A Morning in Cedar Hills ~ Kassian, Boyd

This site is..

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

The story contains..

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

Side Stories

The Beginning ~ Emilio, Sin
Minuet ~ Chingón, Gioia
Rainbow ~ Ryan
A Morning in Cedar Hills ~ Kassian, Boyd
Preface: Book 2 ~ Sin
Vanilla ~ Emilio, Carhart
Sideways ~ Emilio, Carhart
Fool ~ Emilio, Carhart
The One Left Behind ~ Blair
-somnia ~ Owen
Scrollwork ~ Vivienne


Around the Compound Stories, a Series of Events:
Incident #1 ~ Rebecca, Sin


Our AFFN profile

A Morning in Cedar Hills

Kassian, Boyd side story

Written on 3/18/08 by Sonny & Ais

Timeline: July 2021, six weeks after icos chapter 44: Smokescreen.

The price of jasmine tea had risen, Boyd noted with dismay as he held the can of loose leaves in front of him. He studied the canister very seriously, trying to decide whether he should try the closest competing grocery store Wally's (which was well out of his way) or if it wasn't worth the trip, knowing that although it would probably be much cheaper the tea would also likely be one step shy of stale. The tea got bitter enough on its own if steeped too long; he certainly didn't need stale leaves to add to the difficulty. Glancing at the price sticker on the tin can once more, he narrowed his eyes but grudgingly set it in his basket and continued on his way.

Although his family had never been overtly wealthy, he usually had not had to worry too much about money. It was true that after his father died and before he got the job at the Agency, his mother had primarily supported him by leaving stipends or food and paying for the utilities. There had been times she had forgotten or had left him almost nothing so he'd had little money to work with. Yet even then, he hadn't often had to consider prices so seriously because Lou had been around, and while he hadn't been rich after his parents had died, he'd always managed to scrounge up money when he or Boyd had really needed it. As a result, Boyd was unaccustomed to having to clearly decide on every single purchase and put it in order of priority.

He had made pretty good money at the Agency during his time there but the six months of suspension with no pay had put a dent in his banking account. Now he was paying for all utilities as well as the normal purchases such as food and beverages. During that period, he'd had some bills on automatic pay and others had been manually paid previously, which he had let lapse. But the price of utilities fluctuated on a constant basis and it had been just his luck that during the time he'd been making no money, the prices had skyrocketed. Despite having a healthy bank account prior to the suspension, those months had sucked up a lot of his money. Even once he'd returned to active duty, bureaucratic red tape ensured that Human Resources took a month to get the finances figured out before they even considered sending him his first paycheck.

It was nearly six weeks after the Agency was infiltrated and about eight after he'd returned to active duty, and Boyd was as close to being broke as he'd ever been.

He probably should have gone to Wally's or not bought tea for that month, especially since jasmine tea was expensive on its own even without inflation, but he couldn't make himself put it back. Jasmine tea was important to him. It was a vice, really; an addiction that could calm him by putting him in the familiar routine of heating water and steeping the tea for precisely the correct amount of time for the perfect cup. He could live without a loaf of bread and some milk if it meant he had his tea.

He continued around the store, trying to ignore how empty his basket was. He was in the produce section, scrutinizing the apples with the same intensity he would probably have while interrogating someone, when the background noise of murmured conversations and the rustling of clothing from other people in the store suddenly caught his attention. He looked up from an apple he'd chosen, wondering for a moment what it was that had distracted him, when he realized he recognized one of the voices. Setting the apple absently in his basket, he followed the sound until he looked around a corner and was surprised to see Kassian standing in the pasta and boxed goods aisle wearing, wearing an incredibly casual outfit of torn blue jeans and a hoody, while talking to a woman who seemed about his own age.

Although he and the woman were down the aisle, they were still close enough for the contents of Kassian's shopping cart to be visible. The only items that really stood out was a big case of Guinness beer and what appeared to be several boxes of Hamburger Helper. The woman he spoke to seemed nice enough; dark, short hair, bright brown eyes, an infectious smile and a clear laugh, but Boyd could tell instantly by the way she held herself that she was not aware of her environment in the least. It didn't seem as though she'd ever even seen a documentary on the military or war, let alone served as a soldier or agent.

A civilian? What the hell was Kassian doing walking around with a civilian? And why was he at that particular grocery store when there were ones closer to the Agency?

Boyd hadn't seen many employees of the Agency interacting with civilians unless it was for an undercover mission. It had almost seemed as though it must be forbidden with how rarely he'd heard of it. Then again, he didn't recall reading anything about that sort of mandate in any code books and he didn't remember hearing anyone expressly forbid him from forming friendships with civilians. Perhaps the reason it seemed so rare was because it would probably be difficult finding believable lies to explain sudden absences or skirting around saying exactly what one does for their job.

Perplexed, and rather taken aback by seeing someone he knew from work outside of the compound on his off time, Boyd didn't realize at first that he was standing there staring thoughtfully at the two of them.

It didn't take long for Kassian to notice him, in fact he seemed to notice Boyd's presence almost as soon as Boyd had become aware of his, and he glanced up casually while continuing to carry on his conversation. One blond eyebrow rose slightly and to Boyd's surprise, Kassian rested one large hand on the woman's slender shoulder with a familiarity that seemed odd to Boyd. Kassian nodded in his direction before starting to walk over.

For a moment Boyd wasn't sure what to do or what he should say. He didn't know how Kassian knew the woman or if this was an assignment of some kind, so it put him at a loss for words. As they made their way across the aisle, he simply gazed at them with a calm unreadable look on his face and waited for the other man to make the first move.

"Well, this is a surprise," Kassian said, his tone friendly. "I've never seen you outside work before."

"I was thinking the same," Boyd said. He decided to leave out any specific information about where they worked; unless something had drastically changed and he hadn't been alerted, the existence of the Agency was supposed to be secret to anyone who did not work there. It was possible that the woman was part of the civilian support staff but somehow he doubted it; he decided to stick to safe topics instead. "Do you live in the area?"

"More or less," Kassian replied and glanced down at his companion. "Boyd, Donna--Donna, Boyd."

The woman, Donna, smiled at Boyd and tilted her head to the side as she gazed at him. "You look so young to be in his line of work! Do you work for Johnson's or Murphy Corps?"

Before Boyd had the chance to even think of how to respond to that question, Kassian scoffed and winked at Boyd as he leaned against his shopping cart. "He ain't as young and innocent as he looks."

Donna rolled her eyes. "Well, neither are you."

The two of them certainly seemed familiar and Boyd had never seen Kassian so at ease. Although Kassian had been more relaxed when they'd been alone in the plane compared to when his team had been around, even then he had seemed exhausted and stressed. Now, he seemed calm, well-rested, and generally in a good mood. It was strange but also somehow refreshing to see; perhaps because it made Kassian seem even more human to him.

Boyd smiled politely but didn't get involved in their banter; instead, he simply said, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Donna."

She returned the smile and shifted the plastic shopping basket that she held in one hand. "Well, I better get out of here and get this stuff to Project Outreach. It was nice to meet you, Boyd. And you give me a call sometime Kass, we'll have a drink." She pronounced the name like 'kase.'

Kassian nodded and his eyes followed her for awhile after she walked away. It wasn't entirely obvious if he was waiting until she was out of ear shot to speak or if he just wanted to admire her rear. Whatever the case, he finally returned his ice-blue gaze to Boyd when she was far enough away and raised both eyebrows this time. "What are you doing in Cedar Hills? For some reason I figured you Beaulieu people lived in one of the renovated downtown areas in some fancy ass hi-rise."

"We 'Beaulieu people?'" Boyd echoed, amused. "That makes me sound as though I'm part of a rare breed of animal. No, I live near here by Magnolia and 5th."

Kassian smirked and leaned on his cart again. "Well, Vivienne living around here was the farthest thing from my imagination. I pictured her in a stark condo in the heart of the financial district with a refrigerator full of condiments and a dying plant in the kitchen. The idea of she or you mowing the lawn just don't seem right."

Boyd couldn't help a light, amused smile at that. "Actually, I could see her preferring that. I've never lived in another house so I don't know how it was chosen, but I suspect my father was the one to blame. I imagine he would have been taken in by the idea of suburban life; there are also several schools in the vicinity which made transportation less of a hassle." He paused thoughtfully.

"Now that I think of it, I've never seen her mow the lawn. My father or I did and for awhile she hired someone to do it for us." He shrugged with one shoulder. "She hasn't lived in the house for years, though, so it's entirely possible you're correct and she has her own little condo elsewhere. I wouldn't even know where to contact her except at work."

Kassian nodded and gazed at him for a moment without speaking, expression appearing thoughtful. "Well it's a nice neighborhood. Your dad had good taste." There was a brief silence as though he was debating continuing, unsure of how Boyd would react to the idea of them being neighbors. "You actually live two blocks from me. I'm on Harkey and 5th."

Boyd blinked in surprise, partially due to how close Kassian lived to him and partially because Kassian had deflected the question when the woman was around but after she left he'd basically given Boyd directions to his home. He had assumed that the woman was aware of Kassian's address but maybe she wasn't. If Kassian kept that kind of thing secret from some people but not others, it made him wonder if Kassian had also told his team where he lived or if he was trying to keep it vague so he could keep his home a safe haven where he never be forced into thinking like a Senior Agent.

"Is that so?" Boyd said after a moment. "I wouldn't have expected you to live in the neighborhood, either. I've never seen you around." He made a gesture indicating that by 'around' he meant the store as well as Cedar Hills in general.

Kassian shrugged, the corner of his mouth lifting in a wry smile. "For the past several years I've been on one extended assignment after another. Although that's supposed to change for awhile."

"You have a more permanent assignment here?" Boyd asked. "Or rather, they've stopped lining up assignments for you out of town?"

"Well, extended ones at least. Unless something comes up, I shouldn't be gone more than a week at a time for awhile hopefully. But then again, I've said that before and wound up on assignment for nearly two years." Kassian shook his head, some of the good humor going out of his expression, and he stood up straight. "So anyway, I see you're in better spirits since I last saw you."

"Yes, well," Boyd said mildly, "the circumstances of our meeting aren't quite as dire this time." Even though Kassian likely brought it up primarily as a change of topic, their last encounter was not something he particularly felt like discussing in a public setting. He paused and added lightly, "Unless you count the alarming rise in the price of tea and specialty drinks."

"Tell me about it. I'm paying nearly forty bucks for a twelve pack," Kassian replied, making a face. There was another long pause as Kassian watched Boyd's face, his expression unreadable. Boyd didn't know what he was looking for so he just watched him back until he spoke again. "What are you doing after you leave here?"

Boyd shrugged. "Walking home and making tea, most likely. I don't really have anything exciting planned. Why?"

There was another brief pause before Kassian replied. "Well, I was gonna invite you over. There's something I wanna talk to you about but we can't discuss it here for the obvious reasons and I have no idea when I'll see you again."

"Ah." Boyd tilted his head, watching him.

He was a little confused as to why Kassian would extend such an invitation; it wasn't as though they were close friends or even knew that much about each other. It seemed strange enough that he told Boyd where he lived right after avoiding the subject in front of someone he was obviously rather familiar with, but for Kassian to follow up with that sort of proposal, it seemed odd. On the other hand, Kassian had surprised him before by acting more relaxed around him than Archer and the others, and at that time he'd been interested in discussing topics that he probably hadn't felt comfortable bringing up around his team. And it wasn't like he had anything else to do today.

"Alright," Boyd said. "I can stop by."

Kassian hesitated for a moment, looking like he possibly didn't know what to do or say now that Boyd had actually agreed but he finally nodded briefly and headed towards the checkout. There was something almost awkward about the silence that followed but with the decision having already been made, it didn't take long for them to leave. They had both basically finished shopping prior to running into each other and Boyd didn't feel like trying to search out cheap deals at the otherwise relatively expensive grocery store. He had his tea and that was all he really wanted. At that time of day there wasn't even much of a line at the checkout counter, so within ten minutes they were already stepping outside with their bags in hand.

The weather was warming as they moved into late July and summer took hold of their hemisphere. The layer of clouds covering the sky were still present, a pale white stained by the sunlight shining through from behind, and the wind was strong enough to tug on their clothes but not so loud that it dissuaded conversation. The temperature had been rising steadily but even as the year rolled into what had traditionally been the summer months, it was still lukewarm to cool.

Especially after having spent the previous summer in Monterrey, Boyd was now aware of just how much warmer life really could get in other parts of the world. He'd never known any city but this so he hadn't realized it could get so blisteringly hot anywhere. Although he didn't miss the sweaty, uncomfortable nights spent suffering from lack of proper air-conditioning, he did miss to an extent the laziness and sedation that set in from the heat; not because he particularly enjoyed wasting his time, but because it had been a relief to be able to release tension and stress he hadn't realized he'd been holding in. He missed walking outside and feeling actual rays of sunshine burning against his skin. On some level, and despite the fact for years he never would have thought he'd feel this way, to an extent he even missed the freedom of wearing short-sleeved shirts and shorts, of not caring what others thought of his attire because Reed didn't and that was who he'd been impersonating.

Even so, the day was pleasant, the sun was bright and diffused across the clouds to light the city around them, and when the wind blew against their skin it was with warm, gentle pressure. Given that it was mid-morning on a Thursday, there wasn't much in the way of traffic, either pedestrian or vehicular. The more upscale neighborhood they lived in did not have a very good public transportation system, which was the main reason Boyd owned his own car and drove around despite how extremely expensive gas was. Stores also offered cheaper wares in the inner city area, so previously he had driven to grocery stores out of his neighborhood; although the gas had been expensive, depending on what he was buying, he could actually save money or break even. Such transportation costs hadn't mattered to him as much when he'd been making enough money, and for many of the people who lived in the richer areas, they made enough to not care about gas prices either.

Because of that, it was in rich neighborhoods, suburbs, and rural areas where vehicles were mostly seen as a means of transportation. In inner city areas with a higher density of inhabitants coupled with a lower median salary, public transportation through buses, taxi cabs, subways, metro trains, and other mass transit were used more frequently. For whatever reason, those same bus routes and other metro transit did not extend properly to their neighborhood. The area he lived in was not exactly a suburb in the traditional sense of the word; it had once been part of the city in a rich neighborhood, but after bombs had destroyed so many of the actual outlying suburbs that had existed, neighborhoods like Cedar Hills were now considered more suburban due to the nicer, more expensive lifestyle and the fact they were now closer to the edges of the city.

But people who made the type of money to afford cars and gas were the same type of people who worked solely during the weekdays or traveled a lot, so there were few people in the vicinity.  Being that Kassian and Boyd were both agents, they didn't have normal work hours. If they had a day off, it was as likely to be on weekday as it was likely to be on the weekend. He hadn't really thought about who lived on the Agency compound and who didn't, but he had to admit that he wouldn't have expected Kassian to live in the same neighborhood that he did.

Although they remained silent at first, likely due to the fact that each was lost in their own thoughts, about halfway toward Harkey and 5th, Boyd looked over at his companion. "How long have you lived in the neighborhood?"

Once again Kassian was silent for a moment; he chewed the inside of his cheek as he thought about how to respond. Despite the fact that he'd been the one to make the first step at approaching Boyd, it obviously didn't make it any less awkward for him to be in a non-professional environment with his co-worker. How he behaved at work and how he acted in the outside world were entirely different and very few people got to see both sides of him; very few agents ever saw him in a casual setting. "A little less than ten years ago, probably," he replied finally. "I used to live in an apartment in the city but I bought the house after I got married."

Boyd had no idea Kassian was married; he'd never noticed him wearing a ring, but then he'd only met him once before. Even so, he wasn't wearing a ring now and what was with that familiarity with Donna? Maybe Donna and he were just friends and Kassian was a lot more relaxed around anyone he knew outside of work. He wondered if he should say anything about it, but on the other hand Kassian wouldn't have brought up his marriage if he didn't want Boyd to know. "I didn't realize you were married. It would certainly make sense to move out of an apartment at that point; it was probably too small. Did you choose Cedar Hills or did she?"

"She chose it. At the time I met her, the apartment I was living in was in an area that was still pretty wrecked from the attack on the city and crime and looting was common. A nice suburban girl like her couldn't really handle the idea of living around that. Although I doubt she would have appreciated my bachelor pad regardless of the state of the area." He shook his head and glanced over at Boyd, adding after a brief pause. "And I'm not married anymore. We got divorced not even three years after we got married."

"Ah," Boyd said, not really sure how to respond to that. He settled with, "I'm sorry to hear that." He paused briefly; he did wonder why they divorced but that was too personal a question. He wondered if the other question he wanted to ask was too personal as well but figured Kassian could just not answer. "If you don't mind my asking, if she was the one who chose the area, how did you end up with the house?"

"She didn't want it. Said living in it would be 'too painful' because she'd always be reminded of me." Kassian's tone was calm, even, and he didn't seem particularly emotional discussing the situation. "I didn't really want it either, to be honest. I just finished a two year assignment in Russia-- when do I have time to take care of a three bedroom house? I came back to a bunch of fines from the city about the state of my front lawn. Apparently the grass and weeds were threatening to swallow small children who passed."

Boyd looked at Kassian with a small smile at that. "I know what you mean; I just received those same fines. My neighbors apparently did not appreciate the state the yard had fallen into after over a year of neglect. I suppose when there is little other crime to complain about, the danger of homicidal weeds seems somehow enhanced." He paused. "But, two years? That seems pretty extended. What were you doing during that time?"

"Hmmm." There was yet another pause as Kassian decided whether or not he wanted to speak of it. There was really no harm; the assignment was over and there was no one around to overhear the conversation. "It involved going into deep cover in order to work my way up to being close to a relatively high ranking figure in a Russian group. It could have been even longer than two years although I'm glad it wasn't. A person can end up forgetting who they are when pretending to be someone else for so long."

Boyd inclined his head. "I imagine so." He thought about his own experience with just eight months in another country, working undercover. He hadn't been confused into thinking that he was really Kadin Reed by the end of it, but that lifestyle certainly had become familiar and if it hadn't been for the traumatizing end of that mission he suspected he would have initially had difficulty losing some of the mannerisms or way of speaking. "As I understand it, that's one of the main concerns with people returning from such situations. That must be difficult."

Kassian nodded. "It's also part of the reason why people think rank 9 and 10 agents are ticking time bombs waiting to suddenly go insane. In the past, we were pretty notorious for going a little crazy. But that was the pre-war generation of agents and, to be honest, I think we're a little more hardened than they are after seeing and dealing with what we did after the attacks."

They were approaching Harkey and 5th and the conversation abruptly ended as one of Kassian's neighbors, a blond woman in her early forties, called out to him. She was washing her car and not at all seeming to mind that her rather large chest was practically spilling out of the low cut tank top she wore. "Hey handsome!"

Kassian nodded at her and smiled although it seemed to be done more out of politeness than friendliness. "Morning, Mrs. Monroe. What's up?"

She stopped what she was doing as they walked by and put her hands on her hips. "Can I count on you to be my helper again now that you're back or do I got to keep paying that Mathews kid who don't know his ass from a hole in the ground, let alone how to properly unclog a drain?"

Kassian laughed, although it once again seemed to be done out of politeness, and shrugged. "We'll see. Tell your daughter I said hey." They continued walking and he looked over at Boyd. "After her husband died, I pretty much became her personal handyman but that was before I found out every man in the neighborhood was putting the blocks to her. Her daughter's a sweet girl though."

Boyd briefly glanced back toward the woman. She seemed slightly familiar to him, somehow; not in the way of having ever seen or met her before, but in the way that something about her reminded him of something else. "How old is her daughter?" he asked a little absently.

"Probably around your age," Kassian said. "She's in college getting a degree in urban development or something. She's really smart. Pretty too. But she's one of those do-gooder, save-the-world types like Donna, which can get to be a pain in the ass in conversation."

Boyd stopped walking suddenly as something triggered in his mind. The last name Monroe clicked in relation to the woman's facial features. He gave Kassian an odd look. "Her name isn't Bethany, is it? She has green eyes and dark blond hair?"

Kassian raised an eyebrow and shifted the bag holding the case of beer. "Yeah it is. Know her?"

Drawing his eyebrows down, Boyd looked away with a nod. He looked and felt as troubled as he was surprised, mostly due to the idea that someone from his childhood suddenly appeared in relation to someone from work. Although, he should have thought about this before; the schools he attended were in the area and it wasn't as though his parents would have been the only ones sending their kids to local places. He just hadn't thought about where his classmates had lived and had never gotten involved in their lives outside of school.

"I went to school with her," he said after a moment, returning his attention to Kassian as he continued walking. "She and I attended the same advanced classes. She was pretty nice and, I suppose, you could have called her a friend of a friend..." He'd never spoken to her much despite the fact they were in several classes; she had been friendly with Lou, though, so they had interacted occasionally. He remembered in high school that she had been interested in the environment and she had tried to hint to Lou to attend school more often around the time he'd started skipping. It had been years since he'd seen or thought of her; he'd never really thought of her as a friend so it hadn't been important to him. He hadn't known much about her family life, either, come to think of it. "I didn't realize her father died; that's unfortunate. And I can't say I ever would have imagined her mother to... look quite the way she does."

Kassian didn't seem particularly surprised by the revelation. "She didn't start looking that way until her husband died. I guess she got carried away because of her new-found freedom... not to say she didn't love him, but he had lung disease because of the fallout shit from the bomb and his last years were spent confined to the house with her nursing him even though she knew he was going to die inevitably anyway. It probably was a relief to have it over and done with, as messed up as that sounds."

Boyd shrugged with one shoulder. "I could see that. At least the waiting would be over."

Kassian nodded in agreement and, with that, they finally approached his house. It was dark yellow with black shutters and accents with a large, now neatly mowed front yard and an equally big back yard. The house had a wrap around porch and a two-car garage, although there was a matte blue Chevy Blazer in the driveway that looked to be from the 1970s.

They headed down the pathway and Kassian kicked a newspaper out of the way, not showing interest in it or giving it a second glance. As they walked up the stairs to the front door, Boyd saw that there was a rather sizable pile of similarly discarded papers waiting to be recycled.

"Why don't you just cancel the subscription?" Boyd asked, looking down at the newspapers. He was faintly amused by the obvious evidence of neglect and the fact that with that many newspapers lying around he'd obviously had a long time to realize he no longer wanted the subscription.

"Because that'd be too smart," Kassian replied as he unlocked the door with one hand and pushed it open. "And it's paid through the end of this year for some reason. I have no idea why. I hate the news."

They entered the house and Boyd saw that the front door led immediately into a short hallway and large family room. It was nicely furnished without seeming cookie cutter and it had perfectly matching wall, furniture and accent colors. However, the level of messiness was a strong clue that the house had most likely been decorated by his ex-wife. No one would take so much trouble to pick out matching color schemes, furniture and artwork just to throw jackets over floor lamps and leave empty beer cans on antique coffee tables. The room had a very lived-in quality and judging by the items sitting around the various surfaces and the clothes strewn along the furniture, it seemed Kassian spent a lot of his time there. Despite the fact that he'd owned up to previously living in a bachelor pad, it seemed that this had become exactly that.

"I'm not very good at housekeeping," Kassian said in an unapologetic tone. He didn't seem embarrassed or overly concerned with the fact as he kicked a pair of boots out of the way and headed to the kitchen.

Boyd paused briefly, not quite certain if he was supposed to follow Kassian or if he should just go sit down in the living room. He started to walk toward the kitchen and was able to glance inside while Kassian was turned away. He hesitated and was about to ask but before he could, Kassian called out without turning around, "You can hang out in there if you want. I'll be right out."

Boyd glanced toward the floor to check if he should be taking his shoes off and, noting that Kassian had walked straight into the kitchen without bothering, he decided it didn't matter. He dropped his grocery bag out of the way by the door and then walked into the living room without bothering to reply, taking the time instead to idly study the room a little closer. He couldn't quite match up the more serious, by-the-book personality Kassian seemed to have at work with the complete mess of his home life.

It was an odd contradiction, not something he would have thought to predict, and yet one that somehow, in a strange way, made sense. After all, everyone needed a place for downtime. It made more sense for Kassian to have a place to unwind than it did for his home life to be exactly like his work. Although there were some people that Boyd imagined probably were the same everywhere, such as Jeffrey who gave the impression that he would not tolerate a messy situation or room regardless of where, for the most part people needed a chance to relax and not think. Before the cameras had been removed from his apartment, Sin had maintained almost the same presence and personality at home as in public because he'd known that he was being watched. As soon as the cameras were destroyed, he had relaxed considerably and had been able to be more himself.

Although Boyd still wouldn't have necessarily thought that at his core Kassian was a messy person, he could see how someone like him, who performed a difficult job with morals that contradicted his orders and with subordinates who he felt he had to be completely professional in front of, would need a place where he could be a little careless, where he could throw something to the side and not have to worry or obsess upon whether it was what was expected of him and how it was affecting the situation. He probably just needed a place where it didn't matter what he did because no one who saw it would care. Beyond that, he'd mentioned that he was rarely home anyway so he probably had fewer feelings of investment into the house than he did in his job.  

Boyd walked closer to the couch, noting that it was strangely worn in certain spots, as if Kassian had accidentally ripped it in a few places, particularly on the lower parts near the corners. The cushions were mildly askew and a pillow and blanket were on top, looking recently used, which implied that Kassian slept there on a regular enough basis for the items to remain even during the day. That, or someone had lain down there once and he had never bothered to clean it up. But judging by the amount of discarded dishes, wrappers and empty beer cans in the general vicinity, Boyd suspected that Kassian spent a fair amount of time in the room.

When he looked toward the television, he could see why. A gaming console sat haphazardly in front of the television, with several games scattered to the side as if they'd been knocked over from a pile. The controllers looked worn and well-used and there was a pillow thrown on the floor beside the coffee table, as if at one point he'd sat in front of the television to play rather than on the couch. A remote to the television was tossed to the side and the television screen was covered in a layer of dust that looked as though it had not been cleaned off for months.

Boyd leaned closer to glance at the game titles and noted that at least half of them seemed to be first-person shooter games. Thinking of Kassian playing video games was strange to him; yet another thing he wouldn't have expected from the man. At the same time, if Kassian were to play any game, it was unsurprising to Boyd that shooting games would seem to be his preferred choice. That, at least, somehow seemed to fit him.

He was just leaning over to pick one of them up when he heard an especially loud clank from the kitchen. Feeling oddly guilty, he straightened and backed away. Somehow, he felt as though he was too privy to Kassian's personal life at that moment. Certainly, Kassian had been the one to invite him, but at the same time Kassian was a reserved person so even just discovering little things such as that he enjoyed playing video games made Boyd feel as though he was intruding on his privacy.

He stepped away from the television and walked along the wall briefly, looking at the decorations and the wall color. There were three main art pieces in the room, the collection confusing him mildly as he tried to determine what they had to do with each other aside from being originating from famous artists and a photographer. Whoever had bought the art did not seem to have chosen them according to taste or design, as far as he could tell, which led him to believe that they didn't know much about the history of any of the art. There was a print of Beside the Sea with Bulkhead by Robert Motherwell, one of the calla lily photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe, and, as he drew closer, what appeared to be the original of Claude Monet's Haystacks on a Foggy Morning. True, Monet and Motherwell were both Impressionists, but Motherwell was an Abstract Impressionist and Monet was a French Impressionist, and what did Mapplethorpe have to do with the other two aside from the fact that the colors of each piece worked with the decor? He wondered if the person who bought the art knew of Mapplethorpe's background, at least; he was a somewhat controversial figure, which was expected of a person who boiled the head of his pet monkey (who had died of neglect) and turned it into a musical instrument. At least, he supposed, they hadn't chosen to feature one of his nude male photographs; that would have been far too shocking in Kassian's living room.

After studying the Monet original a little closer, he glanced back toward the kitchen in mild paranoia and decided he should stop looking at Kassian's private life entirely before he could be discovered. It wasn't as though he was doing anything wrong but he still felt like he was. he walked past a pile of beer cans and discarded clothing, not really paying attention to the various items scattered across the floor except to avoid them, and hesitated by the couch before he carefully set the pillow on top of the blanket and sat down in the cleared space.

Not more than a moment later, Kassian re-entered the room holding a tall black can of Guinness and glanced around briefly. "Heh. I'm surprised you found somewhere to sit. The kitchen is worse though. The same pots have been in the sink since I got back from Russia."

It seemed like every time Boyd wrapped his mind around a new aspect of Kassian's personality, something else was revealed. He tried to imagine Kassian cooking in the kitchen but the mental image that popped up was of him wearing an apron and yielding a spatula, looking entirely domestic. It was an amusing thought but likely quite far from reality. "You cook?" Boyd asked, partially curious and partially keeping the conversation going so they wouldn't fall into another awkward silence.

Kassian shoved a pile of books off a recliner and sat down, taking a swig from his beer. The books landed haphazardly on the floor and from the looks of them, they appeared to be mostly science-fiction. "I can make food that I don't die from eating but it's nothing to write home about. Usually I make something out of a box." He shrugged and didn't look at all embarrassed about his lack of domestic abilities.

"For the longest time," Boyd said, "I basically ate frozen meals or simple food like sandwiches. I didn't even learn how to cook until Monterrey." He paused then added wryly, "The kitchen nearly got the better of me the first time I tried, in fact."

"It gets the better of me a lot. Until I figure out the impressively vague instructions in recipes and on boxes I'll continue burning things, I imagine." Kassian set the beer on the floor by his feet and unzipped his hoody to reveal a faded band t-shirt that fit tightly against his muscular shoulders and torso. Judging by the fading of the logo and the words, it was obviously a very old shirt.

He tossed the hoody over the side of the chair and shifted in his seat as he studied Boyd from under his blond eyebrows. Kassian seemed to absently chew on one side of his lower lip as he gazed at the younger agent with slightly narrowed eyes. His expression was strange and difficult to categorize and Boyd wasn't quite sure what to do so he just stared back. Before the moment could become too awkward, or perhaps before Kassian could say anything in explanation, there was a shrill ringing sound from the kitchen and Kassian got to his feet automatically. He seemed almost relieved to have a reason to leave the room; to stall saying whatever he had wanted to say.

Left alone in the room again, Boyd leaned back in the couch and wondered what he was supposed to do in this situation. It was strange enough being in a coworker's house without knowing that coworker very well; it was even more uncomfortable having been invited to Kassian's house while Kassian just stared at him blankly as if to ask, "What now?" Boyd wasn't exactly well-versed on being invited to people's homes so he didn't have an answer for Kassian's hesitation.

He didn't really want to stand up and walk around again; he'd already explored the room as much as he felt comfortable with and he knew he'd just get curious and start wondering what the rest of the house looked like or other inconsequential details such as what clothing filled Kassian's closet. Did he usually wear old band t-shirts? Once again, Boyd hadn't expected that of Kassian, that he would wear such casual, well-worn clothing when Boyd would have imagined him in something like slacks and a nice sweater. He started wondering about other aspects, too, like whether anything remained from Kassian's ex-wife's presence. Kassian obviously wasn't big on cleaning so Boyd could even imagine things like old lotion or clothing scattered around places she used to frequent.

He remembered that after his father had died, for months there had been things they'd kept running across that had been his. His favorite mug pushed back in the cupboard, his favorite tie he'd worn when he'd dressed up, the watch he'd constantly managed to lose despite saying it was the best he'd ever had, old notebooks with his handwriting still scrawled inside... Vivienne had picked up each of the items as she'd discovered them or Boyd had brought them to her attention, and with a distant expression she had walked back to the bedroom she used to share with Cedrick, shut the door, and Boyd would never see the items again. He never knew where she put them and he doubted she had thrown them away, yet they had disappeared as permanently and easily as his father had. Over time, even his mother had started to disappear and all that was left were memories of them both.

He wondered what Kassian had done initially after the divorce. Had he walked around the house the way Boyd had when his father had died? Had he trailed his hand along items that still seemed fresh and alive with memories of a person who was gone for good, whether through death of the body or the death of the relationship?

He could hear Kassian speaking lowly in the kitchen, talking to whoever was on the phone, but he didn't bother to listen. He didn't want to intrude further upon his privacy and whatever he heard would be incomplete and probably just make him wonder about more things he felt he shouldn't ask about.

Looking down once more at the floor, he intended to skim the book titles. When he thought about it-- science fiction? Yet another unexpected detail; Kassian seemed like a man filled with contradictions or surprising facts. He couldn't imagine him sitting around reading about futuristic worlds and things like robots, but then there was little about Kassian that he would have accurately predicted. Before he could look too closely at the titles, his attention was caught instead on a strange item that was half-covered by an anthology of science fiction authors. Leaning forward, Boyd tugged on it until he was able to pull it free and hold it up in front of him.

Well. That was certainly the strangest feather duster he'd ever seen. It had a long white plastic handle with what looked to be a small elastic string on the end. Several brightly colored feathers were glued in a bunch on the end of the elastic.

Boyd tilted the feather duster around, studying it curiously. How odd. He couldn't imagine what situation would require this type of cleaning instrument. He flicked the plastic end, watching the way the feathers bounced around on the elastic. One wouldn't possibly be able to put any pressure on the feathers to rub away caked-on dust so perhaps it was simply used for very difficult-to-reach places. But if that was the case, why would Kassian of all people have a specialized feather duster when he didn't even pick empty beer cans off the floor? Perhaps it was a remnant of Kassian's ex-wife's possessions. But if so, what was it doing in the middle of the living room? Had he really just not moved it for that long?

Boyd leaned his forearms against his knees, still absently flicking the feather duster as he started to look around again, wondering if there were other bizarre cleaning implements left behind. He was just about to toss the feather duster back to the floor when something fast and grey suddenly came flying at him from around the side of the couch. It all happened too fast for him to properly comprehend.

"Wha--!" he started to say in surprise and alarm.

He threw himself back in alarm, the feather duster jerking up automatically, and the grey blur flew into the air, yanking the end with the feathers down. One of Boyd's feet kicked out and the grey blur, heavy and sharp, landed on his leg briefly, jerking the feather duster in that direction before just as suddenly it disappeared around the side of the couch nearest him.

Adrenaline rushed through Boyd's system as he stared wide-eyed down at the feather duster still held in his hand.

He had no idea what the hell had just happened.

It was something alive—was it a giant rat? Given how messy the house was, Boyd had actually been wondering about the consequences. When he tried to imagine the mess being there for two years in an abandoned house, he couldn't believe that some sort of creature hadn't moved in for basically a free buffet. And if a rat had gotten in and had no competition for food or shelter, how large would it have grown? He didn't know much about rats but he did know that some of them could get quite big; he just didn´t know if that went according to species or circumstances.

His heartbeat was fast and loud and he didn't know if he wanted to throw the feather duster away from him so the thing wouldn't attack again or if he should keep it with him as a weapon in case it came at him. He wasn't particularly afraid of rats but he also didn't like being surprised by some sort of living creature that had run at the feather duster as if the duster had mortally offended its family.

He decided to hold the feather duster to the side and, resisting the ridiculous urge to bring his legs up on the couch so the thing wouldn't get him, he slowly peered over the side of the couch it had disappeared around. He almost felt like he was in some sort of dramatic, embarrassing horror movie; every inch that was revealed of the floor beyond made his heartbeat seem that much faster and louder in anticipation. It felt like minutes dragged by but it was less than a few seconds to discover that there was nothing there.

What the hell? He knew he hadn't imagined that.

He looked down in front of the couch again, paranoid now, but saw nothing. Well, if he was going to tell Kassian he thought there was a gigantic feather duster-attacking rat in his house he had to at least have some sort of proof. Still holding the feather duster, he knelt on the couch and turned around to peer cautiously over the back. He was so concentrated on finding the rat that he barely paid attention to anything else, like how the feathers dangled over the edge of the couch, or how ridiculous he must look at that moment with such an intent, serious expression as he looked over the back of the couch like a little kid. As far as he could see as he peered around the area, there was no rat. But with the scattered piles of clothing, books, and food, there were any number of places a creature could hide.

With narrowed eyes, Boyd crawled along the couch and looked over the far edge, where the creature had initially appeared. There was nothing there as well or within sight, which was frustrating. He knew he'd felt and seen that, yet he had no evidence. Maybe he should tell Kassian about it so he knew to call an exterminator or set up a large trap. What did rats go for, anyway? It wasn't cheese, was it? He thought that was mostly for mice...

He moved to sit back down at his original place on the couch when something caught his attention, the lightest flicker of movement just beyond his side of the couch. He held the feather duster firmly in one hand and looked over the side, ready to smack the rat away if it went for him.

Once again, he saw nothing.

Annoyed, he shifted to sit back down on the couch like normal but just as he was turning he saw a glint of bright green in the shadows nearby. The sight startled him; for a moment he thought Sin was lurking in the dark, watching him silently. In the second it took his brain to realize that logically there was not only no reason for Sin to be at Kassian's but especially no reason for him to be hiding beneath the coffee table, the creature attacked again.

The grey blur suddenly exploded out from beneath the table, flying at him so quickly that he didn't even realize he let out a startled yell. He brought the feather duster in front of him with the intent of using it as a weapon to bash the rat away but he didn't have time to do anything. The creature went for the feathers on the duster again but this time seemed caught as it dropped to the floor, yanking the duster down with it as it started to try to run away. Boyd automatically tightened his grip on the duster when it was almost yanked out of his hands and the creature stopped trying to escape when it realized it was caught.

He stared down, completely dumbfounded as he finally got a good view of the creature.

A fluffy white and grey cat jerked its front right paw, trying to get its claws out of the feathers it had somehow gotten caught on. It looked quite a bit cuter and less alarming than the rat that he had been imagining, but when it looked up with huge, dilated bright green eyes and fixed him with a stare that looked as though it was considering eating his face, he automatically drew back.

He had never been around cats before; obviously he knew they existed and what they were, but he'd never known anyone who owned a cat and the closest he'd ever encountered them had been the occasional movie or book that had one curled up in the corner. He had absolutely no idea what to do around one; he was alarmed enough that it seemed to have been attacking him and at that moment he didn't know if he was more thankful that it was caught on the feather duster so it couldn't run away and explode out of the scenery again or if he'd rather it wasn't right in front of him staring at him with those wide, glinting green eyes.  

However, before he could figure out what to do about the situation he'd found himself in, an amused chuckle suddenly came from the doorway that led to the kitchen. He looked over to see Kassian watching him with an expression that was equal parts amused and confused. "The look on your face is pretty priceless at the moment."

Boyd gave him a startled look then quickly turned back to the cat so he wouldn't have to meet his eyes. He was going to be very embarrassed if Kassian had seen any of his interaction with the cat. He had to look like a complete idiot at that moment and wished, as he tilted his head down, that his hair was long enough to fully hide what was probably a light blush.

"Ah," he said uncomfortably. What the hell did a person say in this type of situation? Sorry, you're such a bad housekeeper that I thought for sure your pet was giant vermin? "I, ah. Didn't realize you had a cat."

The other man shrugged, the remnants of an amused half smile still lingering. "You had no reason to. I probably should have warned you, though. She's very friendly and tends to pounce on people when she wants to play, as you can see." The smile grew and it was obvious that he really had seen all, or at least most, of Boyd's performance. "Don't worry. You're not the first one she's caught off guard. You should have seen Archer the first time he saw her."

Maybe Boyd hadn't looked quite as undignified as he imagined, at least not in relation to others if even Archer reacted poorly. "What did he do?" He hoped it was something comparable to his response.

"He didn't realize what she was or why she was pouncing on him and wound up pointing a gun at her." Kassian seemed almost pleased by the fact that his pet had the ability to get the better of people.

Boyd didn't know if it was sad or amusing that he could definitely see Archer doing that. He didn't know whether it was a good thing that she could sneak up on them what with Archer drawing a gun and himself almost smacking her.

"She's certainly quite stealthy," Boyd said, somewhat amused by Kassian's pride in his cat and still somewhat embarrassed because, unlike him, he doubted Archer had made a ridiculous spectacle of himself. He looked back down at the cat, who had finally managed to free herself from the feathers. She shook her paw and looked at Boyd with a mixture of reproach and curiosity. "She should be careful with that sort of track record, though." He looked back up at Kassian. "How many other agents have nearly attacked her?"

Kassian opened his mouth to reply but then for some reason he stopped at the last minute and just settled for a shrug as he sat back down in the recliner. After a moment he picked up his beer again and swilled it in the can before finally saying, "Not many."

Boyd waited a moment to see if Kassian would continue but he just drank his beer. Silence stretched between them for a moment once more and Boyd wondered if they were going to spend the entire time in spurts of conversation followed by awkward quiet. He felt something brush against his pants and looked down to see the cat rubbing against his leg, her back arched and tail raised high in the air. She had so far made a pretty good conversation piece; at least Kassian had seemed a little more willing to talk about her initially. He decided to try once more involving her in the topic; and anyway, he realized he kept thinking of her as 'the cat' but Kassian probably called her something else. "Does she have a name?"

"Peaches." Kassian didn't say anything else and stared down at the cat as if she held the answers that could potentially guide him through the awkward situation that he'd essentially put himself in.

The name was amusing and odd to Boyd, partially because it seemed a strangely lighthearted name for Kassian to call a pet, and also because the cat in no way resembled peaches. "Peaches?" he echoed, asking without words the reason behind the name.

Kassian shrugged once again and looked mildly embarrassed. "Ah, well when I was a kid we had a cat and for some reason that's what my mother named her. I'm not really sure why, honestly. But one day Peaches Senior just up and disappeared. Since Junior here bears such a striking resemblance and I have no creativity what so ever, I figured I'd recycle the name."

Boyd smiled, amused. Apparently Kassian's mother was the one with the strange taste in names for a grey and white cat. What would she have called an orange cat; Ashes or Ocean or something equally unrelated?  "How long have you had her?"

"Coming on six years now. I found her when she was only a couple of weeks old. I don't know how she got separated from the rest of her litter but she was all by herself." Kassian shrugged and raised an eyebrow at Boyd. "I couldn't let her wander around all alone, could I?"

"No, I suppose not," Boyd agreed, looking down at Peaches. She continued to amuse herself with running her side along his leg and since he didn't really know what to do about it or what she wanted, he didn't stop her. Kassian didn't say anything further and once again they both fell quiet. When he'd first told Kassian he would come over, he'd assumed that whatever it was that Kassian wanted to talk about was imperative enough that he would start discussing it as soon as they were out of public. But obviously that was not the case; there had already been ample chances to bring up the intended topic but each time Kassian had just looked at him like he didn't know what to do or acted like he felt awkward or uncomfortable. It was clear they were not going to get anywhere unless Boyd pushed it.

"So," he said lightly, trying another angle since straight conversation had so far failed, "you have a weakness for outsiders and strays?" He looked up at Kassian, his expression mostly neutral but his eyes a little more intent. "Maybe that's why you've been nice to me?"

Kassian made a face and sat up a little straighter as he shook his head in denial. "No, that's not it. And I wouldn't exactly call my behavior nice the previous time we were in each other's company." He paused and seemed to consider his words carefully, his face the usual picture of stoic seriousness. "Listen, I know this seems odd and I know I'm acting oddly but this is pretty awkward for me. The only person I ever see outside of work is Archer and even then there's a level of awkwardness that we can never really get over."

Boyd considered that; it certainly explained why Kassian had been acting that way. "I can understand that," he said after a moment, thinking that he was pretty much the same type of person. He paused and almost didn't continue but he knew if he didn't keep asking questions or talking then they would just fall back into silence. "I'll admit that I'm confused as to why you invited me over, then. Was it something top secret you wanted to talk about?"

"No, not really. Well, I guess everything is technically top secret by the Agency's standards but..." Kassian trailed off for a moment and finished his beer before staring down at it as if contemplating getting another despite the fact that it was early in the morning. "I didn't even ask-- you want one?"

Shaking his head, Boyd said, "Thank you but I don't prefer beer. I'm fine."

Apparently growing bored with the fact that no one was paying attention to her, Peaches jumped onto the couch; the movement was light and quick and barely made a noise. She padded to the cushion next to Boyd where she curled up and stared at him with a mildly curious but mostly unmotivated look in her bright green eyes.

Kassian nodded and crushed the empty can then dropped it to the floor. He rubbed his chin and stared at Boyd silently yet again before finally shaking his head and getting on with the discussion. "Anyway, seeing you outside of the Agency was interesting. A relief, I guess. And I do have something I've been wanting to say to you, I also thought it might be interesting to hang out with you for a bit."

Boyd didn't know what to say to that at first. The entire situation was rather strange, as far as he was concerned. At least Kassian was talking but at the same time Boyd still couldn't really tell what was going on; the fact that Kassian kept alluding to needing to talk to him but not stating the topic was odd. He couldn't figure out what was going through Kassian's mind.

He also didn't know why Kassian would suddenly think that spending time with him wasn't a bad idea. Granted, he'd showed interest in him after Monterrey but that had primarily seemed to be as he related to Sin. Kassian had been wondering what sort of person was Sin's partner, and why he'd been acting the way he had, and why he would care for someone like Sin. If it hadn't been for the circumstances and the fact that he was Sin's partner, he wasn't certain that he believed Kassian would have cared to ever go out of his way to talk to him.

It wasn't that he thought Kassian would naturally want to avoid him, but Sin was nowhere near them and unless the topic of discussion had something to do with him, that meant that Kassian in some way didn't mind spending time with Boyd himself. Despite the fact that Kassian had been relatively encouraging on the plane ride home, they still barely knew each other and didn't often cross paths. So what was he thinking? And what did relief have to do with any of this?

"Why was it a relief?" Boyd asked, trying to consider this logically. The only thing he could think of was that Kassian, who seemed somewhat awkward when it came to one-on-one interactions with people, had been stuck with Donna, who perhaps had been annoying him by bringing up the 'do-gooder' topics that he was so tired of. "Were you trying to end the conversation with Donna and I made a convenient excuse?"

"Not exactly," Kassian replied and ran his fingers absently over a rip in the knee of his jeans. It didn't appear to be a nervous gesture but it did seem as though he was constantly finding things to do with his hands. "Although I was tired of hearing about her wonderful charitable contributions to Project Outreach. After ten years of doing what I do, it's hard to listen to the rose-colored shit-talking of an idealist who thinks donating a few cans of beans is going to make the world a better place. But what do civilians know, anyway."

Boyd didn't have much of an opinion either way on charities and idealists, and for all that he thought of Kassian as a relatively friendly person when he wasn't in Senior Agent mode or awkwardly wondering how to start conversations, he could see how he would get annoyed by that sort of talk. Even though Boyd had only been a field agent for almost two years, he felt like even in that period of time his viewpoint had changed somewhat, although he hadn't analyzed exactly how much or in which direction. And even after that time there were still things that he discovered about the Agency that he had somehow missed before.

"I didn't realize there was much fraternization between agents and civilians," Boyd said, mostly thinking aloud. "It always seemed as though they warned us against it. Although, that may have simply been my interpretation due to how much they stress the secrecy of the Agency. Do you have many civilian friends?"

There was another pause, but this time it seemed more natural. "I do. I know several civilians who even consider me a close friend. School teachers, librarians, cops... I was even in a band a few years back. Some people I knew before I was an agent, some people I met because I lived in the city."

Kassian shrugged. "It's not exactly like they tell us we can't have civilian friends but I'm sure they don't think too highly of it either. They'd probably prefer if we all lived on the compound and only spoke to each other, but that's impossible for people who live in the city or who still have surviving friends and family. It's kind of a catch-22, I suppose. If you stop speaking to your civilian friends, you look suspicious and people wonder about you, about what you could be hiding, but if you continue on with your relationships as if nothing ever changed, your entire life becomes a giant web of lies."

"That must be difficult," Boyd said, thinking about how stressful that would be. He was lucky, he supposed, in that he didn't really have any friends outside of the Agency and his only living relative worked there. That made him wonder what Kassian's situation was like. "Do you have surviving family?"

"Yeah," he replied and although his tone didn't give away much, the corners of his mouth turned down slightly. "And it's harder with them. They don't accept my cover stories and excuses for being gone for such long stretches of time as easily as friends do. They question me, I deflect, we argue. It drives a wedge between us. People get tired of secrecy after awhile, you know? People get tired of being lied to."

Boyd tried to imagine having several people that close to him and being unable to do anything but lie to them consistently. It seemed that part of the reason it had never appeared as though the Agency encouraged relationships with civilians was not only due to the secrecy issue but also the fact that it would be so difficult. Agents were under enough stress with their jobs as it was; returning home to more stress resulting from the inability to be open about something as simple as place of work must be wearying.

The talk about lies and cover stories reminded Boyd of Donna's comment earlier. "I'm assuming Murphy Corps must be one of those cover stories... Is that where you tell everyone you work?"

Kassian nodded after a while, expression calm and patient, as he explained. "It's the official cover story for people like me; active field agents, people who are almost always assigned to extensive undercover assignments, who have civilian family or significant others who can't so easily be brushed off. It's an actual organization that can be traced and verified if someone does a check on it but it was founded solely for the purpose of giving us cover jobs that would explain certain aspects of a field agent's life to an outsider."

Boyd considered that. If it was specifically for active field agents with family that would explain why he had never heard the cover before. Johnson's was the cover that his mother had used, so he assumed that would be the case for other civilian staff at the Agency. "So Murphy Corps is basically a cover like Johnson's is," he said thoughtfully. They must never have thought it important to inform Boyd of this information because it didn't apply to him. "What exactly is Murphy Corps supposed to be, then? Donna mentioned it in conjunction with Johnson's and I wasn't certain what she was talking about."

"It's basically..." Kassian trailed off briefly and sat back, crossing his arms over his chest. "Basically, it's supposed to be a private military contracting firm. There are a few that exist in the country that have close ties with the government and Murphy Corps is supposed to be one of them. These firms are hired to do a variety of jobs for the government but also for private companies. A lot of people consider the people who work for these companies to be nothing more than glorified mercenaries. My wife was one of the people who had that opinion and so is Donna. I can't really blame them but it works as a cover. It explains why I'd be sent out of the country for extended periods of time and it explains why people with military background are specifically hired for these jobs. It can also explain certain psychological issues that can go along with being an agent.

"The only real difference between a contractor and an agent is that they typically get sent out to safeguard and secure delicate situations that aren't necessarily top secret. Johnson's is one of those. Everyone knows pharmaceutical companies, especially one like Johnson's is supposed to be where the drugs are made on the compound, are targets of terrorists, thieves and so on... when I'm in town for extended periods of time, my cover is that Johnson's has hired me as security because of recent threats against them."

"That makes sense," Boyd said. "Did you meet your wife and friends like Donna before you joined the Agency?"

"No. I met my wife through another agent, actually, and I didn't meet Donna until after I'd gotten divorced. We had a fling that went nowhere."

For some reason, it seemed odd to Boyd to think of Kassian as having flings. Perhaps simply because he otherwise seemed so serious that he couldn't really imagine him with a person like Donna; at least, not as anything other than as a friend. It made him wonder what Kassian's wife had been like. Judging solely by the way the house was decorated, she seemed as though she had been fond of what others thought and wanted the home to reflect a put-together, modern, savvy couple. The design of the house itself was rather modern, when he'd glanced in the kitchen he could see that the counters were granite and the appliances were all stainless steel, and he could tell by the art on the walls that she'd been the type to buy expensive things simply because they wereby someone famous and thus would make her look better. As he'd thought earlier, the collection of art otherwise somehow seemed haphazard to him.

Given that Kassian seemed more likely to be upfront about who he was and what he expected of others, Boyd couldn't quite decide what he thought that they would have seemed like as a couple. On the other hand, Boyd could only say he seemed upfront because he worked at the same place, he knew that he was a Senior Agent, and he knew the things that Kassian wouldn't have been able to tell his wife. So maybe Kassian really had just been a different person to her... which was also an odd thing to think about.

He was distracted briefly when Peaches shifted on the couch next to him and he glanced over to see that she had laid her head down. Her eyes had been slowly drooping but when she saw him look at her, she opened them a little wider to study him. Now that she wasn't running around in attack mode and he had the chance to study her more closely, he could see that she actually was pretty cute. She seemed a lot calmer and less alarming when she was watching him lazily rather than with a tiny predator instinct. Now that he paid more attention, he could see that cat hair was scattered across the furniture and had already infiltrated his black clothing. Judging by the decor of the home, he tried to imagine that type of woman being able to appreciate a hyperactive, messy cat that probably jumped all over everything. Somehow, he couldn't think of the person he imagined her to be to have been very pleased with Peaches, which made him wonder what she had really thought about the cat. If Peaches was an important pet to Kassian and somewhat nostalgic due to the name and resemblance to a childhood cat, he wondered if Peaches had caused even more friction in an already tense relationship.

Rather than internalizing all thought as he had a tendency to do, Boyd tried to formulate the thoughts into words; after all, he was curious, and Kassian wouldn't have brought up the divorce again if he hadn't wanted to talk about it. Even so, when he spoke he kept his tone neutral in order to avoid accidentally insulting Kassian or his ex-wife.

"Excuse my thought process for a moment, but... I would assume that, because your wife was introduced to you by another agent, she must have been aware of Murphy Corps already. Unless she wasn't good friends with the other agent, I would also think she'd have had at least some idea of what to expect getting into a relationship with someone who worked there. But, if I were to judge solely by the way the house is decorated and what you've mentioned, I would guess that it seems like she was probably the sort of person who was accustomed to a certain sense of privilege and a certain amount of attention. I would also guess that she was very interested in what others thought and would not have been the type to appreciate scandals. It sounds as though it would have been difficult enough trying to keep straight the lies with your family, but it must have been even more difficult with someone you lived with. If you don't mind my asking, was that somehow involved with the reason you got divorced?"

Kassian's steady gaze bore into Boyd for a long moment before he simply sat back in the chair and raised his eyebrows. "You pretty much hit the nail on the head. She knew our mutual friend was away a lot, she knew he had a pretty crazy life, and that was part of the reason she first became attracted to me I think. She liked the idea of being with a guy who had kind of an exotic, dangerous lifestyle or some bullshit. But when it came down to it, she couldn't handle the reality when we got serious. Like she expected my life, my work, to stop because she was in it."

He shook his head wryly and seemed thoroughly unaffected by the conversation, as if he was speaking about something that had happened to someone else. "And a lot of the time it seemed as though she was upset about it because of how it must look to her friends, her family. It looked bad that I was always out of town, that I was always tired and withdrawn and not wanting to do the party circuit when I was home. We looked like outsiders-- like we didn't want to fit in. It looked like I was having an affair because I was so secretive about what I did on my trips."

That all pretty much fit in line with what Boyd would have thought. "So was she the one who first brought up divorce?"

"No. I was." Kassian began rubbing his chin again, eyebrows raising slightly. "Does that surprise you?"

"Actually, yes," Boyd admitted. "I would have thought she would have wanted to seem in control of the situation at the end; after all, a divorce would probably be considered its own scandal and if she already thought she was losing face, it would make sense for her to stop it when she felt it was in her favor." He paused. "On the other hand, if she was the type of person who could get caught in her own fantasies, maybe she didn't want to lose the sense of stability she had even if it wasn't what she'd expected. I suppose I sometimes judge decisions women make by what my mother would do and she can be pretty ruthless." He tilted his head curiously. "So what made you decide to take that step?"

Kassian stopped rubbing his face and instead rested it against his open palm as he stared at Boyd with almost alarmingly clear blue eyes. "She was obsessed with the idea that I was having an affair. To the point where she would dig for evidence of it. I began to think she wanted it to be true just so she could understand and justify what else I could be hiding. She was mostly wrong about it and so could never find the proof she wanted but it didn't stop her."

He shook his head and rolled his eyes. "It was very petty, very tiring, and after coming home from an assignment where I had to blow a nineteen year old kid's brains out just because he's in an opposing faction, well I frankly didn't have the patience to deal with it. So I didn't deal with it at all. I'd ignore her, sleep on the couch and go out to the bar just to get away from her. After awhile it was obvious that she was just clinging to the marriage because she didn't want to look like a failure to her family for getting a divorce so I told her that we were getting one and that was the end of the story. I feel bad about it but it also made me realize that having a relationship with a civilian would never work. I can't relate to them and I can't tell them about anything real. I have to fucking lie about things as simple as why I look tired, why I have a headache, because I can't possibly say that pretending to be a Russian hitman for two years is pretty wearying."

The more he heard about the situation, the more Boyd felt like agents with civilian ties were in difficult situations, or at least that Kassian had had a hard time because of his associations. It had never occurred to Boyd that the fact that he'd ended up falling in love with a coworker would, in some ways, be so beneficial and lucky for him. Sin and he had enough troubles with miscommunication as it was and they were often on the same assignments. What if they weren't even on the same team? Like Ryan and Andrew, they wouldn't have been able to talk much about where they'd been or what they'd been doing. And add to that the extra stress Kassian was under as a Rank 10 who could do solo assassination or extended undercover missions... It was no wonder the man had troubles, although Kassian's wording made him wonder if there had been something else going on. Even so, despite the fact that there was a lot about Kassian that had been surprising Boyd, he still didn't think he seemed the type of person to actually cheat on someone. He didn't ask about it because he felt it wasn't his business and he probably wouldn't have answered anyway.

Trying to put that sort of thing in context with his own life, Boyd realized he couldn't imagine what it would have been like if Sin or he had been a civilian. In truth, given their personalities, he doubted they would have ever managed to get together in any form in the first place. And even if they had, regardless of it was friendship or more, it probably would have been short-lived. Trust was a very important aspect of any relationship, be it intimate or strictly work-related or a friendship. Even assuming by some wild chance they'd run into each other if one of them had been a civilian, he knew he never would have been able to gain Sin's trust without knowing his situation, what he was going through, and accepting him regardless. And he certainly wouldn't have trusted him enough to fall in love with someone he barely knew and wouldn't have seen very often.

Which made him wonder why, after going through what sounded like hell with a civilian wife, Kassian had tried again with someone else. "Why did you try with Donna or any other civilians, then? If you were interested in a relationship after that, wouldn't it have been better to try someone from the Agency?"

"I'm not interested in relationships with anyone anymore. I hung out with Donna for the hell of it. I didn't want anything more from it than that but she did, so it didn't last and now we're just friends, which is fine. I suppose if I wanted a relationship I could look to people at work but even there, it's just a headache. Nothing but problems and aggravation. Even having outside friendships with people from work can be difficult for me." He paused for a moment and tilted his head slightly as he studied Boyd. "I suppose that comes back to why I invited you over."

"To judge whether I would be another problem and aggravation?" Boyd asked with a hint of amusement. He wasn't trying to make light of Kassian's situation but he didn't really know what would distinguish him from anyone else at the Agency except that Kassian perhaps didn't know him well enough yet to judge what to expect of him.

"No. You're just easier to be around than the others," Kassian said simply. "Why do you think I was able to relax around you and not my team members, who I've known for years, when we were returning from Mexico?"

"I don't know, actually," Boyd admitted after a moment, studying Kassian with a more serious expression. "I suppose I just assumed you relaxed around anyone who was not on your team or that you somehow felt guilty for earlier interactions. Although, it's not as though I was really in the best state of mind to be analyzing much of anything. You also could have been tired from the mission you'd returned from and you could have been taking advantage of the fact that I wasn't really paying attention so you may as well have been alone. I'm a little confused as to why I would be different to be around than anyone else."

"No. It's because you don't give a shit about me one way or the other," Kassian replied bluntly.

Boyd blinked and chuckled in surprise. "Well, that makes me sound a little rude and I wouldn't spend time talking to someone I thought was uninteresting or useless. But, I suppose to an extent you're right in that your life has little bearing on my own. Even so... I could see how that wouldn't be the case for anyone on your team, but what about everyone else in the Agency? Not that I mind talking to you, but I still fail to see the major distinction."

Kassian smirked slightly, appearing amused and not at all bothered that Boyd was politely saying he was correct in his summation. "You don't expect anything from me. Others do. My team expects me to be the unshakable Senior Agent Trovosky who is level-headed and fearless and can get them through shit without freaking out or buckling under stress, under pressure. They have such high expectations of me that I feel like I'm letting them down if I show them that I can be just as physically and mentally exhausted as the next guy. Most other field agents are exactly the same way, most people that know me at the Agency in general. They know there's only two level 10s, Kassian Trovosky and Sin the Psycho. They know I'm by-the-book, that I'm serious, that I get shit done the way it's supposed to be done and that I have a high-stress job. They expect a lot from me, they always expect me to be a certain way-- to act a certain way. They can't get past the title, past the job description, past the fact that I'm high-ranking. Even Archer can't and he's my closest friend. So--"

He leaned back again and spread his hands. "You're a relief to be around. I can drink beer at ten o'clock in the morning in my messy house and tell you about my failed marriage and you won't really be in a state of shock or awkwardly silent because even if you had an idea of what I might be like, you had no real expectations of me in the first place and I'm not letting you down."

Boyd considered that for a moment. What he said was true and made sense. "Hmm. I could see that," Boyd said thoughtfully. "Prior to meeting you, I'd only ever heard about you from Sin. By the time we parted I could tell that his assessment of you wasn't entirely accurate, so even those assumptions have disappeared by now. Especially in comparison to Sin, you're probably expected to be particularly responsible and representative of your rank. It probably helps that I didn't go through years of training like everyone else did so I don't really have reason to have preconceptions about anyone; besides, even if I heard any rumors, I know enough not to listen to them. I'm a little surprised that Archer doesn't let go of that off-duty, though. Although, I suppose he did seem the type to be especially dedicated to his job. Maybe he just never leaves the mindset."

"I guess. Who knows." Kassian frowned slightly and opened his mouth to say more, but before the words could escape the phone rang once again. This time instead of springing out of his chair in relief, he made a face at Boyd. "Sorry about this." He stood up and once again walked into the kitchen to get the call.

Boyd watched Kassian go, noting the marked difference in his response to the two phone calls. After Kassian had gotten over his initial awkwardness due to having a coworker at his house, he really had seemed to relax even just during the conversation. Kassian must have felt tense for awhile about the different issues. It was his reaction to the second phone call even more than his words that underscored the truth of what Kassian was explaining.

Kassian disappeared around the corner into the kitchen and Boyd jumped slightly when he suddenly felt light pressure on his thigh. He looked down in surprise to see Peaches slowly walking onto his lap in a languid manner that seemed half a stretch and half a slink. She was staring straight up at him with her bright green eyes and with her ears perked forward; he thought he heard a faint rumbling noise that must have been her purring. He stared down at her in bemusement, not really understanding what she was thinking or why she chose that moment to get closer to him. Maybe she'd fallen asleep while he wasn't paying attention and the phone ring had woken her, and when she realized no one was looking she'd taken it upon herself to force some affection back her way by getting Boyd's attention.

She was surprisingly light; for some reason, he'd assumed that fur wasn't hiding quite that small of a body. He barely felt her even when she had fully walked onto his lap and, somehow graceful despite the awkward angles of the human body, she sat down on one thigh and balanced her front paws on his other. He stayed very still, keeping even his shoulders tense, and for a moment had no idea what to do. She hadn't broken eye contact and she seemed to be expecting something but he didn't really know what. She answered the question for him by laying down fully and butting her head lightly against his hand resting near his leg.

She was a warm weight against his legs and when he finally, lightly ran a hand down her back, she was soft and pressed into the touch. The purring sound grew a little louder and as he continued to lightly pet her, she started to tilt her head and body around to direct him toward where she wanted attention. It took him a bit to think of it, but when he scratched her near her jawline and ears, her purring increased and she started to move her front paws in a faint kneading motion that was surprisingly endearing. A gentle smile softened his expression considerably, lightening his brown eyes toward a shade of honey; he felt strangely fond of her at that moment and found that he understood on some level why people seemed to like pets. Something about her presence was rather comforting even though she wasn't doing anything but asking for affection.

For some reason, he chose that moment to look up towards the kitchen and to his surprise he saw that Kassian was standing just inside the doorway, watching him. He was still holding the phone and the intense, nearly annoyed expression on his face was most likely for whoever was on the other end. Even so, his eyes followed Boyd's movements as he pet the cat and there was a certain amount of attention focused on the view. After a short stretch he realized that Boyd was staring back at him and Kassian immediately looked away.

The conversation was longer than the first and when it finally ended, Kassian looked irritated. "The concept of downtime is obviously very foreign to my commanding officer."

Boyd let Peaches push herself against his hand as he studied Kassian. He wondered briefly why Kassian had been watching him but then it occurred to him that there had been a marked difference between how he'd first reacted to Peaches appearing and how he was petting her now. Kassian was probably noting that his cat was not only stealthy but good at also winning people over. That, or perhaps he was waiting for Boyd to do something else amusing in reaction to the cat. "Do you have a mission?"

"No," Kassian replied and sat down again. Boyd noticed that he once again had a beer in his hand. "They want me to train somebody who they're pushing for rank 9. They want him to meet a rank 10 or some nonsense. I told them to go find Vega."

"You did?" Boyd sounded and looked amused, his lips pulling up slightly on one side in a somewhat wry expression. "Do you have a vendetta against this person that makes you want to scare them away from the Agency? I can't imagine any other reason to give Sin welcoming duty."

Kassian laughed out loud at that. "I haven't met the guy yet but he sounds like some spoiled brat grandson of a General who is only getting promoted because he's the grandson of a General. As far as I've been told, he was a lazy soldier and the fact that he will even be an agent is ridiculous. I want nothing to do with training him." He shook his head, disapproval written all over his face but then he looked up suddenly, as if remembering something. "Speaking of our Unlikely Hero, where is he these days?"

Although Kassian's wording was faintly amusing, Boyd knew that Sin had been annoyed by the reactions to the fact he'd saved Vivienne. The good news was that, in general, people seemed less likely to immediately be terrified of him. However, it had also resulted in Sin receiving some curious looks as if others were wondering why or how someone so psychotic had managed to be productive and useful. That was the part in particular that was irritating to Sin and no doubt why Kassian called him an unlikely hero.

"I'm not certain." Boyd didn't realize he'd stopped petting Peaches until he felt her furry little head insistently nudging his hand. He glanced down at her briefly, automatically starting to scratch her again, before looking back up at Kassian. She seemed pleased with his decision and lightly dug her claws into the fabric of his pants. "I haven't spoken to him for several days; we haven't had any assignments lately and I've been busy so I haven't contacted him. Now that he can leave the compound whenever he likes, he doesn't have to mooch off me to do his errands anymore. Judging by past behavior, I'd assume he's probably lying around his apartment being lazy or he's working out."

"Ah." Kassian stared at Boyd thoughtfully, once again reaching up to absently rub at the blond stubble that covered his jaw and cheeks. "You know, for several months I, as well as many others, were under the impression that both of you were dead."

Boyd looked down at Peaches as he briefly hesitated, deciding how much to say. Even if Kassian had been telling him about his own life, that didn't necessitate Boyd reciprocating. He could just deflect the topic and move on. On the other hand, Kassian had been one of the people who had been trying to help and who had alerted Boyd to his own feelings when he'd accurately observed that Boyd was in love with Sin before he himself even realized it. And, truthfully, Kassian was also one main reason Sin was still alive today. He deserved a more honest response because of that.

"For several months," Boyd said in a calm tone that was slightly more reserved, "I would have preferred to be dead." He looked up to meet Kassian's eyes again, although there wasn't much that could be read from his expression. "I also thought Sin was never coming back."

"Is that why you would have preferred to be dead?" Kassian asked slowly, calmly, and without a hint of judgment in his tone.

This time, Boyd didn't hesitate, and his tone was mostly even when he spoke. "It wasn't the only reason, but it basically boils down to that, yes."

Kassian nodded and raised his eyebrows in a look that conveyed his lack of surprise as he grabbed a new bottle of beer that Boyd hadn't noticed sitting next to him and, opening it, he took a swig of beer. There was a brief silence, as though he wanted to comment further or ask a question specifically about that, but he moved on. There was no point dwelling on a topic that Boyd would most likely avoid. "The rumors of your untimely deaths, well I suppose your disappearance, had an interesting effect on my team and me."

Boyd raised an eyebrow. "How so?"

Kassian shrugged and swilled the bottle, narrowing his eyes slightly as he chose his words. "You see... Well. My team and I, we have a reputation for getting things done quickly and efficiently. Even though Vega is the model for what skills a field agent should have, what the super agent should be able to do, we're the model for how things should be done according to the Agency's rules, how to work as a team. But..." Kassian paused, an ironic smile gracing his handsome features. "We have that tragic flaw of actually managing to keep our consciences, our humanity. Archer, Harriet, Blair and I have been here for awhile and we haven't had our souls crushed quite yet.

"So since we were, since I was, responsible for bringing you back, when I found out that Vega had supposedly died regardless and that you had likely met a similar fate, it bothered me. It bothered all of us. We were sent to recover you, not to bring you back to a death sentence, and when I heard that you had simply vanished one day, what else were we supposed to assume? People don't just vanish from the Agency unless they want you to."

With everything else that had been happening, Boyd hadn't thought about how their disappearances would have affected anyone outside of their immediate unit. He wouldn't have necessarily expected Kassian's team to care, but now that Kassian mentioned it, he supposed that had probably been an unfair assumption. Although he suspected Harriet wouldn't have really minded what happened to him, regardless.

Kassian shook his head and finished his bottle of beer.  "And I felt guilty about the way I behaved towards you, so that didn't make the situation any sweeter."

"Why?" Boyd asked, not understanding the connection. It was one thing for them to feel guilty for being involved in the mission but that had little to do with how Kassian had been acting.

Kassian shrugged again, broad shoulders rising and falling under his t-shirt. "If I'd known why you were acting the way you were acting, I'd have handled the situation a lot better or at least tried to. If I'd known Vega actually meant something to you, I wouldn't have been as callous about his death, about how we were supposed to deal with his body. It just seemed to me that I brought you back to your death and made sure your last night on Earth was as painful as possible."

Boyd had had plenty of time to obsess about that mission and everything that had happened during that time. There were so many times that he'd gone over his own behavior as well as everyone else's as it had affected him that he didn't even have to deliberate the thought. As far as he was concerned, of all the people to feel guilty about the situation, Kassian and his team should have been the last.

"I disagree with that," Boyd said honestly. "First of all, there was no reason you would have known how I really felt because even I didn't at the time. Although I did consider him to be a friend, the sad truth is that most people who knew him don't; especially not his previous partners. You had no reason to assume I would have been any different; it would have been logical on your part to expect me to consider him beneath me." He paused and said frankly, "I'm not going to lie and say that was my best night, or pretend that I wasn't at any point furious and upset with you and your team. But, frankly, I was not exactly acting like a professional at the time, either; you had no reason to treat me differently than you did."

Kassian didn't look entirely convinced and when he didn't say anything, Boyd continued to further press his point.

"Besides," he said, watching Kassian with a more earnest expression, "you had already made it up to me. Despite our differences and the overwhelming evidence against the idea of him being alive, you went against orders and at least attempted to locate Sin. And when we found him, you and Harriet helped him. You attempted CPR when I doubt many other people would have. You berated Michael for his actions and assumptions, and you even took the time to try to talk to me. Honestly, by the time we parted, I no longer harbored any particular ill feelings toward you or your team; all I felt was my own guilt, regret, and worry.

"Even assuming you'd known everything ahead of time, none of us had any idea what would come of Sin so there was nothing you could have said to make the situation better. And as for responsibility -- if your team had not been called in it just would have been someone else who most likely wouldn't have given a shit that I wanted to look for Sin. They probably would have had to subdue me and drag me away against my will. We would have left the country, and Sin..." His eyes narrowed and darkened slightly. "I can't imagine he would have lived. I would have returned to the same reception, except I don't know if they would have bothered to keep me alive. Perhaps they would have actually terminated me immediately for fucking up so horribly that I not only completely failed the mission but I also got my partner killed." He shook his head, sincerity warring with the somewhat darker emotions that still rose, muffled in the background, when he thought about that time. "Honestly, Kassian... As far as I see it, you're one large reason he's still alive today."

Kassian didn't say anything at first but his mouth turned down in a slight frown, blue eyes slanting away from Boyd to stare blankly into space for a stretch of time. However after awhile he just shook his head and cleared his throat. It was clear that something was bothering him but it wasn't entirely obvious if he was uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was going in, his own thoughts, or if he was just unsure of how to reply to Boyd's praise. So he responded by taking the focus of the conversation off of himself. "You know, Michael is really kicking himself in the ass because of the way he acted. Harriet hasn't let him live it down for the past several months."

Boyd raised an eyebrow. He could see why Michael had been upset because even at that time in the plane he'd seemed somewhat sheepish. But Harriet actually caring enough not to let him live it down? That seemed strange to him, unless it was simply some sort of professional standard she was upholding. "Harriet hasn't? Why?"

"Well for one, considering she is also a field medic it horrified her that he would have that response over a highly doubtful and ridiculous assumption. She's all rah-rah equal rights, bigots suck, and I think it really bothered her that he would have let someone die because of homophobia. I think it's also been bothering her that she gave up on resuscitation so fast and when it was rumored that he'd died, she wondered if it was something she did, or didn't do, that caused his death." Kassian raised an eyebrow at Boyd, as if reading his thoughts on the situation. "Harriet isn't exactly your number one fan but she's a good person. And to be honest she isn't really anyone's number one fan. She even seems pretty less than impressed with me half the time. That's just her way."

Boyd considered that. He still reserved judgment on exactly how good of a person Harriet was, but he couldn't deny that she had helped Sin when he was hurt. Of course, she had also told Kassian to give up. Even if she felt guilty about it later, if Kassian had actually listened to her and Archer had continued to hold Boyd away, Sin very well could have died after all. He still remembered her tone and personality and couldn't say that he liked her very much. And as for her apparently having issues with Michael's comment, he didn't especially feel grateful toward her. In all honesty, as much as he'd felt even worse after hearing Michael say that, it had bothered him mostly on behalf of Sin. It was insulting for himself as well, the assumption that he was somehow diseased just because he was attracted to men, but it wasn't like he'd never dealt with homophobia before. He didn't particularly relish the idea of people who didn't even like him trying to defend him; he'd rather just defend himself as far as that went.

Maybe it was his pride that made him feel that way or maybe it was still some vague feeling of resentment toward Harriet, who had decided to hate him from before she'd ever even met him simply because of his mother. If she wanted to get all high and mighty toward Michael about him being homophobic, maybe she should consider the fact that she was not exactly being the fairest person herself. The two situations were not equal and it probably should have made him feel better knowing about all that, yet Boyd couldn't deny that it didn't entirely sit well with him to know that Harriet had been more or less on Sin and his side. He hadn't really thought anyone on Kassian's team cared for Sin, which made the situation even more odd.

"To be honest," Boyd said after a moment, "it hadn't even occurred to me that any of you would care. I didn't exactly get the impression that your team was particularly fond of Sin and none of you really knew me except, I'm assuming and as Harriet seemed to imply, through the rumors. I didn't really present myself very well and most of your team seemed to think of Sin as a frightening legend like most of the people at the Agency. I would have guessed that you all would have run into each other at some point, so that your team would have come in contact with him and known what to expect, but apparently that was never the case."

"Well, for a long time Vega wasn't allowed to wander around unsupervised or unshackled. I believe the only time Michael had ever seen him was when he was being dragged around by several guards." Kassian paused and studied Boyd. "You know, I agree with you that people treating him that way only exacerbates whatever is already the matter with him but some of it isn't entirely unfounded. He's done some bad things, he's a little unhinged, and he can be very intimidating. I just can't hold it entirely against him because I was there in the beginning and I think they are the ones who did it to him. But not everyone is aware of that, not everyone has seen the... progression. You haven't either but for some reason you just don't seem to care. That's one of the reasons why I'm pretty curious about you. It's surprising that you get along so well with him. Normally he's an asshole to everyone."

Boyd raised an eyebrow. "Well, he wasn't exactly Prince Charming to me either when I first met him. I may as well not have had a partner on the first few missions and he was probably amusing himself with seeing how long it would take for me to die." He shrugged with one shoulder. "But I suppose it's true to say I never really cared. It wasn't necessarily anything special toward him at first; I didn't care about anyone, including myself. It's just that we've both changed over time."

Kassian didn't respond right away and instead watched Boyd carefully. But then he finally crossed his arms over his chest and raised an eyebrow. "I'd have to take your word that he's changed since the last time I saw him he was in a coma but I don't know how much a change in personality can affect or cure psychosis."

For some reason, the comment mildly annoyed Boyd. He couldn't tell if it was because, despite his background, even Kassian was saying that Sin had possibly incurable problems, or if it was because he seemed to be challenging Boyd's judgment of Sin's change when Kassian had barely seen Sin for two years and Boyd had been next to him all along. Even if logically Boyd knew that Kassian had nothing invested in Sin necessarily, it was still somewhat off-putting that Kassian of all people did not seem to be giving him the benefit of the doubt. And if Kassian had already acknowledged that Boyd could accurately assess a woman he'd never met and didn't even know the name of like his ex-wife, what made him think that he was incapable of properly identifying that his partner of nearly two years had changed or that the fact he had was significant?

"Well," Boyd said mildly after a moment, meeting Kassian's eyes with a hint of an edge in his otherwise neutral gaze, "I would think the fact alone that he was sent to Monterrey in an extended undercover mission dealing with civilians implies that something changed from when you'd probably last seen him. Or the fact that my mother, of all people, deemed him trustworthy enough to let loose without the collar or supervision. I'm not certain if you've ever met my mother but she isn't exactly the type to make decisions lightly or take chances on people unless she has a damn good reason first."

"Listen Boyd, I'm aware of the fact that he's your partner and that the two of you are close and that when he's around you, he apparently shows an entirely different side of himself but that does not change the fact that he has had severe psychological problems since he arrived here and the way people have treated him has just made it worse. You don't have to believe it if you don't want to, but that's the way it is and no matter how much nicer someone can get, it doesn't change the fact that there's still something not right upstairs."

Kassian shook his head. "And I've met your mother several times and it's great that you have faith in her judgment but you have to remember that even in Monterrey, he had a chip implanted in his body and I think you've forgotten that you are his supervision. I'm not trying to argue with you but it's obvious we're going to disagree on this subject and not for nothing, but I don't think you're seeing the entire picture because of your feelings for him."

The argument didn't do much to make Boyd more inclined to agree. If anything, he felt mildly insulted. He considered himself to be a fairly analytical person and he felt that he was pretty good about identifying types of people; he often did so on missions, at least, to assess what sort of people he was dealing with and how he could use that information to his advantage. Due to that, it was insulting to feel that Kassian was implying that he couldn't properly analyze the people close to him. Or that because he had feelings for Sin then his opinion was ultimately invalid or incorrect.

"I do actually remember quite vividly that he had a chip implanted in him," Boyd said sardonically. "Given the fact that it was the reason you showed up in the first place and why I thought he was dead for awhile, it would be surprising if I forgot. That wasn't my point, or even the idea of supervision. Of course he was still being tracked; I had GPS on me, too. So maybe I should be interpreting the situation as the administration believed I was such a phenomenal agent that they could send me away to be the sole thing between a crazed, untrustworthy  Sin hurting other people like he has before and him being capable of spending most of his time around defenseless civilians, but I know for a fact that Connors never felt that highly of me."

Boyd raised his eyebrows slightly. "Instead, I took it as a sign that if Connors of all people was willing to let him out from his sight and trust him with that sort of mission where his only supervision was a person he had doubts about, then something had to have changed. It's not as though I think just because Sin acts nicer that he's a completely different person; that would be short-sighted. It's other, more natural reactions that have changed that lead me to believe that overall he is more aware of himself and in a more stable state of mind than he was before. And as for my mother, I only brought her up because she, like Connors, is not a fan of him. So for her to make a decision that gives him more agency, I felt that it was indicative of a shift in the situation. You can say my opinion is skewed all you like but I'm obviously not the only one who has concluded that something has changed."

Kassian stared at Boyd blankly for a moment before responding. "You're missing the point, Agent Beaulieu." The flat tone of his voice and the fact that he called Boyd by his title rather than his name was very telling; it showed that although they'd been getting along in a friendly manner for the past hour, he was at a point where once again he was disappointed in the way Boyd was acting and thinking regarding his partner. "I'm not saying Vega hasn't changed at all. I'm sure he has now that he isn't in an entirely hostile environment and stuck with a hostile partner. But my point, which you are missing, is that the fact that things, people's behavior, and his surroundings can trigger something in his head to make him totally snap and become a homicidal maniac, and that is a big problem. The fact that nothing has happened lately to trigger that doesn't mean anything is cured."

Boyd didn't respond right away and they both fell into an awkward, stilted silent. He looked down, partially out of need to just focus on something else. Sometime during their discussion, Peaches had fallen into a half-asleep state. Her eyes were half-closed and even though she'd stopped purring, she was still a content, warm weight on his lap. It was unfortunate that she would have to be moved soon but he wasn't going to wait at Kassian's until she stood up on her own.

In a way, Boyd almost felt like he was doing Sin a disservice by seriously discussing this sort of thing with Kassian. Who were they to sit there analyzing Sin's state of mind and prospects for the future? Boyd didn't think of Sin in terms of illness or cures, diagnoses or disabilities. Sin was just Sin, as human as anyone else, reacting in a manner that may be different than the norm but was explainable given his past and the circumstances. To him, it seemed like Kassian was just labeling Sin as 'mentally unstable' and ignoring everything else, like he was distilling Sin's existence down to the issues he sometimes had. Such as if a person wanted to say that, yes, Boyd had been somewhat more outgoing lately but ultimately he could be defined by the fact that he tended to shut down and completely withdraw in times of duress. It seemed to negate or belittle any struggle for change that had occurred and Boyd didn't like that. Even if in retrospect he could see the distinction Kassian was trying to make and what he'd apparently misinterpreted out of protectiveness toward what he felt was a slight on Sin, that didn't mean he had anything to respond to it or felt any desire to continue this conversation.

Since Sin had become a major topic of their conversation, the tension in the room had risen dramatically. They may have gotten over the initial awkwardness of their interaction and Kassian may have seemed to be more relaxed around him at the time of the second phone call, but Boyd now got the impression that it was time for his visit to end. Kassian was clearly annoyed and Boyd wasn't fairing much better himself. Even if they tried to change the topic of conversation, there was nothing that Boyd felt like talking about anymore and it wasn't worth the long, awkward silences that would now involve irritation in the background of both their thoughts. It was better at this point just to leave.

He rested his hand on the small cat's back and looked up at Kassian with his more typical neutral expression that didn't give away much of what he was thinking. "Well," he said calmly, "I've imposed on you long enough. Perhaps I should be going."

Kassian's expression didn't change and he stood up, crossing his arms loosely over his chest. It was hard to tell what he was thinking but he didn't seem terribly upset about Boyd's decision. "That's fine. I have some things I need to take care of anyway."

Carefully, because he really wasn't sure how best to go about it, Boyd tried to gently push Peaches off his lap. At first she resisted, seeming resentful of the fact that her comfortable resting spot was being denied her. It wasn't long before she stood up abruptly with a soft, reproachful meow and, flicking her tail, she padded to the center of the couch and laid down on a particularly uncomfortable lump of the blanket. He looked at her briefly as she stared at him with those glinting green eyes; she really had been warm and he wondered briefly what it would have been like if he'd had a pet at his house during the times when he'd felt very alone and removed from the world. It probably would not have worked out well; he'd hardly been in the place to take care of himself, let alone another creature dependent on him.

He stood and brushed some of the cat fur off his pants, not immediately meeting Kassian's eyes simply because it would make the moment seem even more awkward. It was mildly unfortunate that his visit was ending on this note but at the same time, he didn't agree with Kassian's assessment of Sin and he was a little annoyed by the entire thing. He'd actually been starting to enjoy Kassian's company prior to that topic but now he felt like he'd be more comfortable at home alone anyway.

He picked up his grocery bag on the way to the door, then paused with one hand on the doorknob and turned to meet Kassian's eyes again. "Thank you for the invitation," he said politely, falling back on good manners mostly out of habit and because he didn't know what else to say. "I will likely see you at work sometime."

Kassian nodded and said calmly, amiably, "Maybe. If they don't ship me off again after my downtime."

Inclining his head in acknowledgment, Boyd opened the door and turned to leave without speaking further; truthfully, he had nothing else to say and he didn't really feel like dragging the conversation out any longer. As he walked down the pathway leading from Kassian's front door, in his peripheral vision he could see that Kassian briefly watched him for a moment before he shook his head and shut the door.

He glanced briefly toward the Monroe household as he approached to see if the woman was still out there or if Bethany happened to be wandering around. It wasn't necessarily that he wanted to see her; rather, he wanted to be aware of her presence ahead of time in case she happened to recognize him and he would have to deal with another conversation. Thankfully, their front yard was empty and the car was now well on its way to drying in the open air. Despite the nice day and the gentle wind, there remained almost no one on the street. He was glad of that fact because he didn't really want to deal with anyone else at that moment, or have to act like he wasn't feeling a mixture of contemplative, troubled, and irritated over the events of that morning. What he needed at that moment was silence, isolation, and perhaps his sketchbook with a charcoal stick. That would give him the chance to unwind while also having a place to put his thoughts and feelings without having to think about how it would be interpreted or what anyone else would say.

He hitched the grocery bag higher in his hand and started walking, thinking about interactions and Kassian and Sin and, most of all, the cup of tea he would make to relax once he made it home.