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About Santino

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    Bisexual, leaning male
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    Writing, reading, grindr, working out, watching Supernatural, scowling

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  1. Ahhhh, I went AWOL and wrote three books in the past year, but the first one is on sale now! SUTPHIN BOULEVARD is my new gay romance for sale on Amazon and the start of a new series set in NYC. I'm so proud of it. http://amzn.to/1JWBEuK

  2. Santino

    Chapter 14

    Fourteen It was the end of November and Sin was mortified that someone had placed Thanksgiving decorations around the compound. He wondered if this was some pathetic attempt to make the Agency seem less like a life-sucking void and more like a normal job. If so, they had failed miserably. Paper cutouts of fat turkeys did not a welcoming environment make. He stood in front his apartment and stared at the thing that was stuck to his door. It was a cardboard decoration that looked like a horn with fruit stuffed inside. Sin searched his vocabulary for a word that would describe such an odd creation. "Cornucopia," he pronounced slowly, and pulled it off the door. The guards on either side of it had all but ignored him until that point, but Officer Daniels actually snorted out a laugh. All employees are formally invited to a Thanksgiving feast this Thursday, 11/21/19, at 1700 hours in the main cafeteria. Sin shredded the invitation into small pieces. He did not know what had possessed someone to stick this to his door, of all doors, but he found it offensive. He wasn't even really American. Not technically anyway, he didn't think. Perhaps that was something to look into. He tossed the paper on the floor and swiped his card to enter his apartment. Daniels laughed again as the door slammed shut. At least someone was amused. After Sin's solo assassination assignment there had been a lull in Janus activity. In the past month, he had participated in a grand total of three missions and none of them had been very exciting. He spent most of his time exercising, reading or roaming the compound. In the past Sin had barely left his building, but lately he found that he had become bolder and less concerned with dealing with the other agents. Sin suspected it was because he was spending more time with Boyd. A few months ago, Sin would sit in the dark for hours. He'd stared out the window or at the wall until his mind was blank. There had been nothing to do, nothing to think about regarding the future, and no reason to put much effort into anything aside from keeping his body fit. Sin's sole purpose had been for killing and avoiding the box. He hadn't cared or felt interest in much other than that. He'd had no desire to be around or to speak to anyone else. For the most part, that hadn't changed. Except, of course, when it came to Boyd. His obsession with his partner had not diminished at all in the past month. If anything, it had grown. He found himself thinking about Boyd at odd times, often wondering what Boyd was doing when they were not together. He wondered what Boyd did in his spare time, what he read, and whether Boyd spent time with other people outside the Agency. Most of all, Sin wondered if Boyd thought about him in return. But the wondering wasn't the extent of it. There were times when Sin's eyes would linger on Boyd longer than was necessary. When he would fixate on Boyd's eyes or especially his mouth. Later, Sin would sit alone and think about how odd it was to desire someone after so many years of not even knowing what that would feel like. There were other times when he would think about the mission in Seattle and the feel of Boyd's bare skin beneath his hands. And here he fucking went again. He'd begun reminding himself daily that he was a killer. He'd been trained to be one since he was eight years old, and that was the only thing he was good at. He could barely have a conversation, what made him think he could do… anything else? Especially the things that played out in his mind late at night when there was nothing else to distract him, and he wound up biting his lip and touching himself, cameras be fucking damned. It was almost a relief that Boyd had been sent on a solo mission with that idiot from 53. Apparently, Andrews would only agree to the meeting if Sin was not there. He wanted nothing to do with "that animal." The words didn't bother Sin, but the idea of Boyd going off on his own did. It was the first time Boyd had a solo mission of any kind with no backup in the vicinity. What would happen if Andrews turned on them and decided to take Boyd hostage or kill him to get out of the deal? Sin hadn't voiced the concerns but Ryan had done it for him. He'd complained loudly that Sin should accompany Boyd even if he didn't actually go to the meeting. Carhart had said there was no point and, by now, Boyd should be able to hold his own. It was true, but the entire thing still made Sin, and apparently Ryan, uneasy. The thought reminded Sin of something else, something that he'd completely forgotten after finding out that Boyd was going alone. Before the briefing had started, Ryan had asked Boyd if Wednesday was his birthday. The concept of a birthday was alien to Sin. He couldn't remember celebrating his own and didn't even know the exact date. He suspected that it was sometime in April, and he knew that he'd been born in 1991, but that was the extent of his knowledge. Despite that, Sin knew that other people, for some reason, considered them to be joyous occasions that called for celebrations. He wondered if Boyd was one of those people. Sin doubted it but still had trouble dismissing the date from his mind. The manuscript of Paradise Lost drew his attention, currently resting on the small coffee table. It occurred to Sin that he could get a gift for Boyd, but the idea was pretty absurd. It also contradicted directly with the goal of getting over his Boyd fixation. Sin made a dinner for himself out of prepackaged chocolate chip cookies and instant oatmeal. He stared at the sink and chewed mechanically, ruminating. Even if he were to buy Boyd a gift of some sort, Sin had no idea what he would get. He knew next to nothing about Boyd except that he read a lot, wore black, had turned into a bit of a control freak over missions, and had some kind of past trauma. It was a problem, not just because of the gift, but because Boyd knew a lot more about Sin. It was also stupid considering Sin had briefly had access to Boyd's entire file. In the past seven months it had been locked again, but Sin knew someone who could still get to it. Sin tossed the empty packages into the garbage and strode out of his apartment. This time, one of the guards spoke. "Where you headed?" Daniels asked. "What do you care?" "I don't really, I'm just bored." He eyed Sin's attire skeptically. "The temperature is in single digits tonight, guy." "Your point?" Daniels held up his hands in exasperation. "Forget I said anything." Sin gave him a look that said he planned to do just that. The guards in his building were no longer particularly hostile. Now they seemed almost curious about him and the lack of bloodthirsty rampages they'd heard so much about. Even so, Sin had no desire to be remotely friendly. They could die for all he cared. Outside, a bitter wind stung Sin's face and pierced through his clothing, but he showed no outward signs of discomfort while striding to residential building C. The guards of that complex gave him more of a hard time but they had no real reason to deny him access to the building, and had no choice but to let him pass. Sin ignored the elevator and took the stairs two at a time. After reaching the appropriate apartment, Sin took the liberty of ripping down another stupid cornucopia invitation before knocking. Someone from within the apartment shouted, "Coming!" There were clattering noises and the door swung open. Sin was surprised that an agent, even a non-combative one, would be so careless as to open their door without so much as pausing to look through the peephole. But maybe it was better that way. Sin didn't enjoy the idea of standing in the hallway while trying to explain why he was there or dealing with anyone's overactive paranoia. Ryan stood in his doorway in an over-sized red t-shirt and baggy boxers. His hair was sticking out in every direction and he had a can of soda in one hand. "Hsin!" Sin raised an eyebrow at the usage of his real name. Ryan reddened. "Er—Sin." He raised the other eyebrow. "Hsin?" Ryan asked in confusion. Sin gave him a flat look and strode into the apartment, not waiting for a formal invitation. "Give me your key card." "Um? What?" Ryan blinked at him and closed the door. He darted to the desk to hurriedly closed his laptop. "Your key card. Give it to me." "That's not really... like, allowed." Ryan scratched the back of his head. "What do you even want it for?" Sin held out his hand. "Well, when are you going to give it back?" Ryan asked uncertainly, eyebrows drawing together. It was very fortunate that Ryan would never be questioned by an enemy if this was the extent of his resistance. "Shortly. I need access to personnel files. The entire ones, not the superficial version. I don't have the access code for that." Ryan opened his mouth to question him further but the expression on Sin's face shut it instantly. "Uh… well, I guess. My access code is, um…" Ryan looked embarrassed. "0666." He handed the card to Sin. "But first, can I—" Sin left before the younger man could finish. He took the stairs once again and determined that this building was designed identically to every other residential building, which meant there was most likely a technology center and lounge area on the third floor. Sin was pleased to realize that he was correct, and even more pleased to see that it was empty. He took a seat at the back of the room and swiped Ryan's card, waiting for the screen to load. It welcomed Ryan Freedman and asked for the access code. Sin punched it in and stared at the screen before figuring out how to get to the area of the database that he wanted. His own card was limited to unlocking specific public areas of the compound unless they temporarily increased his access. Even then, it was limited to accessing mission files that he was involved in. Ryan, on the other hand, apparently had free run of the entire database. Sin typed in Boyd's name and found the file easily. There were multiple sub-folders within it and Sin took his time, going through all of them. He went through file after file, viewing images of certificates from academic awards and contests that Boyd had received throughout the years. Sin noted that Boyd had graduated high school early, skipping to college courses at the age of 15. Sin had never been to school himself but he figured that was impressive. He skimmed the information about Vivienne but took his time reading about Cedrick Alan Beaulieu, a journalist and aspiring author who had perished during the bombings in New York City while covering a story. There was an entire folder dedicated to Boyd's father, and Sin read every document. He was curious about the type of person who would marry and have a child with Vivienne. The woman seemed even less capable of intimacy than Sin was himself. Cedrick had done well for himself in his short life. He'd gotten a position at a good newspaper at a young age and had gone on to dedicate his career to exposing political intrigue. Apparently some of his first stories had blown the top off a lot of scandals. There was a video attached to one of the files. Sin almost bypassed it before going back to watch. It was a recording of Cedrick interviewing for a job. He appeared to be in his twenties at the time of the video, and was vying for an internship at a newspaper called The Sun. Cedrick was stockier and had darker hair and eyes than his son, but some of their features were the same. During the interview, it became evident that Cedrick was passionate about equality, justice, and the truth. He was the antithesis of Vivienne. Sin had no idea how two such different people had managed to procreate. Then again, Sin had no idea how normal families functioned or how people formed relationships. The extent of his knowledge in that area stemmed from watching his mother interact with johns, and his father fucking every attractive human that passed him. Neither of his parents had been very interested in family life before they'd died. Sin went back to his research and found a sub-folder labeled Louis "Lou" Krauszer. At first Sin thought it was an anomaly but after flipping through some of the files, Sin realized Lou was a childhood friend of Boyd's. His parents had been liberal politicians before the war and had both perished during the bombings of Lexington. There were several police reports and mug shots of the teen. After his parents' deaths, Lou had gotten into petty crime. There were surveillance stills that depicted him and Boyd walking together, his arm thrown around Boyd's shoulders more often than not. Although younger Boyd had already adopted his usual style of all black attire and a generally serious expression, he had been more animated in the past. Sin stared at this Lou person with a slight frown. The kid had a slender body, an unruly mass of curly blond hair and gray-blue eyes that perpetually twinkled with mischief. The dates on the images were as recent as four years ago, which meant that Boyd was most likely still acquainted with the boy. The idea made Sin frown further. He wondered why Boyd had never mentioned a childhood friend hanging around. What did this person think about Boyd joining the Agency? Did he even know? That brought to mind another question that Sin had wondered about recently: what cover story did Boyd use on the outside world, anyway? Every agent with civilian ties had one. Sin idly flipped through files as he tried to find recent data on the mop-headed teen. His search came up short and Sin scowled at the computer before returning to the main file. This time, he read it more carefully. Louis "Lou" Krauszer Occupation: None Status: Deceased Birth: 3/14/2000 Death: 5/23/2016 It was an abrupt end to a teen who had at least appeared to be relatively healthy. Although, it was possible that he'd suffered from the lung disease which had taken the lives of a lot of young people after the war. Curious, Sin kept looking to determine what had actually happened. Again, Sin came up with nothing. Frustrated, he swore and flipped back to the main folder. He went through every file and finally found one that labeled "police-hospital reports, surveillance." Several files populated the screen. Sin opened each one, pouring over them and found that Boyd had been involved in a mugging where he'd been injured and Lou had been slain. Further reading described an inept and somewhat crooked police department who did very little to catch the gang that was involved. A follow-up report noted that Boyd's wound had not been critical. However, he had returned to the hospital a few days later and stayed awhile. Inexplicably, the file noted a third trip to the Emergency Room not long after his release. There was nothing in the file to explain the two subsequent visits, and Sin assumed it had something to do with the initial wounds. Possibly an infection or improper care. Sin doubted Vivienne had been attentive to her son. Sin rapped his knuckles against the table, biting his lower lip and staring at the directory. There had to be more information somewhere. Refusing to give up, he explored further before stumbling upon yet another video file. It was also inside the surveillance folder and was labeled "First Bank-052316." The video started with a view of a deserted street, still wet from a recent rain. The video was unstable and moved at a dizzying pace. "—getting this, Seth?" "Yeah." The way the view shifted and then steadied led Sin to believe Seth, whoever he was, was recording on a mobile device. Seth sounded prepubescent but the first speaker's voice indicated he was older. "Can't believe those fucking faggots," the older male muttered. The video swung to the side and a tall teen with black hair appeared in part of the shot. Behind the guy and further down the street, Sin was surprised to see Boyd and Lou barely visible at the edge of an alley. They were kissing. Lou was pressing Boyd against the wall and Boyd's hands rested on Lou's back. They were next to the First Bank location on Dauphin Street. The street sign brought Sin back to his first mission with Boyd and the way he'd reacted upon seeing the now-defunct bank. The pieces came together in Sin's mind, and his mouth tightened as the scene played out. The dark-haired teen was now smiling at the camera with eyes that were shark-like. Empty. "Let's do this shit." "Jared," Seth started to say. "Are you—" "Come on," another voice boomed. "Ken, you in?" "Fuck yeah." "Where's Vince?" "Getting the bat. Come on. I want to see if Jared actually does it." Two teenage boys strolled into view; one Asian, the other white. Not long afterward, an olive-skinned teen appeared, flipping a bat with one hand. All of them, Jared included, wore a green bandanna. "Tommy—" Seth said, but he was cut off by the Asian kid turning a glare on him. "Shut the fuck up and get a good vid, Seth. If you fuck this up, I'll beat the shit out of you when we get home." Seth's sigh was audible. The video shook when he trotted behind his friends. They got to the alley just in time for the video to catch Boyd and Lou separating and starting to leave. Sin watched as Boyd's head snapped up. He took a step back, reaching for Lou's arm. Before they could fully react, Jared grabbed Boyd and threw him out of the alley hard enough that he fell to his knees. Lou charged up to Jared, face reddened. "What the fuck are you doing? Give it up—" Vince came up behind Lou with the bat. A cracking sound came across the speakers as he slammed it into Lou's shoulder. Lou cried out, stumbling against the side of the building. "Give up?" Jared demanded with a harsh bark of laughter. "Why would I do that? You wanted to start shit and now I'm going to finish it." Lou was holding his arm but he looked over to where Boyd had gotten to his feet. "It was just a fistfight! Jesus Christ, accept that you lost and move on. It's not that big of a deal." "Yeah, it was just a fight and this is just a fucking beat down." Jared jerked his chin at Boyd. "Grab the fag." Chaos erupted on screen. The view skewed again but a litany of curses and shouts filled the speakers. When the camera finally righted itself, Ken was holding Lou on his knees, and Jared was smirking down at him while two of the teens restrained Boyd. "Stay away from him!" Lou tried to surge to his feet but was kicked back. "Stay away from him? You think you can call the shots, rich boy?" Jared's face transformed in a heartbeat; one moment mocking and calm, the next manic and twisted. He was now holding the bat. "Your parents ain't around no more, bitch. I'll do what I want to that fucking faggot." Jared cocked the bat back and slammed it into Boyd's side. Boyd cried out, falling to the filthy concrete before Vince yanked him upright again. Lou screamed at him to stop, but Jared just smashed his heel to Boyd's groin and he collapsed to the ground again. "Oh, sorry. Did he need that? Who the fuck knows with you fags. I'd think he'd be the bitch but maybe it's you, Louis. Maybe I'm ruining your Monday night." Jared backhanded Boyd and blood spattered the sidewalk. As Sin watched, Boyd's eyes blazed through a fall of hair, his swollen and split lip was garish in contrast to his pale face. "You motherfucking piece of shit, don't you fucking touch him again!" Lou shouted, his voice high and panicked. "Please, leave him alone!" "Shut the fuck up, bitch. It ain't time to beg yet." Jared glanced at his friends. "Hold that little cocksucker. Make him watch." For a moment, the camera zoomed in too much and blurred. Sin's fingers curled into a tight fist. He could still hear the screaming. Boyd crying and the hard sounds of fists hitting skin. The splatter of blood. The dull thump of a skull bouncing off concrete. Even without the video, Sin could visualize it. But then the video focused again. Seth had zoomed out enough to catch a clear view of everyone on the scene. The thugs holding Boyd and the way Jared was still looming over Lou. It focused completely just as Jared kicked Lou in the face, causing globs of blood to fly everywhere. Over Boyd's screams, Sin was barely aware of someone noting that Jared had broken some of Lou's teeth. Someone else said that it would make it easier for Lou to give head. Sin didn't look to see who had spoken. All he could see was Boyd. "Please don't hurt him. Please! He won't bother you anymore, we promise." When Jared reared back with the bat, Boyd wailed, "I'll do anything! I'll give you money! Just—Please!" Jared laughed. "Yeah, I bet you can, princess. I seen you up in Cedar Hills. But I'll take what I want from you later." Again, the screen tilted wildly and blurred. When it re-focused, Boyd's shirt was ripped at the collar and he was down on the ground. In the seconds without video, Boyd had curled into a ball as Jared's friends kicked and hit him. They forced Boyd onto his stomach despite his desperate attempts to fight back. One sat on his back while the other held down his legs. Vince yanked Boyd's head back by a handful of hair, his chin scraping against the street. "Please," Boyd choked out. "Please leave us alone…" No one listened. When their tormentor abandoned the bat for a knife, Boyd began to scream. The sound made Sin recoil slightly, his stomach churning when Boyd's voice cracked. Sin knew Boyd was still pleading but the words were clogged with sobs. All Sin could make out was a keening "No!", just before Jared slammed the knife into Lou's stomach. The camera zoomed in. Jared smiled as he leaned close. "Now you'll keep your mouth shut, won't you?" When he yanked the knife out, Lou fell forward on his knees. "Boyd," Lou moaned. "Run!" "No! Lou!" "Oh, shut the fuck up," Jared snarled. He jerked his fist back and followed the first stab up with a slash across Lou's throat. Blood sprayed everywhere as Boyd howled. He bucked and struggled, trying to escape the two thugs that pinned him to the ground. "Leave him alone! Please!" Lou reached up to clutch the meat hanging from his throat. Blood spurted between his fingers like a fountain, gore staining his face, his hair, the white t-shirt he wore. Nothing remained of the boy he had been only moments ago. The boy who had kissed Boyd against the side of a building in the middle of the day. When Lou tried to speak blood spilled from his mouth. He made a gurgling sound. The camera began to shake. "I said," Jared whispered. "Shut. The. Fuck. Up." The third time Jared struck he punched the knife into Lou's heart. Lou dropped to the ground and convulsed, turning his head as if trying to see Boyd. Before he could complete the gesture, his body went perfectly still in death. Blood leaked away from him, staining a nearby puddle. Jared leaned over and yanked Lou's wallet from his back pocket. He pocketed the ID and threw the wallet to the ground as Boyd's desperate screams continued. "No, no, Lou! Help! Help us! Lou, you can't, oh God, please— I'll kill you, I'll fucking kill you—" Boyd's face was spattered with Lou's blood, his eyes darting like a cornered animal. He had managed to escape the two boys holding him to fling himself towards Lou, but they dragged him back, laughing. Jared turned away from Lou's corpse and flashed his cold smile at Boyd. "Hold him up." They yanked him to his feet, and Boyd lurched at Jared. His weeping became guttural, his face twisted with hatred that only intensified when he was prevented from reaching his lover's murderer. "You think you can do something?" Jared taunted. "You're nothing, bitch. Even less without Lou here to protect you. You couldn't even stop me from gutting that piece of shit." Boyd froze. He stood there, thin and pale compared to the teenagers around him, and the fight drained from his body. He went slack in the hands still holding him tight. "That's right," Jared whispered. "I want you to remember this forever. Remember how you let your little boyfriend die while you watched because you're too fucking pathetic to stop it. It'll always be that way. You're nothing and you never will be." Jared moved closer and jerked Boyd's head up. Boyd stared back dully, expression deadened like it had been the first time Sin saw him through a two-way mirror at the Agency. "Little piece of advice?" The knife glinted in Jared's hand, still slick with Lou's blood. He slammed it into Boyd's lower stomach. "Next time, pick a boyfriend who can actually back up the shit he talks." The knife plunged in again, ripped out, and Seth's voice hissed out from behind the camera. "Someone's coming!" The camera swung wildly, and caught an upside down glimpse of Boyd collapsing next to Lou's body before the video ended. Sin sat and stared for a long moment before he replayed the video. This time he tried to watch with clinical detachment. He picked apart Lou's fighting technique with disgust at the boy's inability to defend himself and his lover. The sloppy way the gang leader gutted him was not much better, and Sin absently went through several methods of killing that would have been quicker and more efficient. Sin had been a professional assassin by the time he was their age. As far as he was concerned, there was no excuse for the lack of skill. Even so, he couldn't remain detached. The slow simmer of anger had boiled up until Sin's fingers were flexing with the need to hit something or someone. It made no sense. There was no reason to be upset. Boyd had survived the attack. If Lou had lived, it was unlikely Boyd would have ended up at the Agency. It was better for Sin that the boy had died, but that didn't appease the building storm of his rage. All he could see was Boyd screaming, begging, and Jared laughing in his face. And Sin could identify exactly why it made him want to unleash his wrath. It was the same reason why it pissed him off when anyone on the compound looked at Boyd the wrong way or made one of their stupid comments. Sin shifted gears and turned his attention to the computer again. He tried to find out what had become of the attackers but was met with the same irritating conclusion that he'd expected. Lack of evidence, the police file had said, no suspects, unsolved. Jared had gotten away with it. Sin began opening programs and clicking things automatically. He printed out five pages and erased all traces of his history on the computer. Sin left the lounge with an expression that was a lot deadlier than it had been when he'd gone in. He took the stairs to Ryan's apartment again and he pounded his fist on the door loud enough to echo through the hall. Ryan opened the door and took an automatic step back at the waves of anger radiating off Sin. "Did something happen?" Sin pushed his way into the apartment. "Look these men up for me." "What?" Ryan squinted at him before taking the printed images that Sin held in one white-knuckled hand. "Who are these guys? Is this all you have?" "Their names are Jared, Tommy, Vince, Ken and Seth." "What—" "Just do it." Ryan nodded hastily and shoved the mass of papers and magazines off his desk before taking his seat at the computer. He laid each photograph out in the newly cleared space and chewed his lip. "Are these surveillance stills?" He pushed his glasses up his nose, professional attitude taking over. "I need more to work with than this." "They are near First Bank on Dauphin. That one's named Jared." Sin pointed at the picture. "He's the one I want." "Okay..." Ryan dragged his eyes away from Sin and turned on a lamp with an extremely bright bulb. "First Bank on Dauphin Street in Vickland, huh? Used to be a nice area, wealthy folks, but it was prime spot for gang activity and looting after the bombings because it was really close to one of the blast sites." Sin crossed his arms and said nothing. "And it looks like they're in the same gang… with a green bandanna." Ryan's fingers clattered on the keys, lips pursing while he worked. It was another few moments before he sat up straight with an exclamation. "The Outlaws! They're in the news so much you'd think I would have remembered what color they wore." "What's his name?" "Wait," Ryan said, swept up in his research. "Okay, Outlaws formed before the wars… major beef with the South Side Boys, got worse over the years—" He muttered as he read out loud and skimmed the information. "Jared Strickland suspected in multiple murders and rapes around Vickland but never pinned with any of them. He's a real shitbag. Has a terrible record dating back to 2010 when he was only fifteen. Seems to get off on slashing civilians and has a history of rape. It doesn't make sense that he's never been inside a jail for longer than a few months at a time. He has to be protected by someone in the police department or higher. There's even speculation about it in the Journalist Guild, although it doesn't seem like they ever found concrete proof." Ryan motioned Sin over. Sin hesitated before moving to stand behind Ryan. He leaned over his shoulder, looking at the computer screen impassively. Jared's face stared back at him in a mug shot that dated back several years. "Is, uh, this your guy?" "Yes. That's my guy." Ryan nodded. "A lot of his cronies are in jail or dead already but somehow this guy has survived. His crimes have piled up over the years but nothing has happened really. Sometimes there has even been evidence that was either ignored or miraculously went missing. He definitely has to be related to someone or else he has some kind of dirt on a big shot in the city." The comment deepened Sin's frown. He fought the urge to ask what kinds of crimes had piled up over the past decade. Had it been the serial rapes in Vickland and Crandall Park that the crooked detectives had tried to pin on Sin? The murders were mostly gang-related although the cops had tried to imply Sin was behind it after going on some kind of rampage. He didn't know if any of this was true but at the moment it seemed possible. Jared had obviously been an active psychopath for the last nine or ten years so the timing was correct. How ironic if it turned out the police had attempted to pin Sin with Jared's crimes, possibly even Lou's murder. "There's a tape of one of his crimes in the Agency database," Sin said. "How could the police not use it against him?" Ryan shook his head, seeming just as dismayed by the obvious obstruction. "My guess is that the Agency was keeping an eye on Jared since he was obviously a high-profile criminal." "Maybe they wanted to recruit him." Ryan snorted. "I wouldn't be surprised. I know they've hired lots of criminals and killers before. I guess sociopaths fit their assassin profile. In the end, they don't actually keep people like Strickland, though. It seems like he gets too much of a thrill out of doing this stuff." "Where is the original copy of the video?" Sin asked. "I'm thinking after the Agency copied it, the original somehow disappeared like all of the other stuff that tended to go miraculously missing with this guy." Ryan scanned whatever he was reading. "Oh wow, apparently he killed some rich politician's son a few years ago too." Sin tensed at the words. So far he hadn't explicitly told Ryan that he was looking into the death of Boyd's friend and he didn't plan to. If Ryan saw it himself, it would be out of his hands. Fortunately, whatever Ryan was reading didn't seem to mention Boyd's name. "That was pretty high profile for a while so there's some stuff on it here. Apparently he murdered this kid in broad daylight and then bragged about it to people afterward, showing the victim's identification as proof." The venom that had been swirling in Sin's system began to burn. Jared must have thought he was untouchable. "Where is he now?" "According to what we have in the database about him, he's still a lieutenant in the Outlaws but really heavy into drugs. He's in a methadone program but still does heroin at the same time. And—Oh! He currently resides at 289 Hammond Place in the Industrial district. It seems that he's just squatting there but it's on his residency placard for some re—" Sin was gone before the sentence could be completed. *** Aside from the Barrows, the Industrial District was one of the worst places to be in the city after dark. Even though the police enforced a midnight curfew it was still a haven of crime. Robberies were a frequent occurrence as were random acts of violence. The area was controlled by the South Side Boys so Sin had no idea why Strickland was living there. Perhaps it was close enough to the Theater District for him to feel safe. 289 Hammond Place was one of the abandoned tenements in one grid of the district. It was dilapidated and against building code, but no one was supposed to live there so nobody cared. Jared lived on the top floor. It appeared to be half hideout, half drug den; paraphernalia was scattered everywhere in the loft-like space that stank of sickness. When Sin first spotted Jared, he observed from the shadows. Time had not been kind to Lou's killer. Years of fighting, drugs and alcohol had aged him. Jared was emaciated and weak but still had the hard face and cold eyes of a killer; a clear product of the war and the streets that had likely welcomed him after. Jared was sitting on a filthy mattress that sagged on the floor while peering out the window. His hands were trembling and he was covered in a sheen of sweat. He didn't seem to sense that someone else had entered the room until Sin moved away from the darkened corner. Jared's head snapped up. "It's about time," he growled. "I feel like fucking shit waiting for you. I can't even get up." Sin approached without speaking. "Archie, what the hell are you doing?" Sin stepped into a beam of slanted moonlight and Jared recoiled. He threw himself back against the wall, tremors increasing as he groped around in the sheets as if looking for a weapon. His fingers shook so much he could barely perform the search. "Who the hell are you?" Jared managed to get to his feet, but his breath was coming in uneven gasps. There was no smugness in his face, no attitude and mocking smirk. Jared seemed to sense that he was in the presence of another killer. A better killer. "I'm warning you, man, you're fucking with the wrong person." Sin stopped in front of Jared and took him in slowly, deliberately. Jaundiced, diseased, underweight, and helpless. There was no match. No challenge. But when Sin looked into Jared's eyes, it did not process that this would be cold-blooded murder. Sin only knew that Jared had to die. "Dude—what do you want?" Jared held up his hands. "Money? Drugs? Fuck, man, just tell me what you want!" Sin smiled. "I want you to remember this forever." Jared's screams echoed through the Industrial District for over an hour. No one came to his aid. *** Boyd's house was dark when he entered after returning from the mission. His mind was already gearing towards the report he would have to type up in the morning, and the information he had received from Andrews. He was so distracted when he walked into the kitchen that he did not notice the figure sitting at the table until he flipped on the light. His heart leapt to his throat and he dropped back into a crouch. Adrenaline raging, it took Boyd a second to realize that it was Sin. He froze. Boyd had never told his partner where he lived and yet there Sin was, sitting at the kitchen table with his head bowed. "Sin. What—How did you get in here?" When Sin looked up, Boyd saw that his partner was spattered in blood. Remnants were barely visible on his hands, face, and neck; as if he'd tried to quickly scrub himself clean but hadn't been able to do a thorough job. "I picked the lock." "What? Why—?" The scene almost felt surreal but it was eclipsed by confusion and growing concern. "Did something happen? Are you alright?" "I'm fine." Sin stood and moved further away from Boyd. He raked both hands through his hair, the movements unsteady. "Fine." "Sin, what's going on?" Sin's face was an empty canvas, but his eyes were intense, burning, and distant. It was an expression that was eerily similar to the one Sin took on in the midst of a fight. When he shut everything else out and became a tool of destruction. Boyd hesitated. Was this the precursor to one of Sin's episodes or was he coming down from one? Whose blood had he so hastily tried to wash off? A civilian? An agent? "Sin..." Boyd took a step forward even though his instincts screamed for him to run away. Being around Sin while he was in this state set off alarms of imminent danger in Boyd's body. If Sin was having an episode, he would hurt Boyd without even realizing it was him. "Sin?" he asked uncertainly. Sin reached out in a sudden motion that caused Boyd to flinch. Before he could stop himself, he took a step back. This time, it was Sin who froze in place. He dropped his head again. "I tried to…I mean, I found something of yours." "What?" There was brief, strained silence before Sin put something on the table and slid it toward Boyd. It was a driver's license. Boyd started to grab it but stopped just short of touching the card when he realized it was also covered in blood. He took a closer look and the world around Boyd ground to a halt. His surroundings faded away until all he saw was Lou's cocky smile. Hand wrenching away, Boyd stumbled back. Horror twisted his throat and the dread in his stomach spread like wildfire with nausea as thick as smoke— That day slammed back into his mind with sharp, frightening clarity. The memories he'd spent years trying to suppress— Lou's face, twisted in agony—that helpless, terrible certainty that moved between them when they realized it had all gone so horribly out of control and there was no stopping it—there was no changing the way that fight was going and Lou was going to die— Bile was at the back of his throat and Boyd's arms jerked against his stomach. He was going to throw up. Boyd barely made it to the toilet before he threw up. The sound and smell only fed into the sensory nightmare. Boyd remembered snapping forward and vomiting next to Lou's body. The smell and taste of Lou's blood on his lips. The meaty sound of Lou turning into a broken corpse on the street. Eyes that had once been mischievous turning dull, lifeless, and staring at him from above a ravaged throat. Pleading. Accusing. Denying. Dead. It all kept coming back to that picture, the grin Lou had on that ID, in life, just minutes before everything had changed. Before Boyd, too, had died. Turning away from the cold porcelain of the toilet, Boyd pressed against the side of the wall. He curled in on himself, burying his face in his knees, and tried to feel nothing. His chest heaved and no matter how hard he gripped himself, he still felt like he was falling apart. After spending years trying to deny and repress what had happened, the entire memory from start to finish was now ripped out and flayed. Boyd dug into his hair with quaking fingers and tried hard not to cry, not to vomit again, but he didn't make it long. He didn't even hear when Sin left.
  3. Santino

    Chapter 13

    Thirteen Eugene Yardley was different in both attitude and appearance than any of the other insurgents Boyd had dealt with thus far in his career at the Agency. Up until now most of their assignments had dealt with recon, intelligence gathering, negotiating with informants, or small-scale attacks on disorderly factions that were being scouted by Janus. Eugene was a different case entirely, and Sin wondered how his partner planned to handle him. The man was a former Janus operative who looked as if he should be watching a tennis match at a country club rather than standing in a back alley in a shady part of Seattle. His dark eyes were alert behind thin-framed glasses, and he did not seem intimidated by them at all. Eugene appeared nonchalant but the way his bodyguards surrounded him showed that he was not taking any chances. Apparently, Janus was as fond of deserters as the Agency was. Defection led to death. Sin wasn't involved with the actual negotiations and he wanted it over and done with. Their position in the alley was not ideal for an altercation. The street was narrow and surrounded by buildings with gaping windows, all of which gave a sniper a perfect line of sight. There was no place for cover other than a dumpster, and Sin had the suspicion that Eugene's bodyguards were more serious than common street thugs. If the kid could afford cashmere sweaters and diamond-encrusted watches in the post-war economy, he could afford professional killers. Fortunately, they didn't appear to be dabbling in gene-splicing or bionic modification. "I'd ask how you boys found me but I'll assume you weren't the clever ones doing the finding." "We have our sources," Boyd said. "I doubt you have anything. You two are just little messengers for whichever government agency is currently trying to nail Janus." Eugene smirked. "Which is it this time?" "We represent an independent group that is unrelated to the government." Boyd's expression remained impassive, the lie rolling off his tongue with ease. "I imagine you already heard of us from your time in Janus. We are often referred to simply as the Agency." A dark smile stole across Eugene's face. "Right." "We have some things we'd like to discuss but perhaps there's a better setting than this?" "The setting suits me fine. I didn't know you Agency boys were so high maintenance." Eugene looked up at Sin and did not seem surprised when Sin's flinty expression didn't change. "The ambiance doesn't concern us." Echoing the words, Boyd leaned against the wall nearest him, the dirty bricks catching on his jacket. "I simply thought you may be hesitant to discuss potential business in the open where anyone could overhear, especially given Janus' distaste for former members." "I'm not fond of repeating myself." As always, Boyd was unperturbed. "I'm sure your time is valuable, I will make this short. Our organization is interested in purchasing information from you. As you've recently been running into some financial difficulties and the information we seek is likely no longer of use to you, we feel it could be mutually beneficial for all." Eugene rocked on the balls of his feet. It seemed more like he was considering negotiating the price on a new car rather than whether or not he would sell information on an organization that the United States considered domestic terrorists. "While I'm sure it must be difficult for people such as yourself—meaning opinion-less lackeys who are sent on errands and kill quests without much say in what's happening or understanding of why it is—I'm... not. Is there a particular reason why the Agency thinks I'd start helping them now?" "You're liable to be targeted by Janus as a traitor which no doubt would result in your torture and death." Boyd's shoulders lifted in a minute shrug before he moved on with the bluff. "Information from our sources implies Janus may be closing in on your location. We have the ability to aid in your disappearing from the grid should you choose to work with us. Depending on the information you provide, we could offer even better services such as a new identify and safe location." This time Eugene aimed his cocky smile at his guards. "Am I hearing a broken record? I asked why I would help the Agency. I only left because I didn't like what they were doing down south, not because I'm suddenly going to switch sides. If you think my loyalty to their cause has weakened, think again. You are nothing more than filth that blindly serves a government which sees itself as sovereign of the world. Eventually Janus or someone like them will crush you all and the citizens of the world will take back power." Boyd glanced at Sin. So much for plan A. If Eugene wasn't going to be of use, his continued existence was unnecessary. Marshal Connors wasn't taking any chances with Eugene leaking information to Janus that the Agency had sources close enough to feed them information on their defectors. Negotiation was out. Neutralizing was in. Sin moved. Within two blinks, one bodyguard lay on the ground with a bullet in his head while the other was flung across the alley to crash into a brick wall. The scene exploded into motion as the remaining guards rushed Sin. As Sin had suspected, these guys were well trained. Sin traded attacks with one of the more skilled of the bodyguards and, in his peripheral vision, saw Eugene fleeing the alley. Baring his teeth in annoyance, Sin evaded a jab at his throat, twisted out of the way of a knee to his side, and barely dodged a bullet careening past his head. He flipped backwards and allowed his booted foot to crush the other man's throat in the process. "Get cover!" he shouted at Boyd. Sin dodged another bullet and sprinted down the alley after Eugene. The ground was damp from recent rain and Sin could hear the men behind him splashing through the puddles with heavy steps. The sound of the guards chasing him lessened as his legs pumped faster, distance growing between them and him. Eugene was moving like a man possessed, managing to somehow keep a block between them as he shot alarmed glances over his shoulder. His calm demeanor had vanished, leaving a pale young man who was terrified and likely knew without doubt that he was within seconds of the end of his life. Ready to be finished with the mission, Sin moved faster. There were no civilians in the area, but if Eugene got any further, they'd hit the main street. Abandoning his plan to do it soundlessly, Sin opted instead for speed. He raised his gun and shot Eugene twice in quick succession in the back of the head. The ex-Janus operative dropped to the ground. Blood pooled into the gutter, mixing with rainwater. Within the space of one second and the next, Sin had turned on his heel and run back the way he'd come. Somehow, he'd failed to realize that the sound of pursuit had died away. A strange feeling churned Sin's gut in knots and skipped a beat in his heart. Distantly, Sin recognized it as fear. Cursing himself, Sin raced back to the original location of the meeting. It had been further than he'd thought—several blocks, and two avenues. The seconds it took to make his way back stretched unbearably as Sin realized that he'd fucked up by letting Boyd out of his sight. The sinking feeling was justified when Sin skidded back into the alley. Boyd was sprawled on his side with the remaining bodyguard standing over him. Sin raised his weapon and unloaded into the man, barely pausing before he ran to Boyd and pushed the corpse aside. "Boyd!" Boyd's jacket was ripped and damp with blood, as was his hair. A quick assessment of their surroundings told the story easily. After dispatching one of the hostiles, Boyd had fallen and slammed against the edge of the dumpster, likely hitting his head. The injury beneath his clothing was a mystery in the shadows of the alley, but it felt like a flesh wound. "Boyd, get up," Sin snapped. Boyd's eyebrows drew down and his face contorted with pain. "We need to get out of here," Sin said, looking around again. In the distance, he could hear the faint sound of a siren. After a second, Boyd groaned and made an effort to rise. When he was slouched, his hand went to his head where the blood matted his hair, standing out against the pale blond. "Ow," he groaned. "What the fuck happened?" Sin demanded. "I don't know..." It was unclear whether Boyd didn't know the answer to Sin's question or if he was still trying to understand the situation. "Forget it." Sin stood up, grinding his teeth with irritation as he gingerly pulled his partner to his feet. He slid an arm around Boyd's waist and crushed him against his side, more carrying than supporting. Boyd stumbled alongside him, fingers clutching at Sin's clothing. It would have been easier to toss Boyd over his shoulder and run, but Sin was loath to draw attention to them so soon. He took as many turns as possible to put distance between them and the alley. It wasn't long before the sirens grew louder and Sin had to give up on being discreet. When Boyd barely reacted, Sin cursed again and picked Boyd up fully. He could feel the warmth of blood against his own shirt when Boyd's jacket pressed against it. The fear grew stronger, stabbing at Sin and heightening his adrenaline. The labyrinth of streets took ages to navigate. Sin moved without thinking, mind calling upon the map he'd studied before the meeting with Eugene, and calculating the distance to their motel. Only once did he have to duck into the doorway of a closed shop to escape notice. A group of drunken young people were stumbling by and Sin slid sideways, blocking Boyd's bloodied face and hair from view. It likely looked like they were doing something unsavory but, at the moment, he didn't give a shit. Taking the opportunity to examine Boyd further, Sin ignored the catcall that they drew from a passerby. "Are you more alert?" Sin canted forward to hiss into Boyd's ear and reached up to seek the wound with his fingers. There was definitely a gash. It was bleeding a lot, but it was slowly clotting. Boyd nodded, his movements slow and cautious. Pain was a faint undercurrent to his words. "I think so." "Can you run? The motel is another twenty minutes away." Again, Boyd nodded despite his pinched expression. "I can, but my chest—there's a wound. I'll slow you down." "I can carry you," Sin added quickly. "You're bleeding a lot. It may be better." Relief was unmistakable in the slump of Boyd's shoulders. "Okay." As soon as the noises of the group disappeared down the block, Sin picked Boyd up and began running through the darkness again. He could feel Boyd's face pressed against his chest and his arms tight around his neck, and beneath the layers of their clothing, Sin could feel the beating of Boyd's heart. Everything went by in a blur as Sin ran to their motel. It was in as equally shady an area as where they had met Eugene, but several portions of the city hadn't regained their stature after the economic collapse. The end result was boarded up businesses that had never acquired new owners, copious amounts of beggars, streetwalkers and drug dealers in equal numbers. Their motel was one of the few in the area that afforded separate units in a ranch style that didn't require going near the management office. Sin moved silently through the shadows, melting into them and then separating himself once he reached the unit they'd requested. It was the one farthest from the parking lot and closest to the tree line of the surrounding area. Sin set Boyd down when they were in the surveillance camera's range. He supported Boyd as if helping a drunken friend and Boyd played along, although Sin suspected that the stumbling wasn't entirely staged. When their door shut, Boyd doubled over by a garbage can. "Goddamnit." Sin locked the door while Boyd got sick, securing the room and pulling the curtains shut. When it was over, Boyd slumped against the wall with a gasp. Sin was already by his side, kneeling on the floor and undoing the buttons on Boyd's jacket. He pushed it aside and saw that the long-sleeved shirt Boyd wore beneath was cut open in an arc, the wound bleeding steadily. Not hesitating or waiting to ask Boyd's opinion on the matter, Sin picked him up again and crossed the room. Getting the motel room bloody would only draw attention to who had been occupying it once they were gone. Especially with the news of murders nearby. The last thing they needed on top of a trip to medical was having to explain the PR nightmare to Vivienne if Seattle cops started investigating. "Do you know what I'm doing?" Sin demanded as they entered the bathroom. Boyd inclined his head. His breath came out in a pained hiss and he muttered something incoherent. The only word Sin made out was "mess." Glad that they wouldn't have to argue about this at least, Sin ripped the shower curtain aside and set Boyd down on the tiled floor inside. Both of them were covered in blood by this point so Sin switched the shower on—allowing the water to spray close to where they were crouched. It hit Boyd's face and hair indirectly, and Boyd's eyes shot open. The water rinsed the blood off Boyd along with the filth that had collected in his hair from the alley. It wasn't the most convenient option but it was the one that allowed for as little movement of Boyd's head as possible after he'd been jolted around in their egress. "I need to wash out these wounds without making this whole room look like a crime scene." Sin knelt in the shower floor next to Boyd. The water was hitting Sin's side and soaking through his shirt but it didn't matter. He'd have to change anyway unless they made the trip across the country in bloody clothing. At least it seemed to be making Boyd more alert. He reached up to pat at his shirt which was becoming damp from the water. Then, he pointed at his shoes. "What about..." Without waiting for a response, Boyd leaned forward. His fingers were clumsy as he started to untie the laces of his boots. "Forget that," Sin snapped, pushing his partner back against the shower wall. He immediately cursed himself for not being gentler. "Just be still." Sin stood up and backed out of the shower, kicking off his own boots only because they would track blood across the carpet. The med kit wasn't out like it should have been in case of an emergency, but they hadn't anticipated injuries for such a small-scale mission. Swearing and ignoring the building tension in his body, Sin forced himself to focus solely on the matter at hand. His own issues could wait. Unzipping the duffel bag with more force than necessary, Sin dug out the med kit and belatedly took off his gun. It was soaked from the water. In his haste, he'd forgotten to remove it before jumping in the damn shower. Stupid. When had he become so completely unprofessional over a couple of fucking flesh wounds? Grinding his teeth in agitation, Sin turned away from his weapon. It would have been smarter to take it apart and let it dry out but that was less important now. If anyone came bursting in for whatever reason, the mood he was in would guarantee a throat ripped out, anyway. Guns weren't something he relied on. He stripped his shirt off upon reentering the bathroom and crouched in front of Boyd. His partner was awake and pressing a hand to his head. He had managed to kick off his boots. They lay haphazardly on the bathroom floor. Pushing Boyd's hand away, Sin examined the head wound again and saw that it was not very deep. He checked for signs of swelling or any sunken areas but found none. Ignoring the relief that met with this discovery, Sin tilted Boyd's chin up. Their gazes locked and Boyd's golden eyes finally appeared to have focused. "Are you good?" "The water helps." Sin's fingers splayed across Boyd's face, pushing wet hair to the side. He let his hand stay there, pressed against Boyd's cheek, but then he shook his head and let it fall away before reaching for the antibiotic ointment. "How the hell did those two idiots jump you?" Boyd tried to sit up straighter, his damp shirt squeaking against the tiled wall of the shower. "I took care of one and two came back at me. One cut me and then I got him. The other was too close and disarmed me. Then I fell." Sin applied the ointment to the wound, his voice coming out gruff. "That's the last time we split up. Got it? I run, you fucking run." "Okay," Boyd said, subdued. While tending to the deepest part of the gash Sin tried to be gentle, but Boyd winced and jerked away. He reached up to grasp Sin's wrist, not applying pressure or pushing Sin away, but merely pressing his fingers against Sin's skin. Sin stilled and looked down, meeting Boyd's eyes. Boyd only looked up at Sin and nodded a single time. Droplets of water ran down the planes of his face, hugging the contours of his lips and chin. In that instant, an image flitted across Sin's mind… Him pressing Boyd against the wall as the younger man panted furiously, and the barest graze of their mouths. Sin inhaled deeply, his body warming. The feel of water sluicing down his arm snapped Sin out of the daze, and he jerked his attention away. He shut off the water. A few drops fell from the shower head while water tinged pink with blood flowed toward the drain. Clearing his throat, Sin backed off and grabbed a thick wad of gauze. "Hold this against the wound." Boyd's fingers brushed against Sin's as he obediently took the gauze. Clenching his jaw, Sin tried to ignore the deranged reaction his body was having to Boyd. Instead, he reached out to cut the already-destroyed shirt down the middle. Before he could do it, Boyd shot his hands out and threw himself backward. His knees snapped up, keeping Sin away. "No—" The word wrenched out of Boyd. "Don't." Sin leaned back in surprise, seeing raw terror in Boyd's face. He looked one heartbeat away from tearing away from Sin and fleeing the room. Baffled, Sin could only stare. He had no idea what could have caused such an extreme reaction, especially in someone so unemotional as Boyd, and he felt a brief flash of impatience. He didn't know how deep the laceration was or how much blood Boyd had lost. They didn't have time for this shit; not when they were expected at the airport within the next several hours. But the fear in Boyd's eyes stopped him. "What if I just rip the part where the wound is?" Even this suggestion scared Boyd. He remained coiled against the wall like a feral animal. The seconds dragged with Boyd panting harshly, not moving from his position as if he was petrified. It was then that Sin remembered that first day in the car when they'd driven along Dauphin street. The wild look, the labored breathing—the signs of post-traumatic stress written all over Boyd's face. "Fuck." Sin's breath hissed out in a slow exhale. His impatience skyrocketed, but he beat it back and tried to figure out what to do. It was only after Boyd began to tremble that Sin reached up to touch the side of Boyd's neck. "Boyd, I'm not going to hurt you. I just want to stitch up your wound." Boyd grabbed Sin's wrist but didn't shove his hand away. "Just that area and nothing else," Sin said, keeping his voice low. He fanned out his fingers to cup Boyd's face again. This time, he moved it up in a slow caress. When Boyd's eyes closed and he leaned into the touch, Sin nearly lost his focus. He swallowed hard. "Just let me fix you." Precious minutes dragged with Sin becoming lost in the feel of soft skin, and Boyd's fear visibly receding as he clutched Sin's wrist. By the time Boyd was back to himself, Sin felt like he was the one on the verge of losing control. There was too much closeness, too much tenderness, just too much… "Are you okay?" he grit out, voice rough. Boyd nodded but said nothing. "Let's go in the other room. You need to get your head elevated." The next several minutes were spent moving to the main room while trying not to make a mess, and propping Boyd's head up with pillows as he stretched out on one of the full sized beds. Sin sat next to him, using his knife to cut Boyd's already destroyed shirt at an angle that only exposed the very top of his torso and his left shoulder. The gash was deeper than Sin had thought. "I'm going to stitch this up." "Alright." Boyd gripped the covers and his chest rose and fell more quickly than normal. Time stretched with nothing to fill it but the ticking of a clock, the hum of the room's heater, and Sin methodically sewing the wound with the precision of a surgeon. He'd done it often enough to himself to complete the task easily on someone else. But even as his hands moved confidently, closing the gash once he'd cleaned it thoroughly, his mind was churning. This was all wrong. The entire partnership had evolved in a way that he had never imagined was possible. From the start, nothing had gone as he'd expected. He'd never expected to be intrigued by Boyd, or to find anything in common with him. He'd never expected to feel reluctance about allowing the younger man to die. He'd definitely never expected to eventually start enjoying Boyd's company, and especially had not expected this god awful attraction. As soon as he'd noticed Boyd's features that day in the thrift shop, the entire thing had taken off at a speed Sin hadn't anticipated. He hadn't been able to stop noticing things about Boyd from that point on, which had manifested into a confusing desire to do... something, that night in his apartment. After finding out that Boyd was gay and had been sexually active in the past, the situation had gotten worse. Trying to picture somber, expressionless Boyd without any of his inhibitions had somehow morphed into picturing him losing those inhibitions with Sin. The worst part was that the musings had not been purposeful—they'd randomly accosted Sin and then refused to leave. Scowling, Sin prodded Boyd. "Don't fall asleep yet." One of Boyd's eyelids rose. "You have a needle in me. I'm not going to sleep." "It doesn't hurt that bad." Boyd scrunched his face up and dropped his head back against the pillows. "It doesn't feel good." The nagging feeling that had been plaguing Sin since he'd gone back to the alley to find Boyd on the ground returned. "Sorry." Boyd peeked down. "It's okay. There's no painless way to stitch a wound like this." "That's not what I was talking about." There was a brief pause. "Then what?" Sin made a face. "What do you think? If I'd been on top of things, this wouldn't have happened." Boyd's eyes opened wider. "It isn't your fault. If you hadn't gotten Eugene, we both would have been in trouble. The rest of this..." He gestured to his wounds and let his hand fall to the bed again. "It just happens sometimes." Unconvinced, Sin finished stitching the wound, cleaned it, and applied a bandage. But even though his wounds were now attended to, Boyd still looked like a mess. They had several hours before they had to meet the Agency transport team so Sin reached for the pack with the intention of giving Boyd a fresh pair of clothing. "If your head is feeling better, you should change. We have seven hours before the transport team will expect us." That being said, Sin turned to walk back to the bathroom. "Sin," Boyd called out. Sin paused and looked over his shoulder. One of Boyd's hands was holding together his ruined shirt. "Thank you." Sin refused to maintain eye contact, shrugged, and retreated to the bathroom to clean up. He stayed in there probably longer than was necessary, detailing the shower and the tiled floors to get rid of all traces of blood. Afterward, he showered with scalding water. An intense need to separate himself from Boyd coexisted with a desire to make sure Boyd was okay. But Sin's automatic desire to tend to Boyd was starting to disturb him. Why the fuck did he even care? It wasn't like Boyd didn't have medical training. He knew how to take care of himself, and if he didn't, he would die sooner than later. It was a fact of life. A basic tenet of their jobs. Yet here Sin was, babying the kid, and running through the streets in some mad rush to get him to safety. And that wasn't even mentioning the actual panic that he'd felt at seeing Boyd sprawled on the filthy ground, covered in blood. Sin turned off the water and stepped out of the shower. For what felt like the first time in a long time, he stared at himself in the mirror. It was usually something he avoided; he didn't like being reminded that he had grown up to be nearly identical to his now deceased father. Even so, Sin looked at his reflection and tried to figure out what the hell was different. Where had he gone so fucking wrong? When had he become just another weak person? He would have thought that years of conditioning himself to not care about other people would have held out longer. Years of being alienated and turned into something barely human should have made him not as likely to get sucked in. But all it had taken was Boyd's determination, curious questions and cautious smile, and things had slipped out of Sin's control. He was pathetic. *** The debriefing was scheduled for a full day after they returned to Lexington, and Sin's only motivation for attending was not hearing Carhart's complaining. He spent the duration of the meeting staring at his panel, zoning out, and avoiding Boyd's searching stare. The kid's eyes were like magnets, but Sin leaned his cheek against his hand and gazed out the window. "Are you with us?" Carhart demanded at one point. "Sure." "Don't let me interrupt your nap," was the sarcastic reply. "I wouldn't." And the debriefing dragged on. By the end, Sin was ready to return to the safety of his empty apartment where he could drown out his extraneous preoccupation with recent developments in peace. He was determined to somehow mentally retrain himself and get his brain back to the way it had been, before Boyd had come along and complicated everything by acting like Sin was a real person. But that, too, was ruined when Boyd stopped him after everyone else filed out of the conference room. "What?" "Thanks for waiting." Boyd glanced at the door. After a hesitation, he turned to his messenger bag. "I wanted to give you something." "Why?" Sin regarded the bag with confusion. "For what?" Boyd removed a rectangular object that was wrapped in several layers of white tissue paper. He held it out to Sin. Confused, Sin took the package. It was heavier than he'd expected. "Why are you giving me anything? What is it?" "Open it and see." Feeling utterly lost, Sin ripped the paper down the middle. It was a book—an archaic-looking hardcover book with a reddish-gold cover. The spine was elaborate despite the fact that most of the cover was faded with age. He could just make out the words 'Paradise Lost' on the spine. "You're giving this to me? Why?" "I've had it for years but after I saw your tattoo, I started wondering whether you would appreciate it more." Boyd reached out, his fingers brushing the cover. "It's a second edition. I wanted a first but they're too expensive. I was lucky enough to find this at an antique store I frequent." Boyd dropped his hands and then winced as if the movement caused him pain. "I wanted to give it to you as a thank you." Sin had no idea what to say. A voice in the back of his head ordered him to give it back, but Sin's fingers only dug harder into the cover. "Why do you keep thanking me?" "Because you're nice to me. And you listened when I—" Boyd gestured to his shirt, looking uncomfortable. "You could have ignored me and you didn't. And I... I appreciate that." "Oh." Sin stared at the book. "I see." If Boyd was underwhelmed by Sin's response, he didn't show it or look surprised. He simply closed his bag and put it over his good shoulder. "Well, I'm going to leave. I have some errands to run today. I'll see you later." Sin struggled with what to say, tried to force himself to utter a thank you, but the words locked up in his throat. Feeling like an idiot, he started to at least say goodbye when his phone rang. Caught off guard, the moment passed and Sin wound up not saying a thing as Boyd left. Irritated, Sin took the call without even looking at the screen. "What?" he growled. "Problem, Vega?" Sin glanced down at the book. He had a sudden desire to cover it up again, as if Marshal Connors could see it through the phone. "No. What do you want?" "You, in my office, in twenty minutes," was the chilly reply. "You're being sent out within the hour." The call ended. Sin left the conference room and headed to his building to drop off the book. It, and whatever he wanted to say to Boyd, would have to wait until his mission was over. Feeling inexplicably gloomy, Sin wondered who he would be assassinating now.
  4. Santino

    Chapter 12

    Twelve Their six-month anniversary as partners was marked by their most violent mission to date. Boyd hit the floor and skidded before he could catch himself. When he looked back, he couldn't see anything around the crates. He ducked down, shielding his head as bullets shot crevices out of the wall above him. The sound of men shouting and screaming echoed in the warehouse. He couldn't make sense of anything except that within a matter of seconds, chaos had exploded around him. A man careened past his view and hit the wall so hard Boyd heard a disturbing crack, and blood splattered around him in rivulets. Boyd jerked back and peered around the crates sheltering him. What he saw may as well have been a dream. Sin was the eye of a storm. Both his guns were drawn, shooting in different directions. His bare arms gleamed with sweat and blood. His expression was set in that distant, grim look Boyd had seen on the videos. The face of death. As Boyd watched, Sin killed five men in succession, blasting out the backs of their heads with perfect shots to the foreheads, or felling them where they stood by hits to the throat and chest. The ones who came close received violent kicks that sent them flying backward. Even as they fell, others came at Sin like cockroaches. He sheathed the guns so fast Boyd hardly noticed it happening, and soon the fight turned to bare hands. Throats were ripped out, shoulders dislocated and people thrown through the air as if they weighed no more than a paper doll. One hostile screamed as he was flung against another man behind him. The two fell in a tangle and were nearly trampled by another rush of hostiles swarming Sin. Sin used one of his attackers as a human shield against a thrown knife, and even as the injured man looked down in shock, Sin snapped his neck with a motion that was effortless but caused immediate death. And within a heartbeat, Sin was already turning to take on more. Boyd stayed hidden, knowing he was not skilled enough to throw himself into the fray but also found himself unable to stop watching the slaughter. It ended with an aborted scream, the thump of a body falling, and then the sound of a single pair of boots walking across the floor. As expected, Sin was the only one left standing. Blood streaked his face, splattered his clothes and dampened his hair. It was difficult to tell if any of it was his, but aside from a slightly halting gait when he strode to Boyd's side, Sin seemed fine. "Set the charges anyway." Sin's face was devoid of emotion as he surveyed the room. Boyd was certain that part of a scalp was caught on Sin's shoulder. Boyd averted his eyes and moved out from behind the crates. It was like seeing a real life version of some of the video games he had once played. There was no way to avoid the blood when Boyd dropped down to finish arranging the explosive, so his hands came away smeared red. He tried not to focus on that, or the bodies strewn about, but he could not stop his eyes from darting to each one. Limbs were skewed at odd angles and still faces stared in surprise. It was a caricature of life cut short. Multiple lives. And by a single man. Once the explosives were set, Boyd approached Sin with the detonator in hand. "I'm ready." Sin turned to leave. Boyd didn't detonate the explosives until they were nearly a block away. The explosion rocked the van and broke out windows on some of the neighboring buildings. Fire erupted, casting flickering shadows across the street as they drove away. At their brief stop at the safehouse, Sin showered while Boyd packed and did a sweep of the room. They were gone within twenty minutes with Sin taking a short detour down an alley to throw his bloody clothing into a dumpster. When Sin sat in the driver's seat, Boyd was relieved. Although his part in the mission had not been as physically taxing as Sin's, Boyd's mind was spinning and he felt exhausted. A quick glimpse of Sin's face showed that he was half-hidden by the night due to the city lights flashing by them. It made the unreadable quality of his expression seem tenfold, and lent weight to the silence between them. Although Sin was clean, Boyd still couldn't look at him without remembering the blood coating his skin, or the flecks of brain and flesh spattered across his clothes like he was some nouveau art installation decorated by pieces of a corpse. Boyd tried to focus on their surroundings and the drive, but continued to replay Sin dodging attacks with inhuman speed or swiping his arm out in a graceful arc that caused a fountain of blood to spray everywhere. Boyd thought about Sin running up the side of the wall like a wraith; gravity seeming to mean very little with his sights set on enemies, and the way he had flipped backwards with both guns blazing—multiple hostiles left dead before his feet even touched down. Forty men against one. How were those odds possible in reality? Boyd looked sidelong at his partner and caught Sin jerking his own eyes away. He didn't say anything but Boyd could see the tension in his shoulders. Wondering if Sin was injured, Boyd tried to give him a subtle once-over but it was too difficult to see in the dark. He didn't think Sin had received anything more than superficial wounds, so it was possible he was just stressed by the direction the mission had gone. After all, the original plan had been simple. Set explosives and take out a terrorist node. The intel claimed there would be fifteen people max but they had found closer to forty. An attempt to keep the operation covert had failed when one of the hostiles stumbled upon Boyd setting his final explosive. He'd barely glanced up to see a gun in his face before Sin had thrown him to safety and killed the gunman. And, in the process, started the violence. It seemed like a lot of trouble just to keep him unharmed, and Boyd was still unused to the idea of Sin actually protecting him. Especially when that protection ended in a massacre. The silent car ride allowed Boyd to analyze the situation to the point where everything seemed abstract and more confusing than it had been before. Forcing himself to stop, Boyd reemerged from his daze only to realize that Sin was looking at him again. And again, Sin averted his eyes as soon as Boyd noticed. Sin was worrying his lip between his teeth, fingers white-knuckled on the wheel, and shoulders hunched forward. Everything about his posture and expression was so high-strung that Boyd felt compelled to break the silence. "Are you alright?" "My injuries aren't severe." "You're very quiet." "I don't have much to say." "Usually you have something to say by now." Sin grunted. It was clear that even if his injuries weren't severe, they were still causing him some degree of discomfort. He'd stopped hiding his wounds so completely only recently, but it was still surprising to see. After nearly a full minute had passed, Sin said, "You weren't exactly looking very chatty yourself." Boyd supposed it was true enough. "I was thinking." "About what a freak I am?" "No." Boyd frowned. "I won't deny that the mission underscored how dangerous you can be but you've also saved me twice. I don't entirely know what to make of you, but I can say for certain that I don't see you as the out-of-control, psychopathic monster others seem to, or that you may believe I do." Sin did not answer but Boyd caught a glimmer of surprise in his face when they drove through the path of a street light. "What?" Boyd asked. "I just… didn't expect you to say that." "Did you think I would hate you now?" "No. But I thought you'd be afraid of me now. It would make sense." "Would it have bothered you if it had?" At that, Sin made a face. "Why do you always need so many details?" "Why are you always so reluctant to answer when I ask?" Sin released a long-suffering sigh. "Because you ask questions that are uninteresting to me." "The answers would be interesting to me." Boyd looked out the window, noting that they were moving out of the city and onto the highway. "Should everything be solely according to what you want?" "Yes." Boyd snorted, but there was a faint curve of his lips. "If you say so." Sin smirked and some of the rigidness left his shoulders. Even though he clearly did not want to admit it, Sin looked relieved to find that Boyd still did not fear him. The fact that Sin cared at all was mystifying when so few people in Boyd's life gave much weight to his opinions, but he understood how it felt to be alienated from everyone else and not want to lose a single existing connection. Even so, the contradictions Sin represented—the way he was violent and harsh with others but quiet and uncertain around Boyd—made him feel almost… special. Like his existence actually mattered. He almost scoffed aloud at that embarrassing thought, and was glad when the shrill scream of fire trucks in the distance interrupted his ruminating. Sin's eyes flicked to the rear view mirror before turning on the radio. He found a local station and within the next twenty minutes, there was a special report of a large explosion on the outskirts of town. There was no indication that the authorities had more information so Sin switched the channel. Obnoxious pop music filled the car and, with a grimace, he shut the radio off. Boyd wondered what music Sin liked but did not bother to ask. He attempted to once again lose himself in the relative peace of the drive, but the scenery was not very engaging. Trees were dark lines in the night, their colorful leaves hidden in shadow, and broken up by signs proclaiming the distance to the next cities. Billboards that hadn't seen maintenance in years left strange messages in their wake; shredded advertisements only partially illuminated with half the words and faces missing. Boyd wondered how many of those places were still in existence and how many had become just one more ghost haunting peoples' memories. With the darkness seeping in from outside and the rocking of the van, Boyd was lulled into a doze. It felt like his eyes had barely closed when he was awoken by a change in his surroundings. He sat up and squinted at the lights around him, unable to stop a jaw-cracking yawn. They had pulled in at a 24-hour rest stop. "I want to eat before we get back." Sin pointed to the diner across the parking lot. Boyd nodded, unsurprised. Since Sin could get anything he wanted when they were off compound, he usually liked to stop for food. They filled the van with gas and headed over to the diner, crossing the distance as Sin adjusted his jacket and pulled his hood up over his head. It was an action that Boyd had begun to notice more often, as if Sin was perpetually trying to hide when out in public. He usually failed. No matter how hard he tried, Sin stood out. The diner was not very different than the other diners they'd visited in the past. No one paid attention to them when they arrived, which was one of the good things about rest stops. They offered anonymity since most people were just passing through. The hostess, a girl with black curls and a bored look on her face, perked up when they approached. She took in Sin, who stared back grimly from beneath his hood, before turning to Boyd. She grinned and stared him down. "Hi, I'm Danielle. Welcome to Sam's Shake Shack." Boyd nodded politely in return. He hoped they ended up in a booth away from others so they didn't have to overhear any pointless conversations. Danielle started to lead them to a booth at the front but Sin ordered in a flat voice, "The one at the back." She shrugged. "Sure." The booth he'd indicated was set apart from the rest of the crowd. Danielle placed menus in front of each of them. "The special shake tonight is strawberry shortcake if you're interested. It's pretty awesome if you like that kind of thing." When neither of them replied aside from Boyd nodding, she sighed. "Your waiter will be right here." Sin opened his menu and didn't bother to say anything in return. "Thank you, Danielle," Boyd said. Danielle gave Boyd a bright smile and returned to her station at the door. "How cute," Sin commented from behind his menu. "Hmm?" Boyd perused the menu for something that would fit his Agency-ordered diet. He was set to train with David again tomorrow and he was going to have to account for every calorie he'd consumed. "I forget that you're blond." "Is it possible for you to make it through a conversation without insulting someone in some manner?" "Most likely not." Sin snapped his menu shut and put it on the table, leaning back against the booth. His eyes were barely visible from beneath his hood. "Well, if you want to say something, just say it. I don't like it when people play games." "I guess I won't take out my set of checkers then," was the disinterested reply. Sin looked around the diner, checking out the other patrons. Boyd shook his head and skimmed the menu. He didn't feel like getting into a roundabout conversation. The waiter came over and put glasses of water in front of each of them. He was tall, gangly, and had shoulder-length brown hair. "Hey guys, I'm Steve and I'll be your waiter tonight," he said dully. He looked stoned. "The specials today are the golden-crusted chicken pot pie with buttermilk biscuits, the tricolor pasta tossed with lemon chicken, and the strawberry shortcake shake." "I'll have the grilled chicken three-egg omelet." Boyd handed Steve the menu. "Potatoes or hash browns with that?" "Potatoes, please." Steve nodded, not writing anything down. "White or wheat toast?" "Wheat." "'Kay." Steve turned to Sin expectantly. There was a pause where Sin stared at Steve and then asked, "What's a pot pie?" There was another pause as Steve tucked some hair behind his ear and looked skeptical. Then he shrugged. "Uh. It's like, chicken, potatoes, peas and carrots and gravy baked into this crust stuff like a pie. It's pretty good. The biscuits are awesome, too. Buttery and stuff." Sin considered this. "I want that. And a black and white shake." "Cool. Drinks?" "Just water for me," Boyd put in. "Same." Steve nodded. "'Kay. Let me know if you change your mind." When the waiter left, Boyd returned to his observation of the other customers. Some men who were clearly truckers were at the counter and a number of customers were dotted throughout the room. One woman was leaning against the table looking thoroughly despondent as she let her half-finished shake slowly melt in front of her. She kept dipping in the long spoon, pulling up bits of the half-melted ice cream, and letting it fall back into the glass. One of the truckers was watching her in between bites of his meal. "I wonder what these people would say if they knew what I'd just done," Sin commented. "I don't know." Boyd took in the mannerisms and expressions he could see. Everyone appeared, for the most part, very ordinary. "I imagine most of them wouldn't be able to conceive of it, let alone know how to react." Sin contemplated the other customers again. "I think they'd be disgusted that we're capable of sitting down to have a nice meal afterward." "Probably." Boyd wondered why the idea of food didn't disturb him, but knew he couldn't change what had happened any more than he could change the functions of his body. There had been a time in his life when the blood and death would have been too much for him to handle, but those days were long past, and the Agency had helped to deaden the sentiments even further. "Some of them probably wouldn't care, though." Boyd gestured at the woman. "She seems too depressed to notice much of anything around her. I wonder what her story is." Sin finally pushed the hood away from his face. "Whatever her problem, big boy in the red jacket seems to want to solve it for her." "He certainly does," Boyd mused. "I don't think he has a chance, though." Steve came back with Sin's shake and placed it in front of him. It was impressively large. "Anything else yet, guys?" When they both declined, Steve left again. Sin stirred his straw in the shake and eyeballed it. He leaned forward and took a long sip, and then nodded as if in approval. "I'm surprised you didn't get one of the other shakes," Boyd said. "Some of them sounded as though they may be sweeter than that." "They also sounded like they'd make me vomit." Sin sat back and stirred the spoon, mixing in the whipped cream. "However, I may still get dessert." "You have the strongest sweet tooth of anyone I've ever met. Only you would even consider dessert after a large shake like that." Sin drank some more. "Sugar deprivation as a child." "You're going to make yourself diabetic." That was met with a scoff. "Like I'll live long enough to suffer the effects." Boyd shrugged. "If anyone would in this line of business, it'll be you. Your skills are uncanny. I doubt you have to worry about much on missions for the foreseeable future." "Aw shucks sweetheart, you're going to make me blush," Sin said around his straw. "Oh, is that all it takes?" Boyd drawled. "I was under the impression your sensibilities were far less delicate. Sometimes you seem shameless." Sin stopped drinking his shake. "Why?" Boyd couldn't help a small smile. "I was teasing you. Nothing ever seems to get to you so if all it took to make you blush was a veiled compliment, I would be surprised." "Oh." There was a pause. "It's somewhat sad that saying I'm less likely to die is a compliment." "It is." The waiter came by again, this time with a tray filled with plates of steaming food. He asked them again if they needed anything else and when Boyd shook his head, he left. Boyd started with the omelet. Since it was the protein, it was the most important thing to eat. The food wasn't bad. He was hungry enough that anything warm and filling was welcome. Sin was devouring his pot pie at a rapid pace and using his large, fluffy biscuits to sop up gravy. They ate in silence until Sin commented, "The hostess is noticing you again." Boyd sighed under his breath. He did not follow Sin's gaze. "I wish she wouldn't." "Why? She's pretty enough." "Because I'm not interested. And even if I were, it's not as though it would matter. We'll be leaving soon and I won't be by here again." "If she's leering at some man in a truck stop, I highly doubt she has a long term involvement in mind." Boyd refused to look up from his food. "It doesn't change anything for me." "Why?" Boyd opened his mouth to say something dismissive but he stopped when he saw Sin had actually paused in eating. It was rare for Sin to show genuine curiosity in him and even rarer for him to ask personal questions. Ironically, he'd assumed that Sin had made the same assumption so many others had, and he was reluctant to change that when they'd finally started to get along. He did not relish the idea of facing judgment from Sin the way he had from so many other people, his mother included. But it was likely better to get it over with now. "Because I'm gay." Sin pointed his fork at Boyd. "So if it was an attractive man would you go off with him?" "I said I was gay, not that I have sex with everyone I see who's passably attractive. I'm not particularly interested in flings with anyone, whether or not they're male." "Oh." Sin speared another mound of his pot pie and chewed it slowly, staring at Boyd without much of an expression on his face. Boyd hesitated, fork in hand. "Is this going to cause a problem for us as partners?" This earned him one of Sin's half-skeptical, half-annoyed faces—the ones that implied he thought Boyd was ridiculous. "It doesn't matter to me one way or the other. I was just wondering if you'd ever actually been with a man." "Ah." Boyd supposed it didn't matter if he answered that, especially since he often asked questions of Sin. "Yes, I have." "Oh." One of Sin's dark eyebrows rose higher than the other. "Weird." "Why is that weird?" "Because most of the time you have zero personality. I can't imagine you being intimate with another human being." "I hate to disappoint you, then." Sin just shrugged, turning his attention to his food and occasionally the people around him. As Boyd ate, he found his attention continuously returning to his partner. Although they'd eaten at diners before, for some reason it struck him today how strangely normal this all was. And how he actually kind of liked it. He enjoyed the chance to have a conversation with Sin, even if it was on topics he hadn't ever planned to come up between them. Of course, the topic just made Boyd wonder about Sin's preferences and sexual experience. The man was undeniably attractive, and part of Boyd wished he hadn't been assigned a partner who looked like he could pass as a model on a worldwide circuit. His body alone was enough for Boyd to find his attention straying before he thought to control it, but the combination of Sin's face and the raw power he possessed only made it that much better. Boyd could still recall Sin's hands that night in the apartment, and the way Sin had held him still without causing pain even though he was capable of so much destruction with the same strong hands. Neither of them had ever brought that night up again, but Boyd couldn't deny the confusion that had come from that hard body pressed against him. Sometimes, when his thoughts wandered during quiet moments, Boyd remembered Sin's breath curling against his lips and those eyes, those damn unforgettable eyes, so close to his own. Boyd skewered a potato and chewed on it in contemplation. Although Sin was often glowering at others or being sarcastic, the more Boyd learned about his partner, the more he felt like he was getting reeled in. Boyd did not know what made Sin more attractive, that glare that fended others off and lent mystery to him, or the intriguingly normal and, at times, uncertain way Sin could be at quiet times like this. Again, Boyd wondered what Sin's past was like with others. Did the fact that he'd pressed Boyd against the wall mean he was attracted to men, or had it all been a misunderstanding? How many people, if any, had braved that glower for intimacy? Although most agents were afraid of him, had that always been the case? He hadn't hesitated to ask Boyd about sleeping with the hostess, as if it would be perfectly normal to go to the bathroom for a quickie between a meal and dessert. Was that Sin's norm? One night stands with whoever was interested? "What about you?" Boyd realized after the words left his mouth that he'd let the silence stretch a bit too long, lending the question a sudden air. "What about me, what?" "Your interests or relationships." Sin stirred his straw around in the milkshake, regarding Boyd. It was impossible to tell what he was thinking, but at least he didn't brush off the question the way he would have in the past. "There's not much to talk about in that regard." "Who are you interested in, then? Men? Women?" "I've grown to despise both." Sin must have had some unfortunate ends to relationships in the past to have gotten to that opinion. It lent more questions, including whether that meant Sin was bisexual, but Boyd didn't voice them. He didn't think Sin would answer and even if he would, he didn't know what he would do with the information anyway. They didn't say much through the rest of the meal. Boyd could feel the weight of Sin's gaze on him more than once, which wasn't unusual. Sin had a tendency to watch him on and off since they'd met. In the beginning, he had clearly been waiting for Boyd to slip up. Then it had seemed liked he was trying to figure out Boyd's motivations. Later, Sin just studied him, as if perplexed to find that someone like Boyd existed, or perhaps trying to determine what made Boyd tick. Whatever the case, it was distracting and Boyd did his best to ignore it. When they left, Danielle was sitting on a bar stool in a quiet conversation with one of the waitresses. After he and Sin passed he overheard her musing, "He's probably gay, anyway." Boyd shoulders tightened. He barely resisted the urge to look back in exasperation or speed his steps. Sin waited until they were out in the dark parking lot to comment. "What's your problem?" "Danielle. I'm tired of people making such automatic assumptions that I'm gay just because of how I look. It's a stereotype." "Hmm." Sin grasped Boyd's chin, moving closer as if to examine his face. His fingertips slid along Boyd's skin, brushing his neck before falling away. The feel of that gentle touch was so unexpected that Boyd almost stumbled. He barely heard Sin's comment. "Maybe it's the hair." Boyd's lips parted but he didn't know what to say. His skin tingled maddeningly where Sin's fingers had brushed it, and he resisted the urge to slide his own hand over the area. It was the second time Sin had touched him without warning, and again Boyd felt a thrill go through him and knot up his stomach. "Could be," he said softly. Sin didn't answer and soon they were back on the road to Lexington. There was no way Boyd was going to be able to sleep when he was so acutely aware of Sin's proximity. A shiver shot up his spine at the idea of Sin reaching out to him again. Part of him wanted those long fingers to slide back and tangle in his hair. That same part of Boyd couldn't help wondering what it would have been like had their lips touched that night in Sin's apartment. How would Sin taste? How firmly would he have held Boyd if they'd kissed? How would it have felt to be wrapped in those powerful arms, held tight against that powerful body? Boyd was disturbed by his own train of thought but still found himself staring at Sin openly. He knew his partner was aware of it, but Sin didn't seem at all uncomfortable with the attention. His demeanor didn't shift at all until they drew closer to the Agency and, at that point, Sin's eyes became hooded and his body was once again rigid with the slightest trace of anxiety. "Why don't you ever just run away?" Boyd's question, once again, seemed too abrupt in the quiet. "Where would I go?" "I don't know. Anywhere but the Agency. You could flee to another country where they don't have a strong reach." "I wouldn't be any use on the outside. Someone who can slaughter a warehouse full of hostiles and still maintain an appetite isn't exactly inclined to the domestic life." "Maybe, but have you tried? There are many types of jobs out there even in civilian life. Is the idea of a domestic life all that's stopping you?" "No. It just wouldn't work." "Why not, though? Are you worried about them noticing too soon if you left on a mission? Because if so I could cover for you." The comment caused Sin to look away from the road. "Why would you ever do that?" "Why wouldn't I? I'm your partner, so your well-being is important to me. I've seen the way you're treated at the Agency so if you wanted to leave, I wouldn't blame you. I could easily tell them I lost you on a mission." "Did it occur to you, in this fantastic plan, that they would terminate you for losing me?" Boyd waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. "It wouldn't matter. I'll die soon anyway. It may as well have some meaning by helping you. It would probably be the most useful thing I could do with my life." Sin scowled. "What?" "I just think you're brain dead sometimes. You're almost like what happens when a completely thoughtless person meets a borderline one." A pause. "Besides, it would never work. This collar cannot be removed without surgery and it has a tracking chip inside." "What if you found a black market surgeon who could remove the collar?" Sin sighed. He never seemed to have much interest in the conversation if it was focused on him, especially if it was sympathetic in any way. "They'd have tracked me down by the time I was ready for the procedure to be performed. The Agency has connections internationally. We also have a European division. And in addition to that, the procedure is complicated. The collar is situated in a way which makes it possible to sever my jugular during removal. I don't know any random black market surgeons who I'd trust to not accidentally cut my throat." "That does make it problematic. I see your dilemma." Once again Sin just shook his head. "Well," Boyd said eventually. "If the situation ever changes, my offer stands." Sin didn't bother to reply. When they got to the Agency and parked in the garage, Boyd hesitated when he got out of the van. He found himself strangely unwilling to leave Sin. It felt a bit awkward, as if he was acting like they were two people on a date trying to decide whether or not they should kiss at the front door. "I suppose I'd better write the report..." "I'll go too." "You will?" Boyd asked in surprise. "If it's some private thing you like to do, then I won't." Boyd laughed. Trust Sin to make writing a report sound like he was going off to masturbate. "I do prefer the old library but I assure you, I'm not doing anything that can't handle a witness or two." Sin's eyes caught on Boyd and held. "Let's go then." On the way to the library, they encountered only one agent who ended up in the elevator with them. She appeared alarmed by Sin's presence and shifted as far from him as she could. Sin didn't seem to notice or care. Maybe he was used to it. He said nothing and followed Boyd to the technology station in the library. Once they got there, Boyd typed the report while Sin watched. At first Boyd tried to ignore it, but Sin's presence was very distracting. Boyd thought maybe Sin was making sure he wasn't being disingenuous and writing horrible things about the scene at the warehouse, but Sin didn't comment on the report at all. After several minutes, Boyd realized that Sin was staring at him. Only him. Not the computer at all. The first time their eyes met, Boyd's fingers stilled on the keyboard and his stomach fluttered again. He wondered what Sin was thinking. What he wanted. How it could possibly be worth Sin's time to have followed him up here only to stare at him while he worked. Whatever the reason, Boyd found that he did not mind the attention. After some time, Boyd sent the report and closed out of all the programs. "Did you make it good?" "Did I ever," Boyd said with a smile. "Stories will be told for years to come about this one." "It's always good to have something to add to my résumé." This time, Boyd outright laughed and did not miss the way Sin's lips curved up in return. "Don't forget; you can put me down as a reference as well." Sin snorted and pulled his hood up again. "I suppose I should go back to my apartment before they sent out a battalion." "I should probably go home, too." Boyd couldn't muster much conviction. He paused and added, "We could walk out together..." It sounded so stupid that he wished he could take it back. But if Sin found the comment odd, he didn't let on. He didn't even make a joke about it or twist the words like he normally would. "Okay." Boyd couldn't get the stupid comparison about dates out of his mind, which was ludicrous considering the circumstances. Sin was one of the only people he'd spent any amount of time with in a long time, but Boyd had spent time with Ryan as well. And as far as date analogies went, going to someone's apartment to eat dinner and watch shows fit much better than finishing a report about mass killings. So why couldn't he ignore the flush of pleasure he felt at being able to extend his time around Sin a scant few minutes? Why couldn't he ignore the fact that Sin was so attractive? And, most of all, why couldn't he ignore that Sin had appeared equally reluctant to part as well? They left the Tower and again stepped out into the clear night, Boyd tipping his face up toward the sky. Although autumn was cooler than it had been in his childhood, he couldn't deny that there was something soothing about the crisp air and colorful leaves that accompanied October. As they stood beneath one of the street lamps, Boyd's attention was drawn to the space around them. The buildings of the compound were like statues in the night, but he could see spots of color scattered across them where lights glowed through curtains and windows. There were probably other agents returning home from missions right now, and still others getting ready to depart. In the quiet of the night that thought made him feel, just for the moment, like he was part of a greater whole. It was reassuring after having felt isolated for years. They walked for a while but paused at the point where their paths would diverge. "I'm parked over there." Sin nodded and again made sure his hood was pulled down low. "See you around." Boyd nodded and the two of them parted. He glanced back once on his way to his car. Sin was walking toward his building, his black clothing making him a tall, dark figure that slid in and out of the shadows like an apparition.
  5. Santino

    Chapter 11

    Eleven New York City was worse than Boyd had imagined. Most people knew that the former metropolis had been decimated and subsequently abandoned during the war, but what stretched below their current safehouse was beyond even the devastation of the Wasteland. Smashed bridges rusted above rivers that shone gray, blue and chartreuse with pollution, thousands of decayed cars sat untouched on once-busy avenues, and the jagged remains of bombed high rises jutted up from the ground into a mustard-colored sky. It looked uninhabitable, and according to the government it was, but that did not stop people from attempting to take over the bits and pieces of land that still maintained resources. Di Zhi, a large faction made up of Chinese nationals, were one of the groups attempting to claim the remains of New York as their own. The organization rivaled Janus in strength and numbers, and the Agency wanted to know whether Di Zhi was still operating solo or if they, like so many others, were being consumed by the Janus machine. With a lack of insight to the organization's global plans or a contact on the inside, Boyd and Sin had been sent to do reconnaissance and collect information. They set up their base of operations in one of the upper floors of an abandoned apartment building in the area that had once been lower Manhattan. It had required them to climb several floors in the darkness, but the view from the floor-to-ceiling windows gave them a good vantage point of the area Di Zhi had claimed from a group of local survivors turned scavengers. "The exits are here." Boyd pointed to the array of images he'd laid across the floor. It had taken them a couple of days to identify the exact building Di Zhi had commandeered, and another to sneak in and get an idea of the layout. "But the basement has stable electricity and is a more likely place to store electronic data." His finger moved to the screen of his tablet which displayed an old blueprint of the building. "Although it would be best to enter the building via the nearest exit and go downstairs, that won't be possible. The basement is only accessible from a point inside the building with a high concentration of Di Zhi operatives and security." Boyd glanced at Sin. "Realistically, there's no way to disguise ourselves in order to infiltrate so we'll have to enter undetected. Owen's source squats in a building nearby and gave him a guess as to when Di Zhi seems the most active, which should give us an idea of the best time to enter." Boyd showed Sin a simple simulation he'd generated of the mission using the blueprints for the layout. The simulation ran as he spoke, illustrating his plan in quick detail and showing the locations of the different areas. "At 0800 hours they switch guards on the eastern entrance, and the same at 0810 on the northeastern. Since we don't know which way will be quicker and we don't want to garner attention, we should enter separately. You can take the eastern and I'll take northeastern. There are utility closets about fifty feet in on each of those corridors. That should provide an initial hiding place if necessary. The rotation will continue with a full sweep of the building until 0825 hours. These corridors seem to be the least convenient so they'll most likely receive less attention. If we hide there until the sweep is past, we will be able to proceed back through the areas that have already been checked." The simulation continued to run while Boyd pointed at the screen to two different areas. "Access to the basement is through here and here. I'll bring the decoder with me which should allow us to breach the security on the room which might hold their tech. It was the locked one in the basement. We'll have a ten minute window before the next group of guards moves through so we'll have to be quick. Egress will be back the way we came, behind the sweep. We'll split up at this intersection and leave through the doors we originally entered. Once outside, we'll have to avoid the exterior guards, so I suggest leaving through this alley to the north and going directly to the van. Provided there are no unforeseen difficulties, we should be done and leaving here by 0900 at the latest." At some point, Sin had turned away from the simulation. He was lying across the floor on his stomach and peering out the windows through a pair of binoculars. "Sounds thrilling." "We have to leave in a few hours so I'm going to get ready soon. I suggest you do the same." "I'll be sure to do that." Boyd frowned but chose to ignore the flippant response. He went over the mission again and returned to one of the apartment's bedrooms to get ready for the mission. He put on armor beneath his dark clothing and coat, and wore a black cap to bring less attention to his hair. Upon returning to the main room, Boyd saw that Sin was finally paying attention to the simulation. They left together without much discussion, stowed their equipment in the underground garage where they'd hidden the Agency van, and split up at the predetermined time. He was able to slip in the building when the guards were distracted with a shift change. The rotations and guard sweeps came as expected and Boyd found the corridors of the planned route to be largely unoccupied. He only had to avoid hostiles once, and wondered whether Sin was finding it as easy as he was, or whether he'd run into any snags. It was entirely possible that without the information they'd been given ahead of time, the mission may have gone awry. Although Boyd wasn't running into any major problems, it was because he moved quickly, to pre-designated spots, on a precise time schedule. Without that, there were already over a dozen instances where he could have been caught. By the time Boyd reached the basement he was surprised to see that Sin had already arrived since the senior agent had been scheduled to enter after a ten minute lag. "That was fast," he observed as he removed his backpack. "How did you get here before me?" "Took a different route." Boyd looked up from his backpack. "What? Why would you do that? With the timing, that should have been the best route." "My route was easier and faster." A flash of irritation went through Boyd. After all that talk of being more involved as a partner, Sin still never really acted like one. He wouldn’t get involved in the planning of missions, didn't pay attention during briefings, and didn't give any feedback even if he had a better idea. Instead, Sin just did what he wanted on his own terms. Boyd had spent hours plotting out their course, and Sin just strolled in, one-upping him, and making him feel like a fool. Not to mention, if anything ever went wrong he would have no clue where Sin was because he was never where he was supposed to be. It was against everything Boyd had been taught at the Agency, and it frustrated him to no end. "Yeah?" he asked, unable to keep the challenge from his tone. He yanked out the decoder and set it to work on the lock. "And exactly what route was it? Or did you just charge in without thinking as usual?" Sin's expression went from bored to annoyed in a flash. "I can't figure out if it's funny or embarrassing that you actually think you have superior knowledge of how a mission is carried out." "Well, there's a reason we're part of a unit. No one person knows best which is why we all work together, including using the intel we receive from the others. My plan was based on that intel. If you had a problem with it or saw a flaw, why the hell didn't you say so before we started?" "Because you got it into your head that you're team leader and didn't bother to ask what I thought. I guess since I apparently charge in without thinking and don't know how to do a job I've been doing for over a decade, it wouldn't have occurred to you." After giving him a scathing look, Sin turned his attention to the stairwell and corridor. "What, so now the great Sin Vega is too afraid to speak up to someone half his size?" Boyd scoffed. "Don't blame me for not saying anything when you had the chance. You never bothered saying anything even though you could have told me the plan was terrible after I pitched it to you. Nothing stopped you but your own apathy." "You're an idiot. If this is how you're going to act when I don't follow your orders, I would have kept waiting in the van." The decoder flashed to signify it was finished. Boyd pulled it off the lock and yanked open the door. "This has nothing to do with whose plan it is; it's about sticking to the plan itself. What's the point of being your partner when I never know what to expect from you? Or when you won't even tell me your opinion? I may as well go it alone like I used to." "Well maybe next time you should ask why I went the way I did instead of acting like I'm a fucking moron who doesn't know how to do my job." Sin scowled at the corridor as if willing someone to arrive so he could kill them. Boyd opened his mouth to angrily retort but thought better of it. Frustrated, he turned his back on Sin and stalked into the room. As expected, the combination of electricity and air conditioning made it an ideal place to store electronics. There were different gadgets, computers, and devices inside. Boyd leaned over the table at one of the laptops and booted it up, wondering whether it was more efficient to copy the data from multiple machines or just steal them. Ultimately, he thought stealing the laptop presented too great a risk of the information being lost or damaged since he did not have a secure place to store it. Only when he had begun copying data did Boyd look up to see Sin still glaring at him. "Shouldn't you be watching the corridor and not looking at me?" "I'm not looking at you." Boyd raised an eyebrow but kept the retort to himself. He finished copying information from one machine and moved to another. The third, he saw, was actually a mini server which was easily slipped into his backpack. "You could at least look around." "How would I know what to look for since I'm so fucking stupid?" "I guess you wouldn't since you never pay attention, anyway." "Yeah, what would I do without you here to guide me?" Boyd's attention skidded up from the laptop, his teeth gritting. His anger was rising and it was becoming increasingly difficult to mask the emotion. "Why are you trying so hard to annoy me? Do you want to force an argument so you have an excuse to go back to the way it was before?" "I don't need an excuse for anything. I can do whatever the hell I want." "What is your problem?" Boyd nearly yelled. He managed to lower his voice just in time. "You acting like I don't know what the fuck I'm doing is my problem! I should have known your nice routine was just an act." "What the hell are you talking about now?" Boyd threw his hands into the air, aggravation making it impossible to stand still. "Stop making all these random assumptions!" Sin turned, stalking back to the door. "Whatever." With the tension nearly palpable, the downloading of the information took forever. Even as Boyd kept his back turned to Sin, he couldn't help running through the mission in the back of his mind. When the download was complete, Boyd erased any indication that they had been there. They barely looked at each other as they fled the building. The deserted streets flashed by them as they ran, navigating the city to reach the underground garage where they'd left the vehicle. Within minutes of exiting Di Zhi's base, they were on their way out of the city. It required them to go further out of the way to get to a working tunnel to cross the river into New Jersey, but the only people who noticed them was a group of scavengers. They appeared more astounded by the sight of a working vehicle than anything else. The drive into Pennsylvania was silent. Boyd was hyper aware of Sin's presence in the passenger's seat and refused to look at his partner, but the longer they went without speaking, the more the tension increased. By the time they were within the state, Sin was practically exuding anger. When Boyd stopped for a red light, Sin opened the door and got out of the car. "What the hell are you doing?" Boyd demanded, incredulous. "Get back in the car!" "No. I want to walk." Sin shut the door although the window was still open. "Later." "Sin, we're over thirty miles from Lexington!" "I'll survive. Just go back. Tell them we're returning separately—they'll know I'm not far." "Sin! What if something happens?" Boyd shouted out the window. Sin didn't respond. He turned to leave the street and easily swung himself over the railing at the side of the road. His boots crunched over an old and long forgotten memorial cross that had been pegged into the earth there. "Sin!" Boyd called again. He watched as his partner disappeared into a grove of trees nearby. With uncertainty and anger warring with him, Boyd was torn on whether to keep going or to pull over and follow. When it came down to it, he wouldn't be able to force Sin back into the van and it would likely cause another argument. Apparently he did whatever the hell he wanted whenever the hell he wanted it, on or off a mission. "Goddamnit," Boyd hissed. He put the van in drive and took off, trying to ignore the conflict that had arisen and focus on getting home. Unfortunately, it was impossible. The more space he put between them, the more frustrated he became. Twice, Boyd pulled over with the intention of turning back to find Sin. For all that he was angry with the man Boyd couldn't forget the image of Sin walking silently away. But ultimately, Boyd knew he would not be able to find Sin at this point. As reluctant as he was to do so, he set out again. *** Hours later, Boyd was pacing his living room. Paranoia produced increasingly horrifying scenarios of Sin being captured, hurt, or so pissed off that he decided to do something rash just for the hell of it. After a short period of time it occurred to Boyd to check the live feed to Sin's apartment. When he pulled it up and found the place to be empty, the questions only grew. Guilt became a weight alongside worry, and it was all muddied by surprise that Boyd even cared in the first place. Not about Sin's safety, but about the cause of their initial argument. What did it matter to him what Sin thought? Why should he care if Sin had been rude? Why did he give a damn if Sin thought his plans were stupid? Yet it did matter. And Boyd did care. And he didn't understand why. Time seem to stretch endlessly. Eventually, Boyd gave in and decided to check the live feed again. At that point, they had been separated for eight hours. At first Boyd did not see any movement in Sin's apartment. He watched for several minutes and was about to close the feed when the apartment door opened and Sin strode in. Boyd felt such relief that at first he did not notice how angry Sin appeared. He stormed toward the bathroom, his lean body tense and movements rigid. His jeans were muddy and he was damp, likely from the rain that had started to fall in the past hour. On the way to the bathroom, Sin stripped. The camera picked up flashes of smooth brown skin, scars, and a glimpse of his tattoo before Sin disappeared into the bathroom. When he did so, Boyd did not access that camera. After ten minutes, Sin reappeared on the feed that showed the living room and kitchen. Even though his focus should have been elsewhere, Boyd found his gaze running down his partner's body instead of paying attention to his moody expression. Beads of water still clung to his sculpted chest, trailing along muscles that narrowed to hips that were in danger of being exposed by a towel that was knotted at his waist. The possibility seemed even more evident when Sin jerked the refrigerator door open and pulled out a carton of juice. Sin tilted his head back and drank straight from the carton before shoving it back into the fridge in exchange for a candy bar. Even with candy in his hand, Sin was glowering at thin air. The scene was incongruous and yet so much like what Boyd had become accustomed to with Sin. He watched Sin finish eating in two bites before pacing the small area with increasing agitation. And just like that, Boyd's guilt returned. Did Sin really regret the moments when they'd made progress and gotten along? Did he really want things to return to the way they'd been in the beginning? The possibility stung. Boyd could not deny that he'd come to appreciate having someone to talk to; someone whose fleeting expressions of interest or near-camaraderie felt like a victory over the suspicious glares from the past. He didn't want to lose all the progress they'd made simply because of one ill-timed argument. A wave of uneasiness prompted Boyd to reach for his phone. He dialed Sin's number before turning to the computer again. On the screen, Sin had paused to lean against the counter with his arms crossed over his chest. When the phone rang again, he shoved himself away from the counter and snatched his phone from where he'd tossed it in the other room. "What?" he demanded without seeming to look at the screen. "Hi." Boyd closed down the feed. There was a brief silence and then a flat, "What do you want?" "I wanted to make sure you'd made it back alright." "I'm not entirely incompetent at traveling." "I wasn't implying you were." There was another pause before Sin said, "Well, as you can see I survived. Are we done?" "No. Look—" Boyd sighed, bringing a hand to his forehead. "It wasn't my intention to insult you on the mission. I was frustrated." This time the silence was longer. Eventually all Sin said was, "I see." Boyd thought about turning on the live feed again so he could see Sin's expression, but he cast the thought aside. He paused, gathering his thoughts. For all that he spent his life inside his head, sometimes he found it difficult to explain to others what was going through his mind. "It isn't that I don't value your opinion; I just didn't think you were interested in the planning. I thought it would be most efficient if I planned it based on research you likely didn't want to do, and I assumed if you had a better idea than what I presented then you would tell me. I'm just… I'm just doing what they taught me in my classes. That's how they said it works." There was another long silence followed by a rustling sound. Eventually Sin said, "Why don't you come to the compound and we can discuss this in person." Boyd raised his eyebrows. He'd half expected Sin to hang up on him. "Alright. Where would you like to meet?" "Come to my apartment." The line went dead. Boyd slid his phone in his pocket and, without giving it much debate, grabbed his keys and drove to the Agency. He had never been to Sin's apartment and did not know what to make of the situation, but at least it did not seem as though Sin wanted to give up on their partnership. When Boyd got to Sin's building, he saw that it was more heavily secured than others, so Boyd removed his identification to show it to the guards by the main entrance. Once they let him pass, Boyd took the stairs to Sin's floor and encountered yet another pair of guards. They looked at him, confused, and Boyd stared back. He had not expected this level of security for Sin, and at first did not know what to do. "You can probably get in yourself," one of the men said. He gestured at the electronic lock on Sin's door. "Everyone else does." Boyd nodded, hesitated, and then swiped his card more out of a desire to be away from the guards than anything else. He'd barely taken a step into the apartment before Sin appeared. He was shirtless but now wearing a pair of black sweatpants. Surprise flashed across his face before it morphed into a look of anger. "Are you fucking kidding me?" Boyd froze. "What?" "Why do you have access to my door?" "I don't know. Have you asked HR?" "And so you take it upon yourself to just fucking barge in here?" "You invited me over!" Boyd protested. "You were expecting me any time now. I didn't think it was such a problem." "You didn't think walking into someone's home without alerting them to your presence is a problem? You people think you have so much power over me that you can do whatever the hell you want." "Would you stop with these bullshit assumptions?" Boyd snapped. "You keep accusing me of all these thoughts I never have." "Well, whatever fucking thoughts you have are obviously not making themselves seen in the way of your actions. You act like a self-righteous, condescending little bitch on the mission and now you walk into my apartment as if you have the right. It never crossed your mind that you're crossing a line? It never occurred to you that you're invading my privacy just like everyone else does every fucking day?" By now, Sin's voice was steadily rising. He didn't seem to care about the guards, or the cameras if he knew about them, and the guards did not knock on the door to intervene in the argument. Perhaps they found it amusing since it had been their idea. "Look," Boyd said evenly, trying to stay calm so one of them would be. "The guard told me to come in. I never would have even tried it but I didn't expect them to have so many people guarding you and didn't know what the protocol was. I won't ever use the card like that again." Sin just shook his head and proceeded to stare at the wall. "I don't have ill intent when it comes to anyone, Sin," Boyd said. "Least of all you. I have times when I get frustrated or do something without thinking, just like anyone. I'm sorry for my mistakes but none of the issues today have been purposeful on my part." Sin didn't respond or react enough to show whether he was listening. "I didn't want to argue," Boyd insisted. "I only came to apologize. Earlier, I was frustrated after having spent hours on something that was completely ignored. Maybe it seemed like I think I know more about missions than you but I don't. I'm used to getting above average grades in school, being ahead of my classmates. It's the only thing I've ever been good at, so it's very… frustrating and demeaning to me to think I failed. And when I get frustrated I say things I don't mean, and sometimes you seem to assume the worst of me no matter what I do. And..." Boyd hesitated. He knew this was all on camera but at the same time it was important to him that Sin heard what had been on his mind all day. "And I don't want that. I don't want you second-guessing me based on one or two events and ignoring everything else in between. I thought we were getting along better lately. I wanted it to stay that way." Sin still didn't respond and Boyd sighed, dropping his hands at his sides. Weariness overwhelmed him. He didn't even know why he'd made the effort. "Forget it." Boyd turned to the door but before he could touch the handle, Sin grabbed his arm and yanked it back. Caught off guard, Boyd stumbled and tried to pull away but Sin did not budge. The resistance only made Boyd try harder even though it had zero effect. "Just fucking wait," Sin said, refusing to release Boyd. "Let go of me." Sin was as strong and unmovable as a mountain. The reality of being unable to get away grew more pronounced, and a mote of alarm made Boyd's heartbeat skyrocket. Sin slammed Boyd back against the wall, pinning him and leaning in. "I said wait." The panic that had started to set in was sidelined when Boyd focused on Sin's eyes. Boyd made a conscious effort to try to calm down but the remnants of panic made him hyper-aware of their proximity. The smell of Sin freshly showered; his damp hair against Boyd's face; and his mouth shockingly close. Sin's lips parted as if he was going to speak again, but he didn't. He just kept staring at Boyd, his fingers loosening although they did not fall away. "Why?" Boyd's voice came out a little rough. The response wasn't immediate. Although aggravation was evident in everything from Sin's posture to the grip of his hands, he remained pressed against Boyd. His gaze skimmed Boyd's face, analyzing every detail and lingering in some places longer than others before his hands moved to brace against the wall on either side of Boyd's shoulders. The reality of Sin's body so close to his own caused Boyd's thoughts to scatter. It was impossible not to think about the beads of water he'd seen trailing down Sin's bare torso, and impossible not to notice how gorgeous he was. Boyd's eyes drew to Sin's mouth, full and tempting, before he forced himself to look up again. Not that staring into those green eyes made things any easier. "What do you want?" Boyd whispered. "You—" Sin aborted the sentence and sighed, the sound thick with frustration. It seemed like he wanted to say more but could not get the words out, so he wound up closing his eyes with his brows knitted together. In that instant, his head tilted forward until their faces brushed and their mouths were centimeters away. Boyd drew in a sharp intake of breath and Sin's eyes flew open. He took a quick step back as if realizing what he'd nearly done. When frustration became confusion, Sin backed up further and burst out, "It's just that you're really fucking annoying." The moment was broken. Boyd pushed away from the wall. "That's what you wanted me to stay and hear?" "Yes. Well, no. I don't fucking know. I just don't trust you. I don't trust anyone. And I don't want to." "Well, I don't know what to say to that." "Don't say anything," Sin snapped. "Just shut the hell up and let me try to talk. Look, I like getting along with you. But I keep expecting you to come out of nowhere and act like everyone else, so it makes me be a dick. And I don't know what to do about that because my paranoia isn't just going to disappear. Anytime anyone has pretended to be nice to me in the past, it's because they wanted something and as soon as they got it, I was a fucking animal again." Boyd watched as Sin began to pace the room again, running his hands through his hair. "I just don't trust people, okay?" "Well, I don't entirely either," Boyd said simply. "But since we both like getting along with each other why don't we keep aiming for that?" "I don't know how to get along with people." Sin seemed disgusted by the admittance. "I'm twenty-eight and you're the first person I ever had a normal conversation with. You can't expect much from me. And if you do, you will be sadly disappointed." "I'm not particularly extroverted myself so I can't promise I'll do much better. But I'm willing to at least try for this partnership." "Why?" "Because it's a significant portion of my existence at this point and since I prefer to get along with you rather than not, I don't see why I shouldn't put in effort." Sin did not look entirely convinced. "We'll see."
  6. Santino

    Chapter 10

    Ten When Sin woke up, it was with a flash of panic. The last vestiges of the nightmare haunted his peripheral vision, but when he jerked his gaze to the darkened corner, he found nothing unusual there. Slumping back against the bed, Sin took a deep breath. There was a distinct tremor in his limbs and his breath was still coming fast. Phantom aches echoed through his body as though he'd really experienced whatever had happened in his dream. Trying to remember the entirety of it was always pointless. He'd had the same nightmare countless times. Recently, it had started coming more often, but no matter how worn out he felt after waking up, no matter how dismayed he was, only fragments of the dream remained. Green grass and rocks stained with blood, the moon hovering in a smoke-and-onyx sky. Flashes of a body being dragged across rough terrain, a slack mouth, and fingers trailing limply through dirt. "Fuck." Sin opened his eyes again and pulled himself into a sitting position. His head was pounding but the ghostly pain in his torso. It was always the same when he woke up—strange aches as though he'd just been in a fight and a clawing horror that made his heart catch in his throat. Sin combed his fingers through his hair and stood. Disgruntled and irritated, he rolled his stiff shoulders in an attempt to relieve the tension. He didn't understand the dream or why it had such an effect on him. The fact that he woke up in a cold sweat was bad enough, but the idea that he thrashed and yelled in his sleep was even worse. It still annoyed the hell out of him that Boyd had witnessed it firsthand. He headed to the bathroom, shoving off the loose gray pants he'd worn to sleep. Even with the sun muted behind thick, gray clouds, the daylight streaming into the apartment windows was too bright compared to the darkness of his bedroom. It made his head pound further, but he felt simultaneous relief as it chased the dream further away. The muddled feelings did not fully disperse until he stepped under the welcome pressure in the shower, and the water cooled his uncomfortably heated flesh. Sin smoothed wet hair away and kept his face tilted up against the cold water. It was stupid to continuously revel in the feel of a normal shower but he couldn't help it. In all of Sin's life, he'd never had his own space. Although it was a standard Agency apartment and Spartan by default, it was still his own. He was still confined to the compound unless he had supervision, and guards stood in front of his apartment door at all times, but it was better than living in a cell on the Fourth. Sin had no idea how Carhart had managed to convince Connors to finally let him have his own quarters, but Sin suspected they thought this tactic would prompt him to cooperate. If that was the case, he couldn't deny that it had been a motivating factor. Well, that and the fact that Boyd had turned out to be a marginally acceptable human. The thought of Boyd unsettled Sin in a way that he did not understand. He'd had mixed thoughts about the younger man from the moment he'd seen Boyd during the interview and now, months later, Sin was still unable to come to a clear determination on his partner. He didn't trust Boyd, not really, but somehow Boyd had morphed into not only a decent partner but a companion of sorts. A random conversation should not have been so disarming, but days later, Sin realized why it had thrown him so far off his guard. During his entire time at the Agency, Boyd was the first person to really speak to him. Carhart consistently tried and failed, but Sin could never look at the general without thinking he had a motive. Boyd, however, didn't seem to have any. And that made no sense. If anything, Boyd should be either plotting against him or running away after their nearly disastrous mission outside of Cunningham Terrace two weeks ago. The worst part of that incident was that Sin didn't remember anything until the point where he'd already been crushing Boyd against the floor. It was just like the other times, "episodes" as the Agency called them, when he'd blacked out completely. Even though Boyd had been able to bring him out of it, Sin didn't have too much optimism about that happening a second time. After scrubbing himself and allowing the powerful jets of water to rinse him, Sin shut the faucet off. Stepping out of the shower, he wrapped a towel around his waist and gave himself a cursory once-over in the mirror. The bruises were slowly fading from his torso but the gunshot wound was still painful and raw-looking. After the first couple of days of caring for it on his own, Sin had been forced to go to the medical wing to make sure it hadn't gotten infected. As little as he liked having Agency staff attend to him, an infection wasn't something he could fix on his own. After drying off and dressing for a morning of working out Sin left the apartment. He didn't look at his guards, Daniels and Kemp, and stalked down the hallway. Sin could feel their eyes on his back but didn't acknowledge them. As usual, the compound was relatively quiet around his residential building. It was set apart from the others and was considerably smaller due to the fact that it was meant for special cases. There were the usual guards posted by the main doors who eyed him as he went by, but other than that, Sin was left alone on the walk across the courtyard. It wasn't until he got closer to the Tower that crowds of people began to appear. The tension that had built in Sin's shoulders upon stepping out of the building only worsened as he walked up the steps to the Tower. He didn't have social anxiety, but he did have idiot agent anxiety. Especially when he was locked in a torture chamber for putting them in their place. Most people avoided Sin, but there was always someone who inevitably pissed him off. It started out well enough; he'd managed to get the only remaining private room off the side of the main training space so that he wouldn't have to deal with gawkers. He spent over an hour doing various exercises and stretching in relative peace and quiet. Sin lost himself in the repetition of what he was doing. His mind cleared and the anger melted away. It lasted until he left the room to get a bottle of water and noticed Harry Truman and Dennis McNichols in the main area. Harry focused on Sin right away. The tension returned, and Sin drained his bottle of water before returning to the private room to wait. A blanket of quiet rage swept over Sin, but he kept it in check. Harry was the only person on the compound who wasn't afraid to touch him. Harry knew better than anyone what Sin was capable of but that didn't deter him at all. In fact, Harry did everything in his power to get Sin to lash out. No one seemed to understand it, even dimwitted Dennis didn't seem to know Harry's motivation, but Sin had figured it out long ago. Harry wanted him on the Fourth. Their interactions went back a long way but, after the introduction of the box, Harry had taken his harassment to the next level. While Sin was kept drugged, Harry was able to do whatever he wanted. Sin had enough muddled memories of large hands groping him and a hot wet mouth pressing against lips and neck to realize Harry had a sexual fixation with him. After looking at the guard's file, Sin hadn't been surprised to see that in Harry's civilian years he'd been a registered sex offender with a long history of stalking. The Agency vetted Harry due to his military background and sociopathic tendencies, but even they had shied away from a field agent path once they realized the man couldn't rein in his sexual impulses. Instead, they'd stuck him on the Fourth to harass people who were already receiving far worse treatment. "We just keep running into each other, Vega," Harry drawled as he entered the room with Dennis close behind. "Imagine that, considering we both live on the compound." "Oh, is that all it is?" Harry stopped less than a hand-span away from Sin. His eyes roved over Sin's sweaty form, focusing on the crotch of his sweatpants before sweeping back up to Sin's damp neck and pursed lips. "I thought maybe you were doing it on purpose." Sin smirked, revulsion twisting with the hatred he felt for the man. "You wish." "Why don't you give us a minute?" Harry said to Dennis. Dennis frowned. "I don't think that's a good idea, Har—" "I said get the fuck out," was the snarled response. The look Harry shot his friend was full of venom. Judging by the way Dennis quickly departed, it would seem that Harry's abusive personality came into play in his friendships too. Sin uncrossed his arms and curled his fingers into loose fists. He cast a quick look around the room and noted that there was indeed a small camera mounted in the ceiling. It was nearly disguised by the light fixture. "You just keep playing hard to get now that you're free, don't you?" Harry moved closer and forced Sin to back up unless he wanted the guard pressed against him. "Groping someone who is in a drugged stupor doesn't count as compliance." Sin didn't flinch when Harry pushed him against the wall. "I know that must be hard for a pedophile—" "I'm not a fucking pedophile," Harry snapped, cuffing Sin in the head. It took all of Sin's willpower not to respond. He took a deep breath, but his fingers were now balled into white-knuckled fists. "Is fourteen the age of consent in your fantasy world? That was the age of the boy you attacked before the Agency recruited you, wasn't it?" Harry grabbed the front of Sin's shirt, bunching the fabric. "That's a lot of talk from someone who kills civilians and rapes his shrink." Sin didn't know how the rumor about him having raped Lydia had come about, but he wasn't going to respond to it. That was what Harry wanted—to get a reaction out of him. Harry leaned forward again, raising a hand to slide down the side of Sin's face. "Now, when are you going to start playing nice?" He rubbed his thumb against Sin's mouth and parted Sin's lips. Harry's breath hitched. "I have to admit, Vega. I miss your fine ass. I miss having you up there with me." "Do you?" Sin turned his face away, body going so tense that his headache returned. "Yeah, I do." This time Harry nuzzled his face against Sin's neck and inhaled. "C'mon, don't act like you forgot, Vega. All of our quality time..." "Is that what you're calling it?" "Fuck yeah it is. But you know I like it better when you can fight. Thinking about that look on your face when you get angry… Mmm, it makes me come so much harder." The rough, flat slide of Harry's tongue against his neck pulled Sin out of the forced calm he'd tried to adopt. He wrapped his hand around Harry's wrist and twisted it backward until the other man grunted in pain. "Touch me, and I'll kill you. We aren't on the Fourth anymore." Harry flexed his wrist, leering at Sin with obvious desire. "Attack me again and you will be, bitch. I'll activate that collar and zap you so hard your eyes will be rolling for a week. When you wake up you'll be back on the Fourth—" Harry stepped closer again and Sin tensed. "—drugged, helpless, and fully at my disposal. And next time, you're mine. All of you." The words caused a rush of memories to crowd Sin's mind. The feel of a heavy body crushing him, an erection digging into his thigh—unable to move, unable to defend himself. The power Harry held over him now was just as bad as what had happened then. The inability to react without even worse consequences made Sin freeze in place. He was just as helpless as he'd been in the box. Everything Harry said was true, and Sin was damned either way. His lip curled, nostrils flaring as his breath came faster. "That's the face," Harry hissed, thick lips lifting in a filthy smile. "Right there. That's how I want you to look at me when I finally fuck you." The image of Harry in front of him began to flicker. Everything around them dimmed. Sin's peripheral vision was nonexistent; he focused solely on the threat before him. Harry. "Touch me and you will be sorry." The threat only excited Harry. He chuckled deep in his throat. Just as his hand wrapped around Sin's arm, the door behind them opened. He turned from Harry. Sin's heartbeat sped and his hands trembled. He forced them to stay down, but he was losing the tenuous control he had over the violence that wanted to wreak havoc. "Am I interrupting anything?" Boyd's disaffected voice filtered through the tension. "Mind your fucking business," Harry growled. "This is my business." Boyd stood behind the guard. "I suggest you take your hands off my partner." Dennis rushed into the room. "Sorry, Harry, I walked away for one minute—" "Shut the fuck up," Harry snarled. Sin wrenched his arm away, but Harry grabbed the front of his shirt, ripping the collar. He yanked Sin against him until their faces were only inches apart. Boyd grabbed Harry's arm, but Dennis rushed in and slammed Boyd against the wall. He reared back his fist to strike Boyd just as Sin awoke from his hate-filled daze and wrapped his hand around Dennis' neck. Luke Gerant entered the room before anything more could happen. "What the hell is going on?" Luke demanded. Harry pulled away with a scoff. "Nothing. Piss off." Sin released Dennis. His fingers had already made red marks on the man's throat. "Officer Truman was harassing Sin," Boyd spoke up, moving around Dennis. "He was using Officer McNichols to watch the door so no one would enter and obviously planned to escalate the situation. I attempted to intervene and you see the result." Sin blinked at Boyd. Adrenaline was still pumping through his veins but the desire to eviscerate both men was fading. "Boyd—" "Shut your mouth and mind your business," Harry interrupted, glaring at Boyd. "It's between me and Vega." The hateful look Harry aimed at Boyd sent a sliver of unease down Sin's spine and shattered Sin's anger. When Harry set his sights on someone it was more of a promise than a threat, and that did not bode well for the future. Shaking off the remnants of the episode that hadn't actually come, Sin waited for Harry to make a move. He wouldn't put it past the man to try to attack Boyd now—Harry had no control of his temper when he didn't get his way, although he usually didn't lash out with an audience. "It isn't between you two." Boyd did not flinch away from the promise in the big man's face. "You're clearly a deranged man taking advantage of the situation. Sin may feel unable to properly respond, but I don't. I'll file a formal report on you if that's what it takes." Sin's unease jacked up. "Let's go." Luke glanced between Dennis and Harry, failing at hiding his dislike. "It may be a good idea for you to report this." Dennis was incredulous. "You're taking their side over ours?" Harry sneered, not appearing surprised in the least. "It's an incident that clearly needs to be put on the record. You were on camera the whole time. It may be best if everyone has their side of the story documented," Luke replied. "Besides, others in the training facility were aware that something was going on. A maintenance worker grabbed me while I was passing to inform me that there was trouble." Sin had no interest in filing reports or documenting anything. "I'm out of here." Boyd didn't move. "How do we file official reports? Do I report what I've witnessed to you or should I write a report and send it in?" Harry made another ugly sound at the back of his throat and stormed out of the room with Dennis on his heels. Ignoring them, Luke nodded. "Go to the third floor—that's where the guard command center is. All incidents that occur on the compound are reported there before being distributed to the proper chain of command for the individuals involved. Since it involved Truman and McNichols, I'll make sure my captain gets it." "I'll do that. Thank you." Luke started to say something to Sin, but Sin walked out of the room. He almost kept going until he was clear of the training area but forced himself to stop. When Luke and Boyd left the private room, the guard stopped in front of Sin. "I appreciate you not hurting Harry." Sin raised an eyebrow. "I knew you could have. And I know he would have deserved it." "How are you so sure? I'm an out of control cannibal, remember?" "No, you're not. You're not as crazy as you want me to think. Like I said, you could have killed him." "Yes," Sin agreed. "And next time, I probably will." They stared at each other, and then Luke raised a hand in farewell. He said to Boyd, "Let me know if you have any issues filing the report. You can find my number in the directory. Take care." When the guard was gone, Sin addressed his partner. "Why did you get involved?" Boyd was unruffled as ever. "It seemed like you were about to hurt him and I wanted to intervene before you could get in trouble for defending yourself. I also wanted him to know that not everyone will ignore such blatant harassment. By reporting it, maybe he'll see some consequences for his behavior." Several things about Boyd's response were unexpected, but there were too many people focused on Sin, and he still felt the burning desire to bash someone's face in. "Let's get out of here." Boyd followed him out of the training room. Most people avoided looking directly at Sin when he came close, but as soon as his back was to the rest of the room, he felt the weight of their stares. A few mutters echoed around the room and Sin thought they undoubtedly believed he'd caused some issue. He couldn't help wondering what people would think if they knew the truth. He and Boyd continued walking until they were outside, well out of earshot of anyone who would be brave enough to eavesdrop. Sin led Boyd around the side of the building and to a cluster of trees that provided them shelter from the steady stream of people on the path. "You unnecessarily brought yourself to the attention of someone you would have been smarter to avoid," Sin said. "You should have stayed out of it." "It doesn't matter. I wouldn't have stood by silently regardless." "You're either being cocky or stupid. Truman is the pack leader of a lot of guards who run this place. And not the ones like doe-eyed Luke back there. It would be wise to not get on their bad side because of me." Boyd's lips pressed together, and a hint of heat entered his voice. "So I should allow a terrible person to hurt others in front of me simply because it could be inconvenient for me to interfere? You're my partner and I'm going to help you. Even if it wasn't part of my job, I would not let that go. Besides, I'm already disliked because of my mother and my position. This changes nothing." "You defended me. That was enough. And I..." Sin lifted his shoulders. "I appreciate it. No one ever has before. But taking it further isn't necessary. I don't want you to get hurt again because you were trying to help me." Anger was still evident by the tightness in Boyd's shoulders and the flash of his amber eyes. After so many months, it was the first flash of intensity Sin saw in his partner. "That doesn't concern me," Boyd said. "What concerns me is you have such low expectations that even someone speaking up on your behalf is enough for you. Harry seems too arrogant to stop until he's challenged. I'm not going to go halfway on this. If something happens to me on a mission, I want the incident on record first." "Will you shut up about dying?" Sin said, exasperated. "I decide to go along with this shit, and you're still ready to drop dead at the first opportunity." "I'm being realistic. I'm more likely to die before you. It has nothing to do with you being a good partner. I'm simply thinking ahead." "You're an idiot." "What are you worried about? Is there something I should know about Harry?" It would have been smarter to end the conversation before he gave Boyd further ammunition for filing a report, but for some reason he kept talking. "He's a predator and he views me as an ideal victim. The fact that I'm generally hated suits him because no one is likely to believe me if I tell anyone, but he doesn't care about what I've done. When he's denied what he wants, he gets worse and he will lash out. It doesn't help that his buddies tend to man the surveillance station." Again, a flash of anger lit Boyd's face. Even as subtle as it was, it was more emotion than Sin was accustomed to seeing from his partner. "I see. As a predator, does that mean he's attacked or harassed others in the past? Or has it mostly been you due to your circumstances?" "I know he had a record of it before he was recruited here." "How long has he been here?" "At least five years, maybe more. He first appeared on the Fourth two years into my first incarceration." "Does everyone know what he's like? Officer Gerant didn't seem surprised by the situation." Two women entered the small grove and stopped at the sight of Sin and Boyd. They looked from one man to the other and did an about face. Sin continued as if the conversation had never been disrupted. "All guards in the Maximum Security wing of the Fourth know what he's like. Luke just seems more squeamish and moral than the others." "And General Carhart?" Boyd demanded. Sin combed his fingers through his unruly hair and exhaled loudly. "I don't think he realizes the extent of it." "Why would you not want me to file a report, then?" Boyd crossed his arms over his chest; lean muscle was evident in his biceps beneath the long-sleeved black shirt he'd worn to the training facility. "Obviously he never plans to stop, and everyone knows and looks the other way. The ignorance and discrimination in that alone is astounding. Doesn't it bother you at all?" Sin shrugged, tired of the topic. He wasn't interested in being seen as the victim in some unfortunate circumstance. Harry Truman was a nuisance and a danger only because he couldn't defend himself without making the situation worse. It was just something he'd have to deal with in order to avoid the box. "I'm used to it. It doesn't make a difference to me anymore. People will do what they want because they think they can. After all, I'm barely human. The scary monster of the compound." Boyd scoffed. "Well, I don't accept your status quo. He already dislikes me so not filing the report wouldn't help. I won't stand by and do nothing when it's within my power to at least put down in words what everyone else would conveniently ignore." There was no point in arguing the topic. Boyd seemed determined to go through with his plan, and Sin wasn't going to keep fighting him on it. Besides, Sin couldn't deny that there was something intriguing about his partner's stubbornness. It was a change from Boyd's usual apathy and disinterest in the world. "Why were you there, anyway? I'd never seen you there before." "You told me it was a good place to train." At the time, Sin had only said it to distract himself from his own curiosity as to why reclusive Boyd spent time at Ryan's house, and his own sudden desire to see Boyd's fleeting smile reappear. When he said nothing, Boyd drew his own conclusions. "Is it so strange that I went there?" "No. I just—" Sin stopped. As usual, he didn't know how to explain precisely what he was trying to say. Expressing himself to others had never been necessary before. "I didn't think you would actually go. I took you for a loner." "Oh." A warm breeze pushed pale strands of hair into Boyd's face, and for a brief, absurd moment, Sin had an urge to brush it away. He didn't, and Boyd kept talking. "There are times I don't mind being around others. But since you recommended it, I went." Not knowing what to say to that, Sin looked down at his torn shirt for inspiration and realized it was worse than he'd thought. The entire collar was destroyed, and the shirt was ripped haphazardly to the left. Boyd noticed the destruction too. "If you need to leave to change..." "It's not like I have much to change into, anyway." "Why not?" "Because the clothes I have are the clothes I've had for over a decade. I don't get out much." "Are you still not allowed to leave on your own?" Sin shook his head, looking in the general area of the gates. "Not without an escort. I am not to be trusted in the city on my own, so says the good Marshal." "Hmm." Boyd slid his hands into the pockets of his black pants. "Would you like to go now?" Sin's head swiveled in Boyd's direction. "With you?" "Yes." Again, Sin was stunned to silence. Eventually, he released a low huff of laughter. "You're really not afraid of me, are you?" "No. I'm not." The irony of Boyd not fearing him despite nearly being killed by Sin a few weeks ago was so extreme, Sin nearly laughed. Maybe it made sense they got along; they were both apparently crazy. "Do you drive?" "Usually. My car's in the main lot." Boyd headed toward the compound's gates and Sin reluctantly followed. He stole discreet looks at the younger man as they walked, trying to determine why Boyd was being so nice. Yes, they'd had more frequent conversations lately, but this was totally different. Being around Boyd for reasons unrelated to a briefing or a mission was not something Sin had ever considered. Now that it was occurring, he had no idea what to do. Most of Sin's interactions with people in the Agency were either one way or the other; they ignored him or went out of their way to ostracize him. Not even Carhart had offered to escort him off the compound before. And there was always the possibility Boyd was playing a game; being nice just to keep the partnership running smoothly. Frowning down at Boyd again, Sin hoped that was not the case. No one had been friendly to him before, and it would be unfortunate if it turned out that all of this was a lie. The willingness to plan missions together, the displays of curiosity about Sin, the random questions, and that smile… Sin was almost positive he would quit bothering to interact with people in even the remote ways he did now if it turned out that Boyd had managed to trick him. Just the notion nearly drove Sin to return to his apartment and stop pretending he was capable of being social. Boyd's car was black and sophisticated-looking, more expensive than Sin expected. They got in and stopped at the gates while Boyd showed his identification and cleared their trip with the guards. It was easier than Sin had expected, and he could only assume that Boyd was already on the list of people he was allowed to leave with. Connors had probably never expected such a thing to happen, though. When the car glided away from the compound, Boyd asked, "Do you have any preferences for price range?" "Somewhere cheap. I'm kept on an allowance. I don't have access to my account." "That's strange. Why not?" "Because they control every aspect of my life." Sin watched as they drove through All Saints, the neighborhood that the Agency was in. Outside of the compound, the area was full of large houses and green spaces, especially with Silver Lake Park nearby dominating so much of the land. When they got further south, larger buildings cropped into view. "I know of some affordable places. If you have no objections, I'd planned to bring you to a thrift store anyway." "I don't care how I look. Wherever is fine." Boyd nodded and led them southwest toward Vickland. Sin didn't pay much attention to where they were headed, although he did note Boyd was taking a few of the lesser-used residential side streets. They backtracked north, looped around to return south, and hooked up with Dauphin Street on the west side of Vickland just before the area transitioned into the Financial District. It wasn't until Boyd parked the car that Sin realized the quickest route from the Agency would have been to drive all the way down Dauphin Street. Boyd had gone out of the way to avoid it. The information clicked in Sin's mind and combined with memories of Boyd's behavior on their first mission together. They had been on Dauphin Street that day too. Sin glanced at his partner, more intrigued than ever. Maybe one day he'd find out what had happened to Boyd in the past. "I thought you hated people as much as I do," Sin said as Boyd removed the keys from the ignition. "So why are you going out of your way for me?" "Because I want to." Boyd's hand closed around the door handle, but he didn't push it open. "It bothers me that you have no one to rely on especially because most of your alienation is due to the Agency. I'm not in the habit of acting before I think, and I've taken the time to consider everything I know about the Agency and their treatment of you." Sin's dark brows rose. "Is that a fact?" "Yes. It is. And I've yet to find a reason why I shouldn't help you." Wondering just how much Boyd knew about his history at the Agency, Sin pushed his own door open. "You really don't seem like the charitable type. You seem like the mind-your-own-business and try-not-to-give-a-fuck-or-get-involved type." "Normally I am. It seems to be different with you." Sin got out of the car without a response. Again, he wondered if the genuine-sounding words were nothing more than carefully crafted lines. Boyd redirected the conversation as he joined Sin on the sidewalk. "There are a lot of second hand stores in the city but I think Aspen's Closet is best as far as the price and quality," Boyd said. "How much money do you have?" "A couple hundred. They don't give me very much." "That should be more than enough here, but what if you were to use it all on clothes? Do you get more this week?" "No. It doesn't matter. I don't buy anything anyway except shit from the vending machine." "It seems insulting to have your own money withheld." A couple of people in front of the store gave Sin's torn shirt dubious looks. He sneered at them. "It's pretty tame compared to locking me in a box." They entered the store as a woman and a teenage girl left. The interior was bigger than Sin had expected but was filled with racks of clothes and people. It was disorderly and cluttered, which made Sin want to return to the open space of the sidewalk. Instead, he swallowed the niggle of anxiety and forced himself to act like a normal person. As normal as he could get. "Yes, but limiting your freedom in even small ways adds to the insult. Why does it matter if you have access to the money you've earned? It isn't as though you could buy your freedom." The truth was, Sin hadn't given much thought to his allowance when it'd been implemented. In the past, he hadn't been given any of his money at all. He'd been told that it was sent to his bank account where it would remain for safe keeping until he was deemed capable of handling it on his own. Now, Sin wondered if it was a lie; if the Agency had never actually paid him. Whatever the case was, he couldn't change any of it now. Boyd led him to a small alcove hidden at the side of the shop. At first Sin thought it was off limits to the public, but Boyd walked in without pause. A short hallway opened up before them and led to another display room. Several racks of clothing and shelves of shoes filled it. Boyd stood to the side, gesturing to the racks that held men's clothing. "These are the new arrivals. It's best to check here before the good items disappear too quickly on the main floor. The shoes are especially good to peruse here first." "Come here a lot? You don't seem very hard up for cash." Boyd's gaze fixed on a rack of clothing, but his lips thinned again. "My mother's wealthy but, until this position, I wasn't necessarily. I've never had to worry about having a home but as for money for food or supplies, it varied. I became accustomed to minimal spending when possible. And my..." He crossed his arms over his stomach. "I knew others who didn't have much money so we came here to get clothing. I bought my trench coat and boots here, so they do have some quality items." With a slow nod, Sin tried to make a valiant effort at seeking clothes, but the other customers continuously distracted him. He wondered if any of these civilians would recognize him from the incident all those years ago. Even if Vivienne had tried to cover it up, it was still possible that someone would remember the face of the man who had been dubbed by police as the Vickland Psycho. Sin wished he'd worn something with a hood to hide beneath. It wouldn't solve the problem completely, but he wouldn't feel so exposed. The Agency would easily handle the situation if someone recognized him and alerted the authorities, but that would not erase the horror of running into a witness; someone who had seen him slaughter a score of civilians. "Look, I just need a new t-shirt." "How much clothing do you have?" Sin mentally cataloged his belongings. It didn't take very long. A handful of t-shirts, a couple of pants and one pair of boots. He didn't own a proper coat of any kind that was suitable for cold weather. Not to mention everything he had was threadbare and worn. "Enough." "What constitutes 'enough' for you? I've hardly seen you in anything aside from that." "I have... a few items." "A few," Boyd repeated, looking at Sin askance. "What? A pair of pants and possibly two shirts?" "I have two pair of pants, for your information." "My mistake." Boyd's faint smile reappeared. "And exactly how long have you had this clothing?" Feeling decidedly unimpressive as a result of the conversation, Sin turned away and shoved some clothes around unceremoniously. "Since I was young and impressionable." "I'm going to assume that means at least a decade." Sin scoffed. "What difference does it make? They're clean and covering the essential body parts, aren't they?" Amusement lightened the cast of Boyd's eyes. "Yes, but you've nearly worn the clothing through. It seems like you may have worn the same thing almost every day for decades. We should remedy that today. If your summer clothing is this threadbare I don't have high hopes for your winter choices." Sin figured he had a few weeks left of the faux-summer they received in the post-war world, and didn't feel too concerned. '"I probably could have sent my service slave out to do all this." "Who?" With a dismissive shrug, Sin made a more conscious effort to look at the stuff on the rack. "Some damn fool service staff member who was assigned to deal with me. He hates me almost as much as I loathe the sight of him. He delivers my food and supplies. I think it's deliberate so they can prevent me having to go out at all." There was a black bomber coat that would suit his purposes during the winter time. The inner lining was old, but better than nothing at all. "With how infrequently you buy new clothing, would you really want someone like that making those decisions?" "Considering how people cringe at the sight of me, it doesn't really matter what I wear or look like, but I suppose you have a point." Sin considered the coat and then at the other racks. Surviving for years on the bare minimum made it difficult to figure out what was supposed to be a necessity. "Hmm." Boyd pushed a plain black long-sleeved thermal shirt back so he could see it fully. He held the bottom out, his eyelashes sheltering his eyes briefly as he studied it before he examined at Sin in assessment. Without saying anything, he held the shirt out to Sin. "Are you going to dress me like you?" "What? No. It's in good condition. You don't have to get it if you don't want; I just thought you may want to try it on." Sin tossed the shirt over his shoulder. "I'm just messing with you, sweetheart. No need to get all explanatory." "Why do you call me that?" The smirk widened and Sin reached out, pinching one of Boyd's cheeks and turning his face from side-to-side. He started to say something smart but the feel of Boyd's skin startled him, and the sarcastic comment got lost somewhere. Sin dropped his hand. He'd begun to say "because you're so innocent and cute" but that seemed ill-advised when it struck him that Boyd actually was attractive. "Because you're... young." Boyd turned away, his hand absently brushing the spot where Sin had touched him. "Some of the trainees said the same thing." "That you're young?" Sin stripped off his t-shirt and tossed it aside. Boyd nodded. "They were surprised. I suppose it's because I went straight to a high rank without a pertinent background. Even so, you were recruited much younger than I was, so am I really such a precedent?" Sin pulled the thermal shirt over his head and shrugged his shoulders to loosen it up. "It's because you're off the street and don't have any experience in anything. It makes it seem like it's nepotism. In reality, it's just because mother dearest knew two rejects of society might get along, I think." "You may be giving her too much credit." "Probably." Sin looked down at the shirt again before yanking it off. There were two other customers in the area and they stared as he switched back into his ragged t-shirt. Sin started to snap his teeth at them like he would have done to someone on the compound, but thought better of it. "I really hate civilians." "Most people use a dressing room," Boyd said mildly. "I'm not shy." Adding the thermal shirt to the jacket, Sin headed back to the front of the store. As he walked, he thought he heard Boyd mumble, "I noticed." They returned to the outer room and Boyd made a beeline for the denim section. Sin hung back, not wanting to become immersed in the crowd. There were dozens of people rifling through the stacks and making a mess of the neatly folded clothes. If he'd known the store was going to be so crowded, Sin would have refused to go. It wasn't as though he gave a damn about his clothes, anyway. He'd only come because he wanted to spend time with Boyd. It was a weird realization; almost as weird as the realization that he found his partner attractive. Sin had never considered who was good looking and who was not before, but he'd never expected to spend time following some kid around Lexington either. Frowning, Sin pulled a black hoodie off a rack and put it on, drawing the hood over his head. He tried to focus on the task at hand but found himself growing restless again. A pair of girls kept sneaking glances at him, and it was starting to get on his nerves. Boyd reappeared at his side with several articles of clothing slung over his arm. He held up a pair of black and red sneakers. "Do you like these?" "I have shoes." "One pair, right?" "Do I need more?" "Yes. If those get worn out, what will you use to replace them?" Sin supposed they'd be an improvement for working out. "Fine." "I found some pants and a t-shirt. And I'm not positive you'll like this sweater but it seems warm." "Looks good. Can we leave?" "Does it bother you to be here?" "I don't feel comfortable around... civilians. In Lexington." "Well," Boyd began. He paused, looked around, and spoke again. "I don't think anyone is paying any attention to you at the moment. Maybe we could stay a little longer? If it isn't a problem." It was true enough. The only people paying attention to him were those girls and when he made more of an effort to listen, he realized they were commenting on Boyd's and his looks. Apparently, he had an amazing body and Boyd had beautiful hair. "Fine," he repeated. "By the way, those girls would like to know what conditioner you use." Boyd shook his head, smiling again. "I'll never tell." "Maybe you should. You may even get a date out of it." With a quiet scoff, Boyd turned to the nearest rack. "I hardly think that will happen." "So little faith in yourself?" "No. I'm uninterested in them." By now the girls were aware of the attention they were getting. To Sin's irritation, one of them smiled at him encouragingly. He glared and one of them, a petite redhead, instantly dropped her bold gaze. In the next half hour, Boyd managed to collect a bunch of clothes Sin didn't look at, and the group of girls stood right behind them in line. They stared openly and murmured to each other, wondering if the two of them were gay. The question surprised Sin so much that he turned to level them with another deadly glare. The conversation came to an abrupt end. Boyd did not appear to be paying attention, and Sin wondered whether he would have been offended by the comment. Sin supposed people were quick to assume that long-haired Boyd with his androgynous face and thin build was gay. Pair that with the two of them shopping together while Boyd nagged him about things he needed to keep warm and the assumption made sense. Other than that, Sin didn't know if Boyd was gay and had never considered his own orientation. The only people that had ever shown interest in him sexually were Lydia and Harry, and that was likely because both of them were insane. There had also been Thierry, but that had only been a weak attempt at manipulation. Irritation turned to idle curiosity so Sin surveyed his partner. Boyd had good features and what would likely be a decent build if he ever gained weight. It was impossible to tell whether objectively noting that a person had good features implied actual attraction, though. When Sin examined several other people in the shop, he didn't find any of them particularly interesting. Maybe the Agency had burned the ability to find others attractive out of him. It was bordering on pathetic that in twenty-eight years, Sin had never given it much thought. He bet that even Boyd had a better understanding of this type of thing, and he barely had an expression. It was bizarre to even consider Boyd having sex with someone. The thought sparked interesting mental images in Sin's head, and he smirked. Boyd was drawn out of his reverie. "What?" "Nothing," Sin said, declining to explain.
  7. Santino

    Chapter 9

    Nine The drive back to Lexington felt shorter. Boyd navigated the Agency vehicle through a road that appeared to have been retaken by nature. It was cracked from lack of care and the bowed branches of trees extended above, blocking out the ash-colored sky. With nothing but the unspoken questions in his head and Sin's stalwart silence beside him, Boyd could do nothing but stare at the rush of trees and remember how, many missions ago, the forest had so confused him. "Why did you save me?" "Does it matter? You're alive." "It matters to me." The setting sun cast muted rays across Sin's face. His skin was peaked and circles lined his eyes. "It's pointless for you to die. That is basically what I decided." "Why? I'm easily replaceable. Agent Blake could take over for me and it's unlikely anyone would have been surprised to find I hadn't made it back." "Well, maybe I don't want Blake to be my partner." "His temperament was relatively similar to my own," Boyd said. "I imagine after a day or two you'd hardly notice the difference." To that, Sin did not bother to respond, but Boyd did not want the ride to pass without him saying the words that had been at the forefront of his mind since waking in the cabin. "Thank you." Sin yanked at a loose string in a tear at the knee of his pants. The rip widened. "Did I answer your questions the way you wanted me to?" "What do you mean?" "If I answered adequately, I'll expect adequate responses to my questions in return." "Oh." There were so many questions that Boyd jumped at the chance to gain additional information. "I have additional questions." Sin sighed. "What now?" "In the past, you were unconcerned about whether the mission was a success. So why did you make the effort to bring in Andrews?" "There would have been no point in saving you if I'd let the mission fail. They would just terminate you and lock me back up when we returned to the compound. I'm not unaware that this mission is important." It made sense, but Boyd wanted more. The unknown had been out of reach for the past several months and he was hungry for answers. "I still don't understand why you saved me. I've been trying to determine the reason. Judging by how you bandaged my wound and checked on me, along with what you said about Blake, it implies concern for both the mission but also my survival." Boyd stole a glance at Sin. "If that's true, I don't understand what changed in the past months." "I don't either." Sin's eyes slit against the sun streaming through the window. "I didn't think… I didn't think you would make a good partner. I didn't think this would work." "And at some point something made you believe it would?" "Obviously," Sin said, starting to look impatient. The admittance was pleasing even though Boyd had never expected the words to leave Sin's mouth. Or to occur to him at all. "What did you want to ask me?" "Why didn't you just use the remote and activate my collar?" "Because I didn't feel it was necessary." "Oh." Boyd surveyed his partner. "And I truly have no interest in harming you." "I didn't—" Sin cut himself off, frowning. "You should never touch me when I'm sleeping." "I'll keep that in mind, but you were clearly having a nightmare. When I called out, you didn't respond. In the future, how do you prefer I wake you?" Sin looked at him sharply. "What are you talking about?" "You were clearly having a nightmare and murmuring in your sleep. If it happens again, I'd like to know of any alternatives for waking you." Sin's breath gusted out in a disgusted sigh. "Well, that's just beautiful. But whatever. Just leave me be if it happens again. It's safer." They lapsed into silence again. The trees began to thin as they left the woods of Cunningham Terrace and drove through the desolation of Carson and the Wastelands. The skeletons of abandoned buildings and neighborhoods jutted out of shattered subdivisions, unforgiving reminders of what the abandoned suburb had been like in the past. Once the skyline of Lexington loomed in the distance, Boyd's mind returned to the mission, and the report he would soon have to write. "In case you don't read the write-up, I thought you should know that Andrews named his contact with Janus. His name is Thierry Beauvais." "I hate that little French fuck." Boyd raised his eyebrows. "You know him?" "I've had to meet with him twice before. He tantalizes the Agency with information and makes us jump through hoops to get it. I utterly fail at dealing with him. It would be best if I didn't see him ever again." "I see. Did something happen when you saw him before?" "You could say that." With only a mysterious smirk from Sin to go on, Boyd could only wonder what future meetings with Thierry would bring about. *** Sin's files were a lure Boyd found difficult to ignore. With so much about the senior agent still uncovered, Boyd was drawn to them late that night after submitting the mission report. He stripped off the clothes he'd worn on the mission, changed the bandages on his thigh, and walked into the office with a cup of tea. The house was quiet around him, the lights off, and his father's memorabilia masked by shadows. There was nothing to distract Boyd from the seemingly unending wealth of information on Sin—the mission reports, mission recordings, still images, and transcripts of psychiatric evaluations. Despite all that, there was barely anything on Sin's early childhood. By the time Boyd had investigated most of the folder's contents, he stumbled upon file extensions with curious names. One was called "cam01", and when Boyd clicked on it, it quickly became apparent why. An image of an empty apartment filled the screen. The walls were white and the furniture was plain. There were no decorations. Nothing to imply that anyone lived there. Even so, Boyd heard a rustle of movement through the speakers and shadows shifted on the screen. Boyd closed the file and opened the others, flipping through a bedroom, and a kitchen until Sin's face appeared. He was looking directly into the camera. Startled, Boyd leaned away from the monitor. These were not videos taken of some past event; they were live feeds of Sin's apartment, including a camera installed in the mirror of Sin's bathroom. Boyd's stomach curdled, but he could not look away. Sin's bronze complexion was ashen. His full lips were parted and his breath was labored. He raised trembling hands to wrap a bandage around his upper arm. It was already stained crimson. He stepped back to reach for something out of view of the camera, and Boyd took in his partner's body with shock. Numerous lacerations and bruises covered his torso, one of them so dark it was nearly black. Of them all, the most serious injury was Sin's arm. Blood ran down the length of it, leaving small puddles in the sink. Boyd then saw the pliers, peroxide, and the unmistakable sheen of a bullet coated in blood. Sin stepped back into view of the camera with a small bottle clutched in one hand. He swallowed a few dry before looking into the mirror again. He was so pale, so worn and vulnerable, that Boyd wanted to turn the video off. It was too intimate, and Sin's expression was too raw, but Boyd couldn't make himself stop. He stared into Sin's hooded eyes, analyzed every aspect of his unforgettable face, and wondered how Sin had masked his injuries and pain for so many hours. Sin took a long, deep breath. He stood up straight, teeth flashing when he flinched, and slowly turned away from the camera. He stepped into the bathtub and sat down, nearly disappearing from view of the camera. When Sin laid down in the tub, the screen showed nothing but a tiled wall and a shut door. The spiky edges of guilt cut through Boyd. It was undeniable that Sin had been hurt saving him, but why hide it? Was the need to mask weakness ingrained in Sin, or did he not trust Boyd? The worst part was that even if Sin believed he could let down his guard in his apartment, it was only an illusion. He didn't have privacy anywhere. There was a camera of every angle in his home. Was any of this with Sin's consent? Did Sin know about the cameras? Maybe he did, but Boyd doubted he'd known about the one in the bathroom. A man who had ridden in silence with a gunshot wound wouldn't have let pain show so easily if he'd known anyone would see it. Who all had access to these feeds? Boyd wondered. Who else was watching and taking note of Sin's vulnerabilities? *** The next morning Boyd was sluggish while he dressed, and distracted on his way to the Agency. His thoughts continuously returned to the live feed just as they had throughout the night, preventing him from falling asleep. Boyd tried to put the thoughts aside so he could focus on the coming briefing, but they flooded back when he entered the conference room and found Sin sitting at the table alone. "Late." Boyd could only stare. If he hadn't watched the live feed, he would have never suspected Sin was injured. He looked the same as always. Clearing his throat, Boyd sat down next to Sin. "What are you doing here?" "If I'm going to start being your partner, I supposed it meant I had to show up here." Sin slouched in his chair. "Why? Do you want me to go?" "Of course not. I was simply surprised to see you." "I see." It was difficult not to peer at Sin closely and look for signs of the vulnerable man who had shuddered before the cameras the night before. "Incidentally, how are you?" Boyd asked. "I didn't think to ask yesterday." "It went as expected," Sin said. Boyd supposed that could be a true enough answer. Most people would expect Sin to be injured on a mission involving such heavy gunfire, but Boyd did not know if the vagueness was to avoid outright lying or whether Sin just did not want to discuss it at all. "I appreciate your willingness to help and interact." Sin made a face. "Don't start thanking me. I almost killed you five hours before the mission." "It doesn't matter. It would have been an accident." Sin shot him an incredulous glare. "Well, it matters to me. If I'd have killed your dumb ass, the odds of me finding as good a partner are slim to none. So just ensure that you don't pass on too quickly. I'm starting to get used to you." Boyd's eyes opened wider with surprise, but he smiled slightly as warmth filled him. Then the door opened and his smile vanished. Sin scowled. "Hola!" Ryan's voice sang out before the door had fully opened. "How—" Ryan froze in mid-step, gawking. "Hsin!" Sin's scowl deepened. "Uh..." Ryan trailed off, jerked at the straps to his backpack, and tripped his way to a chair. "Wow, I didn't expect to uh, see you... ever." Sin didn't reply and his attention drifted to the wall. Ryan laughed nervously. He unhooked his backpack and opened it but kept sneaking glances at Sin, who ignored him. "Hello, Ryan," Boyd said. "Are the others on their way?" "Owen's probably stopping to get coffee." Ryan's face was still flushed with embarrassment. He fiddled with his laptop. "So, how are you guys?" "Grand," Sin said blandly. "Fine. And you?" "Oh, you know. Busy, not being able to sleep because of all of my projects—although... Oh! That reminds me," Ryan blurted. "I was going to ask if you wanted to come over when you have downtime. I just downloaded a series I've been searching for forever. It's super old." Sin's gaze switched to Boyd but he said nothing. "Is it the one you have on the walls with the robots?" Boyd asked. "No, but if you're interested in mecha, I have a ton of shows like that. The series I found takes place in the 19th century and is about this awesome samurai guy in Japan." "Where else would a samurai be?" Sin commented, eyes still on Boyd. Ryan squirmed in his chair. "I dunno. I was just explaining..." "I don't know what I'm interested in." Boyd didn't know what mecha meant but apparently it had something to do with young men and robots with wings. "The series you mentioned is fine. Is it historically accurate?" "I'm not sure so far, it just finished today. I didn't want to start until I had it all. There's a movie too." Ryan gestured at Sin. "Hey, you know, you could—" "No." "Okay..." Ryan didn't seem surprised. The door opened and Owen shuffled in looking tired as usual. He stopped just inside the door and blinked. Owen looked down into his coffee cup and turned around. "Where are you going?" Ryan demanded. "Owen!" "Something's wrong with my coffee, Ry-Meist," Owen mumbled. "I think they gave me a shot of L-espresso-D. I'm seeing things now. I'm going to go away and come back and see if anything changes." "Come sit down before Jeffrey gets here and starts badgering you." Owen peered at Sin, who exuded every sign of being unimpressed, then switched his attention to Boyd, and finally sat down next to Ryan. He carefully set the coffee cup on the table. "Okay, but just so we're clear, Sin Vega is sitting there and I'm not imagining it, right? I've been having some weird dreams lately so I don't know what's going on right now. I might look down and realize I'm naked." Sin slouched down further in his chair and rapped his knuckles impatiently against the table. Now that other people were in the room with them it seemed like he couldn't wait to leave. "It's good that he's here." Ryan grinned in encouragement, apparently deciding to pay no attention to Sin's behavior. "I'm glad. We can all be one big happy unit now and everything." "Oh yeah, it's all good." Owen lazily saluted Sin. "I just didn't wanna be hallucinating in the middle of meetings again. I got a lot of dirty looks the time it happened. I don't know why it's such a big deal, anyway. It would've been way more exciting if there really were tap-dancing penguins in there, even if it made it kind of hard to concentrate." Sin looked so visibly annoyed to be around other people that Boyd wondered why he had come. It almost seemed like he was trying to be nice.. The door opened again and Carhart and Jeffrey stepped in. Carhart arched an eyebrow at Sin and took his spot at the head of the table. "Nice of you to finally join us." "No problem," Sin drawled. "Nice group of misfits you have here." Owen rested his chin against his palm. He raised one hand with a look that clearly said "guilty as charged." Jeffrey, on the other hand, displayed clear distaste from his thinned lips to his stiff posture. There was a pleased tilt to Carhart's mouth but he evened it out quickly. They went over the mission with Boyd doing most of the talking. Even when he told the others how Sin had saved the mission, Sin refused to speak. He spent the entirety of the debriefing staring at Boyd and toying with the zipper on his hoodie. It wasn't until Boyd mentioned Thierry's name that the routine was broken. "Oh no," Ryan groaned. "Not that guy again. Ugh. And also, my sources all dried up with him. They lost touch or don't have access to him anymore. We'd have to go through the civilian route to get in touch with him." Owen took a long drink of coffee. "We're talking Mr. Suave in the tux? I know someone with the direct connect." "Good," Carhart said. "We'll get a feel on how agreeable he's feeling lately and decide how to approach him from there. If he is having recent contact with Janus shot-callers, that goes directly against his previous claims that he'd fallen out of contact with them." "Who is he exactly?" Boyd asked. Looks were exchanged around the table, and Sin rolled his eyes. "A pointless asshole with a lot of connections." "Basically," Ryan agreed with a snort of amusement. "Yeah, I don't think anyone wants to claim him as their BFF." Owen finished off the rest of the coffee in one gulp. "Thierry Beauvais is a wealthy entrepreneur who uses his vast wealth to either help or hinder different political groups in Western Europe. His father was one of the first benefactors of Janus when they were nothing more than a fledgling group. When he died, Thierry didn't show that same exclusivity and instead began playing various groups against each other seemingly for his own amusement." Carhart glanced at Sin. "We've had previous dealings with Thierry. In the past, he's shown interest in helping us, but he's very temperamental. Our most recent meeting with him ended in disaster when Sin took the liberty of insulting him to the extent of the man getting on a flight out of the country." "He's a condescending fuck," Sin said, unconcerned. Boyd could not imagine Sin dealing with a man like Thierry. The mission must have ended disastrously. "Are there worries that he may be uninterested in negotiating with us again?" "It's possible. But we won't know for certain until we contact him. At that time, we'll have a follow-up." Carhart indicated Owen. "Get your source on this as soon as possible. I want a contact number immediately." "I'll be all over that after the meeting, like a mongoose on a snake." Owen frowned. "The trained ones, anyway." Carhart pinned him with a flat stare. "If no one has anything further to add we'll wrap up for now. Owen, I expect you to be in touch within the hour." Owen eyed Carhart warily but ultimately nodded again. Carhart left the room without ceremony. Jeffrey wasn't far behind, pointedly taking Owen's cup and throwing it in the garbage on the way out. Owen snorted but followed, no doubt to work on his assignment. "Don't mind Jeffrey, by the way. He has a permanent case of stick-in-ass," Ryan confided, glancing at Sin with a brief, hopeful grin. When he got a non-response in return, Ryan sighed quietly and looked at Boyd. "Well, if you're interested in the anime let me know." "I will. Thank you, Ryan." Ryan flashed a smile and left. Once he was gone, Sin spoke. "Interesting." "That does seem to be the best word to describe the unit." Sin shoved his chair back, dropping his hands on the arms as if to push himself up. "Well, I'm off to the training room to likely be hassled by complete morons." "Is that the one in the Tower?" "Yes. It's an unfortunate place to go because it's used by every single idiot on the compound, but it offers a wide variety of equipment to work out and spar if you want to do that sort of thing." Sin stood. "My newfound freedom to roam the compound leads me there more often than not." The questions surrounded Sin continued to mount. Why had he come to the briefing and why was he offering so much information? His behavior was at complete odds with everything Boyd had come to learn about the other man. Instead of pointing that out, he said, "That's good to know. I'm primarily used to the training complex but I don't have access to it anymore. Are there places where a person can be left alone or does it get too crowded in the training room?" "There are private rooms." Sin slid his hands into his pockets. "You should consider going sometime. To further your training. Because you're still too skinny." "I will." Boyd gave a hint of a smile. "Thank you. I've needed a place to train. David said the same thing." Sin nodded. "I'll see you around." His gaze lingered on Boyd as he backed out of the room, and Boyd could not help but wonder if the offering of information had been an invitation.
  8. I wrote a blog post about HEA and quoted James because, well, he's awesome. http://t.co/HiQRpBOnbg

  9. AWOL due to NanoWrimo, but i have 12k words already!

  10. Santino

    Chapter 8

    Eight The location of 53's headquarters was about sixty miles outside Lexington in an area between Carson and Cunningham Terrace. The gray ruins of Carson slowly transformed into open spaces and rich forests that would eventually lead to the affluent town known as West Cunningham. The area was deserted, and perfect for a base of operations. 53 had claimed an abandoned lumber mill for their purposes, and at first Boyd had assumed that would make the mission simple. The mill was large and constructed of steel with towering smokestacks, but there were a number of ways to slip inside. However, after one night of recon, Boyd realized that Warren Andrews was not utilizing the upper levels of the mill. Instead, they were working out of the sublevel. At some point in the recent past, someone had turned the sublevel into a bunker. It was reinforced and deep underground, making it impossible for Boyd to use his phone. He was completely cut off while exploring the maze of hallways and rooms below the mill. Boyd spent nearly an hour inside the base, slipping from one shadow to the next, a task made easy by the unstable generators 53 utilized. But even without the cover of darkness, Boyd was prepared. Unit 16, the Agency group who outfitted employees for undercover missions, had provided him with clothing that allowed him to blend in with the hostiles. They had also replicated 53's signature red armband. Heavy footsteps treaded toward him, the scuffing of soles against concrete. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a radio he'd acquired from a supply room. Two men turned a corner and walked toward Boyd. He fumbled with the radio as if he did not know how it worked. As they came up beside him, Boyd adopted a frazzled expression but stood to attention. He gripped the radio in one hand and pressed the button. The radio blared static, and he dropped it on the floor with a resounding clatter. "Sorry!" One of the men scowled and continued on without incident although they muttered about Andrews recruiting too young these days. Boyd fumbled and cursed softly at the radio until their footsteps faded. He flipped off the radio and slipped out of the base. He moved through the forest to wait near a small grove by a bend in the river. Leaning against one of the trees, Boyd waited for Sin to arrive. When he did, he was as undetectable as always. "There are two exits other than the one you used," Sin said. "One to the north and another to the east. They are guarded by two hostiles. Beginning at approximately 0900 hours they switch shifts every eight hours. It is done efficiently with no lapses, however at half past the hour, five hours into each shift there is a thirty-minute meal break for each man. When one leaves, the entrance is secured by a single guard and there are brief three minute lapses while he paces back and forth to observe either side of the forest." Sin met Boyd's eyes. "When you sneak in tomorrow, that would be the best opportunity." Boyd nodded. He noted the term 'you' and was unsurprised to realize Sin had no intention of accompanying him on the mission the next day. Pushing himself away from the tree, Boyd replaced the radio in his back pocket and headed to their safehouse—a small cabin that had likely been owned years ago by an employee of the mill. "I think I found where Andrews' quarters are. They utilize an underground facility that seems to have been constructed after the original mill. Unfortunately, it's so far underground that I can't get a signal. If they are unwilling to negotiate, that may make things more difficult." Sin walked alongside him. "If you are able to speak with Andrews, they will most likely immediately disarm you." Boyd slipped his hands into the pockets of his jacket. "Do you really not plan to come?" After months of mocking Boyd about what would happen on his first storm, the occasion was finally here. Boyd would be heading into a base full of hostiles, and if negotiation failed, he would be expected to kill Andrews and take out the base. He would have to do it while trapped deep underground without a working comm. It was a suicide mission without his partner. But despite the previous sarcastic comments, Sin didn't seem to be in the mood for jokes. His body was tense, and his mouth set in a grim slash. "Let's just get back," Sin said and strode ahead. Boyd watched him go. As the gravity of the situation grew clearer, he wondered what his mother would say when she found out about his death. *** The sound ripped Boyd out of an already restless sleep. At first, he could not identify it, but when he listened closer, Boyd realized the sound was coming from Sin's bed--a distressed mutter, a soft groan, and the sound of bed sheets rustling. Boyd rolled over and peered across the room at his partner. Sin was curled in a ball on the thin bed but as Boyd watched, he unwound himself with a muffled whimper, one of his arms dangling off the side of the bed. He said something in his sleep, voice low and strained, and sounding distinctly like Mandarin. "Sin?" Another distressed groan filled the air, louder. Sin's head turned toward Boyd, his face awash in moonlight and frightening in its vulnerability. Boyd stared in awe, but shook himself and padded across the room. "Sin, wake up." After a brief hesitation, he touched Sin's hand. Boyd immediately regretted it. Sin's eyes snapped open, but he did not seem to register his surroundings or recognize Boyd. Without warning, he lurched up and threw Boyd off the bed and across the room. Boyd smashed into the table, and it flew a few inches off the floor, hit the wall, and fell over. Everything clattered around Boyd in a spray that peppered his shocked body. His bag fell down next to him, spilling its contents. An iron grip flipped Boyd onto his back, and his head cracked against the hardwood floor. The pain was stunning, and Boyd could only blink as spots danced around him. When his vision cleared, Sin's face was inches from his own. He froze in the face of wild green eyes and bared teeth. The words 'automatic kill mode' tumbled through Boyd's mind. Hands wrapped around his neck, squeezing, and Boyd reached up to claw at the powerful fingers. He gagged, and a desire to live swarmed up from a place he had buried long ago. Apathy about survival gave way to a resounding desperation to stop Sin from committing this act while out of control and isolated in the middle of a forest. But the grip was too tight, too unyielding, and Boyd could only gag and wheeze. He could feel himself fading, his vision dimming, but he still reached up to press his hand against the side of Sin's face. "Sin—Hsin… please." The fingers around Boyd's neck loosened just slightly, and Boyd grasped at the thread of hope. "Please stop," he rasped. His hand skewed up and threaded through Sin's hair. "It's… me." Time stilled and silence draped the cabin but was broken intermittently by the distant howl of an animal, and the scrape of branches against the roof; sounds that were usually ignored but now served as indicators of Boyd's last moments. His vision dimmed further, but then awareness swept over Sin's face, and he scrambled backwards. Coughs erupted from Boyd's throat and he clutched at his throat while shifting to an upright position. Everything went unsteady, but Boyd sucked in great gasps of air. "Sin," he wheezed. "You were dreaming. It wasn't me—I didn't hurt you." Sin's only answer was the ragged pull of his breath, and the trembling in his hands when he held them up. He backed away from Boyd, eyes skewing between him and something on the floor. Boyd followed that frantic gaze and saw the remote for the collar. In the commotion, it had fallen out of his bag. Boyd pitched it at Sin, and he caught it in midair. "Take it. I'm not—I'm not a threat." For the first time since they'd met, Sin's expression was completely open. Boyd could see shock and fear in Sin before the senior agent bolted from the cabin. He was there and gone so fast that it seemed like he'd disappeared within the blink of an eye. Darkness stretched out beyond the door and the sounds of the forest grew louder, but Boyd did not hear or sense Sin in the vicinity anymore. Shock held Boyd in place for several minutes before he managed to pull himself to a stand, limping over to shut the door. With his thoughts scrambled, Boyd moved on autopilot. He fixed the table and put his things away, ignoring the way his body protested in response as new bruises likely blossomed where he had been thrown across the room. When there was nothing else to do and no way to expend his leftover adrenaline, Boyd sat on the edge of the bed. His mind inevitably replayed the attack. The Sin he had come to know had vanished. Replaced by someone violent, terrifying, and insane. But… he had stopped when Boyd touched his face and said his name. He did not know why Sin had snapped out of the episode, and Boyd understood even less his own sudden desire to live. The lack of interest in survival had faded in the past few months, but it was still there like an old friend that visited whenever Boyd thought about his life and the never ending flow of missions. But for some reason, Boyd had wanted to stop Sin. Not so he could live, but because he had not wanted Sin to emerge from his episode and find his partner lifeless on the floor. Boyd didn't want his last moments to be the reason Sin was sent to the Fourth. Boyd shut the thoughts down and realized he'd been rubbing his wrist. He jerked his fingers away as if they burned and stood. It didn't matter anymore. None of it did. In a scant number of hours, he would be moving to infiltrate 53's base, and all of this would finally stop. *** The next morning, Boyd prepared for the mission with grim acceptance. Every action he took would be the last time it occurred. The last time he tied his hair back to stay out of the way in a fight. The last time he straightened the clothing he'd been given by Unit 16. The last time he walked out of a safehouse. The last time he went on a mission. His resignation did not slow him, and the infiltration went as planned. Boyd evaded the guards, moved through the old mill like a phantom, and used the same abandoned chute to access the sublevel of the building. Prowling through the maze of corridors the day before had imprinted an internal map in Boyd's mind, and he used it to make his way to the southwest corner of the bunker. It was the most secure location and the most inhabitable, which was why Boyd suspected it was where Andrews had made his base. Voices emanated from a shut door further down the hallway, and Boyd crouched around the corner as he weighed his options. His best bet was to catch Andrews alone, but he could only lurk around the base for so long before someone realized he didn't belong. His luck would inevitably run out. The timing had to be right, and he needed the upper-hand. The words on the other side of the door were nothing more than a jumble of syllables and fluctuating tones no matter how much closer Boyd moved. He peered around with caution before darting forward in a way that made every sore muscle in his body scream with agony. Ignoring the pain, Boyd swiped his finger at the narrow space under the door and pressed the adhesive on a small audio transmitter against the metal. He hurried back to the darker corner, and the sole of his shoe squeaking against the floor. Boyd scowled and hunkered down, pinning himself against the side of the wall. His heart sped with adrenaline, but no one came. His comm unit was useless as far as contacting anyone on the outside, but he switched the channel so he could pick up on the transmitter that was now glued to the door. The sound was fainter than he'd hoped. On his next mission, he would have to invest in learning how to use a higher grade of technology. If there was a next mission. Despite the volume, the voices came across clear. "There's nothing I can do about it now," a man was saying. "You can tell them yes!" a woman barked. Her voice came across sharply in Boyd's ear. "It's better for all of us, even if you don't agree with them about politics. Do you really think they're going to involve you in their plans?" "Yes." "Don't be a fool," the woman continued. "They just want to make sure that we won't turn into enemies." "If I'm a fool, you're naive. Their goals are not ours. That was never what we were about. Not since the first sit-ins, not since me and Aarons started this group, and not now!" "So what are we about?" she challenged. "Hiding in the woods while we run out of supplies? Raiding the mansions in West Cunningham? Petty attacks on civil buildings in Carson? How is that getting us—" "We are the resistance whether you believe it or not. Everyone else has just rolled over and accepted the fact that the administration controlling Carson has become a dictatorship. The government sees everything as dissent, and more and more people who dare to speak out disappear. Things are getting worse. Especially since the Feds aren't paying attention to broken cities they could not even be bothered to rebuild." Boyd digested the information. He had no doubts the man speaking was Warren Andrews, but he had no idea who the woman was. Andrews was married, but Boyd did not think his wife was actively involved with 53. If anything— An explosion of gunshots ruptured the silence and fractured Boyd's thoughts. He threw himself to the side, scrambling for a nearby doorway as another spray of bullets hurtled in his direction. Boyd rolled into the room and kicked the door shut. The bullets ripped through it and shrapnel slammed into his thigh. Boyd bit back a cry of pain and dragged himself behind the open door. "What the hell is going on out here?" Boyd peered through the slit in the door and quickly identified Andrews. He was standing beside a woman with short, dark hair. She strode away from the door and looked up and down the other corridor, a gun in her hand. Their voices lowered so it was difficult to hear over the roar of pain in Boyd's ears, but he caught the gist of it fine. They were going to fan out and find him. Swearing softly, Boyd ripped a smoke pellet from his utility belt and flung it into the hall. It hissed, and he ran out just as the air filled with smog. Boyd narrowly avoided another burst of gunfire. The bullets tearing into the wall behind him before the sound of coughing rang out in the hallway. He sprinted around the corner, hair whipping behind him as he headed for the egress route he'd planned, but each footstep caused pain to rage through his leg and thigh. Boyd grit his teeth and kept running. Fleeing the mission was futile, but giving up to the hostiles was also not an option he relished, and that was what kept him sprinting through the corridors as his eyes teared and his body threatened to slow. He did not stop until the sounds of pursuit surrounded him; he was trapped. Andrews appeared with the woman and another 53 operative. They rounded on Boyd and when Andrews raised a gun, Boyd leapt at him with his tonfa extended. He disarmed the man with three consecutive strikes to the arm, breaking it with the blunt weapon before spinning towards the woman. Her eyes were still squinting from the smoke, but Boyd went at her without mercy, aiming the end of the tonfa at her temple. It nearly connected when someone grabbed Boyd's ankle, jerking him back and causing the tonfa to glance off the woman's head with less impact. He fell to one knee, the impact so jarring that Boyd lost his grip on the weapon. Additional hostiles flooded the corridor, and Andrews pressed his pistol to the center of Boyd's head. "What are you doing here?" Boyd turned his face up through a curtain of now-loosened hair. "I'm here to talk." "Talk?" Andrews cradled his injured arm. "I don't think so. A man of your description has been stalking us for weeks." "Yes, to feel you out." Boyd tried not to focus on the feel of the muzzle pressing to his skin, and the reality of being helpless and surrounded by enemies. "It's in your best interest to hear what I have to say." "I don't think so. I'll get answers a different way." Andrews nodded at the woman. She moved forward; her gait halting but fast with purpose, and she paused only long enough to retrieve a small gun from a man beside her. It was a tranq-gun. Boyd surged to his feet but wooziness and the shrieking pain of his wound sent him wobbling, and she injected him. It was only a pinprick, but the drug overwhelmed his senses with near immediacy. Boyd listed forward and everything flickered and faded away like a candle being snuffed. But it didn't last. His eyes opened, but the scene playing out around him made little sense. There were running feet, and a flurry of motion he could not follow through his hazy hold on reality. A loud thump on the floor jolted Boyd, and a young man with bright blond hair collapsed nearby. He stared straight ahead with his face frozen in shock. Sounds echoed in the maze of hallways. Peopled shouted and guns fired. Stray bullets ricocheted while Boyd struggled to remain conscious and move away. But unconsciousness beckoned him again. It was only the increasingly intense screams that drew him back to the real world. "Shoot him!" "Jesus Christ, kill him!" "What the fuck—" Boyd's eyelids lifted, and he saw a flash of green and black. Sin appeared in a moment suspended in time; his back was to Boyd as he stood calmly amid the chaos. The lure of darkness deployed, but Boyd tried to claw away from it. His eyes opened sluggishly, once to an empty corridor, and again to the sight of a man aiming a gun at him. The flashes were confusing, but no one attacked him, and Boyd's foggy brain told him that he'd imagined Sin. His partner was long gone. Boyd was alone again and would soon die. When the remnants of consciousness faded, this time, Boyd did not fight. *** Boyd became aware of reality in parts. Everything was swathed in shadows. Boyd drifted with that for a while, the darkness and he coexisting together; symbiotic, calm. Soon, he realized he heard nothing and that was strange. When he remembered that he could hear, he also realized he could feel. Something light and soft covered him. There a soft object had been wedged beneath his head and back. At length, the words filtered into his brain. Pillow. Bed and sheets. The image of a cabin came to mind. The safehouse. Belatedly, Boyd realized he felt pain, and that he was breathing. That shouldn't have been something noteworthy, but it was. His chest rose and fell, and the soft sheet rearranged itself. His fingers twitched and the pain grew more intense. All of it joined together to prevent Boyd from returning to the serenity that had sheltered him just seconds before. His sense of time was warped, so it could have been seconds or centuries before he remembered why any of these innocuous details were noteworthy. Images moved behind his eyelids; disjointed scenes as if someone took film, cut it apart, and put it back together haphazardly. He remembered Sin standing in the center of a bloodbath, and the more distant memory of being surrounded. The cocoon of sleep threatened to return, but the image of Sin would not fade. With it, understanding dawned and was followed by delayed disbelief. He was alive. Boyd struggled to sit up and looked around the cabin. Warren Andrews was tied up and gagged in the corner, and considerably more bruised than he had been earlier. Nearby, Sin leaned against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest. He too appeared to have sustained some injures but was as unflappable as always. Boyd focused on the sheet pooled in his lap. Beneath it, he wore a loose pair of drawstring pants that he didn't remember putting on. When he touched his left thigh, he felt bandages beneath the fabric. Somehow, Sin had secured Andrews, saved Boyd, and bandaged his wounds. It did not make any sense. "Sin…" "Boyd." Sin's nodded at Andrews. "I took the liberty of bringing him here for further negotiation." Boyd gathered his focus and swung his legs over the edge of the bed to approach the bound man. His confusion could wait until after the mission was complete. "I'm going to take the gag out, but if you start screaming or still refuse to cooperate, we may run into a problem. I suggest you work with us and make it easier on everyone." Andrews' glare turned baleful, but he did not make a sound when Boyd removed the gag. He glowered at Sin with loathing. "We've been following your progress," Boyd said. "And we've noticed that recently you've been in a bit of a bind. We're offering a solution." Andrews jutted his chin at Sin. "If you want to talk, he goes." "Why should he leave?" "He slaughtered half my men. If you know anything about me, you would understand why I don't want to be in his presence any more than I have to." Boyd considered that before turning to Sin. "Do you mind stepping out for a minute?" Sin scrutinized the man's restraints. Only then did he give a short nod and leave the cabin, pulling the door shut behind him. Andrews jumped at the sound. The man was pale, sweating, but visibly relieved to have Sin out of the room. Instead of continuing to stand over the 53 leader, Boyd pulled over a nearby chair so they were eye-level. "We've noted the pressure you've been under between Janus' recruitment and the expectations of your men. As of now, it's put you in a precarious position. Unfortunately, Janus will swallow up your group and give you little in return. As I said, we have a solution to your dilemma." "'We'?" Andrews bloodstained teeth flashed in a sour smile. "I don't know who sent you or who you're with but obviously it's someone just like Janus if not worse." "Better or worse are subjective terms that I can't help you with," Boyd said. "But although our strength rivals Janus, we don't indiscriminately attack innocents and targets alike. The innocent casualties of Janus attacks have been high in the past and are likely to only grow as further strengthen their army. As a man who started down this path by trying to protect the civilians of Carson, I'm sure you can see how this is a worrisome trend, and why we would want to stop it." Andrews huffed out a breath, the sound raspy and wet. "You people are all the same. You think you can use us to get at your goals. We didn't form the True Democracy Movement to be pulled into your political wars. Our concern is the people of Carson who have been abused by the state, abandoned by the Feds, and forgotten by aid and relief organizations for decades. The only reason Janus, and you, give a damn about any of it is because you've all noticed that TDM is a real force. We can make a difference and the people support us. Unfortunately, we don't want your help or help from Janus." "Well, unfortunately for you, you've already attracted Janus' attention. They aren't simply going to go away because you want them to." Boyd started leaned forward and hid a wince. "What we're prepared to offer you is this: You join Janus as our spy and hide it from your people." Andrews' expression became incredulous, but he did not speak so Boyd continued. "You give us information on Janus from the inside and when your mission is complete, we will provide protection and supplies for you and your operatives. We have no interest in interfering with your fight with Carson's government so you would be free to continue with your agenda. In addition, the individuals in your group who wish to join Janus will be appeased, and you will no longer need to fear defection to Aarons' side." A harsh laugh filled the empty space that followed Boyd's words. "You forgot to add on that it will also ensure we're under another organization's thumb. We aren't mercenaries. We don't work for other people, no matter how powerful they are." Boyd weighed his options. If Agency propaganda did not work, he would have to sink lower. "I see. Then I will inform you that today a vehicle will be waiting outside your son Kaysen's school. It will be driven by a very friendly woman who will tell him she's a friend of his mother's, and that she's there to bring him home. It's possible he never makes it home." With little inflection, Boyd listed what could happen to Andrews' two kids and wife. "It's equally possible that Lily drowns when she is sent away to that expensive camp in Georgia. The counselor with her group will be frantic when he realizes they lost her along the way. When they find her body, it will be deemed an accident. And as for Jaime, everyone knows your wife smokes, especially when stressed. Sometimes she smokes in bed. Following the family tragedies, no one would blame her for it. Unfortunately, that habit would be fatal if she fell asleep with a cigarette still burning and caused a fire." Boyd spread his hands, unflinching. "It's equally possible that instead of any of this, they could be brought in for rigorous questioning until you agree to work with us." Boyd paused. "Personally, I think the accidents would be more humane." If Andrews had been pale before, he was now a ghost. "I'm not surprised you would do this," he whispered. "Any organization that would employ a… man like that—" he jerked his head to the door. "—does not truly care about human life." Boyd did not bother to deny the claim. "It doesn't have to be that way. If I can assure my employers that you'll work with us, none of that will happen. Of course, we'll have to keep your family under surveillance in the event that you attempt to deceive us." "So it's all up to me," Andrews said with a humorless smile. "I can save everyone by working for you." "Yes," Boyd agreed. "Your cooperation can begin immediately by you answering some questions." "What questions? It seems you know everything." "To your knowledge, is Jason Aarons and his new group also being pursued by Janus?" "No. My Janus contact works only with me. Jason wouldn't know how to get in touch with them." "Who is your Janus contact?" "What does it matter?" "We have interest in Janus and the people who associate with them," Boyd said. "Especially since you said the contact only works with you. It would seem there's a reason for that." Andrews seemed to roll this around in his head. He was silent for so long that Boyd readied himself to make the call to the Agency with the unfortunate directive, but then Andrews spoke up. "Thierry Beauvais is my contact. I have a cousin who lives in England and keeps company with very wealthy people." "Why?" "She's a call girl and has made clients of the kind of people Thierry associates with. They met at a party and became friends and business partners of a sort. He started paying her to spy on certain clients who talked a lot when they were in bed. When she found out that I was looking for someone to buy arms from, she pointed me in his direction." Boyd nodded. "How long ago was your first contact with Thierry?" "About a year." "And Janus learned of you through him?" Andrews shrugged. "I'd never had contact with them beforehand. He said they were looking into expanding and liked our style. They liked the fact that we were not afraid to fight the government and take a stand." Boyd said nothing. There was no need. Even with that small amount of intel, the deal would was invalid without Andrews' cooperation. They needed a mole, not just a single name, so Boyd let the unspoken question hang in the air. "I'll do what you want. I can only pray that your people keep their word." "They will." Boyd made the arrangements. He found his Agency phone in the bag he'd stowed beneath the bed and sent a coded message to Ryan with Andrews' response: he would work for them so the Agency could surveil instead of abduct. When it was all said and done, Boyd found Sin standing just outside the door. Boyd informed him of Andrews' cooperation, and nearly stopped in his tracks at Sin's exhale of relief. Boyd knew enough about his partner to know the relief was not for Andrews; Sin would have killed the man in a second. No. The relief was for the man's family. The mystery of Sin was ever-growing, and Boyd did not know if he would ever understand a man who could slaughter dozens, allow his own partners to die, but then show genuine concern for faceless civilians. However, as they hauled Andrews out of the cabin and returned him to the base, there were times when Sin ensured he was in front of Boyd or demanded to scout ahead. There were also times when he checked Boyd's leg and the bruises on his neck before casting his eyes to the ground. It would have been impossible months ago, but now Boyd wondered if Sin's fleeting concern for others had extended to him as well.
  11. Santino

    Chapter 7

    Seven The library on the fourteenth floor of the Tower was Boyd's favorite place on the compound. It was the original reference library from an era when printed books and desktop computers were common. A more advanced technology center had been added on the lower levels, but Boyd quickly ceased going there because it was so crowded with field agents all vying to submit their reports. And, during his scant number of visits, Boyd had been subjected to glances and comments filled with vitriol not dissimilar to the level Dover and Cecilia had displayed upon learning about his connection to the Inspector. Boyd tried not to draw attention to himself, but his status as Vivienne Beaulieu's son, Sin Vega's partner, and a civilian who was promoted to rank 9 and assigned to General Carhart's elite Janus unit, had spread throughout the general populace, and his looks made it impossible to blend in or escape notice. So, Boyd avoided the tech center just as he avoided the compound's café. The library, in comparison, was usually empty and quiet. He could flip through books and write reports in peace without feeling judged for his very existence. He had even discovered a favorite table in a back corner that was always deserted. He was on downtime for a couple of days, and Boyd was seeking the next novel in a series he had recently begun to read. After months of continued activity of the mind and body, it was difficult to return to the habit of drifting into a trance when alone at home. Now, he grew restless, and that restlessness prompted him to return to old habits such as reading. Boyd perused the aisles, found his book and a large tome on architecture, before going to a lone table at the very back of the library. It was out of view and behind the stacks; a good location to sit quietly and avoid others. However, when Boyd approached the table, he froze. Sin was slouched at the table with an elbow propped up and his cheek resting against his palm. A book was open in front of him and a couple scattered nearby, but Sin was not reading. At the sight of Boyd, his face took on a suspicious cast. "What?" he demanded. "You're sitting at the table where I intended to sit." Sin stared him down as if seeking a sign of deceit. "You're just randomly here?" "Yes." Boyd set the books down so Sin could see. "I prefer this library. It's quiet, which is also why I prefer this corner. Fewer people come back here so I can spend time without being bothered." "No shit." Sin slammed his book shut and Boyd saw that it was a collection of post-war poems. "I find it odd that you're here. I don't believe in coincidences." "Well, that's unfortunate because that's what this is. If I'd wanted to track you down, why would I do something so obvious?" Sin grabbed the other books and put them in a stack. One appeared to be a novel and the other was thick and wide like a textbook. "I was thinking more along the lines of someone sending you here, but thanks for the speech." "No one sent me." Boyd hesitated, not wanting to chase Sin away. "Are you leaving?" "Didn't you say you wanted the table?" "You don't have to leave for that. I was only hoping to take one side of the table but if you don't want me to, I'll leave instead. You were here first." Sin's hand curled around the spine of the book he had been reading, but he was still tensed to leave. When Boyd hovered by the table without moving, Sin inched backwards on his seat. "Whatever." Boyd sat down and opened the architecture book. He flipped through the pages and soon felt eyes on him, but when he glanced across the table, Sin dropped his gaze. Not for the first time, Boyd was perplexed by his partner. He could not decide if his presence was unwanted or if it made Sin uncomfortable in some way. Whatever the case was, Sin was not attempting to chase him away which was more surprising the more Boyd thought about it. He observed Sin, watching as he chewed on his lower lip and scanned each poem. "How is that?" "What?" "The book. I haven't read anything by that poet. I was curious if it's good." Sin shot Boyd an incredulous look. It seemed like he might say something scathing, but then he appeared to stop himself and said instead, "Dull." "Do you read a lot of poetry?" "I don't really read a lot of anything. Until recently, I haven't had access to books since I was a child." The response was spoken curtly but after a beat Sin added, "Even then, I only had a few classics. After having read Milton, this is amateur hour." "You had advanced taste for a child. I used to read well above my grade level as well." "And look where we both ended up in the world," was the dry response. "How far our good taste has gotten us." Boyd's amusement showed in a nearly imperceptible twitch of his lips. "Intelligence doesn't always equate to common sense. Or, for that matter, the ability to choose one's path in life." Sin gave Boyd another semi-confused look and resumed reading. Or appeared to resume reading. There was a distinct lack of page turning, and Boyd did not attempt to hide his curious observation. The apathy Boyd had felt in their earlier days as partners was replaced by intrigue the more he considered Sin's behavior towards him versus his previous partners; that sense of intrigue had heightened several degrees after a recent mission in Spain. Days of reconnaissance in a hotel afforded Boyd the opportunity to pick up on several tiny aspects to Sin's personality. He worked out constantly, ate whatever he wanted, and relished long missions that allowed him to come and go as he pleased since the Agency was not watching. Also, Boyd realized his partner had zero modesty. He'd seen Sin fresh out of the shower, and the sight stayed with Boyd days later. Sin was made up of bronze skin, lean muscle, and puckered scars. He had a spectacular body that matches his face, and more intriguingly, a tattoo scrawled in cursive on Sin's back shoulder had read, "So many and so various laws are giv'n; So many laws argue so many sins." The delicate script of the tattoo was at odds with the hardness of Sin's body and, after forcing himself to focus on something other than exposed flesh, Boyd had recognized it as a quote from Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost. He wondered when Sin had gotten the tattoo, and what artist had dared to press a needle to Sin's skin. "Is your love for Milton why you got that tattoo? Initially I thought you simply enjoyed the irony of the quote." Sin ran his finger along the spine of the book again. "I don't know about love, but it was both. Where I grew up, there were only about six real books to read and Paradise Lost was one of them. I didn't understand much of it because my English wasn't that great, but I kept the book. I appreciated it when I was older and knew what the fuck it was talking about." "What language did you speak if not English?" Boyd asked. Sin eased back into his slouch and said after some deliberation, "Mandarin." "Really? Where did you live at the time?" The hesitation was longer this time. Sin fiddled with the hem of his sleeve, slipping his thumb into a hole that had worn there over time. "Hong Kong, but my mother was from the mainland." "I didn't know you lived in China," Boyd said, surprised. Sin's features were difficult to place, but Boyd had not guessed him to be Chinese. "For how long?" "An amount of time." The information only heightened Boyd's curiosity about what else Sin was, so he asked, "What about your father?" The edge that had sharpened in Sin's voice eased. He shrugged and tapped his fingers against the table. "A conglomerate of Latin American things." Boyd nodded, latching on to the topic. "Do you speak any language from that conglomerate or just Mandarin?" "Spanish. He never taught me Portuguese." Sin closed the book and shoved it to the center of the table. "Here. Enjoy that awful book. It's depressing in all the phoniest ways." "Thanks." Boyd touched the cover, sweeping his finger over the glossy texture of the title. "My mother is French. Did you know that?" "No. I just know she's a blonde white woman." Boyd briefly smiled. "When I was young, she spoke French at home a lot. My earliest memories are of her teaching me French. It was the only time she didn't..." He hesitated to voice the hopes he'd had back then; that maybe she'd been proud or even briefly liked him on those special occasions. All other memories were of her belittling him, or looking past him like she wished he had never been born. Boyd fiddled with the edge of the pages. "Anyway. That's the only other language I know. French." "Oh." Sin stopped tapping his fingers against the table. "Well, you should learn Spanish." "Maybe I will someday." "Maybe," Sin replied. He seemed to struggle with what to say before flipping open his textbook. "Anyway, whatever. I'm surprised you recognized the quote." "His wording is memorable." "Indeed." The conversation piqued Boyd's desire to fill in more gaps about his partner. "What else do you like to do when you aren't reading?" "Why do you want to know?" "No reason. I'm just curious." Sin shook his head as if he found the prospect to be absurd. "I do nothing. I get junk food from vending machines and work out two or three times a day." "That doesn't seem contradictory to you?" "What's contradictory about it?" "You're eating something unhealthy and then exercising. Why don't you eat healthily as well?" "It's not like I'm trying to watch my figure. Besides, candy bars and chips are better than the shit they send to my quarters." "What do you mean? Can't you choose what you eat?" "No." "Why not?" Sin sighed and snapped his book shut. "Because I don't get to choose anything. The only time I can buy my own food is when we go on a mission. That's the only time I can go anywhere in general. I'm a fucking serf." "You're stuck on compound between missions?" The information was new to Boyd. "Why?" "Because I'm an out of control killer. Obviously." "But you aren't. Surely the administration at least realizes that." "Why are you so sure? You don't know what I've done to earn that reputation, now do you?" "Then what have you done?" "Enough." Boyd wondered about the extremes Sin managed to present in only a handful of minutes. At times, it was almost as if Sin didn't mind talking about inane things, but he almost always lapsed back into the bristling behavior of trying to keep Boyd at arm's length. Did Sin want it that way or did he feel obligated to keep it that way? Boyd could not decide which it was, and always wound up with the frustrated feeling that Sin was an unsolvable equation. A disjointed conversation floated to where they were sitting. Although the context meant nothing to Boyd, Sin went ramrod straight. There was no immediate indication as to what made him so tense until Harry Truman appeared next to their table. "Study date?" He gave them a wide, leering smile. "Mind if I join?" "I do, actually," Sin said. "I only give reading lessons on Sundays." Harry's eyes did a slow circuit of Sin. "You're a real smart ass when they let you out of your cage, aren't you?" Sin's expression went from withering to murderous. "Is there a reason for your interruption?" Boyd asked. "We're meant to check on Vega here from time to time and I volunteer for the job. He's like a pet of mine." Harry smiled, slow and vicious. "Aren't you Vega?" "Go fuck yourself, Truman." "Only if you watch, baby." Still smirking and leering at Sin, Harry gestured to Boyd. "Why don't you get lost, blondie? Me and Vega have some things to work out." Boyd went rigid. He opened his mouth to say something sharp, but Sin cut him off. "I hear there's a sixteen-year-old in the training complex, Truman." Sin put his remaining books in a stack and pressed his palms flat against the table. "Why don't you run along and go see if he's your type? A bit old but you seem open to variety lately." Face flooding with color, Harry snarled and lurched forward. He cocked a fist back and swung it down at Sin, but the senior agent did not flinch or move from his spot. Harry's fist came to a halt only centimeters from Sin's cheekbone but he didn't retract it right away. Instead, they stared at each other with an increasing aura of mutual rage, both tolerating the other's, and neither backing down. It was only when Sin leaned forward so Harry's hand brushed his face did the guard get a grip on his temper and take a slow step away. "Are we finished?" Sin's voice was soft, and Boyd's trepidation heightened. Hissing out a low breath, Harry did not look anything close to finished, but he didn't stop Sin from leaving. Once Sin was gone, Harry's attention settled on Boyd. "What the hell are you looking at?" Boyd sized the guard up. "Nothing." Harry's expression fluctuated between anger and indignation, as if Boyd's impassive tone made it difficult to discern whether or not he'd just been insulted. He must have decided he had, because he slammed his palm down on the table and leaned into Boyd's personal space. "Then move the fuck along." "But this is a library, and I'm looking at library books." "I don’t give a fuck what you're doing. Get the hell out." Boyd debated whether it was worth it to stay, and ultimately decided it wasn't. It would only lead to Harry harassing him until he felt in control again, which would defeat the purpose of going to the library in the first place. Besides, now Boyd wanted to do research of a different sort. He gathered his things and left the library without another word, digging out his phone once he was out of the Tower. "Boyd?" Ryan sounded surprised when he answered. "Are you still willing to share information on Sin?" There was a pause before Ryan replied. "Yeah. Can you come to my apartment, though? It's easier that way." "Yes." After receiving the location and directions, Boyd realized Ryan lived in one of the residential buildings on compound which was common for Agency personnel. When Boyd arrived, the door swung open before he could knock. Either Ryan had a way of seeing who was at the door, or he had somehow heard Boyd approach. "Hey! Come in. Sorry about the mess." Ryan's apartment was full of mismatched furniture and eclectic knickknacks. Books, posters, action figures, and computer tech filled the space. Ryan dropped into a chair and grabbed his laptop. "What made you want to find out more about him, anyway? I got the feeling you weren't really gonna take me up on that offer." Boyd sat down on the only empty chair. "I find myself growing curious about him." "Damn!" Ryan suddenly exclaimed, staring at his computer screen. "I forgot to send in my supply card! Anyway, why? What changed?" "Nothing dramatic, but I'm consistently confused by him. I keep wondering which parts of his personality are real or an act, and the same regarding the rumors." Ryan reclined in his chair and reached up to adjust his thick black glasses. "If I tell you stuff, you're not gonna somehow use it against him, are you?" "No." Boyd frowned. "Why would I? It would serve me no purpose. I have no ill will against him; I'm just trying to understand him." "Good. I didn't think so, but I got to worrying maybe I'd jumped the gun by offering up so much information. Sometimes I get too excited when I think someone is on the same page as me…" "Like I said, it serves me no purpose to be malicious." "Right-o." Ryan steadied himself. "So—do you want to know a lot or a little? I may make lunch while we talk if it's a lot. I need to take my meds like, yesterday, and I'll puke if I don't eat first." Boyd wondered why Ryan needed medication, but did not want to be intrusive. "I'd prefer more information rather than less. If you want to make food, that's fine with me." "Cool." Ryan got up from his chair and moved to a long counter that partitioned the living room from the kitchen. "Do you want anything? I forgot to send in my supply card so all I have is, like, sandwich fixings and junk." Boyd considered asking for tea, but that wasn't a staple in everyone's kitchen. He didn't want to be more of an inconvenience. "I'm fine, thank you." Ryan removed a large bag of pretzels from a cabinet. He put it on the counter and opened his refrigerator, digging around until he leaned back with his arms full of pre-sliced cold cuts. "Mike's has the best cold cuts, FYI. Anyway, what did you wanna know first?" "Which stories are true?" "Well, what all have you heard or been told?" "I know about his partners and that he has injured people on compound in the past. I've also been told that he killed several people in the city, but I was not given a cause of the event." Boyd thought of the different rumors he'd overheard. "I suppose in general a clarification of what he's actually done would be of use. I want to know if he is as insane as they say, or if there is more to him as I have begun to expect." "Well, when you put it like that, it makes total sense. They probably should have cleared that all up for you, anyway. I don't know what they think they gain by keeping you in the dark." Ryan slathered his bread with mustard and slapped a few pieces of lunch meat on it. He glanced at the clock and opened an overhead cabinet which was filled with different prescription bottles. Ryan took out two and set them on the counter next to his plate. "So... let's see. Well, I guess people were always freaked out by him but the first big thing was the incident down in Vickland like ten years ago." "That came up during my interview, but the full story wasn't explained." Ryan's head bobbed up and down while he chewed a large bite of sandwich. "The Vickland thing is why they started thinking he was going completely insane and tried sticking him with partners." Ryan swallowed and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "He was coming back from some mission and walking through Vickland during that time when the neighborhood was still a complete shit hole, you know? Back when the scavengers would be out in droves." Boyd nodded, remembering quite well the way Vickland had been. Ryan jumped off the stool and went to the refrigerator again, removing a container of milk. He couldn't seem to sit still. "He came across this girl being raped in an alleyway and he killed her attackers. But the girl got so frightened of him that she started screaming and drew the attention of the scavengers nearby. They thought it was Hsin who started it all. They attacked him and he went nutso and took a lot of them out. It was pretty bad." Boyd's eyebrows rose. When they'd say Sin got distracted by civilians, it had not occurred to him that Sin would want to protect them. "Why would he care what happened to her? Did he know her?" "No, not at all." "Then why did he interfere?" Ryan talked around a mouthful of food. "It was a young girl getting gang raped. Any decent person would have interfered." "That may be, but I'm trying to understand why someone who seems content with letting his own partners die would care about preventing a stranger from being hurt. What causes him to help one person and not another? Is it based on the type of crime committed or the age of the victim? Has he ever helped other people aside from that girl or did something about her specifically speak to him?" Ryan shrugged. He swallowed some milk with a lip-smacking sound. "No one knows what makes him tick. All I did was compile data and do a bunch of guesswork after he was assigned to the unit. But I do know that he considers just about everyone at the Agency his enemy so that doesn't help any would-be victims 'round these parts, know what I mean?" He wiped his mouth and opened the pill bottles. "There's been conjecture by his doctors over that incident—that he helped that girl because she was just a kid and was helpless, and it brought up stuff from his own childhood. In the end, though, they think he went berserk because he was so outnumbered and felt super threatened." "His own childhood?" "Yep. All sorts of issues there." Ryan began opening the pill bottles. Boyd waited for Ryan to continue and, when he didn't, he pressed, "What happened?" Ryan doled out pills of various colors and sizes and swallowed them with large gulps of milk. "There's not a full story. His earlier doctors thought his mother abused him as a small kid. Then his father, Emilio, took him on and trained him to be a killer from like age eight, so I don't think whatever method he used was child protective services friendly." Boyd did not think so either. "You said he went berserk and that he was in automatic kill mode. What does that mean exactly?" "Didn't they tell you anything?" "General Carhart said something similar but didn't explain what triggers him." Ryan made a thoughtful sound and nodded. "Well, that kind of makes sense. They don't know for sure because Hsin never cooperates with psychiatrists so Zachary probably didn't want to give you wrong info and make you start jumping to conclusions. All of Sin's episodes have happened under different circumstances, so a person is liable to get freaked out and start thinking any random occurrence could make him wig out." "Most likely," Boyd agreed. "But I want to at least try to understand what I'm dealing with. I don't want to only be given the convenient information." Ryan leaned against the counter and crossed his skinny arms over his thin chest. "As far as I know there are five documented occurrences of him having those scary episodes. I'm sure it's happened other times, but those are the ones the Agency knows about and has evidence of. Two were before the Vickland thing and two were after. There's a difference between him getting sick of someone and beating their ass and going into automatic kill mode." "What's the difference?" Ryan held up a finger. "One is the normal reaction of someone who has been trained to be a lethal weapon since, like, before puberty but the other..." Ryan held up another finger and drew it across his throat. "The other is, like, Hsin becoming someone else. It seems like he completely shuts down mentally and only sees everyone around him as a threat and he starts just—well, killing. Usually it takes someone sedating him to get him to stop and when he comes to, he's fine." Boyd could not help but think back to the library and the way Harry had antagonized Sin. If that wasn’t a trigger, what was? "You mentioned he targets those he sees as a threat," Boyd said. "Does that mean he only attacks aggressors once he's having an episode or does he attack everyone in the vicinity?" "I'm not sure. I'd think you'd be okay if you just stayed away, but there's no way to be sure." "And the other times? What happened?" This time the hesitation was longer. Ryan began pacing the living room. "The first two happened when he first got here. The first one was because some of the older—well, you have to understand, Boyd. Even here, some people have a real stupid ass bully mentality." Boyd nodded. He knew full well. "Some of the guards and lower-ranked field agents are especially bad. They didn't like that this little kid was an automatic rank 9, right? So they decided to mess with Hsin one day after he'd been in the training room. They pushed him around, surrounded him, I guess to see what he's made of. Meanwhile it's all on camera. It triggered a bad episode. He put three in the infirmary and cracked two of their necks. Hsin was fourteen and almost a hundred pounds skinnier than any of those dudes, but they stood no chance." It was a good reason to fear him, but Boyd still thought it sounded like the aggressors had had it coming. "Was anyone punished for the incident?" "The guards were. That was the first time something bad happened and since they provoked him outright, it wasn't really his fault. But then everyone knew something wasn't right with him so that's when a lot of rumors started." Ryan sat down again, this time on a little ottoman near the couch. "I remember when I heard about that, I was scared of him. Connors didn't know what to do with Hsin because he was so young, so he attempted to treat him as a ward and have him live with us, but after that incident Connors put him in this secure room on the Fourth. Not a real cell, but a crappy room that was monitored all the time." It seemed like Sin had spent the majority of his life at the Agency locked up. No wonder he had trust issues. "You lived with Marshal Connors?" "Yeah. My parents were a part of the Agency. My dad was a lab tech and my mother was an analyst. They both died from the lung sickness when I was young, and Connors took me in. I'd grown up on the compound so he knew I'd always be a part of it in some way. It helped that by the time I was six, I'd already tested beyond high school level. I was useful to him." "Impressive." "Not really. It's not like I worked for it. I was basically born this way. I could read before most babies learned how to speak." "The fact that it's a natural talent doesn't make it less impressive. It just means that you'll be ahead of others and have the ability to go farther than anyone else." There was no response to that. Ryan didn't seem to want to talk too much about the fact that he was a genius or anything to do with his IQ. "The next incident," Ryan said, switching back to the previous topic, "was during his rank 10 training. It isn't as well-documented because the training is top secret. I couldn't find video or specifics anywhere. Just that one of the people involved with the training got mangled." "You never found out what started it?" "Nope. Not one trace. It's referenced as a date in one of his doctor's files, and I traced it to the time he was in his rank 10 training towards the end, but that's it." "And the other two times you mentioned?" This time Ryan visibly squirmed. "I dunno if I should talk about it..." "What are you worried about?" "Nothing, really. I dunno. It's just a sore topic." Boyd wondered what was so much worse than Sin mangling people or killing a number of civilians. "Without knowing what it is I can't say for certain, but I doubt it will drastically change my opinion. If you have the information in some form you can simply give to me rather than having to tell me; that would work too." Ryan shook his head. "No, it's better if I tell you. There's back story involved. A real drama fit for TV. But, now that you mention it, I did compile all my data on a flash drive. When he was put in the Janus unit, I started studying him. Anyway, the incident started with Lydia Connors. She and her twin sister Ann are the Marshal's daughters." Boyd recognized the name. Annabelle Connors was his mother's secretary. Somehow, he had never made the connection between her last name and the Marshal. "They grew up here like me and both studied to be shrinks. Ann abandoned it but Lydia didn't. After the Vickland thing, Hsin was put in isolation on the Fourth for two years. When talk started about evaluating him to be let out, she pushed to be his doctor. Problem was, she had been infatuated with his dad back in the day and her infatuation shifted to poor Hsin because he is the spitting image of Emilio." Ryan scratched the back of his head. "Well, it didn’t end well for her. She tried to take advantage of the situation when he was really unstable one day and now she lives up in the Willowbrook Home." Boyd's eyes narrowed. The very idea of someone, especially a psychiatrist, taking advantage of their patient was disgusting. "Did she ever treat him like his previous partners?" "Nope. She was gaga over him. Had a real Vega obsession." Ryan made a face. "When it happened, she was asking him questions about his childhood according to some of the notes." "You said earlier that he was abused as a child. Was it sexual abuse?" "Not sure. His mom was a prostitute so anything is possible. Apparently, when he first got here, he implied enough to make it sound like most of the abuse had happened while he'd been with her." Ryan started to say more but before he could, his phone trilled. He fished it from the pocket of his skinny jeans and peered down at the screen. "Ahh, I have to get back to the Tower." Disappointed, Boyd stood. "Thank you for the information. And if you wouldn't mind, I'd be interested in borrowing your files. I feel like you have a lot more insight than others." "Probably because I have too much time on my hands." Ryan went over to his desk. The drawers were full of assorted implements just like the plastic bag he carried in his backpack. And just like with that bag, despite the disorderliness of the drawer, he found what he needed without a problem. "If you ever want to talk or hang out without Hsin being the topic, that'd be cool too." There was a lull as Boyd tried to figure out what to say. Ryan was so unlike the other people on the compound that it put him at a loss. "Oh," he said. "All right." The response brought a loud laugh from Ryan. "I'll get you to loosen up. We can watch anime and eat nachos. But I have to jam so I'll talk about that more later." Ryan dashed out of the apartment with Boyd following close behind. With the flash drive securely in his messenger bag, Boyd went home to research. *** Boyd hadn't touched his father's old office in years. He always felt uncomfortable entering the room. As a child, he had learned early on to stay quiet and entertain himself. He remembered hours of sitting silently in the living room, carefully coloring between the lines, and watching the light glow beneath the office door. His father spent hours at a time inside, and Boyd would look up when he thought he heard movement. Boyd still remembered the way his father would emerge from the office with tired lines etched in his face, and would pick Boyd up and hug him in a way that had felt inviting and safe. He remembered affectionate fingers ruffling his hair, Cedrick's warm voice announcing he was work with work, and the obvious excitement about spending time with Boyd. His father was the only person, other than Lou, who had shown true pleasure in having Boyd in their lives. Now, Boyd was alone. He shut those thoughts down as hard as he could, and focused intently on the topic of Sin. Once the flash drive was inserted and a window popped up on screen, he saw that Ryan had collected quite a bit of information. There were many folders and files, and judging by the extensions, Ryan had compiled videos, images, and documents as well. Boyd clicked through a few of the images first. They were pictures of Sin over the years, and most were still-frames from security or surveillance cameras. The progression in age was interesting, not because of Sin's physical appearance, but because of the subtle change in demeanor as he'd grown older. The image of Sin at the age of fourteen showed a thin, sinewy boy with delicate features. Long black eyelashes framed vivid green eyes that were intelligent and calculating. However, teenage Sin's face was void of any expression or emotion. In a way, it was disturbing. He looked soulless. Several pictures of Sin over the subsequent years followed that trend. It was hard to imagine that scrawny, striking child going on assignments and taking lives, but Boyd knew Sin had. After a point, Sin's mannerisms changed. He was more expressive and his stare became challenging, hostile, and accompanied the mocking smirk Boyd was familiar with now. More curious than ever, Boyd returned to the main folder and watched the videos. The first one was of the incident in Vickland. Grainy footage from a surveillance camera filled the screen. The date at the bottom of the video was seven years old, which explained why the area had not been cleaned up yet. This hadn't been long after the second major wave of bombs had scattered across the country, including Lexington. There was no audio, but there didn't need to be. A young girl of thirteen or fourteen ran across the screen while three men pursued. They caught her and tore off her clothing before forcing her down to the ground; the attack happened just out of sight of a group of people scavenging through the rubble nearby. Minutes later, Sin appeared in the frame. It did not take long for him to pass the scene, notice, and stop walking. The men halted their activity and words that Boyd could not hear were exchanged. At first glance, Sin appeared to be unaffected, but when Boyd paused the video and examined Sin's body language, it told a different story. His posture was stiff, his hands balled at his sides, and his expression was almost too vacant. It was almost as if Sin wasn't really there. Then, without transition, his expression morphed to one of pure fury. What happened next was a blur. One second Sin was facing three larger men, and in the next, he was slaughtering them. With quick, decisive moments, Sin snapped necks and bashed heads into the sides of buildings. The carnage was over within seconds. Afterward, Sin was covered in blood. He stared, wide-eyed and snarling. The girl screamed in terror. This time it caught the attention of the scavengers, and the entire scene erupted in chaos. They swooped in on Sin with pipes, bats, bricks—whatever was in the debris that lay in piles in the area, and he responded with lethal force. Everyone who came near him fell to the ground. It wasn't long before police arrived in droves. It took several minutes for them to take him down. The video ended. Boyd moved to the next file. The next video was the same night but several hours later. The picture was sharper and showed Sin sitting at a table in a small room. Dried blood clung to his flesh and clothing, but the wild look was gone and instead, Sin looked dazed and dismayed. He kept looking at his hands and scrubbing them against his pants, head bowed more often than not. After a while, Sin got up to pace the room, scratching at the blood and raking his hands through his hair. Boyd could hear the brush of fabric and realized this video had sound. It went on that way for a while until two men walked into the room. One stayed by the door and one approached Sin, ordering him to be still. He introduced himself as Detective Lyons and his partner as Detective Valdez. The next several minutes passed with them attempting to question Sin about the incident. Sin answered vaguely and then ceased to respond at all when Lyons became increasingly aggressive. Over an hour passed and at one point, Lyons shoved Sin onto the floor and pinned him there. The detective's gun was drawn and he pressed it against Sin's mouth. "You're going to start talking or I'm going to make you blow my gun, you sick fuck." In the space of a second, Lyons went from straddling Sin to flying across the room. He slammed against the wall, and then Sin was on him again. The gun flashed in Sin's hand just as Valdez shouted and drew his own weapon. A shot was fired, and Valdez crumpled to the floor, blood pooling beneath him. Sin's expression was tight, his body taut with tension, but there was no trace of madness in him. At that point, Lyons climbed to his feet and threw himself at Sin. "Fuck it," the younger version of Sin said flatly, and raised the gun. He unloaded it into Lyons head until nothing but pulp remained. He tossed the gun down and walked out of the room. The video ended shortly after, leaving Boyd to stare at the screen. He considered the events with objectivity. In the first video, Sin had clearly been having some kind of psychotic break. Even then, he hadn't attacked the scavengers until they swarmed him. The trigger had been the girl. However, in the second video, he'd allowed the detective to abuse him for almost an hour before lashing out. Had he finally lost his patience after being pinned down? Was it the comment about the gun? Boyd didn't have an immediate answer so he continued to sift through the files until he found information about Lydia Connors. There was a scant amount of documents and memos from Lydia's practice. None of it was very helpful or conclusive due to the randomness at which they were included because Ryan had probably been unable to recover the majority of her files. The main items of note were a scanned piece of scrap paper that read "basement on Shantung Street in HK?", and the surveillance recording from the session when Sin had attacked her. The video had no audio, but Sin was visibly distraught as he sat hunched in on himself across the table from Lydia. He was pale, tense, and his head was bowed. Long stretches of time passed with Lydia talking to Sin and him barely responding so Boyd set the video to play faster until he saw Lydia reach across the table to administer Sin some kind of injection. Within minutes, Sin's eyelids drooped. Lydia got up and moved to stand beside him before leaning down to whisper in his ear. To Boyd's disgust, she also began to rub Sin's shoulders, not noticing when he cringed. Boyd wished he knew what she was saying to Sin because whatever it was only made his turmoil worse. He shook his head and put his fists on the table, curling them up and releasing them with repetitive motions. Again, Lydia missed the actions or chose to ignore them. She kissed Sin's neck and her hand snaked around to reach into his lap. Boyd could not see what she was doing, but the motions of her arm made it clear enough. What happened next was quick and brutal. Sin's eyes opened, and he had the same wild-eyed expression from the incident in Vickland, and he reacted with the same violence. He flipped the table, causing it to break. Shards flew everywhere and Lydia threw herself back, her enraptured look turning to one of terror. She held her hands up to ward Sin away, but it was clear that Sin had entered automatic kill mode. He slashed her with broken glass until the guards charged in and the video ended. Instead of looking into her condition, Boyd coldly closed the video and moved to the next. This one was only a year old and had taken place on the Fourth as Sin was escorted upstairs after the death of his last partner. For the most part Sin did not speak, but his body appeared to be brimming with impotent rage as Harry Truman hauled him down the corridor. They were accompanied by Dennis McNichols and two guards whom Boyd had never seen before. One of them had a badge that marked him as a lieutenant of the guards. Again, there was no audio, but the interactions were clear. Harry and Dennis were taunting Sin, getting well within his personal space and touching him in a familiar manner which made it obvious this treatment was the norm. The lieutenant, if anything, looked amused by the entire exchange as he offered his own unheard comments. He grinned at Sin smugly, even when Harry pinned Sin to the wall outside of his cell and got very close to his face. He whispered something in Sin's ear. After consecutive videos, Boyd could now pinpoint the signs of Sin's episode approaching. Again, Sin's face slipped into a mask of indifference that ultimately shattered with blind rage. Harry threw himself back just in time, but the lieutenant wasn't lucky enough to escape. Sin yanked him back into the cell right before Dennis slammed the door shut. He locked the door with the keypad, his fingers shaking visibly. There was a brief argument between the guards, but none of them opened the door. From what Boyd read afterward, by the time reinforcements came, the lieutenant had died of his wounds. Apparently, Sin had ripped open the man's jugular with his teeth. There was an interesting mix of punishment and forgiveness when it came to Sin's episodes. He had received no repercussions for episodes triggered by abusive guards, yet he'd been detained for the high profile incident in Vickland, and the attack on Lydia. Boyd wondered if, despite the rumors and general hatred of Sin, the Marshal himself dealt with the senior agent with cold objectivity. One would assume Connors would have had his daughter's attacker terminated, but instead, Sin had received a relatively light sentence. Boyd wondered if, deep down, Marshal Connors knew his daughter had brought the attack on herself by playing such a dangerous game. If so, why didn't the administration attempt to dispel the rumors that Sin killed for enjoyment? Why did they imply he was a sociopath instead of an unstable man who was triggered by abuse; his reactions made more extreme by his childhood and training? The entire situation was baffling, but it also fell in line with Boyd's previous musings about Sin's alienation being a purposeful tactic used by the Agency to keep him as their isolated living weapon. There was no proof for that theory, though. The only thing Boyd concluded with any certainty was that Sin had been systematically dehumanized by the Agency, and others, and he made no effort to do anything but live up to their poor expectations of his behavior.
  12. If you're doing Nanowrimo, feel free to add me http://nanowrimo.org/participants/sonnycancel

  13. Santino

    Chapter 6

    Six Boyd sprinted through the woods, trees rushing by his peripheral vision like shadowy sentinels in the night. He ignored the throb of his knees and the sharp twinge in his shoulder, souvenirs from a mission that had gone awry. After nearly a month of close calls, his number had almost come up in a rush of grabbing hands and shackles as he was forced into a dark, windowless room in the basement of an abandoned building. Once again, he had been outnumbered, but after several missions, Boyd had nearly mastered the art of escape. He had learned to walk as silently as Sin when needed, his senses keener, and movements quick and sure. Now, Boyd could incapacitate a guard with two, sometimes one, motion if he came upon the person unaware. However, that could not always keep him out of trouble. This time, Boyd had made it to the egress point with the intel in hand. He had no illusions that he'd have been thrown on the Fourth if he'd screwed up another mission involving 53. The goals of this mission had been the same as the first, but this time he had succeeded. Even though he was still operating alone. Six assignments in, and Sin was no closer to helping Boyd than he'd been on the first, but the hostility between them had faded. Sin no longer went out of his way to mock or antagonize Boyd, although Boyd had no idea what was responsible for the shift. Even running, it took Boyd several minutes to navigate the woods, a task made more difficult by the darkness. It was an issue that only plagued him in wooded areas. Boyd could review blueprints before he went into a building and instantly understand the layout, building a 3D image in his mind that he could mentally rotate to find a new route. But when every direction seemed to be filled with the same view of tree trunks and leaves that blocked out any reference points, Boyd got confused. At last he reached an area with thinner canopies, affording him a much-needed glimpse of the vacant buildings rising beyond the park. Boyd reoriented himself based on the angle of the buildings and kept going. It wasn't long before he burst out of the park and back into the more familiar urban streets. The mission had taken he and Sin to Carson, a city that lay just beyond the Wastelands. This specific neighborhood was largely abandoned and removed from the general populace; the kind of area where gunfire went unreported. Once he was back on the street, Boyd found his way to the meeting point. He was breathing so hard that he couldn't even hear his thundering heartbeat, and his limbs tingled. Boyd was as quiet as possible until he determined that no hostiles were around. Satisfied, he approached the vehicle. As per their new routine, Sin was sitting in the driver's seat, waiting. On a larger mission with a bigger team, it would be customary for the team leader to wait in the vehicle to run the mission and make sure everyone was on point. It didn't apply for their partnership since there were only two of them; Sin was needed in the field not the van. Vivid green eyes analyzed Boyd's disheveled form when he climbed into the van. "Surprisingly impressive," Sin commented, starting the engine. Boyd shut the door. He looked askance at Sin, trying to determine if that had been a veiled slight. Judging by Sin's expression and tone, it had been a simple statement with no negative undertones. It was the first time Sin had said anything positive to him. "Were you watching?" Sin glanced in the rear view mirror. He went still as if he sensed something. Although he did not accompany Boyd on the assignments, Sin was always diligent about ensuring they were not followed. As cynical as he was about the trial partnership and his own future as an agent, Sin still protected the integrity of their covert nature. He shifted the car into drive and guided them off the street, still focused on the darkness that pressed in on them from the outside. Streetlights in this forgotten neighborhood had long since died out. Once they returned to the highway with no signs of a tail, Boyd assumed his question had been ignored and stopped expecting an answer. He went about ensuring the safety was on his rifle before he twisted to stow it behind his seat. Boyd ignored the protests of his bruised torso, and was fastening his seatbelt when Sin spoke. "I was observing." Boyd tightened the belt across his lap. "Why?" "To observe you." "Obviously. You didn't initially observe me, though. What changed?" "I figured you'd be dead by now. It's surprising and I'm very rarely surprised." Boyd tried to get a read on Sin and, as always, came up with so many conflicting signals that he may as well have drawn a blank. He didn't think he would ever get used to the enigma that Sin represented. The only thing he had figured out so far was that everything in the first mission, from Sin telling him to get a gun to the incident on Dauphin Street, had been a test. One that he had failed. "What do you think, then?" "I think that you're less likely to die as easily as I first thought." That seemed to be the end of Sin's analysis until a tiny smirk curved up his mouth. "Until we're assigned a mission that requires a lot of combat, anyway. The likelihood of you surviving a storm on your own is slim to none." "It's possible I would surprise you on storms as well. Although, the difficulty of such missions is why we're supposed to be partners..." Sin returned his attention to the road and did not reply. "Why are you still so resistant?" Boyd asked when Sin remained silent. "The issues that arose on the first mission haven't been repeated. I understand that we didn't have a good first impression and you haven't had the best track record with previous partners, but I'm not them. I don't understand what I've personally done to warrant you being so unwilling to cooperate." This time when Sin glanced over, there was definite surprise in his features. "Oh, I don't have a reason. I'm just making this up as I go because I'm insane and all of that." "We both know that isn't true. If you don't want to answer the question, say so. There's no need to lie." "For someone who allegedly was content to stare blankly at people and not talk for the better part of their training, you are certainly chatty these days." "I don't see the point in talking for the sake of talking, and prior to today I had little to say to you." Boyd didn't turn away, wondering whether so much direct eye contact surprised Sin since most people avoided looking at him. "You seemed content to ignore or belittle me and I had nothing to contribute to that." "Well, I still don't particularly like you, if that helps you in shutting up." "That's fine. I don't particularly like you, either," Boyd said, unfazed. "However, for someone with a reputation of being unafraid of confrontation, it's interesting that you keep evading simple questions." Sin accelerated as they moved into a higher speed limit zone. "I don't need to answer to you or explain my reasoning to you. I don't have any desire to even have a conversation with you. It's not my problem how curious you are." "Why are you so defensive?" "I'm not defensive. I just don't understand you. Why the fuck do you care about what I think? Doesn't it bother you that this is all getting you nowhere?" "In what way?" Sin pushed the vehicle faster and the trees along the highway rushed by. "How do you think this is going to end?" "My partnership with you? Or my time at the Agency?" That earned Boyd a humorless smile. "Isn't it the same thing? You're here because of me." Boyd acknowledged that with a nod. "Then, to answer your question it will likely end when I die on a mission. Chances are that will happen sooner rather than later." A flash of something crossed Sin's face, but Boyd could not discern if it was irritation, disgust, or something entirely different. "Don't you have anything better to fucking do other than babysit and eventually get killed by some psycho?" Sin demanded. "No," Boyd said without hesitation. "I don't." They spent the rest of the ride in silence. *** Without Sin, there were only five people present at the debriefing. As usual, General Carhart sat at the head of the glass conference table. He was speaking to Jeffrey Styles, an analyst in his late twenties whose black hair was always perfectly in place much like his pressed suits. Out of the three support agents present, he was the only one who fit the mold Boyd had come to attribute to Agency staff. The two Research & Development agents, despite being tasked with the formidable job of accruing hundreds of Janus-related sources worldwide, were both idiosyncratic and offbeat in their own ways. Ryan Freedman was easily the nerdiest person Boyd had ever met. During a briefing, Ryan was not above making chitchat about the newest MMO he was playing, hacker forums he frequented, or an anime series he liked. He was shorter than average, thin, and his black hair stuck out in a mess of cowlicks and curls. He was more like a geeky teenager than a twenty-five year old genius who'd been born and raised on the compound. At the moment, Ryan was peering through thick-framed glasses at an outdated laptop while sliding his thumb across a tablet, and diverting his attention between the two. The other R&D agent, Owen O'Connell, was several years older than Ryan. Despite being a much-coveted linguist at the Agency, Owen always looked like he'd jerked out of sleep without properly putting on his clothes. Pale and covered in freckles, his curly red hair was usually messy, and his shirts were perpetually wrinkled or untucked. As they finished debriefing Boyd's most recent mission, Owen worked his way through an enormous container of coffee. "I'll have the analysis ready in a few days," Jeffrey was saying as he set his tablet down. "It will take some time to sift through all the data to find usable intel." "Is it possible there isn't anything of use at all?" "That's always possible; especially when the enemy gets forewarning that they're being spied on by an unknown group." Jeffrey didn't look in his direction, but Boyd knew the analyst was referring to his first disastrous mission. "But I won't know until I look through everything. They may have felt safe outside the city." Carhart inclined his head and pushed his chair back. "Report to me immediately when you're done. We'll reconvene when we have more information unless something else comes up." He was gone before anyone could reply. "Geez, he's always in a rush these days," Ryan commented. "He could be outrunning a curse," Owen offered, frowning. "Do you think that's what's going on?" Jeffrey's hand stilled as he logged out on the tablet. "That's easily the stupidest thing you've said this week." "Just this week?" Owen's eyebrows rose. "What'd I say last week? Was it something awesome and enlightening?" "Stop being such an imbecile." Jeffrey opened his briefcase with sharp movements. "I'll never know how someone like you made it into a unit like this. Some of us had to actually work for it." He speared Boyd with a pointed look. Boyd was unsurprised. He had realized from the start that Jeffrey was another person on compound who seemed to hate him simply for existing. "No really," Owen said, peering at Jeffrey with interest. He seemed to have woken up a bit with this topic. "Maybe I was sleepwalking at the time? I don't remember any cool conversations. Oh! Unless I was telling you the story about my dream, but if you actually believed I sprouted wings made of spatulas and could fly..." The answer only irritated Jeffrey further. The two men bickered during most meetings, with Owen's obliviousness only fueling Jeffrey's annoyance. Boyd suspected that Owen enjoyed baiting Jeffrey since the analyst always responded. "I don't know, guys," Ryan piped up seemingly randomly. He was chewing on the end of a stylus and peering down at his computer with a frown. It almost seemed like he was continuing a conversation although he hadn't been talking out loud to anyone else in the past few seconds. But that seemed to be how Ryan's mind worked. Always going, even when he was talking about something entirely different. "I mean, do you really think Warren Andrews is in league with Janus? I know they've been swallowing up all of these teeny groups and whatnot, but his profile doesn't seem to be what they usually scoop up. Know what I mean?" Boyd paused and, since this was work-related, settled back into his chair. Jeffrey and Owen stopped talking. "Janus does seem to go for the assholes," Owen agreed. "And Warren's not really their style unless he held up an old folks' blood bank for the poor when I wasn't looking." "Faction 53 isn't as aggressive as they used to be but they still have power," Jeffrey said. "Janus could simply be expanding their selection pool. It wouldn't be the first time they shifted their targets." "Yeah, but something dreadful this way comes." Owen waved a hand. "Right? 53 has the right hand slapping the left from what your source said. And once they break up, they're gonna lose any power they held which makes them prime meat for the vultures. Or I guess rotting meat?" "I dunno. It's just a personality thing is all I'm saying." Ryan put down the tablet, looking at the others. "He doesn't seem the type to want to be controlled by some giant puppet master, or at least that's what my sources have been saying. I hope we end up negotiating rather than just wiping them out. Even though 53 is extreme, they're dealing with a shitty situation over in Carson." "The only indication so far is that he's thinking about it, correct?" Boyd asked. Ryan nodded, his hair bouncing with the motion. "Yeah, from what I've found, he seems hesitant about it. But then again he's super paranoid about everything ever since the split with Aarons." Before Boyd had joined Carhart's unit, Faction 53's two main leaders, Jason Aarons and Warren Andrews, had had a falling out. The group initially formed because of rampant corruption in Carson's governing body. 53 thought there was a lack of equity in the way resources had been allocated during reconstruction as well as the over-policing of poverty-stricken neighborhoods. Eventually, 53 had taken to terroristic acts to prove their point, but Jason Aarons was more aggressive which caused friction between him and Andrews. Jason left and formed his own group, leaving both factions in a vulnerable position. Allegedly, some of the people in 53 wanted Warren to accept Janus' proposition, and his hesitance made them doubt his leadership. "He should be paranoid," Jeffrey said, completely unsympathetic. "He can't keep his group together and he's letting enemy agents with inadequate training infiltrate his bases. He's lucky there hasn't been a mutiny." Owen pointed at Jeffrey. "Being kind of harsh on the dude, aren't you? Warren doesn't seem like too much of a douche. Also, for our little blond nougat, I'm pretty sure half a year of hardcore boot camp isn't 'inadequate training.'" Jeffrey stood. "I forgot; it's love the enemy day." "Well, mark a calendar then. I won't always be here to remind you." Jeffrey scowled and left. Owen yawned. "It's way past my bedtime," he mumbled, even though it was barely 10 am. "Night and bedbugs and all that." He ambled out of the room with another huge yawn that Boyd heard even as the door swung shut. Boyd stood to leave as well. "Boyd, do you have a sec?" Ryan half-stood. "Yes." "Do you mind if I pick your brain a bit about your partner?" "Why? Surely you know him better than I do." "Ha! Not even close." Ryan reclined in his chair and raised his arms, threading thin fingers behind his head. The black jacket he wore over a faded anime t-shirt shifted with the motion. "I haven't had a conversation with Hsin since I was, like, I dunno... ten." "Were you close prior to that?" "No... That was like when he first got here. He stayed with the Connors for a little bit because he was so young, but it didn't work out and I never had direct contact with him again." "Then why do you refer to him as Hsin? I haven't heard anyone else call him that unless they were saying his full name." "People just call him Sin because it was originally mispronounced so everyone started doing it." Ryan gave one of his huge shrugs, his shoulders nearly going up to his ears. "Plus, I like his real name better." Even if it was Sin's real name, Ryan was the only one who seemed to care. It was a familiar way to address a man who was not exactly approachable, and Boyd wondered if Sin had a preference either way. "What did you want to discuss?" "I'd just wondered what he was like one-on-one. He never showed up for briefings even back when he had the other trial partners." Ryan's words were coming out casually, but he'd begun avoiding Boyd's eyes. "Why does it matter?" "Because I want to know what he's like and you're the only person he's in contact with." Ryan started putting his belongings in a large backpack. "If you don't want to talk about it, it's fine." "I don't mind." Boyd considered the question. "I don't have much of an answer. This latest mission was the first time we spoke on anything close to even terms. We don't converse much or, when we do, it's regarding the mission parameters or he's being sarcastic." For some reason, the last part caused Ryan to grin. "The times I have seen him in the past few years, he's always such a smart ass. It's pretty funny, I think. He just doesn't give a crap about anything here the way everyone else does." "I find it to be irritating at times, to be honest. Especially since he enjoys calling me sarcastic pet names such as sweetheart." "Why does he call you that?" "To be obnoxious or patronizing, it seems." "Or..." The mischievous grin returned, making Ryan look far more youthful than he already did. He appeared to be on the verge of saying something but stopped himself and hid his grin behind the case of his laptop as he put it away. Boyd found Ryan to be exceedingly odd at times. "Well, anyway," Ryan said. "He could just be trying to get a reaction out of you." "I suppose. Did you speak to his previous partners? I assumed he did the same with anyone he was around for any length of time." "The pet name thing? Nah, not as far as I can tell. None of the partners lasted very long. I mean, Laurel made it probably a month before she got killed and she was the longest. We actually had hope for her." Ryan said the last part dryly. "But they never made it sound as though he really... joked around or anything. To any extent." That was interesting, and dredged up Boyd's continued ignorance about how exactly his predecessors had failed. "What happened with them? I only have a succinct version of the events." Ryan stopped putting equipment in the huge backpack he carried. He studied Boyd, gave a little nod to himself, and began digging around in the bag. There was an assortment of discs, flash drives, and memory cards in a large plastic bag, but he had no trouble finding the one he wanted. "Give me a sec and I'll set up a whole demo." Ryan moved to Carhart's position at the table and popped a drive in before fiddling with the computer. He made various 'hrm' and 'aha!' sounds before the hum of the holograph machine echoed in the room, and an image popped up between them. The man in question had fiery red hair and a scarred face. "That's Evan McCoy. He was bachelor number one and the mistake they should have learned from. At first they were hiring these big guys from Counter-Terror. Macho men with hero complexes." Another image popped up, this one of a younger man with deep chestnut-colored skin and surprisingly light hair. "Michelin was the same way. He was bachelor number two." Ryan's fingers flew over the keyboard and two images popped up side by side. It was a man and woman, both of whom were in their twenties. Boyd wondered what happened to an agent who passed his or her prime; he had yet to see a field agent much older than late thirties. "Laurel and Coral. I wonder if anyone else noticed that they rhyme." Ryan grinned at his own joke. Boyd studied the pictures. "How did they die? I know he let two of them perish on a mission after he deemed them too stupid to save, but I don't know any details. It would be helpful to know what sparked each incident." "No one really knows," Ryan admitted. "Evan and Michelin had a definite power trip when it came to Hsin. A lot of people on the compound, them included, get off on feeling like they can put someone so strong in his place. And when they realize he isn't a complete lunatic… they underestimate him. Especially because of how he looks." Boyd rubbed his jaw and examined the rotating images. He could imagine how agents like Evan and Michelin, brawny men who could double as bodybuilders would have underestimated Sin. For all that Sin had unparalleled skills, without having seen him in action, it was probably easy to assume he was not as strong as the rumors claimed. "If they were abusive to him, why wouldn't he say so?" "I don’t know. Hsin doesn't provide any information even if it's in his own best interest. So there's, like, no way to tell if it was legit self-defense or if he just got annoyed and snapped their necks. I know for a fact that he allowed Laurel and Coral to die. They weren't as bad as the other two, but you could still tell they thought he was some kind of inferior creature." Ryan frowned and turned off the machine, causing the images to shimmer and disappear. "The problem is the administration. They treat him like something subhuman and everyone else follows." Ryan's voice rose with each word until the explanation turned into a rant. The R&D agent put his things away again, his hands moving in quick agitated motions. "If you've hardly spoken to him and rarely see him, why does it upset you so much?" Ryan stopped packing and threw his hands up. "Why is everyone so dumbfounded by that?" "Because no one else here cares." "They don't," Ryan agreed. "And like I said, it's because of the administration. When he came here, they turned him into this little killing machine, isolated him and took everything—even his name. They turned him into a thing that belongs to them. He isn't a person, he's just property, and that gives everyone else permission to treat him the same way. As for me?" Ryan finished putting his things away and hefted his backpack on one shoulder. "I respect him because he doesn't let anyone break him. They try so hard and he just weaponizes his dehumanization." Boyd picked up his own messenger bag and could not help but look at Ryan with new eyes. "Do you tell everyone these things?" "Oh, yeah! I'm not alone, though. The R&D crowd is way different than the fieldies, Boyd. One day I'll show you and you'll see. We're way more critical of things and we get away with it because we're the eccentric nerds." Ryan smirked, wiggling his brows. "I don't even hide that I have a monster crush on Hsin. The guy is gorgeous!" Boyd had to agree that Sin's unique features were attractive. "You tell everyone that part as well?" "Yup." Ryan looked proud of himself as he explained. "It's not like it's any big secret that I'm gay. I never date girls and I've been here since I was a fetus. Also, if anyone starts ragging on Hsin in my earshot, I let them know a thing or two." "I see." Something about Ryan's proud smile and conviction reminded Boyd of someone from the past. Someone long gone. "It's a commendable attitude to stand up for what you believe in regardless of whether it's widely accepted." "Thanks." Ryan's expression brightened. "You're pretty cool, Boyd. I'm glad you're not another asshole. A lot of that tends to go around here. It's in the air." "I've noticed." Ryan started for the door, walking backwards. "Well I have to jam but let me know if you want to talk or if, like, you want any additional info on Hsin. I may not be close to him as a person but I'm kind of a Vega lexicon. I've studied him like a creeper for a while. It's a little gross. This obsession should really stop sometime before they think I'm a stalker." "I'll keep it in mind." As Ryan walked away, Boyd could not help but think that although the invitation was one he would have almost discarded in the past, now the notion of finding out more about Sin had merit.
  14. Hello friends! Please please check out this poll I posted, I am really curious about how the GA community feels about this topic. http://www.gayauthors.org/forums/topic/39661-what-do-you-consider-happily-ever-after/

  15. Santino

    Chapter 5

    Five On the day of his first assignment, Boyd learned that the typical procedure for a mission included a briefing followed by a visit to Artillery to obtain necessary equipment. The building was innocuous from the outside, but he soon discovered each room was filled with the kind of advanced tech, gadgets, and weapons that made Boyd feel as though he had been transported to a future world where holographic camouflage suits and HUD contacts were the norm. Boyd found it fascinating that whatever government entity funneled money to the Agency could afford an arsenal that could supply an army, but could not tend to areas still in disarray over a decade after the war. Even as disconnected from reality as Boyd was, the sheer scope of technology and weaponry the Agency had available was surreal. In room after room, he found rows of weapons gleaming under the light; impersonal and well-maintained tools needed to carry out the business of murder. Boyd did not know where to start, so he stuck to the basics. He had already been given the remote for Sin's collar although he did not intend to use it. Boyd had also received a miniature microphone and ear bud set that the Agency called a comm unit. The ear bud was little more than a thin, flat disc that was nearly invisible in his ear, especially when hidden beneath the fall of his hair. The wireless microphone came in a variety of types, but the default was a small pin. He could turn the transmitter on and off at his convenience but they were typically left on unless an agent was on a solo mission. It was standard equipment for all agents, but the Artillery staff said he could find other models inside the building. Boyd didn't think it was necessary. Additional learning was not something he was interested in pursuing. The information he had to memorize regarding the Janus unit was more than enough to keep him occupied. The insurgent groups orbiting Janus numbered in the hundreds, and Boyd was expected to learn the key players in each. During his first meeting with the Janus unit, Boyd had been given a palm-sized tablet by the Research & Development agents that held hundreds of pages of intel. There was so much to learn that the Agency assigned numbered codenames to each group, especially since they all seemed to have similar names relating to justice, democracy, or freedom. The current mission's target was Faction 53, also known as True Democracy Movement, or TDM. The faction operated in and around Carson City, which was not too far from Lexington. Their objective was to infiltrate a location that several of 53's members were using as a safehouse and gather intel regarding their main base of operations. After locating the area which housed blunt weaponry, Boyd equipped himself with a pair of expandable tonfa. It was a lighter weight version than he was used to, but still had the strength. He toured the rest of the facility to determine whether he needed more , and he entered a massive room full of guns. The walls were lined with sophisticated displays for more pistols, rifles and shotguns than he'd even known existed. While taking in the scope of the room, Boyd spotted Sin's unmistakable figure clad in a black shirt and his usual frayed, black cargo pants. Boyd approached his new partner. Sin had not shown up at the briefing, and Boyd did not know when they would discuss the details. Sin examined a .45 ACP and cocked it, at first seeming to ignore Boyd. But then he said without looking over, "That's it?" "What else is needed?" "If there's a gunfight, I suppose you could always throw it like a spear and hope it takes out multiple shooters," Sin replied. He walked away without waiting for an answer and surveyed the rest of the guns although he continued to hold the .45. It was a fair point, but Boyd wasn't particularly comfortable with guns, and he was still perfecting his aim. As the mission depended primarily on stealth, Boyd did not think he would need it. When Boyd didn't respond, Sin's mouth crooked up minutely. He went back to collecting ammunition for what Boyd now saw was a .45 Ruger. Another agent entered the room, a tall Asian man with bleached blond hair, and came to a halt when he noticed Sin. He turned and left the room without much delay. Sin's reputation certainly preceded him in every case on the compound. He was leaner than most of the field agents Boyd had encountered, usually had disheveled hair, and wore clothing that was time-worn, yet other men seemed to fear Sin even without making direct eye contact. It was an interesting phenomenon. Sin finished gathering his equipment and strapped the weapons to his body. It was obvious that he was not wearing body armor. Even Boyd had thought to wear one of the Agency's suits. It was compact and sleek, molding to his body seamlessly beneath his clothing and trench coat. He wondered if Sin was that confident in his own abilities, or whether he knew something Boyd did not. If he did, he didn't offer the information, and Boyd did not ask. He merely stood by until Sin faced him. "I'm fully at your disposal." Boyd nodded and left the room. Together, they walked to the underground receiving area where agents departed and returned from missions. Boyd took the driver's seat of an Agency vehicle and did not speak until they were away from the compound and on the main road. "We are to infiltrate a building with people from Faction 53 and retrieve information about the main headquarters." "Exhilarating." Boyd slowed to a stop at a red light and watched Sin out of the corner of his eye. When not making sarcastic comments, he didn't talk much, and Boyd wondered what he was thinking. Did he expect that Boyd would be dead by the end of the day? No one seemed to have much hope for any of Sin's partners lasting indefinitely, and Boyd had to wonder how transitory this seemed to Sin. The light turned green and Boyd returned his attention to driving but, without warning, Sin leaned well into his personal space. The motion was abrupt, but Sin only turned the heat down low enough to be useless. "What are you doing? It's cold." Boyd turned the heat back to its original setting. Sin smacked his hand. "I thought you weren't as delicate as you look." Boyd was incredulous, but he immediately turned the heat up again. "Turn the vents away from you, then. Not all of us are apparently frost-bitten across our entire bodies." "What would you do if we became stranded and had to camp out?" Sin wondered, resting his head against the window and regarding Boyd. "I'm not sharing my body heat." "Who said I would want you to? And for the record, having normal reactions to the cold does not make me inferior or weak as you seem to be implying. Perhaps it is you who would need help were we stranded. You could be at risk for hypothermia." "I've survived a winter in Siberia when I was ten." "What were you doing there at ten years old?" "Searching for Santa Claus." Boyd shook his head. Sin flicked the slats to his vents down with a decisive click and went back to looking out the window. Feeling a tiny sense of victory at that, Boyd sat up straighter. It was silly, yet showed Sin wouldn't necessarily win everything. Even if it was a disagreement over something so insignificant. "Regarding the mission, we don't have blueprints of the building so the layout will have to be determined upon arrival." "Number of hostiles expected?" "Twenty." Boyd slowed at another red light and noticed Sin breathing on the passenger window so fog curled against the glass. He raised one long finger and began to draw on it. It was such a child-like thing to do that Boyd again found himself distracted from the drive and guiding the car on autopilot. He steered his mind back to the mission even as he kept one eye on whatever Sin was drawing. "It's expected that the hostiles will be—" Through the lines in the fogged glass, Boyd caught sight of a familiar sign. First Bank. His breath caught and the words died in his throat. Boyd hit the brakes harder than he'd intended, rocking the car as they came to an abrupt halt. The street sign on the corner proclaiming Dauphin Street and the dilapidated buildings. The alleyway and the relative obscurity of the place— In Boyd's mind there was a flash of cement and a puddle of water. Confusing clips of voices, laughter both cruel and happy, and the twist of a scream sounding far away and at the same time too close. Buildings reaching to the sky and a street growing too small. Red curling into the puddle, inch-by-inch changing it forever from clear water. And through it all, Boyd was being pressed down, harder and harder, lungs stilling with the feeling of suffocation— A voice whispering in his ear… I want you to remember this forever. Boyd turned away from the bank, from that terrible day caught in time. It was so much more vivid than usual. He could almost feel the stickiness of dripping blood. For one damning minute, Boyd forgot where he was and who he was with. How had he gotten here? How could he have driven this way— "And suddenly you look quite taken aback." "What?" Boyd's voice was strained. "The light is green." Boyd grasped at the sense of normalcy and eased off the brake, resuming the drive. This time, he stared straight ahead. When they were further from Dauphin Street, Boyd's heartbeat slowed. As soon as First Bank was no longer there as a monolithic reminder, and his scattered thoughts were given the chance to realign. Next to him, Sin made a tsk-tsk sound. "Bringing attention to our fancy Agency-issued car in the middle of one of the most rundown parts of the city? What would your mother say? Of course if a police officer did stop us, they'd turn back around as soon as they saw the plates which take us so far out of their jurisdiction that they wouldn't know who to contact." Boyd barely heard the criticism. His mind sidelined by the offhanded: what would your mother say? "Maybe you're having a panic attack," Sin said. "We can always turn back, you know. They'll understand." "No," Boyd said sharply. "It may be for the best. I just can't be certain of your mental or physical state with sudden attacks occurring at random." Boyd's breath hissed out. "It won't happen again." "Maybe. How could I be sure unless you tell me what the problem is?" "The reason is unimportant and does not concern you. They did a full evaluation of me during training. They would not have sent me off as your trial partner if I could conceivably pose any type of threat to you." "Believe me, sweetheart, I feel anything but threatened. But how could such a seemingly innocuous area produce such a strong reaction in a guy who appears to pride himself on showing nothing? There wasn't a soul in the street except for the usual beggars. Maybe I should mimic the extent of your reaction." "That won't be necessary." "Are you sure? It was pretty visceral. If any other agent were here, they would likely be concerned about taking a probationary agent with an emotional issue into a red zone." "Leave it alone," Boyd snapped. "There is no emotional issue. If you would stop focusing on unimportant minutiae, we could prepare ourselves better for the mission. At this rate, you're more distracted by any of this than I am." "Actually, having a half-trained newbie freak out before a mission and refuse to explain why warrants me calling in an early abort. Connors would prefer that to a mission failed." Boyd's jaw set. "Do what you must but if the mission is aborted, it should not be on my account. I am perfectly capable of doing my part. Whether or not you feel entitled to information that is none of your business is not my concern. I assure you that none of this will affect the mission. That should be all that matters." "Oh, but it would be held on your account. Even if you won't deign to fill your partner in on your random attacks of fear, I'm positive that Connors and your dear mother would demand an explanation." Sin leaned against his seat. "If I were someone who actually gave a shit about this mission, or any mission, you'd have trouble." Boyd's heart thumped at the thought of explaining to his mother. It threatened to reignite the trembling, the fear, but he viciously shut down any tangential thoughts. None of that mattered. The past was the past. It couldn't hurt him anymore. He just had to focus. Everything else would fall away like it had for years, and he would be safe again. He just had to be stone instead of human; unfeeling and unanimated, and everything would be okay. Boyd repeated that to himself, and shut everything else out. He ignored Sin and reoriented himself to their position and his purpose. He did not speak again until they were approaching their target. "It would behoove us to have a plan prior to entering, and we're nearly at our destination." Sin didn't respond. He seemed to have already lost interest in Boyd. "We don't know exactly where the information and the hostiles are within the building," Boyd continued. "However, if the building is like many of the others in the area it is likely to have two main exits: one in front and one off the alley. Given that many of the buildings in this area used to be for commercial use, there are probably a number of rooms in back which once functioned as offices with a larger showroom or lobby in front." Boyd pulled over on an abandoned street a few blocks away from their target. "Obviously this information will not be known until we enter. However, to speed the completion of the mission I suggest we split up, one entering in each entrance. If you have a preference for alley or street side entrance, you're welcome to it. We'll keep our comm units active and whoever is able to obtain the information first will alert the other. We meet at the car upon egress." Sin slid his hands into his pockets and inclined his head submissively. Satisfied there didn't have to be a prolonged discussion about this, Boyd opened the door. "Is your comm on?" "Sure." Boyd hesitated. There was something off about Sin's mild manner, but Sin failed to say anything further so Boyd got out of the car. He made his way to the targeted building, staying in the shadows and slinking low. He did not stop moving until he was across the street from the building. From what he could see, it was not equipped with a security system and there was one lookout on the second floor. Boyd crouched at the mouth of the alley, watching. There were so many security breaches in the building that Boyd did not think they could all be manned by a guard. After a while, the lookout disappeared from the window, and Boyd searched for other telltale signs of movement. He found nothing. Moving swiftly, he crossed the street and darted to the side entrance. After picking the lock on the rusted door, and after hearing no one, Boyd pushed it open. The interior of the building was wrought with decay. It stank of rotting wood, the floor was uneven, and the walls discolored from water damage. There were a few doors within view; two on each side of the corridor, and one at the end that likely opened up to a larger space in the front of the building. Boyd crept further inside. Each room he explored was either empty or void of anything pertinent to the assignment, and his comm remained silent. Either Sin had efficiently killed the man at the front of the warehouse, or he hadn't run into any problems so far. Boyd assumed the latter until three hostiles appeared in the outer hallway. He ducked into a nearby room but wasn't fast enough to avoid detection. Within seconds, the staccato burst of gunfire ripped into the open doorway. A disturbing trill rushed through him; adrenaline, alarm, and indifference all combined. There was a second in which his civilian brain froze, having no idea what to do with people shooting at him, but almost instantly the training took over. Boyd kicked over the dilapidated desk and crouched behind it. Gunfire sprayed around him, ripping into the walls and sending sheetrock crumbling onto him. Boyd ran through Agency protocol in his mind, in part to calm his shattered nerves and pounding heart, and in part to focus past the chaos surrounding him. Never lose contact with your partner, the trainers had said. In the event of a problem, check in. "South hallway," Boyd said into the comm unit. "I need backup." Sin did not respond. The impact of the bullets shook the desk; Boyd knew it was only a matter of time before they weakened the structure enough to shoot through it. Voices called out in the hallway, saying they had the intruder cornered. Boyd now felt fairly certain that Sin had never entered the warehouse. Still, he hissed into his comm, "Where are you? I'm surrounded." There was no answer, and Boyd knew there would not be one. Sin had probably never left the car. Boyd couldn't even be sure the man had bothered to turn on his comm given his lackadaisical 'sure' earlier. Disgusted, Boyd dropped his hand to his utility belt. He removed a flash-bang grenade and threw it into the outer room, temporarily blinding the hostiles. He sprang out from behind the desk and dove out the fractured window, feeling the glass catch on his clothing but not penetrate his body armor. He was out of the warehouse before the hostiles had recovered. Boyd sprinted back the way he'd come, knowing there was little time before the hostiles pursued. The Agency car was where he had left it, and so was Sin. The senior agent was casually leaning against the side of the car. The sight of him lounging around made Boyd's aggravation swell. He skidded to a stop and grabbed Sin's shoulder. "What the hell were—" Before he could finish the sentence, Boyd found himself pinned against the car. For a breath, he and Sin were nearly nose to nose. "Don't touch me," Sin growled. Boyd caught himself when Sin released his coat. He could hear the sounds of pursuit closing in on them, echoing in the alley and growing louder. With a tightened jaw, Boyd stalked around the car and jerked open the driver's side door. He hardly waited for Sin to get in before speeding down the street, the tires squealing in protest. The high-pitched whip of bullets ricocheted off the pavement around them, and he heard the dull thud of one of the shots catching the back of the car. They turned the corner and Boyd twisted the steering wheel to catch the next turn. In the rear view mirror, he saw the hostiles swarming around the corner. Frustration continued to stain Boyd's thoughts even after they had made it another two blocks and all signs of the hostiles faded. "Do not put your hands on me, either," Boyd said in a hard tone. Sin once again appeared completely disinterested in his existence. "What the hell were you doing back there? Didn't you have your comm unit on?" "What do you think?" "Why didn't you even try? The mission failed, and we'll both be held accountable. Doesn't that bother you?" "The mission didn't need two people. Maybe you should have brought a gun." Boyd didn't acknowledge that Sin was right and instead said, "What difference would that have made against so many armed hostiles? It may have helped but it wouldn't have fixed everything." Sin half-turned in the passenger's seat. "Who exactly was it that trained you, out of curiosity? They should put termination down on their day calendar if you are their final rank 9 product." "Not all of us were born superhuman," Boyd said coldly. "It's my first mission and I expected my partner to be where he said he would be. Apparently that was a mistake." "Relying on anyone is a mistake. If you weren't taught that, you are more misinformed and ridiculous than I thought. This mission was a joke. If you aren't even capable of performing adequately on it, you won't last much longer whether it's me who snaps your neck or not." "Is that what you want? Another failed attempt at a partner on your record?" Sin released a short laugh. "Don't speak as though you know anything about me. And this partnership will fail regardless, judging from what I've seen today. You have the amazing ability to be both arrogant and completely stupid simultaneously." "How am I stupid?" Boyd demanded. "My plan would have worked." "Maybe but then again, maybe not. You didn't ask my opinion on the matter. Like I said, if I was anyone else, they would have aborted this mission at the first sign of you not listening to reason. Not to mention your weird-ass panic attack. They would also write up a detailed report of your ineptitude." Boyd clenched his teeth. He wanted to argue the point that he didn't ask for Sin's opinion because clearly Sin was uninterested in ever sharing his, and nothing had stopped Sin from chiming in any time he'd wanted. But he couldn't discount Sin's other points and that annoyed him even more, along with the reminder of what had happened on Dauphin Street. "And you plan not to?" Boyd challenged. "So far you've spent your time mocking me, ignoring me, or threatening to kill me. If you have such a problem with me I'd think you'd love the chance to tell your superiors." "You'll die regardless. What's the point?" At least they were in agreement on that point. The rest of the ride felt at once too long and too short. When they returned, Sin walked away without a word and Boyd wrote the mission report alone. There wasn't a good way to word that he'd failed on his first mission so he was unsurprised when he was summoned by his mother within an hour of the report being submitted. Ann led him into Vivienne's office and shut the door behind him. "Sit down." Vivienne's words were clipped. Boyd obeyed. "I had low expectations of you yet even I did not anticipate such a resounding failure." "Mother, I—" "Inspector," she corrected. "Inspector," he said. "The situation was such that it required two people. I did request backup, but I didn't receive it." "A convenient explanation," Vivienne said. "You did not bring a gun on the mission." Boyd hesitated. "No." "Were you not advised to bring one prior to the mission?" "I was." "Was the reason for the recommendation not in case of a gunfight?" "It was." Boyd had no idea how she knew all this. She'd probably found out through checking the artillery records and, if they had it, surveillance. "And was a gunfight not what caused this catastrophic failure?" "It was." Boyd forged ahead before she could say anything else. "However, it should be noted that even if I'd been armed with a gun I still would have been forced to retreat without backup. I was vastly outnumbered." "Ineptitude is not an acceptable excuse. What was the nature of your incident prior to the mission?" Boyd's heart jolted. "I don't—" "All Agency vehicles are equipped with surveillance. There is always a thorough investigation following a failed mission, in part because agents have been known to lie to obscure their own mistakes." No doubt if they had surveillance they also had GPS. There was no point in trying to pretend the incident had happened anywhere other than by First Bank. As if sensing his thoughts, Vivienne continued with the same dispassionate tone. "I was under the impression that you were past that. Must you continuously be so weak as to cause embarrassments?" "I apologize, Inspector." Boyd's stomach clenched with dread. "It will not happen again." "Are you so certain?" She leaned forward. "I have my doubts that you are trustworthy in that regard. You have already proven yourself to be weak and susceptible in the past. I nominated you for this position based on the impression that you were suitably emotionless, yet you have already proven that you are incapable of success. It lends the question of what I should do with you." A spike of distress shot up Boyd's spine; a guttural reaction that he couldn't quite keep from his expression. "There are options available. We have facilities that would be ideal to give you an opportunity to recover from your lapse. Time need not be a factor. Is that what you wish?" Boyd's breath caught and, again, the memories returned like creeping shadows. Expanding darkness and eyes glinting in the corner; the wounded ghosts hovering over him and watching as he struggled against the chafing of his wrists. Screaming until the metallic taste of blood was familiar in this throat; endless terror and an ever-consuming, pleading wish to die. He blinked, pushing the images away. "No." "Then I suggest you put more effort into this or I will enact a solution that you will find to be very undesirable. Is that understood?" "Yes, Inspector." "My reputation will be affected by your performance. I have worked too hard in this organization to have a child bring me disgrace simply because he is unwilling to function as expected. Do not make me regret the nomination." "I won't, Inspector," Boyd said, voice dropping low. He wanted to look down, but her stare sucked him in. Or maybe it was simply that she had paid attention to him so infrequently in his life that he was unwilling to turn away now that she did. Vivienne scrutinized every inch of him as if she were assessing him for a test for which he didn't know the criteria for passing. It was disconcerting. At length, she focused on her tablet again. "Dismissed." Boyd left with a non-expression on his face even as anxiety gnawed him to the bone. He ran through the mission, every word and mistake he'd made, and vowed to make it the last time he gave them ammunition. As he left the Tower, the cool slide of determination washed over him and replaced the fear.

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