking away from the whiteboard to retrieve his bottle of water from the bar.

"Yes. And you don't try to hide it. You have an even more blatant fuck the world attitude than I do," Ivan replied, continuing to stand near the whitewall even as his grey eyes tracked Sin's movements. "I appreciate that."

"Why?" Sin asked with a snort, turning around and pressing his back against the bar as he looked back at Ivan. "Because it makes you feel better that there's someone else in the world as hateful and cynical as you are?"

Ivan nodded. "Yes."

This time Sin actually did laugh out loud although he quickly muffled it by taking a drink of his water, averting his gaze to focus on the wires that Ivan had been fiddling with.

Ivan's eyes narrowed slightly and he also looked away for a moment before he shoved his hands in the pockets of his baggy cargo shorts and walked closer. "I know it sounds ridiculous and selfish-- but people on the compound, those people who act like we're on some college campus, they really piss me off."

"College campus?" Sin echoed, not really knowing entirely how to interpret the comment.

"Yeah." Ivan stopped a few feet away from Sin and made a face. "They walk around making friends and laughing merrily or working to achieve all of these accolades and promotions as if any of it actually means anything. They are so busy living with their heads in the clouds that they're too blinded to see that they're doing exactly what the Agency wants them to do."

"And what's that?" Sin asked, not voicing it out loud that he actually agreed that people like that annoyed him to an extent as well.

It'd been part of the reason he'd been against the idea of Boyd going for the Level 10 promotion-- he'd been unable to figure out why Boyd wanted to make the effort to move ahead in an organization that continuously fucked them both over.

"They want us to become brainwashed puppets that live and breathe for the Agency," Ivan said, his low voice taking on a dark and very bitter quality.

"These people-- they walk around talking about how great it is that the cafeteria has such great food, how nice it is to have all of these lounges in the residential buildings-- that the grounds are so nice, that there's a cafe, etc. They completely miss the fact that the Agency isn't doing all of that as a way for thanking the people who slave for them. The Agency does it because they don't want anyone to have a reason to leave the damn compound. They even have the service staff do laundry and restock personal supplies-- half the people who live on compound rarely leave it. Why do you think they specifically try to recruit people with no families unless you have some fantastic skill?"

Sin watched Ivan quietly as the younger man began to go off in a full on rant.

"It's just so mind-boggling to me," Ivan said, shaking his head back and forth in dismay. "They're completely ignorant to the fact that we're essentially captives. We're forced to do things that we would not normally do, things we don't necessarily agree with, things that can get us killed-- and if we disagree, if we refuse, if we get sick, if we slow down-- the moment the Agency decides we're not useful anymore, we're dead or doomed to a life of being shadowed. The organization is so hypocritical-- they claim to be fighting for the greater good but yet they do to us, their soldiers, what they're allegedly fighting against."

Ivan sighed and rubbed a hand against his eyes, wincing slightly as though it hurt to squint at Sin from the short distance between them. "I don't want you to misunderstand-- I'm not against the alleged goals of the Agency, but I am against their ways. I hate it. I hate the whole organization and I hate the people who ignore what it so blatantly is."

Sin eyed Ivan, not really sure how he felt about the fact that the other man spent so much time and energy reminding himself about his hatred of the Agency. "How did you even get here?"

"Ah, well, that's a story." Ivan didn't say whether it was an interesting or long one and he lifted one thin shoulder. "I used to work for the CIA as a computer tech but then I was arrested and put in jail for attempting to embezzle money from them."

Sin stared at him. "You must be an idiot."

Ivan made a face although he did chuckle, his expression wry and slightly amused by his own actions. "I was. I wasn't even trying to steal it for myself. I was putting it into random charity accounts that I knew were fraudulent. They called me the Robin Hood Hacker in the papers for awhile."

This time Sin shook his head, incredulous. "Why the hell would you do that?"

"No real reason. For fun, I guess."

Sin just continued to stare at him with the same expression. "There is something wrong with you."

Ivan nodded. "Yes."

Sin dropped the bottle down onto the counter and observed Ivan, taking in the other man's open and unassuming posture, the way he looked at Sin directly as if waiting to be judged over his past stupidity. Sin just tilted his head to the side and said shrewdly, "So they took you out of jail in exchange for working with them?"

The blond man nodded, mouth turning down at the sides. "If they'd made it blatantly clear that I was signing my soul away, I'd have kept my felony and four years in prison but I was a stupid kid who thought I was making good with a sweet deal working in the covert world just like on the James Bond movies, or some nonsense."

"And I suppose," Sin started almost before Ivan had finished speaking, figuring out the other man's story and the reason behind his bitterness out loud. "That if you ever wanted to leave, they claimed they'd drop you back in prison with a more creative sentence."

"You know them well, Senior Agent Vega," Ivan replied with a nod. "But now since I'm a high level R&D agent, I know too much about a lot of things. Believe it or not, us little guys know a lot more and are more highly classified than you field agents. You get sent out into the field but we know the contacts, the sources, and the inner workings of the machine. It's highly unlikely that they would ever just let me leave this place alive if I wanted to do so. I know too much and I've already made myself known as being a troublemaker."

This time both of Sin's eyebrows shot up in surprise and he leaned both elbows back onto the counter as he observed the other man. "You?"

Ivan smirked at Sin, a subtle movement of his lips, and pushed his hair back idly as they locked eyes. "Not all trouble comes in the form of fisticuffs. After the first couple of years when I realized that I was stuck here indefinitely, when I realized what this place was capable of, I've been pretty vocal about my opinions. I mean I wouldn't call myself the compound crier but... most people who know my name associate me with certain things."

"Like?" Sin was surprised by how interested he actually was in the other man's past.

"Firstly, that I'm gay. I'm not in the closet and I never will be. I see no reason to hide who I am. Most people assume I'm gay anyway because of my appearance or at least make jokes about it and all I do is confirm that yes, I am, and ask if they have a problem with it. Secondly, that I think the Agency sucks. I have a lot of theories about a lot of things that go on in this place and I'll tell people who are interested. However, our superiors do not look kindly on this behavior and proceeded to put me on a combination of medication to deal with an alleged paranoid personality disorder."

"Wow." Sin eyed Ivan for a moment before nodding in understanding. "Is that why you were in the medical wing one of those times we ran into each other there?"

"Yes. Both times, actually. They switched my medication and it gave me strange side effects so I was in and out of there for a few days as it got straightened out." Ivan gave Sin one of his enigmatic little smiles. "Did you think I was following you?"

Sin shrugged carelessly. "It crossed my mind." He didn't mention the fact that he'd been there for nearly the same reason.

"And they say I'm paranoid..."

Sin rolled his eyes and shook his head, shifting positions to cross his arms over his black t-shirt. "I'm surprised you even take the pills."

The smile melted off Ivan's face and he shrugged. "Well, I didn't at first but then I decided to try them and see if it changed anything. Maybe to see if they're right. But it's been months since I started cooperating with that aspect of my so called treatment and so far, nothing's changed. I think the same."

They stared at each other for a moment and Sin decided not to comment further on the matter. He'd just started allowing himself to trust the Agency psychiatrists and the last thing he wanted to hear was that they really did give phony prognoses to control unruly agents. Although he supposed that it was different with Ivan; he wasn't diagnosed with something so obviously psychotic as hallucinations and out of body experiences so in that way, Ivan's diagnosis was arguable.

"This still doesn't sound sufficiently troublesome to me," Sin said after awhile.

"I figured you'd say that," Ivan replied knowingly before he turned slightly and nodded towards his desk. "Step into my office."

Ivan slipped his hands into the pockets of his loose ripped up jeans and walked over to his 'zone of technology,' as he called it. He stopped by the desk chair and looked over at Sin, nodding at it invitingly. "Sit down, please."

Sin gave him an odd look but shrugged, sitting. "Okay?"

Ivan knelt beside Sin and leaned slightly across him, moving the mouse to click some things on the screen and opening folders within folders. His grey eyes moved across the monitor intently and with their faces so close together, Sin found himself momentarily distracted by the way Ivan's fine blond hair fell across his face.

His nose was slightly thinner and sharper than Boyd's, his mouth wider, but Ivan possessed the same understated features as Boyd did, features that neither seemed overtly masculine nor feminine, especially when obscured by a fall of silky hair that was cut the same way Boyd's had been when they'd first met...

"Look," Ivan instructed, nodding at the screen as Sin dragged his eyes away from the other man's profile.

On the screen was what appeared to be a 2-D computer game with a blood dripping title that read, 'We're All Level 10 Now!'

"What the hell?" Sin asked, suitably distracted as his mouth turned up into an unconscious smile of amusement.

Ivan grinned slightly, nudging Sin's hand with the mouse. "Go on."

Sin pulled the chair closer and grabbed the mouse, clicking on the screen to start the game. A small story dialogue popped up that stated all 'JP' staff were now in the running to achieve Level 10 status but in order to get it, they had to go through the list of targets and assassinate them all within five minutes.

The list started with General Hughes and ended with Connors, a rough digitized avatar made for each person on the hit list.

Sin played through the first-person shooter style game, chasing the targets through what was actually a good rendition of the main compound design, and laughing out loud when it came time for him to track down Vivienne. Her avatar was designed to look like a blond bombshell with Xs in place of eyes. Her main attack was throwing what appeared to be makeup compacts at the player character, although if he looked close enough he could see that each compact said 'cover up' which was subtle and hilarious at the same time.

By the end of the 'fight,' Sin's shoulders were actually shaking slightly with mirth and he had to stop looking at the screen in order to get control of himself. It was only then that he noticed Ivan watching him with a small, warm smile on his face.

Sin's own grin faded and he scowled at Ivan defensively. "What?"

"Nothing," Ivan said quietly, giving another discreet shrug although he didn't look away or change his expression. "It's just..."

The R&D agent trailed off briefly before he said, "It's just that you're truly, honestly, breathtakingly gorgeous, Hsin. It's difficult for me to ignore as it is but when you smile like that it's impossible. Your entire face lights up. It's very striking."

Sin stared at him blankly and Ivan sat back on his haunches with a shake of his head. "Why do you do that? Why do you hide your natural responses from people? Why not just smile and laugh?"

This time Sin looked away with a scowl, unable to answer the question because he honestly didn't know. It was ingrained in him to hide things from people he didn't entirely know or trust and, obviously, it had even extended at times to people he was close to which had been the case with Boyd. It was something he'd decided to make an effort to change which was easier said than done.

"I don't know."

Ivan nodded and his intense grey eyes continued to bore into Sin, leaving him feeling mildly disturbed yet intrigued by the fact that Ivan showed him no fear whatsoever.

"Did Boyd see those sides of you?" he asked finally, curiously.

Sin nodded without hesitation, seeing no reason to downplay the connection he'd had with Boyd. "Boyd saw more than anyone likely will again."

Ivan nodded once again and he raised his eyebrows slightly, questioningly. "Will the two of you get together again?"

This time Sin hesitated and he tried to harden himself but the question caused his chest to clench slightly and after a moment he said, "I don't think so."

"So no one gets to see the real Hsin ever again?" Ivan asked with a slight frown. "Boyd was the first and only person you will ever allow yourself to connect with-- to get close to?"

Sin looked at Ivan again and shrugged although he couldn't hide the uncertainty in his expression, the automatic way his full lips turned down and his brow furrowed. "I don't know, Ivan. It's not as easy for me as it is for others."

"Okay." Ivan nodded his understanding as he shifted slightly, intent gaze still trained on Sin. "What if I made it easy for you?"

Sin's eyebrows raised skeptically. "How?"

Ivan leaned forward and up, brushing his lips against Sin's softly but not hesitantly. Sin froze and stared at Ivan, who still didn't avert his gaze even as he repeated the action, eyes only flickering down when their mouths made contact again.

Sin automatically raised his hands to grip Ivan's shoulders, intending to shove him away, but he didn't. He didn't entirely know why until the third time Ivan kissed him, when Ivan's lips parted slightly and a hint of moisture touched Sin's lower lip before sliding away in a manner that was undeniably sensual.

A shudder went through Sin's body and he closed his eyes briefly, his hands tightening on Ivan's thin shoulders, trying to force himself to tell Ivan to back off but failing because the contact had sparked something inside him that he hadn't felt in a long time; since the last time he and Boyd had touched, had kissed.

With his eyes closed, it was easy to forget who it was in front of him. It was easy to forget the differences and just focus on the feel of long silky hair, of a slender, slightly toned but undeniably masculine body and soft lips against his.

So when Ivan kissed him again, encouraged by Sin's stillness, when Ivan parted his lips wider and he flicked his tongue more fully against Sin's mouth, Sin reacted.

His hands slid up Ivan's shoulders and neck, tangling in his long hair and pulling the younger man closer as Sin began to kiss back.

Sin kissed Ivan the way he would have kissed Boyd; he kissed Ivan the way he kissed Boyd in his dreams, in his thoughts, in a make believe make up scene that would never happen, in a reconciliation that only existed in his head.

He savored the kiss, making love to Ivan's mouth with his tongue, losing himself in the feel of it and in his imagination, still seeing what he wanted to see even after opening his eyes.

Ivan's breath was coming faster when their lips finally moved apart and he looked at Sin with obvious desire in his storm grey eyes-- his mouth swollen from the kiss, his hands flexing against Sin's body as he uttered in his low voice, "If you don't want to do this..."

Sin just shook his head slightly, lost in fantasy, and this time Ivan pulled him forward more confidently and engaged Sin in another intense, searching kiss. He stood up as their tongues moved against each other languidly, pulling a pliant Sin with him, and didn't hesitate before walking backward toward the sagging mattress that lay on the floor; he only stopped when the backs of his ankles bumped into the worn bed.

Ivan hesitated for the first time then, pulling his lips away from Sin's, looking up at the other man briefly, steadily. Ivan's grey eyes were slightly narrowed and darkened with undeniable desire but still aware-- aware of what was happening and who it was happening with.

But the hesitation lasted for barely a moment before he was tugged forward by Sin and their mouths met again, their bodies pressing together as Ivan finally knelt on the mattress.

They broke apart again only when Ivan pulled Sin's shirt up, lifting it over Sin's head and exposing his powerful chest and well-defined body.

Ivan took this all in, biting his lower lip slightly, eyes moving over Sin slowly as if he wanted to fully experience him visually as well as physically. As if he were aware that this experience could be the first and the last between them.

He reached down to unzip Sin's pants just as Sin ripped Ivan's shirt open, popping the buttons off carelessly as they went bouncing over the hardwood floors-- fastening his lips against the side of Ivan's throat and kissing it, just the way Boyd always liked.

Ivan exhaled noiselessly, his eyes shutting and brows drawing together at the sensation, at the feel of Sin's full warm lips massaging his throat, tongue gliding along the cool flesh of it, and Ivan shuddered at the sensation.

The taste of Ivan's skin was different from Boyd but Sin didn't notice as he kissed and licked along Ivan's throat.

Sin's pants sagged below his hips, exposing his naked body beneath. The lack of underwear and the nearly entirely erect cock that brushed against Ivan caused Ivan to swallow with difficulty, his fingers clenching against Sin's arms and spasming in what appeared to be nervousness.

But Sin saw none of it.

He drank Ivan in as though he couldn't get enough-- his hands sliding up and down Ivan's smooth, naked back, the skin like cool porcelain against Sin's rough fingertips. Their breath came faster now with anticipation as Ivan mumbled something faintly against Sin's ear, something Sin didn't entirely hear because he wasn't entirely there. He was too far gone, lost in his head and in a moment that was happening with someone else, somewhere else.

Ivan pulled away from Sin with a grunt, his lips open as he panted, his gaze caught on Sin's dick. He twisted and leaned across the bed, hurriedly grabbing a tube of lotion that was laying on the floor near the bed; he likely used the lotion for sexual purposes on his own.

"It's all I have," Ivan said in his usual quiet tone, the only change being that he sounded hoarser, gruffer.

There was no verbal response and none was needed; Ivan moved instinctively, knowing what he wanted and knowing what Sin wanted without having to ask. He seemed even more turned on by Sin's silent intensity, by the green fire that burned in his eyes. Ivan didn't seem to pick up on the fact that Sin was thinking of someone else-- feeling someone else.

Ivan squeezed his eyes shut when he turned on his stomach, knees bent and ass up against Sin's groin as Sin's large cock pressed against him insistently. Even slicked with their makeshift lubricant, he was so big that Ivan shouted with hoarse pain at the pressure and gasped against the pillow. Ivan's mouth hung open, panting harshly, eyes tearing with pain at the burning sensation of Sin's cock searing into his tight opening.

Sin's eyes shut again, the pressure overwhelming him, a feeling he hadn't experienced in so long that it was almost alien to have it flooding his senses once again. He barely seemed to notice Ivan's discomfort until Ivan hissed quietly--

"Fuck, it hurts."

Sin's eyes opened and awareness came back to him-- the simple words somehow acted as cold water on his fantasy and he was back in the present, back with Ivan. If he hadn't already been hard and ready with his cock half in Ivan's ass, it was entirely likely he would have backed off.

He couldn't help feeling disturbed but it was almost immediately eclipsed by the need he felt to just fucking feel this-- feel good-- feel something-- His fingers clenched on Ivan's shoulders harder just as Ivan groaned:

"Do it."

Sin slid entirely into Ivan, the intensity of the pleasure clouding his mind like a fog and momentarily allowing him to just focus on the tightness in his stomach and the clenching of his body.

He fucked Ivan thoroughly-- moving in and out of the other man with an unrelenting rhythm that left them both panting noisily as Ivan pushed back onto Sin's dick as though he couldn't get enough.

The mattress squeaked quietly beneath them, jolting with their movements and causing their hair to shift with each slam of their bodies against each other. Sweat started to gather on their skin, causing Sin's fingers to slide on Ivan's shoulder where his fingers clenched powerfully. He leaned forward over Ivan, slamming Ivan back harder against his dick as he got lost in the sensations.

The familiar feel of it was incredible and his mouth dropped open, well-formed lips reddened from the kissing.

Aside from the mattress bouncing beneath them, the only sound in the room was their harsh breathing and the slapping of their bodies against each other. Sin panted and tightened his hold on Ivan, who dropped his head forward and rode Sin's dick faster. Long, ash blond hair bunched against his neck, catching on the sweat of his skin and brushing against Sin's fingers on his shoulder.

Sin's head fell backward, black hair sliding against his face to touch the backs of his shoulders as his hips snapped against Ivan's ass firmly.

Sin couldn't feel anything but the tight, hot body encasing him, and the intensifying pleasure as it started in his clenched stomach and spread quickly through his bloodstream.

He only realized when Ivan orgasmed by the breathless pants turning into muffled cries; when Ivan's muscles clenched around Sin's cock deliciously.

Sin continued to drive into Ivan and groaned between grit teeth-- he could feel it all building in him more intensely and he slammed into Ivan harder as his orgasm approached. He only cried out loudly when he finally felt himself reaching the end, every muscle in his body sweaty and taut as he came hard inside Ivan.

They stayed that way for a moment, Sin clutching Ivan's thin shoulders violently tight, until Ivan shifted and pulled away to roll onto his side with a grunt.

Sin allowed himself to fall to the bed, briefly pressing his face into the sheet as he squeezed his eyes closed and tried to gather himself, his thoughts and his senses. As he tried to figure out what he'd just allowed to happen and why.

"I don't think you know your own strength," Ivan said in his deadpan way after nearly five minutes of heavy breathing ticked by.

Sin turned his head and looked at Ivan before dropping his gaze to Ivan's pale shoulder, a shoulder that was red and irritated by the pressure of Sin's fingers. "Sorry."

"The rest made up for the pain," Ivan replied, sitting up and shifting slightly. "I could have said something but I didn't want you to stop."

Sin nodded silently, looking away and also sitting up. His body felt sated but his mind was racing as confused thoughts swarmed in now that the intense sensations had faded and gone. He could feel Ivan's watchful gaze on him, steady and curious, and Sin shook his head after a moment. "Can I use your shower?"

Ivan shrugged. "I didn't plan to send you on your way covered in sweat and come now that I've had my way with you."

Sin's gaze switched back to Ivan and his eyebrows drew together slightly, too intent on his own thoughts to even properly interpret the comment before Ivan just said, "I was kidding. Go ahead."

Sin looked away and stood up, walking across the wide open space of the loft and to the spacious bathroom. There was a tub and a separate shower which was wide, tiled and encased on all sides by glass.

The knob whined slightly when he turned the water on, stepping into the shower and sliding the doors shut before he closed his eyes and tilted his head back, allowing the hot water to soak his hair and burn against his skin.

He stood that way for what seemed like an eternity, his long dark lashes resting against his cheeks like shadows with his hands pressed against the glass wall-- water streaming down on him that was nearly too hot to be comfortable.

He wanted the water to wash away the troubled thoughts that were taking over his brain-- he wanted to be able to behave like a functional person, to be able to have a friend without getting so hopelessly ridiculously confused because of that friend's resemblance to Boyd.

Sin couldn't deny to himself that he felt guilt but he didn't entirely know who he felt bad about. Was it for Ivan, because he'd imagined someone else the entire time they'd had sex, because he'd been disappointed after coming back to reality and realizing that it wasn't Boyd who was beneath him? Or did he feel guilty about Boyd-- for having dragged his image and the memory of their time together into bed with someone else?

Sin shook his head and backed away from the direct spray of the water, sliding down the wall and sitting under the water with his head tilted back and eyes closed.

Why did everything have to be so complicated when it came to him? Why did casual sex seem so easy and normal for Boyd, for Kassian-- but it just left Sin feeling unsatisfied and empty? It'd been different with Ann-- he'd just been trying to escape in the physical aspect of sex, he'd never intended it to be anything more and he'd never wanted it to be.

But with Ivan, it was different. It was confusing with Ivan. It was so easy to slip into thoughts of Boyd with Ivan-- so easy to relive moments that would never happen again...

Sin didn't react when he heard the bathroom door creak. He didn't look up when the shower slid open and he heard Ivan's footsteps splash in the water that had pooled at the bottom.

"What's wrong with you?"

Sin shrugged and finally opened his eyes, looking up at Ivan and not caring that he likely seemed very strange sitting on the shower floor with the water pouring down on him. "I'm a mess," he replied tonelessly. "Isn't it obvious?"

Ivan raised an eyebrow and turned off the water before sitting on the opposite side of the shower. He'd put underwear on and they likely became instantly soaked.

"It is," Ivan said amiably after a moment. "But that doesn't explain much."

Sin stared at Ivan evenly as he continued to lean against the wall, unmindful of his nudity and not feeling any desire to leave. It was actually surprising-- normally he would have left by now, put on his clothes and gone away at the first moment of uncomfortable regret, but Sin realized that he didn't want to do that to Ivan. They actually genuinely got along and Sin didn't feel any such desire to fuck it up like he always did.

"It's complicated." Sin didn't drop his gaze and stared directly into Ivan's eyes. "I'm not like normal people. I don't know what to do most of the time in what should be relatively easy social interactions and it's even more difficult when I'm incredibly fucking confused."

Ivan watched him studiously, nodding simply and raising a hand to tuck long strands of blond hair behind his ear before he asked plainly, "Are you confused because Boyd and I resemble each other?"

There was a tense pause before Sin admitted flatly, "Yes."

Ivan didn't appear very surprised by this comment and it even seemed as though he'd been expecting it because he nodded. This time, he raised his eyebrows slightly. "Are you only spending time with me because of that fact?"

Sin frowned and sat up. "No," he said vehemently. "I started spending time with you because I actually enjoy your company. I like you as a person, which is shocking because typically I hate everyone. It had nothing to do with how you look."

Ivan's expression was difficult to read but his mouth lifted slightly on one side and he inclined his head after a moment. "Good. I like you very much Hsin, but I won't run after you if you don't really have interest in me as a person. If that ever came to be the case then I'd hope you would tell me and not let me make an ass of myself thinking we have something more than we actually do."

Sin just shrugged, not replying verbally although he didn't look away.

"And I won't suggest we sleep together if it's something that you don't want," Ivan added after a moment although a flash of disappointment crossed his face. "If I remind you of Boyd then I assume it's pretty disturbing to fuck me."

There was another silence and Sin finally stood up, stepping out of the shower and smoothing his hands over his wet hair, pushing it back out of his face. Ivan left the shower as well and pushed the door shut, looking at Sin seriously. He put a hand on Sin's upper arm, gripping the hard muscle with his thin fingers.

"Don't go silent on me. I need to know where we stand so I can behave accordingly."

Sin sighed and wiped moisture from his face. "I'm not trying to shut you out. This is just the way I am."

Ivan looked at him neutrally before saying evenly, "I understand that. But I'm involved in this too and I need to know what's going on. I won't deny that I'm attracted to you and that I want more than friendship. So, knowing that, do you want to stop spending so much time together or not?"

Sin frowned and looked to the side briefly, his gaze caught by their reflections in the mirror. He saw himself-- how stoic his expression appeared, how unmoved by Ivan's words he seemed, and was disturbed by it because it wasn't true. He was conflicted and irritated by his own inability to behave rationally but he had no intentions of brushing Ivan off like he had a tendency to do with others in the past.

He had no intentions of sabotaging the first human interaction he'd had in months that didn't leave him wrought with tension. And he couldn't deny it felt good to be wanted by someone who was coming into the situation with their eyes wide open even if it wasn't the person Sin thought he needed it to be.

"No," Sin said finally. "I don't want to stop."

Ivan smiled his slight subtle smile and slid his hand along Sin's arm in an almost comforting caress. "Good. We'll figure the rest out from there."

Continue to the next interlude: 3.7, Masquerade