Alter: Part II

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

The story contains..

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


Book One: Evenfall See Evenfall chapter list.

Book Two: Afterimage
See Afterimage chapter list.

Interludes list

Book Three: Fade
See Fade chapter list.


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Alter - Part II

Interlude 3.3

Uploaded on 6/7/2009

Music blasted from the stereo, the singers alternating between screams and more melodic singing, while incredibly fast drums blasted in the background. The new sound system Kassian had installed in his truck was nearly overwhelming in its intensity, making it even louder since the windows were rolled up. Kassian was really getting into the song, drumming and occasionally banging his hands against the steering wheel as he drove, alternating between singing and shouting the lyrics to Fear Factory's song Corporate Cloning.

Boyd leaned back in the passenger seat, his purchases from the music store they'd just visited in his lap as he smiled sidelong at Kassian. He would have said something but it was too loud to have a proper conversation so instead he just relaxed and enjoyed music that he wouldn't have chosen for himself but liked anyway.

Kassian was just turning them down one of the main streets through the city when Boyd felt his bag vibrate. He immediately pulled out his phone, and as soon as he saw Ryan's name he flipped the phone open even as he reached over and turned the music down. Kassian was in the middle of belting out an especially loud part and cut himself off when he realized the background music was no longer at that level. He made a face at Boyd, who only grinned teasingly.

"Hey Ryan," Boyd said into the phone.

"Boyd! You're not busy, are you?"

Boyd automatically glanced at Kassian. "Not exactly but Kassian and I were just about to get some food. Why?"

"I wanted to talk to you about some stuff," Ryan said, undeterred. "Would you guys mind if I tagged along?"

"I don't think so but hold on," Boyd said, looking over at Kassian with a quirked eyebrow as he covered the phone. "Ryan had something to talk about and wants to meet us for food."

Kassian shrugged. "If you want to. I don't mind."

Boyd nodded then said into the phone, "That's fine. Do you need a ride?"

"Well I was gonna suggest Cafe Milan and I could walk there but if you wanna go anywhere else, I'll need a ride."

Boyd shook his head even though Ryan couldn't see it. "No, I know where that is. That's fine; we'll head there. We can meet you in about," he looked out the window to see where they were, "ten, fifteen minutes. Is that alright?"

"Yeah, that's great! Awesome." The line disconnected after that.

After flipping closed the phone and sliding it into his messenger bag, he looked over at Kassian. "Do you know where Cafe Milan is?"

"Yeah." Kassian took an abrupt turn, cutting off other people in the process. They drove silently for a moment before Kassian said slowly, "So I could just drop you off..."

"There's no reason for that unless it's what you'd prefer," Boyd said with a shrug, then looked over at Kassian. "It didn't sound like Ryan would mind if you were there; if anything, he'd probably prefer it since you didn't get to come with us last time."

"Blah." Kassian leaned his head back against the seat and pushed his sunglasses up his nose, stopping at a red light. "I guess I'll go. I don't want him to think I hate his guts or anything. I just don't feel very social."

"I doubt it will be long but if you feel the need to get out of it in the middle you can always make up an excuse," Boyd said reasonably and pulled some hair behind his ear. "Like you have another date with Christina."

There was a brief pause as Kassian switched lanes to go around one of the slow moving and decrepit city buses before he shook his head slightly. "It's fine. I'll go. I wouldn't use her as an excuse anyway."

"How did your date go with her, by the way?" Boyd asked curiously after a moment.

"Eh." Kassian seemed to be in the mood to express his thoughts in nonwords. "I keep making a valiant effort to like spending time with her but I just don't. I'm pretty sure that was the last time I'll be seeing her."

"Why don't you?" Boyd asked, belatedly putting the bag of music into his messenger bag, before putting it on the floor.

"She's kind of annoying," Kassian admitted reluctantly, lips turning down in disappointment. "She's so into consumerism and capitalism. It's kind of disgusting, especially in this day and age when the average person is hovering just above the poverty level. I just sit there and debate with her constantly about our differing views. She thinks it's because I'm from a working class background, like I'm bitter-- I just think she's a stuck-up bitch."

"Ah," Boyd said, leaning an arm against the door along the window and tilting his head toward Kassian. "I wasn't around her long but I suppose from the bit I saw, I could see that being the case. That's too bad."

Kassian just gave a faint shrug. "I guess. She asked too many questions, though, so it's probably for the best. She was really hung up on the fact that I work for the government but could afford to pay for a vehicle in cash. After all of her talk about how poor people just need to work harder to get where wealthy people have made it, I'm surprised she cared about where the money came from as long as she knew I had it."

"Wow," Boyd said, raising his eyebrows. "If she actually said that, I would have been annoyed too."

"See what I mean?" Kassian shook his head, frowning. "And it's really rare to find someone who holds views like that outside of the really wealthy people. After the war it seemed like people like her-- so focused on material things and shit like that-- I dunno man, I can't even believe she exists. It doesn't make sense. She's a saleswoman at a dealership-- she lives in a one room crappy ass apartment in order to afford all of the other shit she thinks she needs. It's ridiculous."

"Maybe she works there so she'll find Mr. Right who also happens to be Mr. Rich," Boyd said with a shrug.

"Well good luck to her with that venture," Kassian muttered, reaching over to turn up the music again although it was at a more tolerable volume.

Mutual silence fell between them as the music took over the truck again and Boyd idly looked out the window. Within a few minutes, they arrived at Cafe Milan and, after taking a bit to find a parking space, they went into the coffee shop. It was interesting that Ryan had chosen the same establishment for his meeting place as Ann had; although it could have been simply due to its location near the compound, Boyd wondered if it was also because the Connors and Ryan had visited the place in the past on anything approximating family outings.

Ryan was already seated at a table toward the back and smiled when he saw them enter and head toward him. Boyd smiled slightly in return once at the table. "Were you waiting long?" he asked as he pulled his messenger bag off his shoulder, set it on the floor just under the table, and sat down. He pulled some hair behind his ear that had started to fall into his eyes, although half of it fell forward again anyway.

"Not really. Hey Kassian!" Ryan smiled at the other man as he sat down beside Boyd.

Kassian pulled off his sunglasses and set them down on the table, stretching his long legs out in front of him and nodding at Ryan amiably. "How are you?"

"Doing good. I've had some time on my hands the last couple of days since that follow-up got cancelled," Ryan replied, taking a sip from the glass that was sitting in front of him on the table.

Kassian nodded, looking thoughtful now that the mission had been mentioned. "I'm kind of disappointed about that actually. I was wondering what they were up to out there."

"Well," Ryan started, looking at Boyd and Kassian in turn. "Carhart called me and Owen in and we went over all of the data again but honestly, there's no reason to go in there and make it obvious that we're aware of that location yet. He decided that our best bet is to hand it over to the Euro division and have them continuously surveil it to see if we can learn anything of import."

"Hmm." Boyd rested his arms on the armrests and leaned back in the chair, shifting his feet so they weren't kicking his messenger bag. "Will we get updates on it if anything of import is seen or is it completely in their jurisdiction now?"

"They're just watch-dogging for us right now," Ryan replied and shook his head back and forth as though he wanted to get off the topic. "I didn't call you here to talk about work, though."

Boyd drew his eyebrows down slightly. "What did you want to talk about, then?"

Ryan made a face. "Did you really think I called you here to talk about a mission that isn't gonna happen? Geez. No, I wanted to talk to you about Hs--Sin, actually."

Boyd nearly rolled his eyes. "Well, no, but it could have been about work in general," he said, tone amiable. He raised his eyebrows slightly and watched Ryan idly. "Anyway, what about him?"

Ryan looked at Boyd seriously and sighed, looking like he was about to start but then he shook his head. "Maybe we should order something so we're not just sitting here like weirdos. Like it's the three of us sharing my soda."

At first, Boyd watched Ryan a little more suspiciously, wondering why he was hesitating but in the end he simply nodded. "Alright."

He looked around until he noticed the nearest waitress and got her attention. She came over and handed them each a menu, waiting while they quickly perused the choices. Once they had ordered, she collected the menus and left.

"Why are we here talking about Sin?" Kassian asked with a raised eyebrow, staring at Ryan.

"Well, Boyd mentioned to me that he thought Sin should broaden his horizons as far as having friends and being around other people then, well, him, and I think it's a great idea." Ryan shifted in his seat, a grin finding its way onto his pale face.

"I did say that," Boyd agreed, giving Ryan a somewhat odd look. "What does that have to do with this?"

"Because I was thinking about things since Wednesday and I think Sin has serious potential. I'm super shocked that he's actually making an effort," Ryan said, completely switching from his use of Sin's real name. He only seemed to say 'Hsin' when it was just he and Boyd. "After Carhart called me and Owen in not too long after you left, he didn't even leave. He stayed after with Ivan."

Kassian tilted his head questioningly. "Ivan, the R&D agent?"

"Uh huh," Ryan nodded.

Boyd's eyes narrowed slightly at the information but he caught himself almost immediately and forced his expression back to neutral. The information surprised him and, he had to admit, didn't particularly sit well with him. It was unusual for Sin to remain around other people any longer than necessary so it seemed especially telling that Sin had with Ivan.

But even following that acknowledgment, he had to grudgingly admit that in truth that was good; Ivan and Sin had seemed to have some things in common and, really, why shouldn't Sin hang around someone he could talk to about topics he was interested in? It was exactly what Boyd had been hoping for so he needed to get over the fact that for some reason something about Ivan put Boyd on edge.

"He really does seem to be making an effort," Boyd agreed. "I suppose that must mean he saw some merit in the suggestion."

"He must have," Ryan agreed. "He seemed to get along with Ivan. I talked to Ivan recently and, well it wasn't like they hung out together and became best friends, but he mentioned that Sin didn't immediately leave or pull his smart-ass routine either."

Kassian didn't look too surprised by the information and he continued to stare at Ryan oddly. "Well, I know Ivan and he's a pretty chill guy to be around. If Vega was going to get along with anyone, I'm not surprised it's someone like him. But I still fail to see why this was so urgent..."

Ryan made a face at Kassian and pushed his thick black glasses up his nose. "Well, I got to thinking about maybe trying to hook Sin up with someone. Like to date."

Boyd blinked. The thought hadn't even occurred to him to recommend such a thing, especially since Sin had made it clear he thought it unlikely he could even find friends. For the moment, the idea itself and the fact that Ryan had suggested it was too surprising for Boyd to even think about it clearly. "What?"

Kassian looked at Boyd sidelong but didn't comment as he took a long sip of the water the waitress had brought to their table.

"Well," Ryan started in the same reasonable tone. "I've really been giving this some thought, it's not just me trying to play matchmaker and I think it would be good for him. Yeah trying to make friends would be great for him, but if he actually actively went on a date with someone or even more than one person, it'd be him having a one-on-one connection with them and not just having someone to say hi to on the compound."

"Makes sense," Kassian said around his cup.

"He's doubtful enough he'd be able to make friends," Boyd said, drawing his eyebrows down slightly and watching Ryan more closely. He was trying not to think about this as anything other than an objective suggestion but that was difficult with the words 'date' and 'Sin' in the same sentence. "The fact that he's willing to try for that is one thing but why do you think he'd want to date anyone? Not to mention, dating introduces other aspects that could make it all the more awkward if it doesn't go well, which would be defeating the point."

"How do you know he wouldn't want to?" Kassian asked, raising both blond eyebrows this time. "You think he's never going to get involved with anyone again?"

"I don't know if he'd want to or not but I don't see why we're throwing this idea out there the second he decides to maybe take our advice about trying to make friends," Boyd said evenly, looking over at Kassian. "He's already so doubtful about finding anyone to be friends with that the suggestion right now of anything more seems sudden. If he wants to date someone why can't he just decide it on his own without us interfering?"

"Well I'm sure Ryan wasn't planning to attempt some kind of blind date surprise attack," Kassian replied with a shrug, his eyes tracking the waitress as she approached with their food. "What's the big deal if he actually agrees to it?"

The waitress dropped off their food, briefly mixing up Kassian's pizza with Ryan's sandwich before disappearing into the kitchen area again.

Boyd was trying to ignore the discomfort and jealousy he felt at the idea of Sin actually agreeing. In the two years he and Sin had been together, it had been rare for them to just spend time together. Although they'd occasionally spent time together simply for fun, even in Monterrey most of the time they'd just had sex. In that way, they'd never managed to have a real relationship. Despite the chemistry between them, even Boyd had never gotten the opportunity to date Sin.

The idea of Sin automatically making the effort to do that with someone else, to spend time with someone else simply for fun despite having just met them, and for someone else to experience something Boyd wished he had-- there was no denying that it hurt to think of that.

But he had no right to say that aloud. Whatever he felt was inconsequential and he wasn't about to selfishly try to impose on Sin's life just because something upset him. It wouldn't be right and it certainly wouldn't be fair.

"Well, obviously he can do whatever he wants," Boyd replied calmly as he pulled his plate of lemon pepper fish closer.

"Obviously," Kassian agreed, a smirk playing on his lips.

Ryan looked at the two of them strangely before clearing his throat. "Anyway, so assuming Sin goes along with it I have someone in mind already but I'd like to give him options but I don't really talk to that many people about him to know who'd be a good candidate to suggest. Any thoughts?"

Boyd shook his head and looked down at the fish as he started to cut it into pieces. He wasn't going to say no to this but there was no way he was participating in choices.

Kassian observed Ryan thoughtfully for a moment, his food sitting untouched as he appeared to debate something. It was obvious that he was championing Ryan's idea. "I don't know any gay guys but there's a woman I'm familiar with who would be interested."

"Really?" Ryan asked around a mouthful of roast beef. "Who?"

"Jenny White. She's a level 9 field agent in Intelligence, valentine op." Kassian finally picked up a piece of his mini-pizza. "But I wouldn't actually recommend her."

Ryan looked disappointed at that and shifted in his chair. "Why? I know her-- she's really pretty and funny."

"Because while I think he'd enjoy her in a sexual sense," Kassian cocked an eyebrow, "they don't have anything in common, I doubt he'd even agree, and she just wants to fuck him for the notoriety."

"Oh." This time Ryan made a face, obviously nixing the idea.

Boyd narrowed his eyes slightly; as if Sin didn't have enough going on, the idea of someone wanting to use Sin even more just to become infamous themselves annoyed Boyd. Thankfully, Ryan didn't look like he was going to push her as a candidate because if so, Boyd would have certainly argued against it.

"She's off the list then," Boyd said decisively before taking a bite of fish and looking at Ryan. "Who did you already have in mind?"

Ryan hesitated briefly and looked from Boyd to Kassian. After a pause he shrugged and said, "Ivan."

Boyd very briefly paused with his fork just spearing the next piece of fish and he watched Ryan for a moment. He wasn't surprised by that given the fact that Ryan had brought the topic up shortly after mentioning Ivan's name.

But still-- of all people... Not Rebecca, who at least seemed honestly nice and quietly awkward; not someone else who Boyd hadn't felt on guard about since meeting him. Ivan's presence made Boyd feel like he had to compete with the man; like Ivan was starting up where Boyd had left off, taking over the space that Boyd had left vacant.

The annoyance regarding Ivan hadn't fully dissipated but he did his best to ignore it. Although Ivan had seemed interested in Sin at the table and Sin had actually interacted with him in return, Boyd couldn't quite stop himself from asking, "Why him?"

"Well, first of all he's one of the few people that never judged Sin based on the stuff everyone says. Whenever I mentioned the unit or you or Sin in the past, he never gave any indication that he ever believed any of the stuff." Ryan's eyes met Boyd's and he smiled slightly. "That's pretty important, I thought. That's the main reason why Sin has so much trouble with people here in general. 'Cause they judge him."

Boyd considered that for a long moment then decided that if he was going to be honest, it was true that if Ryan was determined to go through with this, then someone who was open-minded was a necessity. It was too bad that person wasn't someone else but it was probably good fortune that someone so nonjudgmental had been found right away. In the end, he just nodded noncommittally.

"I didn't know he was gay," Kassian commented idly, wiping sauce from his mouth onto a napkin. "Although I guess I always assumed he was just because of the way he looks."

"Yeah he's a little androgynous, but Sin was hot for Boyd so I figured he likes that type of thing?" Ryan asked, eyebrows raised slightly as if he were waiting for the two of them to confirm his reasoning.

Kassian just gave a half-grin and didn't say anything.

Boyd couldn't bring himself to comment on that because the similarities between his appearance and Ivan's was a large part of his discomfort with the entire idea. If that aspect didn't exist, it would have been easier to look at things objectively and not feel like Ivan was going to take over where he had left off-- to move in and confuse matters when Boyd had been trying to give he and Sin space to figure things out. To figure themselves out.

He just shrugged and hoped Ryan wouldn't press it.

"Anyway, he's really attracted to Sin. I could tell anyway but he confirmed it on the phone-- he said it was too bad that Sin was so unavailable to everyone because he'd like to really get to know him more." Ryan picked up his sandwich again. "So I wanted to like-- broach the topic to Sin but I wanted to tell you first. Get your opinion and stuff."

Boyd was silent at first, taking a drink of water as he tried to think objectively. When no one else immediately spoke, Boyd realized that Ryan was waiting for him to respond. Boyd set his glass down and met Ryan's eyes.

"Bring the subject up to Sin if you want," he said, lifting one shoulder in a shrug. "It's up to him what he wants to do."

Kassian scoffed into his drink and Ryan just looked confused. "Do you not like Ivan?" he asked with a disappointed frown.

No, Boyd wanted to say, but he truly had no reason to feel that way other than because Ivan liked Sin. Instead, he sighed quietly and leaned back in his chair. "I hardly know him." He paused briefly and added so it wasn't completely obvious that he was against it, "But Sin seemed interested in talking to him, which is rare, and they seemed to have some things in common."

Ryan nodded, once again enthusiastic. "I mean I know it seems far-fetched, Sin of all people being set up with someone, but the fact that we're always so quick to be like 'yeah, Sin would never do that' kind of sucks because we're not even giving him a chance and these are things that probably wouldn't occur to him on his own to go after, right?"

He shook his head, unruly black hair falling around his face in disarray before he blew some of his bangs out of his eyes. "And I think this would help him get over you, if he found someone else to spend time with and stuff so he wasn't always alone. I mean, you moved on-- I just want to give him a chance to do the same. I feel bad for him sometimes because it seems like it's impossible for him to ever find someone else because of the way he is and the compound and stuff so Ivan just... I don't know. I just thought it's an opportunity."

Boyd didn't feel like he'd 'moved on' the way Ryan was trying to get Sin to-- just because Boyd sometimes had sex with a friend didn't mean he felt anything romantic for Kassian.

Yet even if Boyd said no right now, even if he tried to get back together with Sin as if to fend off competition, nothing would have changed between the two of them. If anything, that would have just proven the point more. They were still messed up, it was just that now they both realized it.

Precisely because they were dysfunctional, Boyd had been pushing for Sin to get friends. It wouldn't be fair for Boyd to say it shouldn't be anything beyond that, especially because Ryan was right that Sin wouldn't think of it on his own and that everyone automatically assumed he wouldn't do certain things. If Boyd truly wanted to be a good friend to Sin, he had to agree to this, regardless of how it made him feel.

And Boyd did truly want Sin to have a chance to live as much of a normal life as he could on compound-- Boyd just hadn't realized how strongly it would make him feel the first time something like this came up. As he thought about it, Boyd realized how selfish and unfair he was being about it all.

Boyd had to tell himself all of this very firmly before he could make himself nod. "Sin deserves any chances for happiness there are for him," he said, truly meaning that even if it hurt to think that such chances wouldn't necessarily include him. "And he deserves options."

"Great!" Ryan crowed, gesturing at Boyd with his half eaten sandwich. "So you'll go with me to talk to him?"

"What?" Boyd asked in surprise.

"Well, you're really the only person he'd listen to," Ryan said reasonably. "At least if you're there he'd give it more thought or think it's more credible."

Boyd automatically glanced toward Kassian, who was watching him knowingly. He could tell that Kassian was aware of how reluctant Boyd was about this idea, that it stemmed from jealousy, and Boyd met Ryan's eyes again. Boyd wished he could make himself feel okay about this idea but he just couldn't. He didn't want to be the one suggesting all this to Sin but he would go with if Ryan did the talking. He just didn't want to say that here with Kassian's gaze burning into him.

"When were you planning to go?" Boyd asked instead.

"In the next couple of days," Ryan replied happily around a mouthful of roast beef and potato chips. "He just went on a mission today but he should be back soon."

"Okay." Boyd picked up his fork and tilted his head slightly as he watched Ryan. "Call me when you're going, then."

Ryan agreed and the rest of the meal passed uneventfully. It didn't take long until they were parting ways, with Ryan turning in the direction of his apartment building with a cheerful wave, saying he wanted to walk when asked if he needed a ride.

Boyd and Kassian headed toward the truck without really speaking, and the silence continued at first when Kassian started to drive them toward their neighborhood. Boyd stared out the passenger window as the buildings passed, his elbow against the door and chin propped on his hand.

"Does Ryan know about us?" Kassian asked seemingly out of nowhere, glancing over at Boyd through the darkened lenses of his sunglasses.

Boyd looked over, dropping his hand into his lap. "No. I told him I was sleeping with someone else on and off but didn't specify who." He leaned back in the seat and watched Kassian with a slight frown. "I suppose it's possible he could make assumptions on his own but I never told him you're bi."

"Well, I think he has an idea of it," Kassian replied stiffly.

"He might, but I wouldn't indicate to anyone your sexual orientation or imply we're anything other than friends," Boyd said, drawing his eyebrows down. "Not unless you told me it was alright-- not even Ryan, even though I know he could be trusted. The only person I told about us was Sin and that was obviously extenuating circumstances you knew about ahead of time."

Kassian grunted and drove silently for a moment, turning off the main avenue and taking the side streets to their neighborhood. "Well, if he does have some idea and he lets you in on it, you better tell him to keep his mouth shut about it."

Boyd watched Kassian a moment then looked out the window again, eyes narrowed slightly. He couldn't help feeling mildly insulted by Kassian's attitude; the man had no problem fucking Boyd until he screamed behind closed doors, he didn't hesitate to whisper in Boyd's ear how his androgyny turned him on so much, or didn't hold himself back from coming in Boyd's mouth-- yet the way Kassian said that made it seem like being attracted to men was bad, like it was shameful or embarrassing.

And as much as Boyd liked Kassian and thought he was easy to get along with, that didn't sit well with Boyd, who felt that a significant portion of his identity dealt with the fact that he was gay.

He didn't appreciate the implications-- Not only that Boyd would be a bad enough friend to tell others about something he specifically knew Kassian wanted to remain confidential but also that there was something wrong with wanting another man.

It was the first time Boyd saw Kassian in another light; the first time Kassian said something that made Boyd feel like there was something inherently wrong with himself simply because of something as natural to him as his sexual orientation. The first time Kassian made Boyd feel inadequate.

Familiar buildings and houses he'd driven by many times flashed by them and he focused on them for a moment before he said evenly, "Okay."

There was another silence before Kassian once again broke it. "And what was that all about anyway?"

At first, Boyd didn't answer as he continued to stare out the window; he knew Kassian was referring to the conversation and probably Boyd's reactions, but he didn't know how much he immediately wanted to discuss it.

"The suggestion caught me off guard," he said with a one-shouldered shrug.

"Oh, so you didn't originally plan to begrudge poor Vega a date?" Kassian asked with a smirk.

Boyd made a face, his reflection pale in the window. He was mildly frustrated by the fact that Kassian was probably not going to let this go, although at least the other man was being somewhat lighthearted about it.

"Considering the fact I never even got to date him, the thought did cross my mind." Boyd forced some of the tension that had built in his shoulders to release; he crossed his arms and leaned back in the seat with a sigh, looking over at Kassian. "But obviously that wouldn't be very fair."

"You were all jealous and mad," Kassian commented, shaking his head. "Captain Oblivious didn't seem to notice though but I couldn't decide if it was hilarious or ridiculously selfish."

"I didn't say no to it, did I?" Boyd asked stiffly. "I'm even going with him to Sin's."

"That's not the point," Kassian retorted. "It's just the fact that you're mad about it all-- that you originally tried to shoot down the idea by saying it might be awkward for him before his opinion was even weighed into the equation. It was pretty lame, kid."

Boyd frowned, kicking his feet out in front of him, arms still crossed and eyes narrowing.

He felt a spike of irritation with Kassian-- combined with the older man's earlier comment, it almost felt like Kassian was attacking Boyd. But Boyd knew that wasn't true and that his interpretation was probably just skewed due to his mood. After having spent the last half hour aware of how unfair and illogical his feelings and reactions were, he didn't exactly feel like listening to Kassian point out even more how he was a failure at life.

"I don't know why you think I wouldn't feel anything about this," Boyd replied in a strong, even-tempered tone as he stared out the window. "I know I'm just being jealous, I know it's stupid to feel that way, especially since I've been the one pushing all this. I just didn't expect the idea of him dating others to come up so soon and I didn't realize how much it would bother me. I'm trying to ignore that reaction because I know how unfair it is to Sin."

"Well kid, you're the one who started immediately fucking me and said Sin had no reason to be bothered by it if he wanted to be your friend so I was pretty surprised to see you initially trying to discourage Ryan from setting the dude up on a date that probably won't even work out," Kassian replied, matter-of-fact. "I'm not trying to get on your case or anything but I'm just letting you know my opinion on the matter. You're not the only one allowed to have fun. If Sin wants to get laid, you should be happy for him because he's not beating himself up over you anymore."

"I know," Boyd said with a frown, looking out the window again.

The irritation strengthened, especially with Kassian's mention of Boyd fucking him immediately. Kassian was the one who came onto Boyd first and it wasn't like the first time Boyd stopped by the man's house he was jumping in his pants. But Boyd knew Kassian hadn't meant it that way and he couldn't deny the truth that it would be hypocritical to tell Sin he couldn't do something he himself had.

"It just threw me off," Boyd said with eyes narrowed distractedly. "You and I, we're friends who happen to fuck so it's not like there are any feelings between us. Our relationship was purely friendship for months before anything else even came up. But the idea of Sin right away dating anyone..." He shook his head. "I don't know. It just hit home that he may start actually getting involved with others, he may care for someone else eventually."

Boyd sighed in annoyance with himself and ran his hands over his face. "I think in the back of my mind I was thinking with enough time maybe we'd get back together again. But if he finds someone else to like, that won't happen." He dropped his hands into his lap and shook his head. "But it doesn't matter because you're right. If I'm messing around he should get to too, and the fact that it bothers me like it bothered him just proves even more I need to work on my issues. Especially since I do want him to be happy so if that's what makes him happy then that's what he should do."

"I thought you didn't want to get back together with him," Kassian said, confusion obvious in his voice as he turned onto his street. "Shit-- did you want me to drop you off home or were you still coming over?"

"It doesn't matter; it's not exactly a strenuous walk regardless of if I stay," Boyd said with a shrug.

He leaned forward to grab his messenger bag off the floor and set it on his lap, his expression and tone turning pensive. "I don't want to get back together with him if things haven't changed and I don't know if we're capable of what's needed to make it work. Right now, we would just end up where we started since nothing has changed, but maybe I subconsciously thought if we had enough time the issues would be fixed. But it's possible... Maybe there's someone out there who's far better for him than I ever was, anyway." He shrugged uncomfortably, for some reason not liking that idea and feeling frustrated with himself for feeling that way.

Kassian took the keys out of the ignition and looked over at Boyd. After a moment he just shook his head slightly and opened his door. "You two are a wreck."

"I know," Boyd said with a sigh as he got out of the truck, shutting the door behind him.

Boyd leaned against the wall between Sin's kitchen and the living room, arms crossed as he tried not to look at Sin, whose hard muscles gleamed with a coat of sweat, the planes of his body unhidden as he sat shirtless on the edge of the couch. His pants were low-slung as usual and Boyd made it a point to keep his eyes up on Sin's face and away from any other part of his body that Boyd wanted to run his gaze over instead.

Apparently, when Ryan had called Sin, he'd caught him in the midst of working out. Boyd wished Sin had taken the time to put a shirt on before he'd let them in.

To keep himself from staring at Sin, Boyd looked around the apartment. The place looked basically the same as it always did, but when his gaze passed through the kitchen, he noticed a pile of books on the table that he hadn't seen before. It was difficult to see books piled there and to avoid remembering the day he'd first brought a stack of books over for Sin; when their attraction to each other had first been growing and they had seemed so close to kissing.

Boyd looked away from the kitchen table abruptly, mildly irritated with himself because thinking about the better times didn't make the worse disappear, and the impending conversation that he'd been dragged into participating in would probably make moments like the one in his memory be that much further away.

At the same time, he found himself doubting whether Sin would even want to go along with this anyway, and he couldn't deny that he secretly hoped Sin would immediately say no. Not because Boyd wanted Sin to pine after him but because of the implications it would have if he agreed.

Boyd's gaze automatically drifted to Sin again, studying that familiar, blank expression as Sin's captivating green eyes stared at Ryan, unimpressed. Sin seemed to be waiting for Ryan to speak, but for all that Ryan had shown enthusiasm in Cafe Milan, he now seemed nervous as he kept examining Sin then looking away. The mood was more awkward than tense and Boyd simply stayed quiet with a neutral expression in the background.

"Are you going to speak, or what?" Sin asked finally, frowning at Ryan as he sat back on the couch and wiped a hand across his sweaty face.

"Um..." Ryan glanced over at Boyd helplessly but seemed to remember that he'd agreed to do all the talking because he cleared his throat almost immediately and returned his gaze to Sin. "I wanted to talk to you."

Sin's eyes narrowed at Ryan impatiently.

"About... a thing... that I... thought up..." Ryan said slowly, pursing his lips tightly together as he winced.

"Yes?" Sin looked a cross between exasperated and irritated as he arched one dark eyebrow and shot a questioning look toward Boyd.

"Well, see," Ryan burst out finally. "I think you're great. And I think that you should be friends with other people who think you're great and that since there's other people who think that and they're like, around, you should look into spending time with them so your little circle is not just limited to like. Boyd. And me on the sidelines looking dumb most of the time. Right?"

"I have no indication as to what you're babbling about, Ryan," Sin replied flatly.

Ryan sighed, an explosion of air that lifted his feathery bangs and tousled them even more than they already were. "Okay, let me ask you a question."

Sin just stared at him blankly so Ryan frowned and continued. "If there was someone you got along with, and they were interested in spending time with you, a person who is not in our unit-- would you agree?"

Sin's blank expression turned thoughtful and his gaze switched from Ryan to a close examination of Boyd. He seemed to be turning the question over in his mind, analyzing it and perhaps even wondering if this was actually all Boyd's idea judging by the way Sin's gaze sharpened on his partner.

It wouldn't have been too surprising-- Boyd had been pushing the idea of Sin making friends since their mission in China but the major difference this time was that Sin didn't automatically look suspicious or annoyed by the suggestion. That was a positive sign; a sign that he wasn't automatically distrustful and negative about Boyd's motives.

"Why do you ask?" Sin queried finally.

"Obviously because such a person exists," Ryan replied, a grin making its way onto his pale face. "Why else would I ask?" Sin stared at Ryan skeptically and opened his mouth to speak but Ryan added hurriedly, "And it's someone you recently met."

"Are you talking about Ivan?" Sin asked finally, appearing to once again grow impatient with Ryan's roundabout approach.

"Yes. He's interested in getting to know you. He thinks you're intriguing." Ryan's previous confidence about the idea seemed to have abandoned him entirely because now that Ivan's name had been mentioned, the nervousness appeared to set in again. He shifted from foot to foot, chewing on the side of his lip as he stared at Sin seriously.

"I know your first response is gonna be to say no, but just think on it. He's a cool guy, really mellow, smart, you two have stuff in common-- working out and reading and stuff. Also, the fact that you actually talked to him says you must have thought he was okay. I mean, how many people do you actually get along with right off the bat?" Ryan asked rhetorically.

Boyd kept his expression completely unreadable but watched Sin closely, trying to gauge what he thought, watching for his reaction. For some reason, it bothered him that Sin had automatically brought up Ivan's name; it was a stupid thing to feel because who else would it have been, yet it also showed that Sin hadn't completely dismissed the man from his memory.

It made it even worse for Boyd to realize with a twist in his stomach that even he and Sin hadn't gotten along right away, they hadn't for months after they'd first met. That was partially circumstances, or so Boyd thought, but what if Sin had met Ivan instead at that time... Would it have been different? Boyd didn't like the doubt and uncertainty that shifted within him at the question.

Sin was silent for another stretch of time as he appeared to take Ryan's comments into actual consideration instead of just brushing them off. He lifted a hand and ran it through his hair idly before shrugging his broad shoulders. "If you think I'm going to go seeking him out and try to become friends, you're deluded."


"I didn't say I'm disagreeing, that I didn't find him to be a completely ridiculous person like 99% of the other people who work here, but that doesn't mean I'm going to run after him like a desperate idiot when I don't even care about having friends or connections in the first place," Sin added flatly, leaving little room for argument.

Ryan tilted his head thoughtfully and studied Sin with slightly narrowed blue eyes before asking, "Okay but what if he sought you out? Would you scare him off just for the heck of it?"

Once again Sin studied Boyd and Ryan in turn before he said, "No. I don't see the reason for such behavior anymore."

"Excellent!" Ryan crowed, pumping his fist in a gesture of success as he grinned happily.

Sin just stared at Ryan and appeared completely nonplussed at his reaction before he finally spoke directly to Boyd, "Why are you here? To morally support his ridiculous behavior?"

Boyd studied Sin for a long moment, wanting to tell that Sin this hadn't been his idea, that he wasn't supporting it by being here... That he felt conflicted by this entire situation.

But in the end he ignored all of his discomfort and jealousy and shrugged. Boyd pushed himself away from the wall, sliding his hands into his pockets and watching Sin with unreadable honey brown eyes partially hidden by his hair. "I'm here for accompaniment," he said calmly.

Sin crossed his arms over his chest loosely and studied Boyd. "And what do you think about this?"

Boyd knew as he stared into Sin's intense green eyes that Sin was honestly asking his opinion and Boyd felt his reservations and self-doubt shift and crumble. It showed that Sin was thinking of him like a friend, a confidant, and that after weeks of awkwardness they'd somehow managed to reach that point again. The knowledge made Boyd no longer think about what he wanted in this-- he thought instead about what was best for Sin.

"I think it's difficult enough for you to find people at the Agency who haven't prejudged you," Boyd said slowly. "So it's not a bad idea for you to make connections with people you're interested in. And I think if you find you want to do something, you should do it. There aren't many things that you seem to truly want or like so when you find them, you should probably explore them in some capacity."

"Well, I never said I wanted to do anything." Sin shrugged. "I just won't deliberately sabotage someone who doesn't have bad intentions like I used to do in the past. It's a foolish way to behave and just makes my own situation worse. I realized that recently."

Boyd nodded, glad to hear that Sin had reached such a conclusion because he thought it would ultimately make Sin's life easier.

"Well, I think all of this is great," Ryan said cheerfully, practically beaming from ear to ear. "I have high hopes."

Yet Boyd's feelings were the inverse of Ryan's, because it felt like either way something was going to go wrong.

Continue to the next interlude: 3.4, TwoStep