Alter: Part I

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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
See Afterimage chapter list.

Interludes list

Book Three: Fade
See Fade chapter list.


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Alter - Part I

Interlude 3.3

Uploaded on 6/7/2009

"So you were able to confirm it was a Janus base?" Carhart asked.

"Yes, not far out of Volos," Boyd agreed. "We only counted about fifteen to twenty rebels but the base could probably support up to three times that. I'm not sure if it's been entirely developed yet or if they're using it for another purpose. We couldn't get more information without compromising our cover."

"Since then I've been hearing about some activity around Ioannina, too, and there may be something going down in Crete," Owen said, drawing his eyebrows down and shrugging. "I'm still waiting on information from trusty sources on that one but I think maybe they'll be bigger. Sounds like there's a lot of stuff going on around there but it's hard to tell until the right informants get back to me."

He'd seemed more awake than usual during this debriefing, possibly because it was the middle of the day or possibly because the mission had dealt with his area of jurisdiction.

Carhart nodded. "Once the information has been verified, a follow-up mission will be planned. Until that's resolved, you're all on standby."

He moved his chair back slightly as if he were about to leave but before he could, Owen raised his hand. "Oh wait, bossman! I have a question."

Carhart looked over at Owen. "Yes?"

"Well," Owen said, looking slightly unnerved by Carhart's stare although in the end he was undeterred. "Uh, so, I was just wondering what's up with the Original Vega. Will we be having four agents going on missions in the future or something?" He looked alarmed by the idea.

Carhart's gaze flicked to Kassian and Sin before he focused on Owen again. "Not necessarily. At the moment Emilio is being retrained and reconditioned after being on the outside for nearly two decades so it will be some time before he receives his full reinstatement and classification levels. He will continue to give us pertinent information as an outside informant and when he is reinstated he will be able to sit in on meetings and in the future, he will be in the field. However if Kassian's trial is successful, there will be three agents, not four."

"And we'd all be going out together, sir?" Kassian asked uncertainly.

"If a mission calls for it, yes. But having three level 10 agents in this unit will ensure that I have the manpower to send people out and follow up on more than one mission at a time."

Boyd considered the information before glancing briefly at Sin, who looked slightly irritated but otherwise had a blank expression. "How long will the reconditioning take?" he asked Carhart.

"You mean re-brainwashing?" Sin muttered quietly.

Carhart looked at him narrowly but only said, "They may extend it since he's been out so long. I'm currently unsure of the precise timeline. His case is very unique to the Agency."

Boyd watched Carhart steadily and nodded but didn't say anything further. He imagined it would take awhile before the Agency determined Emilio could be trusted to send on missions, yet Boyd couldn't imagine Emilio ever fully being conditioned no matter how much time they took. Emilio didn't seem the type to care about the Agency's propaganda, especially after he'd been gone for twenty years.

Owen's eyebrows twitched upward slightly as he looked between the three of them but he didn't say anything.

"If there are no other questions, I have another meeting I need to get to," Carhart said after a moment. When no one said anything, he pushed his chair back and left the room without further comment.

Ryan watched as the door shut behind Carhart and appeared mildly troubled but he didn't say anything about it out loud. Instead he just turned off his panel and sighed, glancing at the others. "So how was the weather in Greece?"

Jeffrey quirked an eyebrow at Ryan but didn't speak

"It was pretty nice," Boyd said with a shrug. Ryan looked honestly curious and Boyd suspected it was because of Ryan's interest in Europe. "Around fifty to sixty, thinner cloud coverage."

"Awesome," Ryan breathed, his mouth turning up into a wide smile. Kassian was looking at Ryan oddly but Ryan didn't appear deterred. "Was it sunny?"

"More than here. From what I could see, the water's nice, too." Boyd shrugged. "Not that we really had time to explore that. It's probably a very nice destination, especially later in the summer."

"Yeah, it is," Owen put in from the side. He tilted back in his chair until it was on the hind legs and he moved his feet up and down to try to stay balanced; he had to keep touching the table to avoid falling over. "It's kinda chilly for the beach then but if you go around the country, it's crazy beautiful in some areas. Oh! Also!" He perked up and said with great import as he looked seriously at everyone else, "Bungee-jumping in the Corinth Canal." He nodded to himself, as if that said everything.

Boyd quirked an eyebrow. "You've been there, I take it?"

"Yeah, man. I was there a few months for vaca one time." Owen said it like 'vaycay' and shrugged. "'Course, next time we went through was war time so that sucked more."

"As exciting as this is, I have more interesting matters to attend to," Jeffrey said rather stuffily as he stood and headed straight for the door.

"Alright," Owen said, drawing the word out as he rocked back and forth. "Don't be sad if you ever go there and miss out on all the sweet stuff we cool folk talked about here, though."

Jeffrey's only answer was the door shutting firmly behind him.

"Man, that guy never wants to stick around," Ryan complained, shaking his head at the door disapprovingly. "We've been in this unit together for like three years now and he still doesn't want to spend even two extra minutes of his time with us."

"Speaking of..." Boyd tilted his head slightly and looked at the others in the room. Although he'd individually spent time off compound with most of them, he hadn't spent time in a group like he had even with the other trainees who he'd only known for a few months. "I was thinking of getting food after this and I thought it may be good to hang out even after the meeting. Does anyone want to come?"

"Yes!" Ryan enthused and Sin simultaneously gave Boyd an odd look and asked, "Why?"

"For fun," Boyd said with a shrug, meeting Sin's eyes. "We never really get a chance to all hang out after missions. You should come if you aren't busy."

"Yeah, I'm sure I have a lot of stuff on my schedule," Sin replied dryly although there was no animosity in his tone. If anything he seemed vaguely amused by the possibility of having plans.

Kassian snorted and sat up. "Well I'd go but I have a psuedo-date. Can I get a raincheck?"

"Of course," Boyd said easily, then looked at Kassian in mild curiosity. "With who?"

"Christina." Kassian gave a half-grin and didn't elaborate further. "I need to get going or I'll be late but I'll see you guys later."

Ryan looked somewhat disappointed but he waved anyway. "I count on you hanging around later next time. Don't be all-- Jeffrey Junior!"

Kassian stood up and shrugged his jacket on. "I won't." He headed to the door and nodded at them again before leaving.

"And what about you, Owen? Back out on me and die." Ryan narrowed his eyes threateningly.

There was a loud thump as Owen dropped back onto all four legs of the chair. "What?" He looked perplexed as he eyed Ryan. "I've been all in from the start-- weren't you getting my vibes?" The question was rhetorical and he quickly followed up with, "Heyyy, does this mean we get to go to the cafe?" He looked at Ryan expectantly. "The fieldies wouldn't beat us up with their eyes if we went with two 10's, right?"

"Ugh, why would you even want to go there?" Ryan asked, making a face.

"Come on, man!" Owen enthused. "How often will we get the chance? I wanna know if it's as bad as they say. And what if they have bad ass food we're missing out on?"

Boyd drew his eyebrows down and looked between them. "What are you talking about?"

"You know, dude. The invisible territorial flags-- the stink eye to the Not Belongs-- the lifelong struggle between good and evil." Owen said the last part rather dramatically and looked at Boyd as if all of this should be incredibly obvious to him.

"What?" Boyd asked, even more confused now; he had no idea what in the world Owen was talking about. He looked over at Ryan questioningly.

"Oh. I guess it never came up before," Ryan said, his tone surprised as if they were talking about something very important and well-known. "There--"

"It's ridiculous," Sin interjected blandly, shaking his head.

"Well, the field agents started it like twenty or thirty years ago, dude!" Ryan crowed, pointing a finger at Sin as if by default he'd been involved in the decision just because he was also a field agent, even though he was in the wrong generation.

"Uh huh." Sin didn't look very impressed.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Boyd pressed, slightly frustrated by the lack of clear explanation. "What about the field agents and people not belonging? Is there some sort of rule about the cafe?"

Sin sighed and looked at Boyd as if it was very painful for him to spend his time discussing such a thing. "Apparently," he drawled. "And this is not my experience because I don't eat in either location. But apparently, a long time ago it was unofficially decided by field agents that the on-compound cafe was their special place and so by default, support staff and analysts, etc, decided that the Tower cafeteria was theirs. It's childish and utterly pathetic."

"It is not pathetic!" Ryan protested, eyebrows drawing down over his eyebrows defensively. "The last time I went in there it was like-- it was like high school on old TV shows where the nerd was trying to sit at the jock table! I had field ops five years younger than me calling me kid and being all condescending and-- grrr!"

Boyd raised his eyebrows slightly and looked at the three of them. It did sound pretty stupid to him and even as he tried to think back, he didn't remember anyone having mentioned that before. Still, if people actually acted that way, he could see why the unspoken territories would have continued since each group would feel uncomfortable in the other space.

"Ah," Boyd said neutrally, leaning back in his chair. "I had no idea."

"Geez," Owen drawled, eyebrows raised as he gave Boyd a half impressed, half dumbfounded look. "First you didn't know Sin had freaked out and now you don't even know about the Age Old Rule? I mean, seriously, dude. People call me oblivious but you've got it down to an art."

Boyd felt a mild spike of indignation that Owen, of all people, was saying that. "I almost never eat on compound," he said evenly, looking over at Owen. "So I didn't know."

"Yeah but it's been three years, man! No one says this shit around you?" Owen watched Boyd far more alertly and with more interest than he typically showed throughout entire meetings. He waved a hand dismissively. "I mean, I'm not saying you suck or anything. I kinda wish I had that power. I could be all, 'What? That mission profile that would take me thirty hours to do and you don't plan to use anyway? I didn't hear anything.' And they'd be all--"

Owen straightened his back and tilted his body to the right, voice dropping to mimic another person's voice, "'But it's on your calendar from now until the end of time and you have to do this every other week.' And I'd be like," he returned to his usual slouch and mimicked himself, "'What? I'm sorry. I wasn't paying attention the last three years. Come again? Where am I?'"

Owen raised his eyebrows and looked at Boyd, intrigued. "It's like a superpower, dude."

Boyd stared at Owen with slightly narrowed eyes; although Owen's tone wasn't derisive and there was nothing cruel in his expression, Boyd still felt like Owen was making fun of him. "Well, obviously it isn't the sort of topic that would come up in everyday conversation," he said somewhat stiffly.

"Yeah, but..." Owen scratched his head and looked perplexed. "What else don't you know about? Oh! Hey," he leaned forward and met Boyd's eyes seriously, speaking in an undertone, "You do know your mom's head of the Agency, right?"

"Yeah; I got that, Owen, thanks," Boyd said sarcastically.

"Okay, good." Owen leaned back in his chair, looking relieved. "'Cause if you'd missed that..."

Boyd nearly rolled his eyes and looked over at Ryan and Sin. "So is this actually going to be a problem either way, then? Regardless of where we go, someone has issues with one of us?"

"Well since Sin is an outcast from society as a whole, people may react oddly wherever," Ryan admitted with a serious frown as Sin made a face. "But it will likely be less obnoxious in the Tower."

"Let's just go there, then," Boyd said, not wanting to spend time debating something like this.

"Aww, man!" Owen interjected, looking thoroughly put-out. "This is mutiny! I really wanted to see the cafe... We could make faces at the jerkwads behind Sin's back and shit and if they made some face back Sin could be all, 'What was that? You feelin' lucky, punks?' And they'd run away." He looked between all of them, slightly accusatory. "I was really looking forward to that."

"I don't remember ever saying I was going anywhere," Sin said flatly. "Especially not if he's going to ramble incoherently the entire time."

"Whoa, dude, I'm not being incoherent." Owen briefly raised his hands in a surrender gesture and eyed Sin briefly, his expression becoming a little more serious. "Sorry if I offended or whatever; seriously, I hope you come. Jokes aside, it'd be cool to hang out a bit; I feel like I barely know you guys. I guess I don't even care if we go to the cafeteria."

Sin stared at him blankly for a moment before sitting back with a barely audible sigh. "Fine."

"Yay!" Ryan cheered again, flashing a grin at Owen.

Boyd stood, raising his eyebrows at the others. "Alright. I'd like to actually eat some food at some point today instead of just debating where it happens," he said dryly.

Owen stood immediately, grabbing the files he had brought with him and shoving them into a bag next to his chair. "Oh man, I hope," he started to say enthusiastically but he suddenly looked over at Sin with a slightly startled and sheepish look and finished in a quiet, quick mutter to himself, "they have cornbread with butter today."

Sin rolled his eyes and left the conference room without further comment with Ryan not far behind him.

It didn't take long for the four of them to arrive at the cafeteria, not really talking about anything in particular along the way. When they walked into the cafeteria and headed toward the line, several people scattered around the room gave them odd looks and in a few cases, the someone nudged the person next to them and tilted their head toward the group.

Most people didn't seem to have an obvious issue with their presence; more than anything, the people who paid any attention seemed primarily surprised and perplexed, and they seemed to especially be eyeballing Sin. A few people did give them a narrow-eyed stare that didn't look entirely pleased.

The overall reception didn't come as a big surprise to Boyd; neither he nor Sin made a habit of eating on compound so the fact they showed up at all was strange, and it was even stranger for them to be seen with other people. Regardless, Boyd didn't acknowledge the looks and simply walked toward the line with the Ryan, Owen and Sin.

"Mmmm macaroni and cheese and chicken strips," Ryan said happily, putting a container of each on his tray. "Food in the med building was so lame and boring, guys. I get excited every time I have something that I didn't get there."

"You lead such an exciting life," Sin said dryly, looking at his food choices with a slight scowl.

"I know I do, you're just jealous," Ryan replied with a grin.

"Yes, that's me. Jealous."

Boyd briefly watched Ryan and Sin out of the corner of his eye and couldn't help feeling pleased to see the casual interaction, especially since Sin had been doubtful that he could spend time with anyone else and enjoy it. Boyd honestly thought that, although there were many people on compound who would probably always look down on Sin, it was precisely for that reason that Sin deserved and needed more people on his side.

Ryan had been Sin's proponent for years so Boyd hoped that eventually Sin would have the opportunity to feel comfortable around Ryan too. Maybe there would even come a day when Ryan and Sin would be able to just hang around without anyone else and have fun.

It was one reason he'd hoped that Sin would agree to join them, to give Sin a chance to interact a little more in a comfortable environment.

Boyd returned his attention to the food lined in front of him and was trying to decide what to choose when Owen suddenly surged forward.

"Cornbread!" Owen exclaimed, looking entirely too excited as he grabbed two plates. "Sweet, this is my lucky day!"

Boyd looked sidelong at Owen and shook his head to himself in bemusement. "So how are the chicken strips here?" he asked Ryan.

"Pretty good," Ryan said. "I mean all of it is pretty good for cafeteria food. I think it's because they want us to eat and have energy so we can still do their bidding."

"Probably," Boyd said with a half-shrug, grabbing a container of chicken strips and a small salad.

As he glanced over at Owen, he noticed a woman behind them in line who he vaguely recognized. It took him a few seconds but then he recalled that she was the person who had seemed friendly to Sin in the elevator months ago, and after a few more seconds he remembered that her name was Rebecca. She was looking at Sin at the moment with a somewhat surprised and thoughtful expression but she hadn't said anything.

Sin didn't either didn't notice her or didn't acknowledge her; they paid for their food and started toward an empty table. She trailed after them hesitantly without actually getting anything of her own and seemed to be trying to decide whether or not she really wanted to speak when Ryan noticed her.

"Hi Becks," Ryan said with a friendly smile as they started to sit down. Sin looked up and his gaze finally fell on her although he didn't immediately speak.

Rebecca's eyes switched from Sin to Ryan and she stood there awkwardly although she seemed relieved to see an apparently familiar face. "Hey Ryan."

"How's things?" Ryan asked in the same tone, although he looked mildly confused as to why she was behaving so awkwardly.

"Oh... okay, I guess. I got a new position in the Civvie Squad." Rebecca's gaze absently slid over to Sin, who just stared back.

"That's great. Last time I was up in payroll you seemed bored out of your skull," Ryan said encouragingly. She didn't reply immediately and Ryan shot Owen and Boyd a mildly confused look. "Uh... So, what's up?"

Rebecca looked at them again and turned slightly red. "I'm sorry for disturbing you all. I just wanted to say hi to Sin."

Boyd wasn't particularly surprised that Rebecca had gone out of her way to greet Sin; it fell in line with what he'd seen of her in the elevator. He glanced over at Sin.

Sin's eyebrows shot up and he gave her an incredulous stare. "Why?"

Rebecca shrugged and smiled slightly. "I don't know? I was just glad to see that you're doing better. I was there-- I mean, I'd hea..." She stopped and shook her head slightly, red hair moving with the motion. "Anyway, hi."

Sin stared at her oddly for a moment but just nodded slightly although he still seemed baffled.

"Well, I'll see you guys later," Rebecca said slightly lamely before turning around and going back to the counter.

"What the heck?" Ryan looked at Sin in confusion but Sin just shrugged dismissively.

"Who was that?" Owen asked, looking perplexed.

"She works in payroll, or well she did. Her name's Rebecca. I don't know why she's suddenly wanting to be Sin's best friend though," Ryan replied, raising his eyebrows high.

Sin opened his bag of potato chips, the only food he'd gotten. "She helped me figure out my bank account information."

"Why'd she act so strange though?" Ryan wondered out loud, his gaze following Rebecca as she seemed to have trouble deciding between a chicken sandwich and a bowl of pasta. "Maybe she has a crush on you."

Sin cast Ryan a withering glance as he crunched the chips.

"Would that be so terrible?" Ryan asked with a laugh. "She's cute! Don't you think she's cute?"

Sin shrugged, his expression unreadable. "I suppose."

Owen raised his eyebrows a little and looked between Boyd and Sin curiously as he opened up a packet of butter and cut through the first cornbread cake with a knife. He put parts of the butter within and set the rest of the pad on top, where it started to melt and soak into the inner layers. He didn't say anything, though, as he cut the cornbread into pieces, spearing one with a fork and starting to eat.

Boyd kept his body language calm and neutral, looking down as he idly opened the container of chicken strips. He didn't know what he thought about Rebecca having a crush on Sin; part of him didn't like the idea of it at all. For the moment, he didn't want to examine the vague feeling of discomfort it induced, not when they didn't even know what her intentions were. Especially since it wasn't any of his business anymore who liked Sin or who Sin found to be attractive.

Yet he had nothing against her as a person and saw no reason to form an opinion about her. In fact, if it ultimately turned out that she and Sin became friends, that would be a good thing.

Before anyone could say anything further, Owen suddenly straightened, looking across the room with widened, excited eyes even as he seemed alarmed. "Holy crap, it's one of the Reapers!" he hissed, hunching down almost immediately as he stared intently over Boyd's shoulder.

"What?" Boyd asked, starting to tilt his head discreetly to look behind him but Owen shook his head emphatically.

"Don't look, don't look!" Owen said urgently, then shifted his intense stare to Boyd, as if to pretend that was who he'd been looking at all along. "Wait until she's turned around at least. I'll give you the okay."

Ryan rolled his eyes and finally peeled the lid off of his macaroni and cheese bowl. "Those are just dumb rumors, O."

"No way, dude, it's the truth!" Owen insisted, looking over at Ryan with an almost comically large frown, shaking his head in a tsk, tsk manner. "I can't believe you're actually a non-believer." He sounded truly disappointed.

"What are the Reapers?" Boyd asked, looking between the two of them. He half expected Owen to make fun of him again but he was intrigued enough by the topic to ask anyway.

"They bring people back from the dead," Owen said ominously, leaning forward and dropping his voice. He looked between them with an unusually serious expression, eyes narrowed just slightly and mouth turned down at the corners.

When Boyd just gave him an odd look, Owen continued. "They say people with nearly a hundred percent chance of fatality-- sometimes even people who are straight up dead-- go into that weird lab building and come out alive. Sometimes creepily so; like they changed in there."

Owen raised his eyebrows pointedly. "It's said the Reapers'll give you back your life but you never know at what cost." He stabbed his cornbread suddenly and lifted part of it off the plate, staring intently at Sin and Boyd as he took a large bite and somehow managed to chew forebodingly.

Boyd looked over at Sin to see if he'd heard the same rumor.

Sin was actually eyeballing Owen with interest. "What lab building?"

Owen seemed pleased that the topic wasn't just brushed off. "You know that short brick one over by bunker three? It's all nondescript and half covered in trees?"

This time Sin's eyebrows drew together slightly and he sat back in his chair, seeming to consider this. "And people say... what about this place?"

"That they bring back people to life who should be, or were, dead," Owen said, watching Sin with a quirked eyebrow as he idly finished one cornbread and started on the other one. He'd lost the ominous quality of his tone, probably because it wasn't as dramatic the second time around. "And weird shit happens in the process-- like, you come out different. I mean, there's all this stuff people say about it, really. Experimentation, the fact people sometimes go in and never come out, or disappear and suddenly come out of there even though no one saw them go in..."

"I see." Sin continued to stare at Owen, obviously thinking about what had been said before he asked again, "The red brick building-- That's the one, right?"

Ryan gave Sin an odd look before turning his indigo eyes over to Boyd as if silently asking why Sin even cared.

But Boyd had no idea; he was bewildered as to why Sin, who often seemed to ignore the conversations happening around him, was looking honestly intrigued by the information. He shook his head slightly at Ryan then turned his attention to Sin.

"Yeah," Owen was saying enthusiastically. "That's it."

"Why are you so interested?" Boyd asked, drawing his eyebrows down slightly as he studied Sin in confusion.

Sin looked at Boyd and shrugged. "That's where I was when I woke up from the coma."

"It is?" Boyd asked in surprise; if that was the case, it almost lent some credibility to what Owen had been saying. Boyd knew how close to death Sin had been after Monterrey and he'd seemed surprisingly healthy when they'd next seen each other.

"I knew it!" Owen said loudly, eyes going wide as a mixture of excitement and intrigue seemed to overcome him. He dropped his fork and leaned forward, his attention fully focused on Sin in a way that was abnormal for him. "People try to say that lab isn't actually in use with patients but I knew it was! And it was weird as hell the way you suddenly disappeared and then were all fine and dandy later, when all we knew was there was a coma involved. What was it like in there? Has any weird shit happened since? How'd you get out?"

Sin frowned at Owen and was beginning to look sorry for ever mentioning it. "It wasn't very exciting. There was a lab on the floor I was on, an office and rooms with locked doors. The only thing of interest was the fact that every door locked automatically when it shut, even doors leading to and from the staircases. You need a keycard to go anywhere."

"Whoa..." Owen seemed entranced by the information.

Boyd raised his eyebrows slightly and looked over at Sin more fully. Although Sin had told him how he'd escaped the building, he'd never mentioned the locking doors. "That's strange... The only place I've seen anything like that is Seventeenth and Fourth in the Tower. I've never heard of that in a lab..."

"Wait, wait, back up," Owen said, holding his hands in front of him. "How'd you get through the crazy weird security without a keycard?"

"Yeah, I was about to ask the same thing," Ryan added, a forkful of macaroni hovering just in front of his mouth.

Sin scowled at them. "Can we drop this?"

"No! You shouldn't have been such an Obvious Marvin if you didn't want us to ask questions," Ryan chastised, finally putting the fork in his mouth and looking at Sin disapprovingly.

"An Obvious Marvin," Sin repeated, unimpressed. "You were a lot better when you were afraid of me."

Boyd couldn't help a short chuckle at that, a small half smile playing on his lips. He still remembered when Ryan had told him he'd nearly dropped a box of donuts that first time Sin had appeared at a briefing, and he recalled the way Ryan used to stare at Sin in wide-eyed silence, barely saying anything or almost squeaking when he did.

The contrast of that time to their interaction now was amusing and, more than that, promising. It pleased Boyd to see the relaxed, casual interaction continuing on both ends; not only on Sin's side but also for Ryan, who was finally becoming himself in Sin's presence.

"I wasn't afraid of you!" Ryan protested. "I was half intimidated, half infatuated, and I didn't know how to act because of it."

Sin made a face at Ryan and picked up his chips again. "How could you be infatuated with me when you didn't even know me."

Ryan scoffed and pointed his cheese-covered fork at Sin. "You're gorgeous and tragic-- gay boys like that kind of thing."

Sin just stared at Ryan flatly and didn't bother to reply.

Owen raised his eyebrows at Ryan, looking mildly interested and not particularly surprised by the information about Ryan's sexual orientation. Boyd realized Ryan had never mentioned aloud that he was gay before-- at least not in public. But Owen's expression was brief and nonjudgmental before he narrowed his eyes more seriously again. "Okay but we're missing the important point here," he insisted, picking up his fork and taking another bite of a small piece of the cornbread.

"Weird ass security in a weird ass place. So-- the lab." Owen eyed Sin dubiously. "Number one-- keycard? Actually needed for infiltration, or no? Number two-- there reaaaally wasn't anything else odd about it? Like, really-really nothing? Details, man; there had to be something cool. Like, rooms with creepy voices or doors that seem to lead to nowhere..."

"It was fairly innocuous," Sin responded, shaking his head at Owen. "Sorry to disappoint."

Owen sighed heavily, shaking his head and looking truly disappointed. "This is ruining my dream," he muttered to himself.

"Why don't you just ask one of the other people who were there?" Boyd asked as he took a bit of a chicken strip. "Maybe there are different areas and they were in another section."

"No can do, man," Owen said, shaking his fork at Boyd as if wagging a finger. "Won't work. No one knows exactly who's come out of there, you know? It's always one of those I Know Someone Who Knows Someone Who Heard deals. Plus, even then they say the people come out without much info." He gave Sin a sidelong look and added, "Which could be something like brainwashing, even. I mean, how do you know it was really innocuous in there? What if they made you forget what you saw?"

"Well, if a person subscribed to that theory," Boyd said reasonably, "then it could be like Fourth. That floor is completely innocuous when you walk through it but that doesn't stop what's happening behind soundproof doors."

"Okay, or that!" Owen said triumphantly, wielding his fork at Boyd.

"Well I just think people are making stuff up," Ryan said after a moment. He pushed some of his unruly hair out of his face and shook his head slightly. "I mean Sin came out and he's perfectly normal."

Sin raised an eyebrow at Ryan skeptically. "Am I."

Ryan paused and looked at him seriously before grinning slightly. "Well maybe not perfectly. But still--"

Something caught Ryan's attention and he stopped in mid-sentence to wave at someone with a smile. "Ivan!"

Boyd looked over and saw a studious-looking man start in their direction. His hair was pale blond and tied back in a loose ponytail with strands hanging in front of the silver wire-framed glasses that he wore. As he moved closer, it became obvious that he was extremely slender and that his clothes were slightly ill-fitting because of it. His dark button-down shirt hung lower than it should, the too-wider collar dipping down below his collarbone.

"Hello, Ryan," Ivan said, his voice low and deep. His grey eyes flit around the rest of the table, focusing briefly on Boyd before moving to settle for an even longer time on Sin. Despite that he didn't give any indication of what he was thinking and only added, "Owen. Senior Agents Beaulieu and Vega."

Boyd briefly stared at Ivan; he'd never seen the man before but it struck him that they vaguely resembled each other. Boyd had received so many derogatory comments about his androgynous appearance since coming to the Agency that it was startling to see someone else on the compound who shared similar features to his that had been so singled out.

There were obvious differences between them-- Ivan was older, his hair was a pale ash blond whereas Boyd's was more golden, his eyes were a steel grey and his features were more angular and chiseled. But even though he seemed less effeminate than Boyd, there was still something undeniably androgynous about his thin body and the fall of his long blond hair. That, combined with his serious expression and seemingly reserved mannerisms, were enough to draw parallels between them.

"Hey Ivan, what's up?" Owen said amiably, finishing the last bite of his cornbread.

"Same shit, different day," Ivan replied with a shrug. His gaze drifted back to Ryan and he smiled slightly, the corner of his mouth lifting. "I haven't seen you in a long time, friend. I'm glad you're well."

Ryan smiled back and looked genuinely happy to see Ivan. "Oh, I'm stupid. Boyd, Sin, this is Ivan Andel. He's a fellow R&D agent. Whenever I get sent to work with General Willis, me and Ivan are partnered up like me and Owen tend to be here."

"It's nice to meet you, Ivan," Boyd said calmly, watching Ivan idly and stopping himself from staring due to the oddity of the situation. Ivan's expression was difficult to read and for some reason it made Boyd automatically want to hide his thoughts too, as if they were in a competition-- or maybe he just felt the need to mirror the look. Considering how ridiculous that reaction was, Boyd was a bit bemused by it.

"Sit down!" Ryan encouraged, moving his chair over to make more room between he and Sin.

Ivan hesitated briefly and glanced down at his tray before looking over at Sin. His eyebrows drew together slightly and he appeared questioning. "I don't want to intrude."

"Sin doesn't care," Ryan replied quickly, looking over at Sin.

Sin looked up as if he'd just become aware of the conversation and stared at Ivan blankly. He raised an eyebrow slightly and his gaze seemed to automatically shift between Ivan and Boyd before he shrugged. "Whatever."

"That means yes," Ryan translated, beckoning Ivan closer.

After another moment of reluctance, Ivan moved closer and sat between Ryan and Sin, looking down at the bowl of pasta on his tray and going quiet. He didn't appear to be appalled by the proximity to Sin but it was apparent that it was distracting him in some way.

"So you work with General Willis?" Boyd asked after a moment. "Do you have an area of expertise?

"I'm currently keeping track of a third of the major international terrorist organizations. My colleagues Adrianna Smith and Mark Stanley are in charge of the others," Ivan replied as he opened his carton of juice.

Boyd nodded, taking a drink of his tea and not breaking Ivan's gaze. "Have you worked in other divisions?"

"I've mostly done work in Counter-Terror but since the two can go hand in hand I'm also in Insurgency a lot, especially when Ryan was out." Ivan glanced at Ryan again, his steady gaze taking in his friend once again before shifting back to Boyd. "R&D agents can have a lot on our plates."

"Amen to that," Ryan agreed. "Sometimes I'd prefer to be a field agent but I kind of gave up on that."

"Yeah, dude, sometimes I don't sleep for weeks it seems," Owen said in a long-suffering tone, leaning back in his chair and kicking his feet out in front of him. He crossed his arms and raised his eyebrows. "But if you were a fieldie you'd have to worry about all the dying and killing and shit and I can't decide what's more annoying."

Ivan gave another brief smile and raised his eyebrows slightly. "At least it'd be a quick end and not a long suffocation brought on my bombardments of paperwork."

"Well according to Owen, we shouldn't worry about dying anyway. He's a believer of the Reapers rumor and thinks Sin is living proof." Ryan made a face, still apparently skeptical of the entire idea but Ivan looked at Sin thoughtfully.

When Sin looked up at him, Ivan didn't drop his gaze and he tilted his head thoughtfully, some of the hair falling out of his hairband. "What makes you living proof?"

Sin eyed Ivan for a moment, his eyes narrowing slightly as though he were weighing different responses before he finally just said, "No comment."

Ivan didn't seem necessarily surprised by the response and his mouth twitched up into another slight smile.

Boyd was silent as he drank more tea, watching the interaction with an unreadable expression. He tried to ignore the fact that the more Ivan smiled and looked at Sin so familiarly, the more he wanted Ivan to leave.

"It's so tragic, dude," Owen said idly, frowning at Ryan and starting to rock his chair back and forth. "You grew up on compound and you still don't believe in all the cool stuff. It makes me sad for you. I think I'll light a candle in memory of your imagination. But just for the record," he added with quirked eyebrows, "the point was you do need to worry about dying, 'cause the Reapers'll take your soul to give you back your body."

"You're an idiot," Sin replied blandly. There was no real bite to his tone and he just shook his head to himself before allowing his pale green eyes to drift away from the table again.

"How did that crazy Ivory Coast assignment end up?" Ryan asked, turning to Ivan. "You were in the thick of it whenever the raid happened."

Ivan shrugged and made a so-so gesture with his hand. "Things got complicated after the raid. We lost some good men and had to bring in replacements for the assignment. Chuck and Nancy were killed but they called in Kassian and Archer to help clean up the mess."

Ryan frowned thoughtfully. "Did it turn out okay after that?"

"Meh." Ivan didn't look too thrilled. "Not really. It was an ongoing thing and since Kassian was cleared for extended downtime last fall, we had to find someone else to prep and get up to speed once again but it was resolved eventually. It's just hard to fill positions of people who had such high classification-- we don't really have too many level 9 and 10 fieldies to spare."

"What about that Logan guy who was just promoted?" Owen asked curiously.

"I believe he's going to be doing a lot of Intelligence." Ivan tilted his head slightly. "I don't know much about him. I've only met him a couple of times but I've been told he's going to be used a lot in undercover assignments, so he won't be around too much."

"Ha, good luck finding replacements, then," Owen said, thumping the chair back down on all four legs and leaning against the table with exaggeratedly raised eyebrows. "Maybe you should write a letter to Carhart asking for more promos to 9, since he's hogging all the 10's right now."

Ivan arched one blond eyebrow. "In the past I may have considered it but lately it just seems like General Carhart has a ferociously wild hair up his ass."

A startled laugh escaped Sin's mouth and he looked at Ivan again, appearing genuinely amused by the comment.

Boyd was surprised enough that he looked over at Sin immediately. He didn't let the surprise get to his expression, although his fingers tightened subtly, almost unconsciously, on his mug.

Ivan appeared just as surprised as Boyd felt but his mouth curled up into a pleased half-smile. "Is it untrue?" he asked mildly, directing the question to Sin.

Sin just scoffed and absently ripped up a napkin, the smirk of amusement not entirely gone from his face. "Not at all."

"Don't get me wrong," Ivan added easily, his eyes still on Sin. "I have the utmost respect for him, probably more than any person of authority we have but lately I'm unsure if I'm going into his office for an assignment or a lecture over some minuscule mistake. And a lecture from General Carhart has a way of making one examine their self worth, something I typically like to avoid."

"Why's that?" Ryan asked cluelessly, obviously never having been the recipient of such a lecture.

"Because General Carhart has a way of saying things in a way that makes you..." Ivan trailed off slightly, a thoughtful frown crossing his androgynous features.

"It makes you start to see things his way even if you initially don't want to," Sin drawled. "And then he either intentionally or not makes his case in such a way that makes it seem like he's disappointed in your decisions in a way that's more parental than condescending, so as resistant as you try to be, it's difficult not to want to improve under such scrutiny."

"Exactly." Ivan nodded, and when Sin's face began to settle back into its usual stoicism, Ivan inclined his head towards Sin slightly. "You should smile more. It's nice."

Sin stared at him oddly and said nothing in response but Ivan just shrugged and looked back to the others calmly, as if the quick exchange hadn't even happened.

Ryan's eyebrows shot up and he glanced at Boyd.

Boyd couldn't help feeling on guard due to the interaction; Sin was smiling and laughing so quickly with Ivan-- he was actually taking the time to interact and, almost annoyingly, they even seemed to be on the same wavelength.

It left Boyd feeling like his territory was being encroached upon. He wanted Ivan to stop smiling so familiarly, to move away from Sin, to stop talking about Boyd's unit, to stop acting like he knew everything. Boyd couldn't stop that irritation, which only grew when he realized he wouldn't have cared if Sin had interacted that way with anyone else at the table other than Ivan. That, in fact, he probably wouldn't have cared as much even if it had been Rebecca.

It was undeniable to Boyd that what he felt was jealousy, and equally undeniable that he had no right to feel that way. He'd been the one to break up, he'd been the one to encourage Sin to interact with more people. He just hadn't realized he would feel this way-- that the moment Sin seemed to have an instant connection with someone else, that he would feel jealous. He'd thought he was okay with the idea of space between them, and he still was... just not when Ivan was involved.

But because it wasn't any of his business anymore, Boyd studiously kept the tension out of his shoulders and the thoughts out of his expression, even if his fingers were still a little tight on the mug. He told himself Ivan was just being nice and it wasn't Ivan's fault anyway, or Sin's, and he didn't meet Ryan's eyes because he didn't want to risk any sense of iciness or annoyance to slide through. He just made himself drink his tea and stay silent.

Owen leaned against his hand and raised his eyebrows. "No kidding! He's a pretty cool guy but half the time I think he's ready to cap my ass for not being spic-span-and-shiny like him in the morning. Plus, have you ever gotten the Carhart Look? He's all--"

Owen sat up straight and lifted his chin, and with a completely serious expression and narrowed eyes that seemed to be hiding some sense of disapproval, he stared evenly at each of them in turn. When he spoke, it was in a surprisingly good imitation of Carhart's low voice. "Did you have anything of import to add or were you wasting our time? I'm the only one who takes anything seriously. I saw you roll your eyes; drop and give me twenty, soldier, and don't whine about it."

Ivan shook his head, looking amused, and Ryan burst out laughing although he tried to muffle it after a moment. "Aww, I love Zachary. Don't make fun of him, guys. It will make me sad."

"Nahh, we're laughing with him, not at him," Owen reassured Ryan as he dropped back into his typical slouch.

"Uh huh..." Ryan didn't look convinced but he grinned slightly despite himself before looking at Boyd again. His eyebrows drew together slightly and his expression turned questioning.

Ivan followed Ryan's gaze and focused on Boyd. "What brings you and Agent Vega to the cafeteria? I don't think I've ever seen either of you here."

To eat, Boyd wanted to reply curtly but he didn't; instead, he met Ivan's gaze evenly and shrugged. "Our unit rarely interacts outside of briefings and it was lunch time so we all came here."

Ivan nodded, his eyes still on Boyd even though he didn't reply out loud.

"I wanted to go the cafe but Ryan's a pansy and wouldn't let us," Owen said in an undertone to Ivan.

Ryan's wide indigo eyes rolled and he gave Owen an exasperated look. "Geez, I'll never hear the end of this. I don't like it there and I doubt Sin would have either. They would have just been assholes the whole time."

Ivan looked at Sin again, his expression appearing mildly intrigued as if he was wondering about Sin's opinion on the matter.

"And like you said before," Ryan continued to Owen. "Then Sin would have had to kick their asses and I'd feel bad about causing him to get into an unimportant fight."

"I don't mind unimportant fights," Sin said idly, crumpling his bag of chips. "In fact I used to look forward to them. It's a good way to release tension."

"Or you could just go to the gym like you used to," Ryan retorted with a note of disapproval.

Sin shrugged uncaringly. "Or that."

Ivan twirled his fork around in the bowl of linguine, still watching Sin curiously, taking in all of Sin's motions and mannerisms. "Do you work out a lot?" he asked in the mild quiet tone he seemed to use for everything.

"Yes." Sin picked up his bottle of water and unscrewed the cap.

"I do too." Ivan paused and smiled ruefully. "I do it for meditative reasons though, not to get extremely built. Obviously..." he added, gesturing to his thin frame.

Boyd stared at Ivan briefly then shifted in his seat and set his mug down, deciding to make more of a concentrated effort to be part of the conversation. For as much as Ivan's constant looks toward Sin were annoying him, it wasn't like Ivan was doing anything wrong, and being pissed off about something that was basically his own fault wasn't going to get him anywhere.

"Meditative?" Boyd asked, pulling some hair behind his ear and watching Ivan.

"Exercise has the ability to put me in a zen-like state, I suppose," Ivan explained, continuing to twirl his fork although he didn't take a bite. "For some reason when I'm running or even strength training, I'm able to focus on what my body is doing and push every other thought to the wayside. It's the only way I can unwind after spending hours and days at a time worrying over mission profiles and research."

This time it was Sin who looked at Ivan with mild interest.

Boyd remembered that Sin had once told him that was the same reason he exercised. He nodded and leaned back slightly in his chair. "I could see how that would be a favored pastime for you, then, especially with your position. I've really only experienced that during retzev." He paused briefly. "I suppose with long-distance running, too."

"What is retzev?" Ivan asked slowly, as if testing the word out on his tongue.

"Continuous motion of attacks in Krav Maga," Boyd replied. He noticed Owen was watching him curiously too and it occurred to him that this was probably the first time he'd mentioned anything even approximating details from the level 10 training he was going through concurrently with taking missions.

"A lot of martial arts teach you how to defend yourself but with Krav Maga, they teach you how to neutralize your enemy quickly. You go completely on the offense until your opponent is finished; you keep moving, keep attacking... You can practice retzev on your own too, just going through the motions of the attacks repeatedly."

"Sounds tiring," Ryan said around a mouthful of chicken strip.

"I think it sounds interesting. I've read about Krav Maga before-- it seems to be a particularly ruthless form of martial arts but an exercise like that would definitely allow me to clear my mind." Ivan seemed to be really considering the information, a thoughtful look on his serious face.

Boyd shrugged. "You could probably choose to do continuous attacks with any martial art, depending on its teachings. If your goal is primarily for meditation, you may be more interested in something like Tai Chi, unless you actually wanted to get involved in something more ruthless like Krav Maga."

"Well, I'm not much of a fighter or else I don't perceive myself to be. Anything I take up would be strictly for exercise so it may be that Tai Chi is better for me." Ivan tilted his head consideringly, hair once again falling into his face. "Thank you, I'll look into it."

Boyd nodded and glanced past Sin, who was watching Ivan without a particular expression. The fact that Sin was paying attention to Ivan at all, though, made the spike of jealousy resurface.

He couldn't help feeling threatened by Ivan's presence, partially because Ivan and he resembled each other enough that it made it more difficult not to automatically compare, and partially because Sin was getting along with him unusually well right away. Even so, the fact he felt that way at all annoyed him.

Before Boyd could say anything, his phone suddenly rang in his messenger bag. Boyd drew his eyebrows down slightly and leaned over to pull the phone out, flipping it on immediately when he saw David Nakamura's name.

"Hey little B," David said amiably before Boyd could speak. He seemed to be in an especially good mood judging by his tone. "Where are you?"

"Eating, why?" Boyd asked, confused by the phone call.

"Because you're standing me up right now and I look like a fool in the training room," David said, although a grin could be heard in his voice.

"Wh--" Boyd's eyebrows drew down further and it took him a second before he realized that this was the week his physical training switched from fully with Doug to occasionally with David, who still wasn't back to full duty from the spinal injury he'd received during the raid.

Doug had only briefly mentioned the other day that he was going to be unavailable today and Boyd was supposed to stop by the Tower's training room a few hours earlier than normal to check on David's availability, since David was supposed to be returning to work this week.

"Oh, shit," he said more urgently, automatically grabbing his messenger bag as he stood. "I completely forgot; I'm sorry."

"I won't beat your ass in training this time but next time..." David let the sentence trail off ominously.

Boyd couldn't help a half grin; he knew David was in a great mood because he was finally able to do some more hands-on training. "Yeah, just try it, gimp," he said in genuine amusement and he heard David laugh on the other side.

"Just get over here," David said with a chuckle and suddenly hung up.

Boyd flipped his phone closed with an amused smile then looked at the others, his expression becoming more serious as he glanced past Sin and Ivan, although he didn't make it an obvious transition. "I have to go."

"What? Why?" Ryan frowned, appearing truly disappointed. "We've barely been here."

Sin just shook his head and gave Boyd a look that could only be interpreted as, 'why the hell did you suggest this and bring me here if you had something to do?'

"I have training," Boyd said, looking at Ryan first then letting his gaze settle on Sin slightly apologetically. "David's back. I forgot Doug told me he wouldn't be around today and and to stop by early to see if David was available."

"Oh hey, the legend's back?" Owen asked in interest, perking up. "No lasting injuries or whatever?"

"He's cleared for some of the lighter duties of training but won't be able to go completely hands-on or full duty for another few months, most likely," Boyd replied, opening his messenger bag and dropping his phone inside. "He should eventually be back to normal, they're hoping. But he has expertise in certain areas Doug doesn't so they're sending me to him for some of my training from now on whenever Doug is unavailable."

Owen nodded thoughtfully and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms. "Got it, home boy," he said seriously.

Boyd quirked an eyebrow at him then shook his head slightly to himself and turned to leave. "Bye."

"I'll talk to you later," Ryan called after him, still looking disappointed.

Boyd nodded and raised a hand in a farewell wave but didn't turn around or pause as he hurried out of the cafeteria.

Continue to Alter: Part II