Afterimage Chapter Twenty-Seven

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

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


Book One: Evenfall See Evenfall chapter list.

Book Two: Afterimage
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Afterimage Chapter Twenty-Seven

Uploaded on 3/28/2009

The staff in the medical building had decorated for the holidays, apparently trying to bring some sense of warmth and cheer to the people who were stuck there for long term-care. A wreath was hung on the main door and Christmas lights were strung along the reception desk as well as around the windows. A small Christmas tree sat on a table in the corner with tiny wrapped gifts beneath it, each the size of a ring box. Boyd shivered as he walked into the waiting area, hunched forward as he stomped a few times on the rug to loosen some of the snow that was caked on his boots.

It had been two days since he'd spoken with Ann and since then he'd learned that she'd stayed true to her word; when he'd called to ask if he could visit Ryan they'd told Boyd that his name was on the list.

Christmas Day had dawned bright and as clear as it ever got; snow had fallen overnight, coating the city in several inches of pristine, sparkling white. The day was beautiful enough that Boyd hadn't even minded having to brush all the snow off his car. Some day, he'd mused to himself, he was going to have to clean out the garage like he'd been cleaning out the attic, so he could finally use it as it was intended.

He hadn't heard from Sin yet but that didn't mean a lot considering Sin's mission was still in progress. Boyd had decided that he'd just wait until he received word from Sin and not worry about it in the meantime. He was confident that Sin would still want to talk so he knew Sin would contact him as soon as he received the message upon returning from the mission. Obsessing about it in the meantime would accomplish nothing except probably making Boyd anxious and irritable.

Instead, he'd focused his attention on what to get Ryan for Christmas. He'd wanted it to be something special, something that told Ryan he cared enough to think about him and put effort into their friendship. Especially since for the last half year Ryan may not have even known that Boyd had been trying to see him.

The same receptionist that had so often turned him away smiled at him as he approached. Her long dark hair was pulled back in a low ponytail and she wore a green cashmere off the shoulder sweater and small candy cane earrings that nicely complemented her caramel skin. He thought he remembered that her name was Vanessa.

"You came," Vanessa said warmly, her dark brown eyes bright as she smiled. "I was hoping someone would visit him today." She slid toward Boyd the visitor sign-in sheet and a pen with an obnoxious snowman on the end that made it unwieldy to work with.

He smiled slightly in return as he wrote down his name and the time. He slid the sheet back to her and adjusted the strap on his messenger bag to make it a little more comfortable. "Can I go in?"

Vanessa nodded, seeming overly pleased with the entire situation. Between her strangely good cheer and her themed outfit, Boyd suspected that she was just in an incredibly festive mood.

"Room 130," she informed him with a larger smile.

Boyd thanked her and followed the signs until he got to Ryan's room. The door was mostly shut, although there was a space that he could peer inside enough to know that Ryan wasn't in the side of the room that he could see. He hesitated, hoping Ryan wouldn't mind him suddenly appearing, then lightly knocked on the door.

There was a brief pause before Ryan's confused voice called out for him to "just come in."

Boyd pushed the door open slowly, stepping inside and letting his gaze focus on Ryan, whose eyes had opened wide in surprise.


Ryan's face split into a large smile at the sight of his friend but the rest of him was too distracting for Boyd to be able to focus on the happy expression.

Ryan was thinner than usual and he looked lost in his over-sized sweater. His black hair was longer and wilder than it had been a year ago and the darkness of his unruly spikes only made his face look paler. His cheeks were gaunt and dark circles lined his eyes, giving him a sickly, sallow appearance.

However, it wasn't just his external self that was alarming to behold. Ryan's large indigo eyes, usually so expressive and full of good cheer, had become dull.

Ryan slid off the side of his bed and continued to grin at Boyd although it dimmed considerably. He shoved his hands in the pockets of his cotton pants and shrugged almost awkwardly. "What brings you here?"

"You," Boyd said with a smile, keeping the worry and alarm out of his expression and body language. He stepped inside and mostly closed the door, the same way it had been when he'd entered. "I've been wanting to visit for awhile but there was some confusion with the name list. I hope you don't mind that I stopped by so suddenly."

"It's fine. I'm glad you're here." Ryan sat on the edge of the bed again and scratched the back of his head. "I'm just surprised."

Boyd nodded, slipped his messenger bag off, and sat down in one of the visitor's chairs near Ryan. "How are you feeling?"

Ryan didn't answer for a stretch; he looked so simultaneously distracted and thrown off by Boyd's sudden appearance that he seemed almost in a daze. When the silence went on a beat longer than necessary he looked at Boyd with an apologetic grin. "Sorry. It's just weird to see you. It's been almost a year now..."

Boyd nodded in agreement. He hadn't seen Ryan since just after being reinstated as an agent the previous spring but it seemed like it had been even longer. Although Ryan had looked somewhat sickly at that time, and during the raid when he'd been unconscious he'd looked worse, neither time compared to the gaunt man sitting in front of Boyd now.

The movements, the expressions... something about Ryan was less kid-like now; less innocently happy. He seemed more his age, a little more mature, but in the process it only seemed to emphasize how ill he looked.

Boyd leaned back in the chair. "Yeah. It's been awhile, hasn't it?"

Ryan nodded and said in a surprisingly matter-of-fact tone, "Sometimes I wondered if you guys just phased me out. Like, just got used to me not being around or something. Forgot about me."

Boyd didn't know how to answer that at first so he searched Ryan's expression. Although Ann had warned him not to expect Ryan to be the same, this was still somehow more awkward than he'd hoped for, as if their personalities didn't flow as well together as they once had. But that wasn't surprising, given everything that had happened.

"I'm sorry I wasn't able to contact you sooner." He smiled humorlessly to himself, a faint expression. "I actually tried to visit you at one point during all that but it didn't work out."

Ryan shrugged and waved his hand vaguely. "It's no big deal. I didn't really want anyone to come for a long time anyway. I barely even see Ann."

"Well, now that I know where to find you, you're stuck with me," Boyd said lightly. "Maybe I'll start popping up when you least expect it just to keep you on your toes. I could even go undercover as staff. Too much of the same thing for extended periods of time could otherwise be boring." He shrugged. "That's the way it is for me, at any rate."

Ryan chuckled but it was obvious that his heart wasn't entirely in it; it almost seemed forced. "They say I'll be out in a couple of months anyway."

Boyd nodded then fell quiet briefly. He couldn't imagine what must be going through Ryan's mind, knowing that the illness he'd lived with for the majority of his life was no longer treatable. Ryan was far too young to have to contemplate death but that was exactly what he was faced with.

Initially Boyd had thought that if he didn't focus on the illness or if he tried to stay lighthearted then Ryan wouldn't feel depressed. Now, he was starting to think that he was just forcing Ryan to try to be someone he wasn't anymore, to try to live up to the carefree Ryan of the past.

"Hey," Boyd said more seriously although his tone remained kind. He leaned forward and met Ryan's eyes. "Listen, I talked to Ann; she didn't tell me much but I know enough that you don't have to explain anything. I just want you to know that I'm here for you, Ryan. I know we haven't seen each other in a long time but I still consider you my friend. So I don't want you to think you need to be someone you aren't anymore. You don't have to force yourself around me."

Ryan gazed at Boyd solemnly for a moment before the corners of his mouth turned up into a small smile. "Do you really still think of me as a friend? I thought you'd forgotten about me..."

"I'll never forget about you, Ryan," Boyd said sincerely. "I know the receptionist's name because I bothered her several times trying to get in here to see you. Ann had it set to family-only to protect you and I was only recently added to the list. I would've been here earlier if not for that."

"Oh, that." Ryan sat further back on the bed and allowed his legs to swing lightly against the bed rail. "It's probably not her fault. I implied I didn't want anybody here. I just got tired of the pity, I guess, or people treating me like a child even more than usual just 'cause I'm sicker."

"That's understandable," Boyd replied. "And she didn't know I was trying, either; as soon as she found out she cleared me."

Ryan nodded and looked away with a small frown. "I guess I should thank her for that at some point..."

Boyd could tell by Ryan's expression that he wasn't looking forward to it. "You're not getting along with her lately?" he asked curiously. "Or is it the same over-protectiveness as before?"

Ryan released an explosive sigh and his bangs went flying upwards in an almost comical fashion. He rolled his eyes at himself and finally cracked one of his old grins. "I dunno. She's just... yeah. I just don't want anyone trying to control me anymore. I'm tired of people thinking they know what's best for me, you know? Like the way stuff is right now... I got to start making my own decisions or I'll never get to."

Boyd nodded in understanding. "Do you have any decisions in the making, things you're planning?"

"Kinda..." Ryan sighed and screwed up his face. "But there's no use seriously planning anything until I'm out of this crappy place."

"I don't know about that," Boyd said thoughtfully. "It completely depends on what you're planning. What if you wanted to start a new hobby? Drawing, writing... There's a lot you could start even in here if you were interested in it."

"That's true." Ryan looked at Boyd seriously and glanced at the door before adding quietly. "Honestly, most of my plans revolve around getting out of the Agency."

Boyd raised his eyebrows slightly, not disapprovingly but simply because it was a stark contrast from the Ryan he knew before who had spent his life on the compound. That Ryan had been nearly agoraphobic about leaving even for a few hours. Boyd opened his mouth to reply but before he could speak there was a brisk knock on the door and a nurse walked in with a smile.

"Hi, sorry to interrupt." She looked at Ryan expectantly. "It's time for your tests."

Ryan looked at the woman unhappily and sighed, sliding off the bed in an almost sullen manner. "Sorry, Boyd..."

"It's no trouble," Boyd said easily. "I can always come back another time. But first..." He leaned over and opened his messenger bag. "I brought you a Christmas present. If it's okay?" He looked toward the nurse who nodded.

"Of course," she said. "I'll just wait outside." She walked out of the room, leaving the door half open where she could still be seen, although she was looking down the hallway to give them some sense of privacy.

Boyd returned his gaze to Ryan briefly before he looked down at his bag and slid out the canvas he'd brought with. It was a small rectangular watercolor painting of the city's skyline with a sunset tingeing the sky a range of red to pale lavender. The sky dominated the painting, taking up more than half the space. There were far fewer clouds than there were in reality and the buildings were silhouettes with faint splashes of color here and there as if to signify light reflected off the windows. In the lower right corner there was a small signature that simply read 'Boyd.'

Boyd held the painting out to Ryan with a mildly self-conscious expression. "I'm not very good with color," he explained a little apologetically. "I usually work with charcoal or pencil. But I didn't know what to get you and then I thought you'd probably seen less of the sky than normal. I remembered how much you liked it, so... I thought I'd bring some of it to your room until you can get out to experience it yourself again."

Ryan's eyes focused on the painting before they slowly rose to meet Boyd's gaze and this time the smile that crossed his face was huge. It lit up his entire face and he looked like his old self again. "It's amazing!"

Before Boyd could reply, Ryan leaned forward and pulled him into a hug. Boyd couldn't help a large smile of his own as he returned the hug. Ryan was skinnier and bonier than he remembered but it felt good nonetheless.

"I'm really glad you came," Ryan admitted quietly against Boyd's ear. "Thank you."

"I'm glad I was able to see you," Boyd said sincerely. He let the hug linger a little longer before he gently pulled away, knowing that the nurse was waiting. He let his hands rest on Ryan's upper arms briefly. "You still have my number, right?"

"Yeah. Listen..." Ryan frowned slightly and looked sheepish. "I don't really-- I mean.. it's just kind of... embarrassing to me for you to see me here. So can I call you when I'm out?"

"Of course," Boyd said, smiling easily, dropping his hands. He could understand that, given how Ryan was about his illness and not wanting to appear vulnerable. "We'll have some sort of nerdy celebration. And if you find yourself becoming bored in the meantime and you want someone to talk to you can always call me. Any time. Wake me up in the middle of the night if you need to."

Ryan looked relieved and he beamed at his friend happily. "Great! I wish I could talk longer... I have so much I wanted to ask you but it can wait until later. I'll be in a much better mood when I'm out of here."

Outside the door, the nurse cleared her throat quietly as if to signal that she was still waiting. Ryan made a face before he placed the painting on his bed carefully. "Thank you, Boyd. Seriously."

Boyd knew Ryan was thanking him for the painting as well as for visiting. "It's my pleasure," Boyd said sincerely as he stood and readjusted his messenger bag on his shoulder. He hesitated before turning to leave. "Just take care of yourself, okay?" He meant the words as much as Ryan had meant the thank you.

"I'll try," Ryan replied with a humorless smirk. "But I dunno if it's up to me anymore."

The shorter man reached up and squeezed Boyd's shoulder before he slipped out the door.

Boyd followed Ryan to the hallway and watched Ryan turn the corner with the nurse; after that, Boyd turned to leave. Despite the somber setting, he was happy that he'd finally been able to see Ryan, especially on a holiday. He hadn't known how long he would be able to visit with Ryan so he was just glad he'd had the chance to see him at all.

It made him happy to know how much Ryan had appreciated the painting; while Boyd had been working on it, he hadn't been sure how it would turn out or even what Ryan's mood would be, whether he'd just think it was a stupid gift. Although there were definite differences, he could still see parts of the old Ryan in his friend, which he was gratful for. When Ryan got out and they met up again they would have more time to get reacquainted with each other and how they had changed.

As Boyd was walking down the hallway he idly looked into the rooms he passed; he was only half paying attention to what he saw and ended up coming to an abrupt halt several steps past Room 100. There were a few other people in the hallway but no one paid him heed as he turned and peered around the door to check if he'd seen correctly.

Cade lay in a hospital bed along the far wall. The curtains on the windows were half drawn, casting little light on his pale face. Boyd hesitated at the door but when he glanced around no one seemed to care that he was there so he walked into the room and stood next to the bed.

It had been nearly a month since he'd last seen Cade and the man looked terrible. He was attached to an IV and his heart rate was monitored on a small screen nearby. His skin was ashen, far paler than Boyd ever would have expected to see given Cade's naturally caramel tone; even his lips looked dry and cracked.

It wasn't immediately clear what exactly his wounds were other than something on his head judging by the bandage; whatever they were, they'd long ago been sewn up and fixed to the best of the medical staff's ability. Cade lay utterly still and if it weren't for the heart monitor and the occasional slightly hitched breath, Boyd would have thought the man was dead.

Boyd stared quietly at Cade's unconscious form, feeling somber. There were times during their training that he almost would have welcomed this simply because it meant Cade was too sick to be an ass, that his recklessness and arrogance had finally gotten him into a position where he couldn't carry on as he had before. There had been times he probably would have thought Cade deserved something like this, just to remove some of his arrogance.

But despite any differences between them or any effort Cade had put into alienating everyone around him, they were still allies. Cade was still a fellow field agent, someone who had saved Boyd's life. In other circumstances, if Cade had been a little slower to catch up to him at Annadale Beach, that could have even been Boyd in the hospital bed instead. Assuming he wouldn't have just been killed and left to rot.

Although Boyd didn't know what exactly had happened to land Cade in that bed he knew it had happened during the solo mission. Despite Cade's attitude, he at least had to be given credit to have made it that far into Level 10 training; especially since Boyd had honestly never expected the man to last that long given his personality.

Noticing what appeared to be a file folder with some sheets of paper in it resting on a table, Boyd's curiosity got the better of him. He leaned across the bed over Cade's shoulders with the intention of seeing if it was medical information about Cade's condition. In the process, he accidentally bumped the bed and placed a hand on the mattress to steady himself. Just as he grabbed the folder and was bringing it over Cade's face, he was completely startled by a hand suddenly gripping his wrist.

He looked down in surprise and found Cade's eyes barely open, cracked just enough to show a glint of light between his eyelashes. "Lucas?" Cade whispered, his voice hoarse and slurred with drugs or lack of sleep.

"Ah," Boyd whispered in return, too startled to immediately be able to think of an excuse. "I..."

"You came," Cade mumbled, seemingly unaware of the fact that Boyd had said anything. Cade's expression twisted into something sad and regretful, but he also almost secretly pleased. His eyes slid closed again as if it was too difficult for him to keep them open.

"Cade," Boyd said slowly, feeling awkward about the situation. "I'm not Lucas." Boyd had no idea who Lucas even was, but it didn't matter since Cade didn't seem to be listening. His voice was slurred, confused, as if he was delirious or not fully aware that he was speaking.

"I'm sorry. I..." Cade's heart rate spiked briefly as if he was thinking about something that upset him. "I should've..."

"Cade," Boyd said more strongly, dropping the folder onto the mattress so he could put his free hand over Cade's. "Calm down. You were hurt and you're in the hospital."

Cade shook his head blearily. "I know, I know, it's my fault..."

"It's not your fault," Boyd said firmly, even though he suspected it probably had been. Knowing Cade, most likely the reason he'd been so grievously injured on a solo was because he'd let his arrogance lead him to overestimating his abilities or underestimating his enemy's. Cade was clearly in a delusional state and could easily become distressed, though, so Boyd saw no reason to upset him further. "It was an accident. You'll be okay."

"You always..." Cade's expression twisted and he looked almost sad. "Why?"

"Why what?" Boyd asked after a moment when it was clear Cade wasn't going to continue.

"Protect me, you always... care..." Cade drew a deeper breath and seemed to honestly be struggling with an emotional issue far deeper than Boyd would have thought Cade was capable of feeling. Cade had always seemed like such an arrogant, macho, emotionally stunted person that it was difficult to reconcile that with the man lying in the clinic bed, looking like he was ready to cry. "I treated you like shit and still... Why? Just because we're brothers, but I... just watched... If Evan hadn't..."

Boyd fell quiet as he had no idea how to respond to that. Cade obviously thought he was this Lucas, apparently a brother, but it didn't sound like they were close. The entire conversation was completely bizarre to him and, truthfully, saddening. Whatever Cade's history was, Boyd got the feeling that Lucas wouldn't actually be visiting even if Cade wasn't in a secret location.

"I don't understand," Cade whispered, his eyes moving sluggishly beneath his eyelids, as if he was seeing something instead of simply blackness or he was trying to find the energy to open his eyes again. "How'd you find me? How..."

"Cade..." Boyd started to say again but Cade cut him off.

"Does Dad know?" There was something about Cade's tone that Boyd couldn't identify. "About this. Can you... go home?"

"Cade, I'm not Lucas," Boyd said gently, trying to release Cade's fingers from his wrist. "I'm Boyd. I work with you." This was getting too far into the territory of personal information and Boyd didn't want to feel like he was taking advantage of Cade's vulnerability.

"What?" Cade asked, shaking his head again as his eyebrows drew together in confusion. He seemed to be struggling to open his eyes again. "I don't..."

"You need to rest," Boyd insisted, finally managing to get Cade's hand off his wrist and lowering Cade's hand gently to the mattress.

Cade frowned and his eyes barely slid open, not enough for him to appear to be able to see anything. He blinked a few times but Boyd could really only tell because Cade's eyelashes shifted. Cade raised his hand up slowly as if searching for Boyd but when Boyd stayed away from his touch, Cade drew his eyebrows down and after a moment appeared to give up. His hand dropped limply to the bed, the effort appearing to have taken all his energy as his eyes slid closed once more.

"I'm so sorry," Cade mumbled, his words slurring and truly regretful as he seemed to be falling unconscious again. "I thought you'd come back..."

Boyd watched Cade, feeling sad for him without even understanding the situation, and said quietly, "Just rest."

Cade didn't answer and it quickly became apparent to Boyd that he was asleep. Boyd hesitated briefly and started to turn. He remembered the folder and decided he no longer wanted to look into Cade's status; he didn't want to pry into Cade's life any more than he already had. He picked up the folder and carefully leaned over Cade to slide it back onto the table where he'd initially seen it.

Without giving Cade a chance to wake up, Boyd left the room and didn't look back.

Boyd struggled to carry the awkward load of collapsed boxes as he carefully opened his front door and navigated his way down the steps. The snow was fluffy and not too slippery, which was fortunate since he couldn't see very well where he was going.

He was covered in dust and cobwebs and his arms ached from moving boxes around in the attic, but after he'd left the medical building earlier that morning he'd suddenly felt inspired to tackle the project again.

It had seemed appropriate to sort through memories and old items on Christmas Day.

There were still quite a few boxes to look through but at least he'd been able to start some piles of things to keep, sell, and ask his mother if she wanted; so far, he already had one and a half garbage bags of junk to throw away. The collapsed cardboard boxes had become a nuisance as they'd kept sliding down the wall they were leaned against so he'd finally decided to bring them outside to recycle. The garbage would be collected tomorrow so he'd already dragged the containers down to the end and side of his driveway.

Just as he maneuvered his way to the garbage bins and was trying to bend the boxes so they'd fit in the recycling container, he felt the hairs on the back of his neck raise. He faintly heard the nearby roar of a motorcycle and Boyd looked up sharply, feeling like someone was watching him, and he looked around for the source. After a moment he noticed the motorcycle rider coming down his street, wearing a full helmet. The person parked on the street in front of his house.

Boyd stood and watched with narrowed, suspicious eyes and casually shifted, keeping the container between him and the newcomer. He didn't have any weapons with him but if the person had wanted to shoot him they would have done so already and for defense against any other weapon he stood a decent chance of improvising with any of the items near him.

The rider turned the bike off and sat up, gazing at Boyd through the darkened glass of the helmet for a long moment before gloved hands reached up and pulled it off.

Kassian grinned at Boyd. "Pretty sweet, huh?"

Boyd raised his eyebrows in surprise, both from Kassian's unexpected appearance as well as the fact that Kassian apparently now had a motorcycle. Boyd dropped the rest of the cardboard into the container and let the lid fall closed as he walked over to the bike, his gaze running along it.

Boyd didn't know much about motorcycles but he could tell it was obviously a sports bike. It was black and silver with sleek, angular lines and a low windshield. As he circled to the front, he saw the BMW logo along with K2200 S in light grey letters written along the side.

"Wow," Boyd said, impressed. He ran a hand lightly along the front and looked up to meet Kassian's eyes. "Changed your mind about your sisters, I take it?"

"Nah." Kassian hopped off the bike and smirked, bright blue eyes twinkling. "I got it as a Christmas present for myself. I kept the truck too."

"Nice," Boyd said in definite approval. He looked down at the bike again, impressed by the power it looked like it held. He wanted to drive it just to see how fast it could go. "How does it handle?"

Kassian raised an eyebrow. "Wouldn't you like to know."

Boyd glanced up at Kassian, wondering if the man was taunting him because he could see how interested Boyd was in the bike. As much as Boyd wanted to pretend he was unaffected, he was far too enamored with the motorcycle to be able to pull it off.

"Oh come on," Boyd said with a quirked eyebrow. "If you came over here just to gloat about your new bike and not even tell me what the ride's like, I'm seriously going to kick your ass."

"You wish you could, kid," Kassian replied with a wink. He shrugged off his backpack and struggled to unzip the bulky canvas bag before producing a second helmet. He pushed it against Boyd's chest and grinned again. "Your Christmas present from me. Wanna go for a ride?"

Boyd automatically reached up to hold the helmet and his eyes widened in excitement. He really did look like a kid getting a Christmas present as he glanced between the motorcycle and Kassian. "Today?" he asked in a mixture of excitement and hopefulness.

"Anytime you want and I'm around, kiddo. The helmet is yours," Kassian said with a friendly grin.

Boyd was strangely touched by the thought and for a second he stared at Kassian, unconsciously hugging the helmet to his chest.

Lately, he wasn't used to anyone giving him anything just to be kind. The only two gifts he'd received in the past six years had been when Sin had given him Lou's necklace, which had been with the best of intentions but had involved so much else that it couldn't really be said to make Boyd happy, and the jasmine tea that Sin had given him in Monterrey to make up for their rather vicious argument earlier.

Not since Lou had someone given Boyd something unexpected, unprovoked and without expectations; something that made him happy simply because.

The gift would have been great enough for one ride but it really meant a lot to him that Kassian was offering more, that he was in effect saying he liked spending time with Boyd and was inviting him to hang out more. Not to mention, this involved a motorcycle that greatly appealed to the adrenaline junkie in Boyd.

A wide grin grew across Boyd's face, far larger and more genuinely happy than he had shown in quite some time. His typically neutral and serious expression brightened considerably and even his honey brown eyes seemed a shade lighter in response.

"That's really... Thank you, Kassian," he said sincerely, then added like an excited little kid, "Are we going now?"

Kassian shook his head at Boyd, looking truly amused and equally satisfied by the response. Instead of speaking, he put his own helmet on and got back on the bike, jerking his head at Boyd in an obvious invitation to hop on as well.

Boyd didn't waste a second. "Hold on," he said happily and started to turn to his house but Kassian called him back, asking him to drop the backpack off as well. Boyd grabbed the backpack and immediately jogged back to his house to grab his coat and gloves and lock the door behind him.

Once outside, he put the helmet on and climbed onto the back of the bike, slipping his arms around Kassian's waist and holding on lightly as they pulled out onto the street. The motorcycle hummed beneath them and Boyd couldn't stop grinning even before they'd left Cedar Hills neighborhood.

Kassian ended up driving them out to the bombed out suburbs that spanned the outskirts of the eastern and southeastern areas of the city like its own miniature wasteland. No one lived out that far except the type of people who were trying to escape notice so no one was there to care about how fast they went. It wasn't until they got there that Boyd truly got a taste of the motorcycle's capabilities.

The bike went from zero to sixty miles per hour in less than three seconds and handled beautifully on the snowy terrain. The further they got from civilization, the slipperier the roads became because there hadn't been traffic or plows to pack it down. Even so, Kassian was able to go fast enough that Boyd had to press against the man's back and hold him tightly to stay on, and Kassian found enough obstacles to wind around to make it exciting.

Kassian brought them around corners with ease and Boyd actually found himself laughing on more than one occasion simply because he was having so much fun. He hadn't experienced such carefree enjoyment in a very long time; he couldn't remember the last time he'd just done something with someone else to have fun and there hadn't been caveats involved or other things happening that made it impossible for him to simply feel a positive emotion and nothing else.

Boyd found that he actually enjoyed riding more than he thought he would have if he'd had the opportunity to drive instead. This way he was able to look around, to watch the broken buildings blur around them indistinguishably, to throw his head back and stare at the clouds flying overhead as Kassian and he wound through the suburban streets like children in their own personal playground.

Boyd's heart was pounding with adrenaline but it had nothing to do with life or death, it was purely related to enjoyment. He grinned so much that his cheeks actually started to hurt and he still he couldn't stop, not even when Kassian finally turned the bike around and drove them back to the city. By the time they arrived back in front of Boyd's house and Kassian had parked the bike on the street again, Boyd's legs almost tingled as he hopped off and stood to the side, yanking the helmet off so quickly his hair blurred around him as he beamed at Kassian.

"That was fucking awesome," Boyd enthused with a huge grin.

"It's pretty amazing," Kassian agreed, taking off his own helmet. "I had a feeling you'd appreciate it considering your taste in cars and men. Fast, powerful and dangerous and all that stuff, right?"

Boyd laughed. "You got me."

Kassian waggled his eyebrows but let the topic drop after that. "I went and got it last night right before they closed. Remember that saleslady?"

"Christina?" Boyd asked in amusement. "Did she give you a deal for all that flirting?"

"Nah but she gave me her number. I told her I'd take her for a ride. I wonder if she realized what I meant by that though." Kassian leered at Boyd.

Boyd chuckled and shook his head. "You're hopeless," he said good-naturedly.

"I know." Kassian wiped a hand across his face, brushing snow away. It had begun to mist on the way back into the city. "So what are you up to on this wonderful Christmas day?"

"Oh," Boyd said with a bemused smile. "I'm organizing my attic. It's very exciting."

A gust of wind blew suddenly and Kassian turned his face to the side, narrowing his eyes against it as he stared down at the younger agent. "Fun stuff. Want some company?"

"What?" Boyd asked in surprise. At first he thought Kassian was joking but when he looked at him he could tell he was serious. "Well of course you're welcome to stay but don't you have more interesting plans?"

Kassian made a face. "Being depressed and getting drunk was my grand plan for today. With all of my family far away and this city being a big reminder of how lame my life is now, Christmas isn't that fun anymore."

"Well," Boyd said easily, "then I guess my Christmas present to you is an invitation to hang out. I don't even have to work on the attic today, I was just bored. We could do something else."

"Nah, that's fine." Kassian followed Boyd as he headed towards the house. "I don't mind helping out."

Boyd raised an eyebrow, glancing over his shoulder as he unlocked the door and they walked inside. "You do realize attic organizing includes a great deal of energy, dust, cobwebs, and bizarre fads from twenty years ago."

Kassian unzipped his leather jacket and shrugged it off, revealing a heavy sweatshirt. "Don't let my messy place fool you, kid. I'm pretty handy around the house."

Boyd couldn't help an amused smirk. "Well, if you're that intent I'm not about to dissuade you."

He shut and locked the door behind them and with a happy little smile, set his new helmet on a table nearby. He put his coat and gloves away in the closet, holding his hand out for Kassian's jacket so it could be hung up as well.

"So what even made you decide to take on this sudden desire for attic organization today?" Kassian asked as Boyd put his now damp jacket away. Kassian wandered further into the house and looked around, peeling off his gloves and shoving them in the back pocket of his jeans.

"I've been working on it on and off and I didn't have anything else to do today," Boyd replied. "And I guess it seemed appropriate; sort of like spending time with family, even though it's just a bunch of dusty memories." Boyd started to head toward the hallway but paused near Kassian.

"Do you want anything? Food? Drink? A tour?" He asked the last slightly jokingly although he would have no problem showing Kassian around the house.

"I'm good," Kassian replied, following him down the hall although his eyes did sweep over the interior as they went through the house and headed up to the attic.

Everything was just as Boyd had left it earlier to take the boxes out; the second floor and attic lights were still on and the ladder to the attic was still extended. Boyd climbed up into the attic first then stepped back, making sure to stay clear of the single low-hanging bulb. He slid his hands into his back pockets as he looked around trying to figure out how to do this with two people. So far he'd placed most of the boxes in piles according to what he thought was inside and he'd gone through several boxes in what he had assumed was the junk pile.

He turned just as Kassian climbed into the attic. "So how do you want to help? You could supervise from afar, make garbage trips, dig through the boxes with me... The options are endless. Any preferences?"

"I'll go through stuff." Kassian looked around the space and made a face. "It's hot as hell up here."

"I know." Boyd pulled some hair behind his ear as he crouched near a box and peered inside. "It's always been that way but seems to get worse with time."

Kassian just nodded as he started to work on a box of his own, sifting through it with what looked like genuine interest. It wasn't every day he got to go through Vivienne Beaulieu's old junk.

They spent the next hour sorting through the various boxes. Kassian stopped now and then to ask what Boyd wanted to do with particular items and Boyd directed him to the proper piles for each.

There was a comfortable silence between them that was broken after a long while when Kassian chuckled quietly. He was flipping through what appeared to be an old photo album. "You must be like six here."

"What?" Boyd asked, looking over curiously. He set down the papers he'd been looking at and walked over by Kassian. "I didn't know we had any albums..."

"Who's the Goldilocks with the curly hair?" Kassian asked, indicating a picture. It was of Boyd and Lou at the beach. "He's in a lot of pictures."

Boyd peered over Kassian's shoulder. "That's Lou; he was my best friend."

"Ah, the kid who liked Deftones and Static X." Kassian shook his head slightly and a flicker of sadness crossed his expression. "What a damn shame."

Boyd made a sound of assent and crouched next to Kassian so he could see the photo album more clearly. He hadn't realized anyone in his family had ever made a photo album; he could only assume it had been his father's creation, since his mother wasn't the type for memorabilia. It was strange seeing himself so young and even stranger seeing pictures of a childhood Lou. Boyd's last memories of Lou were at age sixteen; a decade before his death, Lou had been just as bright-eyed and mischievous-looking as ever.

Boyd smiled to himself, staring at the picture. "The sad thing is, I don't fully even remember that day... What else is in there?"

Kassian pushed the book toward Boyd. "Why don't you check it out? There are some really old looking pictures in there."

"Really?" Boyd settled down more comfortably by sitting cross-legged and set the photo album over his knees. He started at the beginning and idly started flipping through. The first thing that surprised him was that there were old photographs of his parents, when they'd been even younger than he was now.

The first two pages of the album had what seemed to be a handful of pictures taken in France. There were two pictures that seemed to be taken at the same sidewalk cafe, although on different days. Although the cafe was crowded without even a single empty table, Boyd was easily able to pick out his young mother in with the unfamiliar faces. Vivienne looked to be sixteen or seventeen years old, her pale blond hair long enough that it tumbled in a loose, low ponytail to her lower back. She wore a crisp white button-up shirt and a skirt that showed off well-toned calves.

Although she was thinner and had fewer curves than she had now, Boyd had to admit that even in a mundane setting she managed to look quite pretty. The light hit her hair in a way that made it shine and her body language was less cold and foreboding than she'd portrayed for most of Boyd's life. She was standing partially turned away from the camera and appeared to be waitressing, judging by the small pad and pencil in her hand as she looked expectantly at the people staring at their menus at the table in front of her.

The picture next to that was an action shot of Vivienne about the same age and location, this time her hair in a loose braid starting to slip over her shoulder as she leaned over one of the few tables without people. The place looked equally crowded as in the first picture and she seemed to be reaching down to pick up some mugs left on the table in front of her. She was several feet away and she was just looking over at the camera with a startled expression, far more caught off guard than Boyd had ever seen his mother be in his life.

"Your mom was hot back in the day," Kassian commented mildly. "She's too mean to be hot now."

"Heh." Boyd stared in bemusement at his teenage mother. "Her personality is rather difficult to get past now," he agreed.

Boyd hadn't realized she'd ever been a waitress; it seemed bizarre to him to imagine her in a position that was in any way subservient to someone else. Although she was adept at public relations, he never would have thought she'd be able to handle customer service on a smaller, more personal scale. She seemed like the type of person who wanted to be in control, not to have others tell her what they wanted.

This made him wonder about his parents when they'd been younger. What had she imagined her life would be? What had his father? As far as that went, he wondered about where they'd come from. All he knew was his mother was from France, his father was from Canada, and that his mother had a Parisian accent when she spoke French but once in awhile it seemed to slip to something else.

He turned the pages and saw a few touristy shots of Cedrick and Vivienne in France, some photographs of the two together and some where one was apparently taking a picture of the other. Boyd recognized some of the landmarks from his time in Paris with Thierry, although Boyd had seen them broken and rundown due to the war while these pictures showed them perfectly in tact. The sky was bright blue and clear in most of the pictures, which was unsurprising since the war hadn't started until probably a few years after these photographs.

In most of the pictures, Cedrick had a huge grin and Vivienne looked more reserved; she seemed either bored with the tour or somehow distracted. She smiled quietly in a few but the expression wasn't sincere; it seemed like she was simply being polite for the camera. Despite that, she seemed relaxed and comfortable.

She was dressed casually with a fitted deep blue tank top and a white flowing skirt that went just past her knees and was moving in the wind in most pictures. Her hair was loose although a bandanna with an intricate pattern held it back from her face. Cedrick wore brown cargo pants and a dark green t-shirt that said 'Bruxelles' on it with some sort of graphic that couldn't be recognized from afar.

In one particularly memorable picture, Cedrick must have at the last second grabbed Vivienne around the waist and appeared to be pretending to throw her over an overlook behind them. She was laughing, her feet lifted off the ground with one heeled boot kicked backward a little, her hands gripping his forearms as if she planned to bring him down with her. Even with the distance of the camera it was obvious that her expression had softened considerably from the rest of the pictures.

Boyd stared, eyebrows raised. He had never given much thought to whether his mother was attractive but whereas he thought she'd looked pretty in the waitress picture, in this one he thought she actually looked beautiful. Without a hint of the cold exterior he was used to, in that picture she seemed human and in love. He couldn't think of the last time he'd seen his mother truly smile, let alone look genuinely happy like she did there.

"Wow," Boyd said in bemusement. "She can smile."

"Is your father dead?" Kassian asked unexpectedly. "I assume that guy is your dad, right?"

"Yes, that's my father," Boyd said, staring down at the face that was familiar but a little blurred to him from memory. He looked up at Kassian calmly. "Cedrick. He died in the second wave-- he was a journalist covering a story in New York."

"Ah." Kassian studied the pictures and looked intrigued by them but he didn't say anything else.

Boyd flipped through a few more pages and only paused again when he found pictures of himself as a baby. There were two close-up pictures of Boyd, one where he seemed irritable and crying and another where he looked half-asleep. Another picture was of Cedrick with a huge grin holding Boyd next to the hospital bed, where Vivienne lay with her hospital gown a little askew at her shoulders, looking frazzled and exhausted. They both looked to be in their late teens to early twenties.

But what made Boyd draw his eyebrows down and lean closer to the photo album, intrigued, was a picture of several people around the hospital bed. Vivienne was still in bed; this time she was the one holding Boyd and although in the other picture Cedrick had been holding Boyd tightly and grinning hugely, Vivienne was holding Boyd a little away from her body and looked tired.

Standing surrounding the bed were Cedrick and three people Boyd had never seen before. A stocky man who looked to be in his mid-forties stood beside Cedrick; he had the same huge grin as Cedrick and same chin but he was taller with hazel eyes and his dark brown hair was slowly starting to turn silver on the sides. He had his arm around a woman next to him, looking just a few years older than him with black hair and friendly, deep brown eyes; she had one hand over the man's hand on her waist and she was smiling happily.

Between them and Cedrick was a third man who looked to be a few years older than Cedrick; he had the same brown hair as Cedrick but his eyes were a darker brown and although he was smiling, he looked distracted. He was taller than Cedrick by a few inches and seemed to have a leaner build.

On a table at the edge of the picture, several large vases with flowers could be seen along with a little teddy bear wearing a blue shirt. A balloon could just barely be seen in the upper right corner, reading at an angle, 'Congratulations! It's a boy!'

"Interesting..." Boyd muttered.

"What?" Kassian raised an eyebrow at Boyd, looking somewhat puzzled. "You've never seen any of these pictures before?"

"No," Boyd said with a slight frown. "I didn't know this existed-- we don't really even keep family photos on display so I never guessed there was an album anywhere."

Boyd let his finger run over Cedrick and the three people he didn't recognize. "I wonder if these are my grandparents? I've never seen them before but I heard a story once... I wonder why he didn't show me this album when he talked about it."

Kassian studied the picture and frowned thoughtfully. "You never met any of them? Your dad seems like a family-oriented guy or at least in these pictures he does."

"No." Boyd's expression was only a little somber as he stared at the faces of his relatives, of people he'd never have the chance to know. His fingers absently trailed along his grandfather's face before he looked up at Kassian again. "They died shortly after I was born."

Kassian nodded and looked at the picture again. "What about the other guy? He looks like your dad."

Boyd frowned slightly and studied the young man standing next to his father. "I don't know. I don't remember hearing about an uncle but I don't know who else he'd be. Maybe I just forgot."

"They resemble each other enough." Kassian began looking through the box again. "No more albums in here."

Boyd nodded and set the album to the side in a pile of items he intended to bring down and look through more closely later. He stood and dusted off his pants. "I'm going to look through the rest of the boxes."

As time passed, Boyd ended up finding stacks of old papers his father had written piled in a box. He lifted them out and held them up to see them better in the light; they were printed pages and appeared to be the beginning of some sort of murder mystery novel. His father's handwriting scrawled across the pages here and there, with notes and grammatical changes in blue ink.

Boyd smiled to himself, feeling a sense of fond nostalgia. It reminded him of the scary stories his father used to tell Lou and him in this same attic as they all hunched over a small flashlight. He set the papers to the side in an empty box, careful to keep the pages in order as they weren't all numbered, and he planned to bring the box down to his room to read the story later.

In a box hidden beneath and behind that one, he found old shirts and sweaters his father had once worn. He held them up in front of him and could see that his father's build had been larger than his own; it was interesting to think about what they would have looked like next to each other but saddening to know it would never happen.

He was just about to push the cardboard box to the side when he noticed a beat-up wooden box hidden beneath the layers of clothing. He pulled the box out, curious, and saw that it had a small lock on the front. "Huh."

"What's up?" Kassian asked without looking up.

"Not sure," Boyd said, carefully turning the box around to study it. The wood was scratched and worn in several places and for the most part it looked wholly unremarkable. If he hadn't found it hidden away he would have thought nothing of it but something about it made him very curious about what was inside. When he tilted the box he didn't hear anything rattle but he could feel something shift. "An old box buried under his shirts."

Kassian looked up from his close examination of one of the pictures and glanced in Boyd's direction. "It's locked?"

Boyd tried opening it just in case the lock was broken but it wouldn't budge. "Seems so." He set the wooden box next to him and looked through the cardboard box again. "Maybe there's a key..."

"We could bust it open," Kassian suggested, sitting up straighter and squinting at the tiny lock.

"Hmm." Boyd continued to study the lock. "Think we can do it without harming the box?"

Kassian shrugged and stood up, walking over to where Boyd was sitting. He made a face and shook his head, pulling off his sweatshirt and tossing it into the corner. He was literally sweating from the intensity of the heat in the attic.

He crouched down next to Boyd and took the box, eyeballing the lock critically. "We can probably pry it off with something."

Kassian looked around the attic and spotted an old toolbox in the corner. He grabbed it and popped it open, rummaging around until he found a screwdriver. It didn't take long to pry the lock off and Kassian handed the box to Boyd, leaving the actual opening up to him. "You could have done that yourself but whatever."

Boyd didn't look over; he said an absent thank you and pried the box open, peering inside. There was a plastic baggy on top that had a few items that he didn't know the meaning of but probably had been mementos for the owner of the box. Boyd carefully lifted that out and set it to the side.

Underneath, he found over a dozen small leather-bound journals. He picked up the first one and unwound the strap holding it closed. When he opened the journal, he found his father's small, neat handwriting filling the pages. The date at the top of the first page was July 26, 1997 and as he flipped through he found that the entries went through the rest of that year. He let his fingers slide along the page briefly, feeling a subtle connection to his father.

He didn't take the time to start reading because he knew he would get too distracted but he did pull out a few random other journals to determine that they spanned until 2007 and didn't all appear to be only journal entries. Some of them seemed to be parts of articles Cedrick had been writing or notes jotted down on various topics. Boyd decided that he would bring the entire box down to his room with him and read all the journals later.

"They're my father's," he explained belatedly, looking over at Kassian finally.

Boyd intended to just glance at Kassian but instead he found himself staring. It was the first time he realized that Kassian wasn't wearing a shirt; between Kassian's proximity and the sheen of sweat on his body, it was impossible for Boyd not to notice how well-defined Kassian's body was. He could clearly see Kassian's muscular chest and abs and without even realizing it, Boyd got distracted by taking in how attractive Kassian was.

Kassian stood up under the bulb and nodded, not asking about what the books contained, likely figuring that Boyd would tell him if he wanted to. "That's cool. I doubt my father has anything interesting enough to lock up in a box unless it's old copies of Maxim."

He ran a hand through his short blond hair and Boyd's eyes followed the movement, taking in the bulge of Kassian's bicep when he moved his arm. It was only as a side effect of Boyd's staring that he realized that he could finally see the tattoos that covered Kassian's torso.

There was a large tattoo of a spiderweb wrapped around one entire shoulder and an ornately detailed image of a skull on the other. There was a pointed star at the front and below each shoulder and a tattoo of a snake wrapped around his midsection twice, dipping below his hip at one point. A pair of spades were displayed in the snake's mouth.

Boyd followed the tattoos with his eyes, at once intrigued by them simply to know their meanings as well as admiring the way they looked on Kassian's body. He remembered that he'd seen a crucifix and something in Russian on Kassian's back and he found himself wishing that Kassian would turn so he could see them more clearly.

He was particularly fascinated by the snake and found his gaze drawn to the area where it disappeared beneath Kassian's waistband. It made Boyd want to see Kassian naked, to see the entirety of his tattoos and whether there were any others hidden beneath his clothes. Not to mention he suspected that Kassian would be even more attractive without anything on.

When Kassian didn't immediately move, Boyd looked back up and realized with a start that Kassian was watching him with a slightly raised eyebrow. Boyd fought the urge to look away guiltily since it would just make it even more obvious that he'd just been checking Kassian out. He couldn't read Kassian's expression or tell how long he'd been aware of Boyd's gaze so Boyd tried to cover the awkwardness by bringing up a topic he was curious about anyway.

"Your tattoos," Boyd said only a little abruptly. "I was-- I haven't seen them before. What do they mean?"

Kassian shrugged, mouth twisting slightly to the side as he raised his other eyebrow at Boyd. "How do you know I didn't just choose random tattoos on a whim?"

"That's a lot of whim," Boyd said with a raised eyebrow, gesturing at Kassian's torso and deciding not to comment on Kassian's somewhat suspicious expression. "Not to mention I haven't seen many tattoo parlors with random blocks of Russian text as a choice."

"How do you know I have random blocks of Russian on me?" Kassian continued to look suspicious, as if he thought Boyd had somehow busted into his Agency file to get information on him and his tattoos.

"Because I saw it at your place during training," Boyd said mildly. "You weren't wearing a shirt at first and I noticed it when you walked away. Not to mention," he added, deadpan, to hopefully lighten the mood enough to get rid of Kassian's suspicious look, "I've been stalking you, hiding in your shower, and I sleep in your closet."

Kassian's mouth twitched slightly and he snickered finally, indicating himself with a gesture. "I didn't choose to have them. It's for my ongoing undercover identity. Konstantin Petrov spent time in a prison in Siberia and acquired ink-based souvenirs from there." He said the last part with an authentic-sounding Russian accent.

Boyd raised an eyebrow and returned his gaze briefly to the tattoos, this time making sure he kept his expression and interest purely professional. He was further intrigued by the tattoos now that he knew they were from a Russian prison.

Kassian seemed self-deprecating when he said that and Boyd knew from their time in Russia and the bit he knew about that mission that Kassian hadn't seemed to particularly enjoy the persona, which made Boyd wonder why Kassian still had them if they were a reminder of a mission for which he didn't seem to have fond memories.

"Do you like them?" Boyd asked curiously, meeting Kassian's gaze again.

"Nope. But my opinion doesn't matter. It's just my body but I don't really own my body anymore. The Agency does." Kassian made a face and rolled his shoulders slightly.

Boyd drew his eyebrows down slightly. "But Unit 16 could remove them easily. So why do you still have them?"

"It's an ongoing cover identity," Kassian explained in a dull voice. "Which means in the next few years I'll be sent back to Russia to re-assume my role."

"What the hell," Boyd said in disbelief. "What's so important over there that the mission's so intensive? Or why isn't Konstantin replaceable?"

"Ahhhh." Kassian sighed and grimaced slightly. "It's kind of a long story..."

For a moment it seemed that he would change the subject but then he focused his gaze on Boyd and gave him a half grin. "But I'll tell you if we can go get some dinner. I'm hungry."

Boyd gave Kassian a sly look. "Alright. I'll pay if you drive."

Kassian snorted and grabbed his sweatshirt as they both got up and started towards the ladder. "You just want to ride that damn bike again. Speed fiend."

"I'm not denying it," Boyd drawled with a smirk.

The drive was just long enough for Boyd to enjoy the ride on the motorcycle but not so long that he got too cold as the wind moved easily through his clothing. Kassian drove them into an area of the city Boyd had never been in but he could tell simply by the activity and the especially rundown buildings that it wasn't a good area. It didn't bother Boyd in the least since he could handle himself but he could imagine there being people who wouldn't want to venture down these streets, especially after dark.

Kassian parked the motorcycle on the street and they ended up walking half a block before he brought them into Killian's Pub. It was a hole-in-the-wall pub and grill that was about half full even though it was Christmas night. It wasn't too surprising, though; the holidays had become increasingly unimportant to a vast majority of the nation considering the war had destroyed the economy and with it mass consumerism, as well as killed and split apart many families.

Most of the customers were sitting at the bar and the majority of them seemed largely oblivious or uncaring about the holiday at all. The clientele was a mixture of blue collar working class men, alcoholics, and tough-looking criminals. There were almost entirely men inside with only the occasional woman, several of whom were working there.

A sign in front said to seat themselves and Kassian didn't even glance at it as he led Boyd inside. As they walked through the pub, it became evident that Kassian was a regular.

The bartender, a dark-haired man about Kassian's age, greeted Kassian with a wide grin and a wave and one of the waitresses, a redheaded woman a few years younger than Kassian with smoky eyes, smiled and winked flirtatiously at Kassian. Several of the regulars acknowledged Kassian as well, a mixture of men including all the types of people there.

Kassian casually returned the greetings as he led Boyd into a corner booth in the back that would afford them the most privacy. Kassian slid into the seat that allowed him to face the rest of the pub and Boyd sat down across from him, his eyebrows raised in bemusement.

"Exactly how long have you been going here?"

"Since before I was married," Kassian replied with a half grin, taking off his gloves and loosening the black scarf that was wound around his throat. He sat his helmet next to him and leaned back, extending his legs, causing one boot to accidentally brush against Boyd. "It's laid back."

Boyd nodded, putting his helmet, scarf and gloves on the seat next to him. "So you used to live around here?" He smirked lightly and added, "Unless you lived across town and that's how you got your hobby of trekking the city in subzero weather."

Kassian smiled at Boyd wryly and shook his head as the waitress came over. "I lived a couple of streets over before moving into that house with my wife. She didn't like the atmosphere."

"I can't imagine why," the pretty, red-haired waitress trilled as she leaned against Kassian's side, wrapping one arm around his neck. "It's such a charming neighborhood. Between the bums, the gangs and the prostitutes I can't figure out why your wifey wouldn't have felt like she fit in. Merry Christmas, by the way."

Kassian rolled his eyes at her and looked at Boyd. "This is Shirley. Resident big mouth. Shirley, this is Boyd. He's a co-worker of mine."

"Oh really." Shirley looked at Boyd with interest and extended her hand to shake his, smiling. "I wouldn't have pegged you for the mercenary type."

If Boyd hadn't met a civilian friend of Kassian's last summer, he wouldn't have understood what she meant. Now he knew that Murphy Corps was the cover story for all active field agents with civilian friends or family, in order to explain extended leaves and any skills the agent had acquired through training.

Murphy Corps was supposedly a private military contracting firm that worked around the world. Because drug companies had been targets of terrorism, theft, and threat since the war, and since the Agency's cover was Johnson's Pharmaceuticals, Murphy Corps supposedly sometimes protected the Johnson's Pharmaceuticals staff and compound. Boyd could say he was also with Murphy Corps but he knew he didn't look the part and it would be more work than it was worth, so rather than stick out as something interesting or odd he decided to go the easy route.

"I'm a chemist with Johnson's, actually," Boyd said, returning the smile as he shook her hand. "It's more like he's a bodyguard for nerds like me."

"Oooh," Shirley replied with a grin. "Well you have a good guy for the job. Other than the fact that he's cute as hell, I can't think of anyone else I'd want to watch my back if it came down to it."

"Aw shucks, you're making me blush," Kassian teased her with a half smile.

She ruffled his short hair, causing it to spike out wildly, and stood up straight. "Okay now, down to business! What are you guys drinking?"

"Just bring me a pitcher and a sandwich." Kassian rested his chin on his fist and watched the girl.

"The usual?" she asked knowingly.


Shirley turned her smile to Boyd. "What about you, mister scientist?"

"You seem like you have good taste," Boyd said a light smile. "Why don't you surprise me with your favorite food?"

Shirley winked at him. "Sure thing, hon. Just do me a favor and help Kass with his pitcher of beer. I don't feel like scraping him off the back of the booth tonight."

Kassian made a face. "Shut up."

She laughed and turned away, heading towards the bar.

Boyd watched her go then gave Kassian an innocent look. "If I don't help you drink does that make me the designated driver?"

"You're a funny kid," Kassian replied with a raised brow. "Just ignore Shirley. I've never gotten that plastered in public but I made the mistake of letting it get that way when she and I were together a few times."

"So speaking of," Boyd said in amusement, "how many people have you slept with who are in the room right now?" There were a few other women who'd followed Kassian with their eyes and he was curious if they were just checking him out or if Kassian had a history with them.

Kassian looked genuinely surprised by the question and he frowned slightly. "Whoa, I think you have the wrong idea. I'm not some kind of womanizer or anything..."

Boyd watched Kassian, finding the response to be curious. "It's more like you said you aren't interested in relationships, it's been at least two years since your divorce, and I suspect a few years longer than that, and there have been a few people it sounds like you've been involved with," he explained, leaning against the table idly.

"So I don't think you're a womanizer; I just figure you don't stay together for long with any one person. And with enough time, good enough looks, and visiting the usual places enough to get to know people, that could result in a number of flings. Not to mention any people you were involved with before your wife." Boyd tilted his head. "I didn't mean to imply anything beyond that."

"Oh." Kassian looked slightly relieved. Despite the fact that he'd claimed Boyd's lack of opinion about him was what had caused him to seek the younger agent's friendship, Kassian now appeared to care very much about what Boyd thought. It was an interesting shift.

Kassian looked around the room and seemed thoughtful. "Shirley and I dated for awhile but it didn't work out. She didn't want something steady but she had too much background drama for me. I did mess around with Joanne over there," he admitted as he nodded towards one of the women at the bar. "But then I went to Russia and didn't really talk to her much after that obviously."

Boyd nodded. "Makes sense."

Shirley returned with the pitcher of beer and set two mugs down. She also set down in front of Kassian a big basket of fries and a large sandwich that was filled with vegetables and meat.

"Awesome," Kassian enthused with a grin. "You can't get sandwiches like this anywhere else. I don't even care that it's synthetic meat as long as it tastes real."

Shirley wrinkled her nose at him. "Don't gross him out," she chastised, putting another plate down in front of Boyd. "Ignore Kass. The chicken pesto panini is the best thing on the menu and it's my fave. Enjoy, boys."

Kassian didn't reply as he bit into half of his sandwich, making an 'mmm' sound as he chewed.

Boyd didn't get a chance to thank her before she'd already walked away. He had to admit that the panini did look appetizing and it was probably something he would have ordered anyway. He bit into his own sandwich and raised his eyebrows, impressed by how good it actually was. He hadn't expected the food to taste terrible but he didn't expect to like it this much either.

They chewed in silence for a few moments before Kassian sat back and poured himself some beer. "So, I just remembered that we came here for a purpose."

"True," Boyd said, then poured himself some of the beer as well. He'd forgotten to ask for water and didn't see the point in bothering with it anymore. He took a drink, ignoring the taste he still didn't like, and raised his eyebrows. "So, what first? What was so important there or what do the tattoos mean?"

"I dunno. What do you want to know more?" Kassian asked, picking at his sandwich and dropping his eyes to study it.

"I'm mostly interested in the tattoos, honestly," Boyd admitted. "But I do also wonder why someone else can't replace you in some other capacity. Why you'd have to go back."

"Because it's an ongoing role that I took on," Kassian explained with a shrug. "Unless they have a clone of me somewhere, no one else can take it on."

"Well, obviously not as the person you're being," Boyd said patiently, "but if it's so important why don't they have more than one person involved? Why is no one else starting in on it now in some other form? Is the entire situation only Level 10?"

"It's complicated." Kassian picked up his sandwich but put it down again, eyebrows drawing together as he tried to explain. "I had to work up to being in a certain position to get close to certain people... Eh. This is difficult to be vague about."

He paused and took a long sip of beer, watching Boyd over the rim of the mug before setting it down heavily. "Alright I'm going to go into specifics but don't repeat it to anyone. It's still classified because it's ongoing."

"I won't," Boyd said seriously.

"Well, basically it's like this," Kassian started, wiping his hands on a napkin and lowering his voice slightly even though no one was in their vicinity. Most of the patrons were crowded at the bar. "I was sent in as a convict. Over there I'm Konstantin Petrov and my backstory is that I was doing time in a Siberian prison in isolation. I was sent to infiltrate a criminal organization called Black Guard which have ties to and support the new Russian federation financially. I did so successfully. I became a high ranking part of their gang and was trusted by the leader, I was in a relationship with his daughter... I got really sucked into the role."

Kassian absently tore up the napkin, gaze focused steadily on Boyd although it seemed as though his thoughts had wandered far away.

"Which part? The relationship or all of it?" Boyd asked.

"All of it I guess. It was difficult. The things I had to do to prove myself, who I had to become to get involved in that world." Kassian gave Boyd a crooked smile and scoffed. "Sometimes I forgot why I was even there. I forgot who I really was. I actually fell in love with that girl I think and now I can't really understand why. The feelings are gone. It's like they never existed at all. It's difficult to explain."

"There are a lot of things we're all capable of under stress or extreme circumstances-- actions, emotions, justifications... All for survival. It's hardwired into our brains." Boyd's tone was reasonable and calm and he took another drink of his beer as he contemplated what Kassian said.

"So you probably convinced yourself that you loved her because that was what you needed to actually feel in order to do your job," Boyd continued. "For someone like you, I can't imagine you otherwise felt comfortable with basically deceiving a random woman for I'm assuming an extended period of time, all for an ulterior motive that would probably ultimately hurt her. But if you thought you loved her then at least you could tell yourself that the relationship itself wasn't a lie, even if your reason for being there with her was." He shrugged. "Not that I know much about the situation, of course; it's just conjecture."

"Nah, you're probably right. That's pretty much what Ann said about it to be honest." Kassian made a wry face at that and sighed. "I don't know what Anya thinks of me now but I never did mean to hurt her. She'd probably blow my brains out if she ever saw me again. One more risk I'll have to take when I'm sent back."

"Why do you have to go back, though?" Boyd couldn't understand that part. "Why did you leave if the mission wasn't finished?"

"Officially Konstantin Petrov is once again in a Siberian prison. I'm supposed to be serving time for the murder of Anya's father, the head of Black Guard." Kassian finally took another bite of his sandwich, chewing slowly as he waited for Boyd's reaction.

Boyd wasn't particularly surprised by that information; it wasn't unusual for a Level 10 mission to involve assassination and if Kassian had formed a relationship with the leader's daughter, it made sense if that was to get close to the leader. Not to mention that would explain why Anya would be furious with Kassian, although initially Boyd had assumed it would have been a lover's quarrel because Kassian had disappeared.

The whole thing was very logical, in the cold, cruel way the Agency often worked. After Boyd's Level 10 training, he was even less surprised by new information he gathered about the Agency and its directives. He could see how Kassian would be bothered by such a mission, especially after two years of having spent time around those people. Maybe Kassian had even come to like or respect the leader, all the while knowing he was going to kill him.

Without living through something like that, Boyd would never fully understand how much it all could affect a person. He didn't judge Kassian for anything he'd heard so far but he still didn't understand the mission.

"I don't mean to sound cruel toward the situation but, wasn't that the goal?" Boyd asked, eyebrows drawn down slightly in confusion. "Why would Konstantin ever need to be released in a manner that requires you being there? And even if he was, why would he return to a place where people would care about what he did and hold him accountable?"

"Her father wasn't the real goal," Kassian said, shaking his head. "The goal was for me to betray him, to betray Black Guard, so that when Konstantin someday escapes or is released from prison, I will be recruited into the group that we're really looking to infiltrate. That group is the goal and since they were major rivals with Anya's father, the fact that I brought about his downfall will make it easier for me to integrate."

Boyd considered that as he finished the last half of his panini. "Why couldn't you just infiltrate the other group in the first place?"

Kassian squeezed ketchup onto his fries, not looking at Boyd as he replied although he made a face at the question. "If that were possible, it would have been done but it doesn't work that way. The group we're after is called Red Twilight, a faction that wants to bring what they call true communism to Russia. They're I guess..."

He trailed off for a minute and chewed his fries, narrowing his light blue eyes in thought. "They're to Russia what Janus is to the US. A major threat because the current post-war administrations of both countries are so fragile and both Janus and Red Twilight are doing their best to disrupt the infrastructure so that they can take control. Not like the current government is that chummy with the US now but a group like Red Twilight would want all out war all over again. And like Janus, Twilight is really secretive and the leaders are on the super down low, you know?

"So there's no way for me to just go in and try to infiltrate. We have no idea where they are, just that they exist and that they were at serious odds with Anya's father and his faction, since Black Guard supported the new government with money gained from their illegal and black market activities. When I'm sent back they're hoping that Twilight picks me up to recruit me because I'm an enemy of their enemy and did what they were trying to do. Or at least because I have information about Black Guard, which is currently unstable but likely going to continue after they elect a new leader."

Boyd nodded; he could understand the logic of it when put in those terms. It was one large reason Carhart's unit tried to flip the rebel groups already in existence, because directly trying to infiltrate Janus would be incredibly difficult but getting information on them from other sources was more manageable. Even so, that was a hell of a time commitment to make for a mission.

"When you accepted the mission, did you know how long it would be?"

Kassian nodded and leaned back entirely against the booth, resting his head against the beat up old cushion as he watched Boyd eat. "I knew I would be deep undercover and that I wasn't to come back until I became a legitimate part of that world. I underestimated the time it would take, though. The few times I did check back in, I got pretty frustrated when I was told to stay longer. But the whole thing with them sending me back was fucking news to me. After I came back and was hardcore debriefed and went through the re-integration process they dropped that bombshell. That's partially why I was in such a pissy mood when we picked you up in Mexico."

"I'm fairly certain I'd have reacted the same way," Boyd replied with raised eyebrows. "If you knew the ultimate goal was the other group and you had to undermine Black Guard first, what did they originally tell you that made you not know you'd be sent back?"

"I didn't know that at first. I just knew I had to get close to, get information on and eventually kill the leader of Black Guard. It took me awhile to get close to him, the dude was more heavily guarded than the president, but when I was finally allowed in his inner circle, I contacted the Agency and they told me to hold off on the hit. I didn't really know what was going on for awhile but I started suspecting there was more to it when they kept dragging it out."

Kassian ran a hand through his hair, combing it back so that it wasn't as tousled anymore. "Anyway, enough of that crap. I don't want to talk about the assignment anymore to be honest." He gave Boyd a sly look and another half grin. "How about I answer one more question about all of that shit and then I get to ask you something."

"Okay," Boyd said slowly, eyeing Kassian in mild suspicion. He got the feeling Kassian was going to do or say something tricky but he didn't bother to think about it too much. If he had one more question regarding the Russian mission, there was no hesitation about what it would be. "And the tattoos?"

"I knew you would ask that." Kassian shifted in his seat and shrugged. "A couple they put on me before I went out there but the rest of them I got while I was there. It's a lot of symbolism, something that started in Russian gangs in the prisons. A couple of them show my rank, that I was pretty high up there in the end. The snake is symbolic for that and the spades mean I was a also a thief. I mean I have a lot so, I dunno what you're most curious about. The spiderweb for instance is about addiction. I got myself pretty deep in it with drugs for awhile up there."

Kassian spoke in a completely matter-of-fact tone, not seeming ashamed in the least about the confession. He seemed pretty calm and level-headed about the entire topic given how stressed out he'd been during Boyd's training in Russia. It was somewhat surprising but also relieving; whatever tension Kassian felt about the topic wasn't spilling over into his interaction with Boyd and although it was obviously something Kassian had issues with, he wasn't allowing it to ruin the relatively easygoing dialogue they had.

Although Boyd was initially surprised about the admission, he supposed it made sense. Kassian had been deep undercover, across the world from home, in a completely uncertain situation where he could have been killed, and his mission kept being extended without explanation. Add in the dismal weather, the fact that the group he was infiltrating likely also included a number of addicts, as well as the moral dilemmas Kassian had probably been experiencing about aspects of the mission, and it was no wonder that he may have felt the need to escape at some point.

Boyd wanted to ask more about it but decided that could wait for another time. At the moment, there was one other tattoo that had been piquing his curiosity for awhile so he didn't want to miss the chance to ask about it. "What about the text?"

"Ah. Rebellious anti-authority stuff." Kassian smirked. "That's actually not one of mine. It was put on me in advance."

"Ahh," Boyd said in understanding with a nod. No doubt it was something that had been well-researched ahead of time by the Agency to best fit the Konstantin persona they'd created. Although Kassian had plenty of other tattoos, the only two he'd really wondered about were the snake and text so he decided to leave the topic alone for the moment.

Boyd pushed his empty plate to the side and pulled the glass of beer closer. "Well, you fulfilled your end of the bargain so looks like it's my turn to do the same. What was your question?"

"Well." Kassian studied Boyd for a long moment before leaning forward and raising both eyebrows. "I'm just curious as to why you said Shirley has good taste."

Boyd hadn't been expecting that question at all and stared at Kassian briefly before he casually took a drink of the beer and looked toward Shirley across the room. He'd been hoping that Kassian hadn't caught that comment or at least hadn't realized there was anything more to it. But since Kassian had answered honestly any question Boyd had asked, Boyd felt it only right to do the same, even if he felt a little uncomfortable saying the truth to Kassian.

"Well," Boyd said slowly after a moment, finally shifting his gaze back to Kassian, who watched him expressionlessly. "It was partially because I didn't feel like perusing a menu and I had no idea what sort of sandwich you were getting. So flattery seemed like a quick, simple way of getting her to like me so she'd take my request seriously and choose something she'd like to eat too."

Boyd paused, dropping his gaze to study the deep color of the beer. "But... also because she basically said you're attractive and can be trusted," he admitted. He looked up at Kassian again, feeling a little awkward saying that aloud, and fidgeted with the glass. "I mean, obviously you know I'm gay so I don't want you to feel uncomfortable with that, like I'll start hitting on you or anything..."

Kassian made a 'hmm' sound and tapped his fingers against the table, his face completely blank as he watched Boyd fidget. After a while he said flatly, "Well, it does make me uncomfortable."

Boyd stared at Kassian, his fingers briefly going still on the glass. He hadn't expected Kassian to express joy at his confession but he also hadn't been expecting such a blunt answer. Boyd never would have even brought it up in the first place if Kassian hadn't asked and it occurred to Boyd that this was the second time he'd truthfully answered a question about Kassian that, in retrospect, seemed like maybe he should have lied instead.

What surprised him the most was that he actually felt a twinge of regret to think that he may have messed up. He felt like on his end it didn't really matter whether he thought Kassian was attractive or not; he just liked spending time around Kassian and it was going to be a shame if they stopped because of a comment Boyd made.

Kassian had always seemed so objective and reasonable that Boyd wouldn't think this would ruin any type of friendship, but then again Boyd had never been a heterosexual male with a gay friend so who knew what was going through Kassian's mind.

Even so, he couldn't take back what he'd said and he didn't quite know how to respond to that. In the end, he said a little awkwardly, "Ah, well-- I'm sorry..." He drew his eyebrows down and he subconsciously started to fidget with the glass again as he continued more smoothly, "But like I said, it shouldn't affect anything so you could even just forget what I said..."

Kassian narrowed his eyes slightly and nodded. "And you can forget about riding on the back of my bike. That's just out of the question now."

"What?" Boyd said incredulously, feeling surprised and mildly hurt about the entire conversation. "Why? Because I'm gay?"

Kassian continued to stare at him with the same cold expression but when he opened his mouth to reply, the corners twitched slightly. He cleared his throat and seemed to be trying to force himself to keep a straight face but then he just started laughing. "I'm just fucking with you, Boyd. What kind of an asshole do you think I am, anyway?"

Boyd stared at Kassian with an expression that shifted from surprise to suspicion to wariness mixed with relief. He narrowed his eyes and grabbed some of Kassian's fries, throwing them at Kassian.

"A lot bigger one now," he said and although he was a little hurt by it all he wasn't really angry; more than anything he was bewildered and off-balance. "What the hell? Why would you do that?"

"I don't know. I guess I was just wondering if you find me attractive," Kassian admitted, still laughing as he picked fries off his shirt. Ketchup was smeared on his sweater but he didn't complain.

"Jesus," Boyd said in exasperation as he leaned back against the seat, rubbing a hand over his face. "I just told you I think you're hot. There was no reason to mess with me beyond that." He dropped his hand and picked up the beer mug, quirking an eyebrow at Kassian's amusement as he said sarcastically, "I'm glad you find this so hilarious, though."

"I'm sorry," Kassian said sincerely although there was still an amused grin on his face. "Really, I didn't think you'd take me so seriously. I forgot what a genius actor I am. But seriously, did you really think I'd make you walk home?"

"I don't know what I thought," Boyd said honestly. He took another drink of beer and frowned as he set the mug down. "I thought it was atypical of you but I've never told a straight friend I think he's attractive before so I had no idea what to expect. So far in my experience some people can be pretty stupid about the whole thing."

"I see." Kassian rubbed his chin thoughtfully, once again staring at Boyd with that difficult-to-read expression. "Who said I was straight?"

Boyd rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on. I'm not going to fall for this twice."

"You don't believe me?" Kassian looked intrigued by this and rested his face against the palm of his hand. "Why not?"

"Because you flirt with every woman who passes in front of you and you were married," Boyd replied with a raised eyebrow. "You could be bi but I've never seen you even look twice at another man let alone seem interested, and any time I've talked about anything related to homosexuality in front of you, you haven't given any indication that you've experienced what I mean. You're always completely objective about it. Not to mention you just don't seem like you are."

Kassian laughed again, his blue eyes bright with amusement. "Maybe I just didn't feel the need to mention it before. My experiences have nothing to do with yours."

"Fine, then assuming I believed you," Boyd said, clearly not believing Kassian in the least, "why would you suddenly feel the need to mention it now?"

This earned him a casual shrug and an even more casual reply of, "Because I'm attracted to you and I wanted to tell you."

It was a good thing that Boyd wasn't taking a drink at that time because he probably would have choked. "What?" Boyd said incredulously, thinking he had to have heard wrong. "I don't belie--"

But he was already searching Kassian's face, who watched Boyd calmly with an expression that showed he was being serious and honest in a way that was far different from the time before. Boyd cut himself off and stared at Kassian in complete surprise as he realized that Kassian wasn't joking. It was enough trying to wrap his mind around the fact that Kassian was actually bisexual, let alone anything beyond that.

"Wait, what--" Boyd started to say then finally managed, "Since when?"

Kassian raised an eyebrow. "I dunno. Fairly recently I realized it. When you came over to my apartment all upset."

"What the hell?" Boyd gave Kassian a half skeptical, half incredulous look. "Were we in different dimensions at the time? Because unless you think it's hot when a grown man cries or your competitive spirit really likes to beat me at games, I have no idea how you had that kind of revelation then..."

Kassian chuckled and he rolled his eyes. "I knew you'd make some wisecrack about the timing." He shrugged. "I forget the exact moment but you had just finished telling me some heavy shit and you had your eyes closed but when you opened them there was a kind of... I dunno. A moment I guess, when I couldn't take my eyes off of you. Or I guess, I couldn't drop your gaze because I was distracted by how gorgeous your eyes looked."

Boyd watched Kassian for a moment, not certain how to respond at first. He wasn't very accustomed to genuine compliments; in truth, he'd almost expected Kassian to respond with a joke, not something more sincere. He had to admit that it felt good to hear and part of him was flattered that Kassian not only thought his eyes were that attractive but also that Kassian had told him. Still, the conversation was flabbergasting to Boyd as he was still trying to wrap his mind around this new information.

"And... you just noticed then?" Boyd asked, trying to understand how this shift in perspective had happened for Kassian. "I've been around you before, so how was that any different?"

"I don't know. I just never paid attention before. I can't explain it or anything." Kassian shrugged again. He leaned back and added firmly. "Don't get the wrong idea though, this isn't some confession of love or anything. I'm not saying let's be boyfriends. I just like being up front about stuff and I wanted to let you know."

Boyd stared at Kassian for a long moment. This was bizarre to him; he'd known for awhile that he thought Kassian was attractive but he'd never even considered that Kassian would think the same in return. He was actually relieved to hear that it was simply attraction; the last thing Boyd wanted right then was to even think about a relationship or have some sort of one-sided feeling of love complicate an otherwise comfortable friendship.

"Okay," Boyd said slowly at length. "So... what now? Does this change anything or was that just an FYI?"

"Just an FYI. If something happens somewhere along the line or either of us wants it to, fine, but I'm not trying to suggest it should." Kassian picked up the other half of his sandwich. "Things are just less complicated when everything is out in the open."

"Hmm." Boyd grabbed a few of Kassian's fries and chewed on them thoughtfully as he nodded. That was probably true and it was certainly a lesson he and Sin had never seemed to manage to learn. It was probably why everything always became such a mess between them.

Even so, it was still strange to realize how much one bit of information could make him rethink all he had thought he knew about a person. He didn't think Kassian had lied about being bisexual but it was almost hard to believe that it was the truth, simply because he hadn't had a clue.

"What do you mean by attracted, anyway?" Boyd asked curiously after a moment. "Do you mean physically or you like being around me... Or something else?"

Kassian once again seemed very amused by the question although it wasn't obvious why. He seemed entirely too pleased by the surprise that Boyd was displaying. "Well, obviously I like being around you or I wouldn't be coming to hang around in your attic. But it dawned on me a little while ago that I thought you're pretty cute."

"Cute?" Boyd made a face and reached across the table to steal more of Kassian's fries. "How do you figure?"

"What do you mean how do I figure?"

"Well," Boyd explained patiently in between eating the fries, "what makes you think I'm cute? Especially after you gave me crap about liking feminine guys, I'm surprised you find me attractive at all, let alone cute."

"I dunno, dude. You're just a cute kid and you have a pretty decent body although you could afford to gain some weight. Besides, I never said I thought Vega and French guy are hideous or anything. I just thought that's the only type of guy you dig," Kassian explained with a smirk.

"Wow," Boyd said in sarcastic amusement. "'Pretty decent.' Stop with the flattery before I faint." He paused. "So what does that make your type?"

Kassian tilted his head back against the booth and his eyes roved across the room idly as he seemed to consider his answer. His gaze briefly lingered on someone by the bar and his mouth turned up in a smile. "I don't really have one. I mean, take Mark for example, the bartender. I've had a couple of encounters with him and you and he are as different as night and day unless you suddenly became really built and started looking like a biker."

Boyd followed Kassian's gaze and raised his eyebrows. He was somewhat intrigued and surprised by the choice; Mark was an attractive enough man but Kassian wasn't joking that Boyd and Mark were not alike. Mark was tall, well-built, about Kassian's age, dark-haired and a little ominous looking when he didn't appear to be talking to someone he was friends with.

It was interesting even considering Kassian and Mark together and Boyd found himself idly wondering which of them had been on top or in control. Somehow, he couldn't see Kassian being submissive in any way to anyone, not even a formidable man like Mark.

Returning his gaze to Kassian, Boyd looked at him in bemusement. "Seriously, we're nothing alike. I don't think I could get that built even if I wanted to, I can't imagine anyone ever calling him cute in his life, and I highly doubt we have similar personalities."

Boyd studied Kassian thoughtfully. "You're perplexing. There must be something that catches your attention for one person and not another. But what commonality could possibly exist between him and me? As far as that goes, you could think I'm cute in passing but not be attracted enough to feel like it could get to a point where you'd feel dishonest not saying anything about it. So I still don't understand why you'd be interested in me, especially considering a history with someone like him." His tone was intrigued and mystified.

"That's like asking me how I can like my steak burnt to a crisp but also enjoy sushi." Kassian's eyes absently went back to Mark as he spoke. "I can appreciate different things. And besides," he added casually, "I'm more particular about sexual styles than looks."

Boyd raised an eyebrow. "How so?"

Kassian shrugged and returned his gaze to Boyd. "I'm not some kinky bastard or anything but I'm pretty specific about what does and doesn't turn me on."

"Hmm." Boyd considered Kassian for a moment before leaning against the table. "Alright. So what turns you on?"

Kassian raised an eyebrow and grinned at Boyd. "What turns you on?"

For a moment, Boyd considered making Kassian answer the question first but then he just smirked. "Well, you already have an idea of that, don't you? Fast, powerful, dangerous, and all that?"

The other man narrowed his eyes briefly and after awhile he gave Boyd a knowing smile. "Ah. You like it rough, don't you?"

Boyd made a noise of assent, his expression casual but gaze intense as he watched Kassian. "Very much so. I'm loud anyway but I like it when I can't help but scream."

Kassian opened his mouth to reply but for a moment his jaw just worked and no sound came out. He cleared his throat, eyebrows raising. "For some reason I feel like I should be surprised by that but somehow I'm not," he said finally, mouth twisting into a grin as he watched Boyd.

Boyd smirked, feeling somehow pleased with Kassian's response; it wasn't often that he saw the man at a loss for words, even briefly. And if Kassian was going to ask Boyd what turned him on then Boyd saw no reason to be anything but blunt, especially after the Thierry fiasco. Besides, he felt like he was getting Kassian back a little.

"So," Boyd drawled, "anything else you want to ask? Otherwise I'm still waiting on an answer."

"Oh, I have plenty of questions," Kassian reassured Boyd with a chuckle. "But I'll save them for later. Your one comment nearly gave me a woody-- I can only imagine what would happen if this turned into a full on sexual confessional booth."

Boyd couldn't help a brief laugh. He had to admit he felt a little smug about Kassian's response. "So I take it rough sex qualifies as one of your preferred styles?"

"Well I'm not into violent sex but I like it pretty hard, you know? I don't like all of the gentle caressing that some people are into. I do like a lot of foreplay though." Kassian shrugged, unabashed. "I dunno why. When I'm with a guy I'm all about the fooling around but I don't give head."

"The gentle caressing is actually why it didn't work for me with Thierry," Boyd said, agreeing with Kassian's sentiments.

He wondered where the line was between violent sex and rough sex, and what he and Sin had been doing all along. Maybe what Boyd was used to was violent sex; after all, the two of them were often left with bite marks or bruises from gripping too hard, especially Boyd. There had even been a time or two when it had been uncomfortable for Boyd to sit afterward because they'd gotten so into it.

Thierry had also said he didn't like violent sex but it seemed to Boyd that Thierry's definition of violence also included what Boyd considered just to be rough. However, it was possible that Boyd's idea of rough sex was skewed.

It didn't particularly surprise Boyd to hear that Kassian didn't give blow jobs; in truth, Boyd couldn't actually imagine Kassian doing that. He was willing to concede that Kassian was bisexual but not that bisexual.

"What kind of foreplay?" Boyd asked curiously.

"You know, the usual," Kassian replied with a one shouldered shrug. "Kissing, licking, touching, grinding..." He raised his eyebrows again, a smile playing on his lips. "I like getting worked up to the point of wanting to just fuck someone's brains out, until it's pretty unbearable and I'll take my time and have fun getting to that point."

Boyd's gaze briefly intensified on Kassian as he automatically imagined that, as he wondered what Kassian's expression would be like, what sort of sounds he would make; what it would feel like. Boyd wasn't accustomed to extended foreplay aside from with Thierry which had been far too gentle and slow.

But he did like the concept; he enjoyed the feel of hands and lips against his skin, of arousing touches. He found himself automatically imagining what it would be like a little rougher and more intense, more Boyd's style; wondering how long he'd be able to take that sort of stimulation before he couldn't wait any longer--

Boyd looked away abruptly, studying the far wall and the occasional decoration on it in order to stop himself from thinking about that any further. Initially, he'd just asked out of curiosity; he hadn't expected to actually get involved in the thought.

After a moment he returned a calmer look to Kassian. "I see."

Kassian eyed him for a moment before letting out a truly amused laugh. "Maybe we should change the topic before both of us get a little too curious. Maybe turn it back to what we don't like. Like, for example, I'll never let someone fuck me. Mark called me a fake bisexual because of it but that suits me just fine."

Boyd watched Kassian thoughtfully for a moment, once again unsurprised but now curious as well. He didn't understand the attraction to women because he simply didn't feel anything sexually for them; women were just there and he could recognize if a woman was aesthetically pleasing to the eye but it didn't mean anything else. So he didn't understand Kassian's concept of bisexuality.

"If you basically do the same things you would with a woman, why even bother with men?"

Kassian made a face at Boyd. "What kind of question is that? You're not one of those bisexual haters are you?"

"No, I don't really care who likes what," Boyd said honestly. "If a person's attracted to both sexes that's fine. I don't understand attraction to women at all but that's only because I'm gay. So don't take it as my judgment or anything like that; I honestly just don't understand so I'm trying to figure this out. Why bother fucking men at all? What's the difference in your case?"

"Because I'm attracted to men as well as women so why not have both?" Kassian shrugged. "There's no deep reasoning behind it."

"Yes, but is there a big difference in the way it feels?" Boyd persisted curiously. "Is there something that would make you choose one instead of another or is it completely based on who you happen to be attracted to at the time?"

Kassian thought about that for a moment. "I don't know really. I guess whoever I'm attracted to. Sometimes I prefer sex with guys because I don't have to be as careful but I still love being with women because I think women are amazingly beautiful. But there's more to it than sex and looks. If I'm spending time with someone, even if it's not a relationship, I'm still not entirely superficial about it. I appreciate different things about different people and it's not always specific to gender."

Boyd considered that, taking it into context with the one man Boyd knew Kassian had slept with. "What did you appreciate about Mark?"

Kassian's eyes once again returned to the man in question and his mouth turned up slightly at the side. Mark happened to glance in Kassian's direction and their eyes met. Mark shot him a quick smirk before returning to his customers.

"He has a great body and I like the way he dresses. The whole carefully crafted 'I don't give a shit' look works for him. He's also really funny."

"Why did you stop with him?" Boyd asked. "Not that I'm implying you should have been in a relationship, but why did whatever you have end?"

"It wasn't ever anything other than the occasional one nighter," Kassian said. He raised an eyebrow and smiled. "But I've been gone for two years so he could be with someone now for all I know. It's no big deal or anything, that's just the way things work."

Boyd nodded and idly drank his beer, thinking about it all. He had to admit that he was flattered to know that Kassian thought he was attractive. Boyd truly liked Kassian as a person; Kassian was thoughtful, objective, serious, mischievous, funny, kind... He knew how to make a person feel like it was okay just being themselves while at the same time he didn't let things slide if someone did something out of line.

Even though Boyd still didn't understand what Kassian thought was cute about him, it felt good to know that a good person like that, someone Boyd thought was attractive, was attracted to him in return.

He didn't know yet what he thought about ever getting involved with Kassian in any way other than simply friends, though. He wasn't automatically opposed to the idea but it had come as a surprise and he had to think about it. He felt like he barely knew what he wanted with anything anymore. He hadn't even had the chance to talk to Sin yet and even though he didn't plan to become romantically involved with Sin again, he wasn't about to make any decisions involving other people until there was more of a sense of closure to the whole ordeal.

Beyond that, there was no way he wanted anything even remotely like a relationship and his only experience with casual sex had failed pretty spectacularly with Thierry. Boyd didn't know if he had the sort of personality to be able to be more than just casual friends with a person, yet there was no question he liked spending time with Kassian and he had been thinking earlier that he wanted to see Kassian naked...

After everything had fallen apart with Sin, it was good to know there was the potential for other options; one with less commitment than with Sin but more comfortable than with Thierry. Provided that he understood exactly what Kassian was proposing.

"So, let me just make sure I'm getting this straight," Boyd said after a moment, thinking aloud. "If anything happened between us, you're basically thinking friends with benefits?"

"Pretty much. I told you I don't do the relationship thing anymore. I doubt I ever will again. It just doesn't make sense for my life. But like I said, I wasn't trying to proposition you or anything. I don't want you to go home thinking I'm plotting to get you in bed or something." Kassian looked disturbed by the idea. "I just don't do stuff like that. If I want someone, I tell them outright. If I want to sleep with someone, I ask them if they're interested. I don't like cat and mouse games and shit. I don't like confusion and tension and uncertainty."

"Well, even though that surprised the hell out of me, I appreciate the honesty." Boyd leaned against the table and rested his hands on either side of his glass of beer as he studied Kassian. "I think you're right that it's far better to be upfront... it's not something I'm good at but it certainly makes things less complicated. In the interest of returning the favor, I'll be honest. I don't really know what I think. I'm still trying to get over the fact you're bi, let alone that you're attracted to me. But if it ever came to where either of us wanted something like that, I'd consider it. I just don't know what I'd feel about it at that time."

"That's fine with me. I don't really have any expectations at this point anyway. One of the real reasons I told you other than wanting to have the air clear, is that I felt like I was being dishonest by not mentioning it for some reason. You've told me a lot about your life and have been really open and I've been omitting shit regarding that," Kassian admitted with a shrug. "I don't know why. I know you wouldn't tell anyone. It's just... habit."

That intrigued Boyd and made him wonder more about Kassian's sexual orientation. "How long have you known you're bi?"

"I don't really know. I guess I always had an indication that I may be interested in men as well as women but I never really explored the option until I was married." Kassian made a face and pushed his empty plate towards the center of the table, eyes once again scanning the pub as if ensuring that no one was in earshot of the conversation. In the past hour the pub had emptied out somewhat but the bar was still crowded with people even though they were the only two actually sitting in a booth.

After a moment he returned his gaze to Boyd. "It sounds fucked up but being with my wife was pretty miserable for both she and I and even though it had nothing to do with her being a woman, I ended up feeling a connection with another field op that was a lot stronger than what I had with her and it was hard to deny that I cared about him given the comparison."

Boyd remembered Kassian saying something once that one of the reasons for his divorce had been that his wife had thought he'd been cheating on her and that she hadn't exactly been wrong. Boyd had just never even considered that if something had been going on, it had been with a man. Kassian's wording made it sound like it was an emotional connection but he couldn't tell for sure. "Did you have an affair?"

"Not really. I never even really knew if he had interest in me, honestly. We were partners for awhile and I felt like something was there... I really did fall in love with him I think and my wife picked up on my distraction. I don't know how but she just knew." Kassian smiled wryly at that.

"Woman's intuition I guess, right? She thought it was a physical thing with some hot shot mercenary babe but it was never physical between he and me. It seemed sometimes that he felt the same but it's hard to be a field op at the Agency and not be deeply closeted. I'm sure you would still be too had you not been outed, you know?" Kassian frowned slightly and shook his head. "I don't know what would have happened between us."

Boyd nodded; it was true that it was highly unlikely he would have gone public with the fact that he was gay if Sin hadn't basically done it for him. Kassian's wording made him think that there was no chance anything would happen between he and his old partner, which implied something had occurred. "What happened with him?"

"The Agency had him terminated."

Boyd had wondered if it was something like that. "What was their reason?"

The other man shrugged and there was no hint of emotion in his eyes regarding the topic even though Boyd knew Kassian well enough by now to understand that it was likely a very well-crafted facade to hide his true feelings.

"Who knows? Rumor had it that they suspected he may have been giving a civilian relative confidential information but I'm not sure. If that's the case though, both he and his relative were probably taken care of."

"I'm sorry, Kassian," Boyd said sincerely. "I know how it feels to suddenly lose someone close. It's difficult, especially at first. How long ago did it happen?"

"Maybe three or four years ago now. Not too long before I was told about the Russia assignment. I don't think about it much anymore. If I did, I wouldn't be able to do my job properly." Kassian toyed with the beer pitcher and seemed as though he was going to pour himself another mug full but he glanced at Boyd and stopped. "Anyway, it doesn't matter. How's Sin?" he asked, changing the subject entirely.

Boyd looked at Kassian, startled by the topic change and turned his gaze almost distractedly toward the rest of the pub. He purposefully hadn't mentioned Sin, mostly because he felt bad that every time he'd spent any significant amount of time alone with Kassian, Boyd had made Sin a major topic of conversation.

Now that Sin was brought up, he didn't know what to say. There was no way he was going to tell Kassian what he'd learned from Ann; Sin hadn't felt comfortable telling even Boyd about any of it so it certainly wasn't Boyd's place to tell anyone else. Especially not Kassian, who annoyed Sin on principle, even though Boyd knew he would have been able to trust Kassian to keep the information to himself.

In the past, Boyd had probably mentioned things about Sin to Kassian that Sin wouldn't have been pleased to know about but this was not going to be one of those times. Even though Sin didn't know Boyd knew any of this, Boyd wasn't going to betray his secrets. He felt a little bad omitting information from Kassian but he would have felt far worse if he said anything. So he decided that the best way to go about this was to act as though the conversation with Ann had never occurred.

"I don't know," Boyd said after a moment with a hint of a frown. "I haven't seen him since the test. He's on a solo." He returned his attention to Kassian, expression calm and not giving away that he was holding anything back. "But I plan to talk to him as soon as he returns, which I'm guessing should be within a week or two."

"I wonder if it was the mission that your mom offered me. Well-- I'm not due back from my downtime for another few weeks but she seemed to somehow sense that I was getting restless. Downtime sounds great until you realize you don't have a damn thing to do," Kassian said dryly, rolling his eyes. "But in any case I told her I'd come back after the new year instead of in March as was agreed. It wasn't that high profile so she was cool with it. I dunno why they didn't offer it to Vega from jump. He's better for the assignment."

"What's the assignment?" Boyd asked, actually curious about it.

"She didn't actually give me the outline. She just told me that there was an assignment that involved some light undercover work in a shelter. Some target we're trying to get at has a runaway son who's been missing for years and we got word that the kid is there under a false name. It involves hanging out with a bunch of young punks and Vega is a better fit for unruly youth. He looks much younger than me even though we're not too far apart."

"Hmm." Boyd took another drink of beer. "That doesn't sound too difficult. Maybe he'll be back sooner than I thought, then."

"I guess it depends on how long it takes him to figure out which kid it is." Kassian sat up straight and his eyes searched the pub. "You ready to get out of here? It's getting more crowded-- the depressed-over-the-holiday drunks are starting to straggle in and I don't really feel like censoring myself when people start spilling over in this direction."

"Yeah." Boyd slid out of the booth and put on his winter gear. When Kassian and he were ready, they walked to the register where Boyd paid. When they left Killian's, the weather felt even colder than when they'd gone in.

As they walked the short distance to the motorcycle, Boyd hunched against a burst of icy wind and looked at Kassian. "I know you said earlier you didn't really have plans so I just want you to know the offer still stands for hanging out at my place." He smirked wryly as he continued, "We could even stop the dusty attic cleaning and break out the video games if you want something a little more relaxing."

"If you call me kicking your ass relaxing." Kassian waggled his eyebrows and smiled again. "I'm down."

Boyd rolled his eyes good naturedly. "Only on the shooters, hot shot," he said dryly then smirked. "This time we'll be playing my games and I'll be the one with too many wasted hours as an advantage. You'd best prepare yourself now for defeat, just so you don't get too upset when the time comes."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Kassian put on his helmet and got on the bike, waiting for Boyd to get on behind him. "We'll just have to see about that, kid." Even with the darkened helmet, a grin could be heard in his voice.

"Damn straight we will," Boyd said firmly as he secured his own helmet and slid on the bike behind Kassian. Even so, Boyd found himself grinning in response, especially as the motorcycle thrummed with power and they sped out onto the street.

His arms tightened around Kassian's waist to stabilize himself as they took a turn and he thought about the day as well as the plans ahead. He realized that for the moment he was honestly happy; that he was looking forward to playing video games, to spending time with someone he could be himself around without feeling like he had to watch what he said or did to avoid arguments or misunderstandings or accidentally hurting the person.

He really did feel like this was going to be relaxing. Fun.

As the wind jerked lightly at his clothes and the snow sprayed around them, Boyd thought that this was the first decent Christmas he'd had in a long time.

Continue to Afterimage Chapter Twenty-Eight...