Flip Side: 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!


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Flip Side - Part I

Interlude 3.2

Uploaded on 5/23/2009

The information scrolled across his panel at an almost dizzying pace and Kassian's light blue eyes scanned each line quickly, trying to absorb the information without having to move back and reread anything. The amount of data on the thin hand-held computer was phenomenal and not for the first time Kassian forced himself to put the panel down and look away from it, rubbing his tired eyes vigorously.

He reclined in the high-backed chair and sighed long and loudly, rolling his cramped shoulders as he tried to adjust his eyes properly. After a moment he relaxed against the chair and looked around the empty conference room idly, for no real reason other than the fact that it was the first time he was sitting in the room specifically used for General Carhart's elite and secretive unit.

Kassian had always wondered what exactly went on in the highly classified meetings and now he was finally getting his chance to find out. Unfortunately, this was apparently at the cost of reading hundreds of pages of text until his eyeballs felt ready to fall out of their sockets.

His first official briefing as a trial member of the unit was occurring within the next hour and he'd arrived early in order to make a valiant effort at studying the information that he had to learn. But there was so much that Kassian wondered if he'd ever get it all straight-- there were so many names and groups, sectors with numbers and foreign rebels with exotic names, different locations and codes-- it was a lot to see in one sitting and it was all beginning to run together in his mind.

As a level 10 field agent, Kassian had a lot of responsibilities already but the added work of ingesting this much information was overwhelming and once again he wondered why he'd even agreed to a trial. The last thing he wanted was to be at the Agency more-- ever since returning from Russia he'd begun to enjoy his isolation from the compound, the fact that he only had to go in when specifically classified missions came up or when they needed his help on something.

But with this trial, all of it changed.

It wasn't even that he was uninterested in the subject matter-- on the contrary, Kassian found himself to be almost surprisingly patriotic at times and despite the fact that the Agency was shady on its best day, he still agreed with some of their goals. He agreed that Janus had become just another power hungry and dangerous organization that performed terrorist attacks and he was very interested in seeing them stopped or at least controlled and downsized.

But at the same time, Sin and Boyd had apparently been having their own success with that so Kassian wasn't really needed for the job; it would be done without him, which took Kassian back to his original musings of why he was even there.

The door to the conference room opened and Ryan Freedman entered. He had a laptop computer under one arm and a black backpack dangling from one shoulder. His jet black hair was a mess of cowlicks, waves and random curls which hung around his thin face messily.

"Hi Ryan."

Ryan appeared startled to see him or maybe startled that Kassian had addressed him by his first name. They'd never formally met and the younger agent seemed genuinely surprised by the greeting.

"Hey, Senior Agent Trovosky. Wow, I don't really have to call you that, do I?" Ryan made a face and dropped his backpack on the floor as he plopped himself down in a chair across the table from Kassian. His wide indigo eyes focused on Kassian and he grinned again, this time almost bashfully. "I mean I will if you want me to, it's just kind of..."

"You don't have to," Kassian assured him with a shake of his head, sitting up straight and picking up the panel again. "Just call me Kassian."

"Okay, Kassian." Ryan said it as if he was testing the sound on his tongue and he nodded, seeming pleased. He opened his laptop and began booting it up, simultaneously pulling out a thick folder which splayed open. A few black and white photographs and pages full of numbers and codes spread across the table. "Why are you here so early? The briefing isn't for another forty minutes or so."

Kassian shrugged noncommittally, studying Ryan with interest, watching how the younger agent dexterously clicked things on the computer with one hand while arranging the fallen paperwork with the other. Ryan's eyes moved across the screen rapidly, as if he was reading something.

"Just getting a head start. Trying to get an idea on what you guys do here."

Ryan nodded distractedly and sighed after a brief moment, returning his gaze to Kassian before flicking it right back to the computer. "Yeah, I'm trying to get a head start myself. I'm a wreck-- all of that downtime and I've forgotten how to freakin' maintain my work."

Kassian smiled faintly, not really thinking that being locked in a hospital room should be considered downtime but he supposed it was at the Agency. "You seem to be doing fine," he observed. "You multitask like you have three brains."

Ryan looked up again and gave a startled laugh, his eyes brightening with amusement, lips stretching into a wide smile. After a moment his laughter died down but he continued to smile at Kassian in appreciation. "What do they have you doing?"

"Well, nothing yet." Kassian indicated Ryan with the panel. "Not really, anyway. Just a lot of reading to do, a lot of playing catch up with all of your intel. But they want me to know everything that Sin knows, so..."

Ryan raised one thick black eyebrow. "Well that should be easy; Hsin doesn't know anything."

There was a brief silence and Kassian narrowed his eyes slightly, not really knowing how to take such a comment. Did Ryan mean that literally? Was he seriously sitting here insulting his team member's intelligence in front of a relative newbie to the unit? Or was this some kind of weird test-- some kind of cliquey unit hazing thing to get Kassian to start trash-talking so that they'd have a reason to dislike him?

"Excuse me?" he asked finally, staring at Ryan with a carefully neutral expression.

Ryan sighed and gave Kassian an almost stern stare. "That's his name, you know."

Kassian's eyebrows drew together and he shook his head. "What are you-- I know that. That isn't what I meant."

Ryan blinked at him owlishly for a moment before a light bulb seemed to go off over his head and he gave Kassian a comical frown before shaking his head back and forth rapidly. "No-- no I didn't mean that literally, like, he doesn't have a thought in his head. I meant he just doesn't know the material."

Relaxing somewhat, Kassian had trouble hiding the amused grin that wanted to ghost across his face. Ryan was like a large and very animated child; it almost detracted from his good looks, making him seem far younger than he really was and making it difficult to take him seriously at all.

As Kassian observed the other man for a brief quiet moment, he wondered how someone who'd basically been born and raised in the Agency could have turned out so lively when everyone else quickly got so jaded. But the thought was only fleeting and Kassian focused on what Ryan had actually said.

Once again confusion clouded Kassian and he squinted at Ryan. "How can he not know the material? He's been in this unit for-- what? Four years?"

"Well, yeah, but he doesn't really pay attention to the material. He glances at the mission outline and does his assignments but he doesn't really bother to listen to all of the rest of it." Ryan gave an incredible shrug that involved him lifting both shoulders nearly to his earlobes. "That's just how the man operates."

Kassian glanced down at his panel and frowned deeply, something akin to irritation beginning to creep up inside him. "So then why do I have to sit here and read all of this data? Aren't I Sin's replacement?"

"Well yeah but..." Ryan trailed off and scratched the back of his head, peering at Kassian through his thick-rimmed glasses. "I guess they know you will pay attention to it?"

"What-- wait a minute." Kassian set the panel down on the table with a clatter and leaned forward, his eyebrows lowering over his eyes as he stared at Ryan seriously. Some of his irritation was beginning to become very apparent because Ryan actually scooted backwards in his chair.

"So you're telling me that even though they let Vega get off with just... doing whatever he does, they expect me to perform all of these other functions despite the fact that I'm assuming his role."

Ryan nodded, nonplussed. "Yeah?" He obviously didn't see Kassian's point.

"Well, that's just phenomenal." Kassian sat up straight and brought a hand to his forehead, massaging his temples. The irritation was boiling up into pissed off resentment now and Kassian couldn't help replaying Sin's words in his mind from so many months ago: "And you could try to stop pretending to be so fucking perfect. Maybe then people will stop expecting perfection all the time."

The words had rung true at the time, just another thing that had irritated and frustrated Kassian about the entire confrontation, but this moment was just a testament to how right Sin had been.

Tapping his fingers against the table agitatedly, Kassian sighed quietly and returned his gaze to Ryan, who was staring at him in confusion and possibly even guilt. It was strange and Kassian had no idea what the kid could actually be feeling guilty about; the notion was so absurd that he dragged himself out of his annoyance to speak again.

"I'm just aggravated. It has nothing to do with you."

"Why are you mad?" Ryan asked obliviously, his full lips drawing down in a frown. "It's just that General Carhart knows you're a super good agent."

"Well, that's very reassuring. Thank you." Kassian shook his head once again and marveled at the irony of the entire ridiculous situation; Sin got to do whatever he wanted because he was super agent and Kassian had to do everything they wanted because he was super good agent. Fantastic.

Kassian asked himself once again why he was even there.

The door opened yet again and this time it was the super agent himself. Sin walked in, stopped briefly in the doorway and stared blankly at Kassian.

"Well, hello to you too," Kassian said blandly, raising an eyebrow at Sin.

"You're in his chair," Ryan whispered across the table.

Kassian nearly rolled his eyes and didn't move, instead keeping his gaze trained on Sin. He sincerely doubted the look on Sin's face had anything to do with seating choices.

"Hey Sin," Ryan said with a grin, automatically switching to Sin's unofficial Agency name. It was an interesting change and Kassian wondered if Sin actually had a problem with people addressing him as 'Hsin.'

Sin barely even looked at Ryan before walking around the table and sitting down far enough away from Kassian to give himself space but close enough to show that he didn't feel intimidated by Kassian's presence. Or at least, that's how Kassian interpreted it because it was likely what he would have done if he'd walked in and found Sin already in the room.

"We were just talking about you," Ryan went on in his apparently typical oblivious fashion. Kassian could have smacked Ryan in the back of the head. Did the kid seriously not know that there was bad blood between the two senior agents at the table?

"Were you." Sin stared at Ryan before sliding his gaze over to Kassian.

"More or less," Kassian replied with a shrug, picking up his panel and scrolling through the data again. He could feel those steady green eyes on him and couldn't help looking up to meet them.

"You people must lead very dull lives if I'm the topic of conversation," Sin said finally, adopting a non-expression and crossing his arms over his faded red t-shirt. It looked slightly too small for his broad shoulders and clung to his muscular chest and arms.

Kassian just shrugged again and had to give Sin props for actually being half-way civil. Kassian hadn't expected as much.

He went back to his panel and as soon as he did, he could feel Sin's gaze once again return. It was uncomfortable and the intense stare was enough to cause some seriously annoying anxiety. Despite that, Kassian continued to stare at the data even though after a moment he just found himself clicking through the file idly, not reading it at all, and mostly just watching Sin out of his peripheral vision.

"So what are you up to?" Ryan queried suddenly.

Kassian looked over at him. "What?"

"The file-- the data." Ryan pointed a stylist at Kassian's panel.

"Oh. Sector 11." Kassian frowned and tried to recall what he'd just glanced at; he'd very obviously failed to retain any of the information with Sin as a distraction. "Leader name... Nicolai St--"


Kassian frowned and looked at Sin questioningly but Sin just raised an eyebrow.

"Oh, that's right, Nicolai is from Sector 62. 11 is Christof--"


Kassian grit his teeth and narrowed his eyes at Sin. "Are you going to be helpful or just sit there and act like a game show host?"

Sin scoffed at him without changing expression. "Why would I help you?"

So much for civilized.

"Maybe because by me being here, I'm helping you," Kassian replied sharply, dropping the panel on the table yet again. "I'm sitting here memorizing all of this crap so that I can take your job, and then some."

Ryan gave Kassian an alarmed look and glanced at the door as if mentally willing someone else to appear.

"So leave then," Sin said with a shrug. "Maybe Boyd can do the job on his own. I doubt they need someone who can barely memorize a few names."

"Oh, screw you, Vega," Kassian retorted disgustedly. "I bet you're just busting my balls, anyway. I bet you don't even know the damn guy's name since you apparently don't even read the material."

"Ah," Sin said in a calmly knowing tone, narrowing his pale green eyes and sliding them over to Ryan. "So that's what you were talking about."

"What!" Ryan shook his head again, not wanting any part of this.

"He's got nothing to do with it," Kassian said, frustrated that he was, as usual, allowing Sin to get a rise out of him. It never failed.

"So then how could you have known that information."

This time when Sin looked at Kassian, his eyes were colder, more suspicious, and that familiar look of dislike transformed his stoic expression. Kassian met the stare evenly but something nagged at the back of his mind and it occurred to Kassian that Sin was likely wondering if Kassian had gotten information from Boyd.

The epiphany caused Kassian to wrench his gaze away and give a long, exasperated sigh, although some of his anger and disgust turned to discomfort at the idea of Sin jumping to the conclusion that Boyd was feeding Kassian information on how terrible of an agent he was.

It was far from the truth but that wasn't even what bothered Kassian the most. What nagged at him was the fact that he was sitting there claiming that he was helping Sin out when in reality, he was the reason Sin wanted to leave the unit at all.

For a moment Kassian could almost put himself in Sin's place; he could imagine what it would be like to have to go on a mission with his ex-lover and ex-lover's current lover. Just the idea of how shitty that would feel was enough to make Kassian shut his mouth entirely.

"It doesn't matter, Vega. No one told me anything," Kassian said finally, frowning. "Just forget I said anything to you."

"Forgotten," Sin said flatly, and he slid his gaze away to focus on some point on the wall.

Kassian once again shook his head in irritated frustration and grabbed the hated panel. He stared at it blankly for several minutes before he realized that the briefing was actually starting soon, which was made apparent when both Boyd and Jeffrey simultaneously came through the door. Kassian had worked with Jeffrey on previous assignments but it had always been on a mission-by-mission basis and never as frequently as he'd be seeing the other man now.

Jeffrey slid his eyes over the room and he barely blinked at the new addition, although his back straightened and he somehow looked pleased to note Kassian holding the panel. Jeffrey sat down a few chairs away from Ryan and immediately started unloading his briefcase with perfectly placed piles of paper.

Boyd's entrance was a little less oblivious; he seemed to note the tension in the room immediately and his gaze swept past Kassian, Sin, and the seats between them. For the most part his expression remained unreadable and he sat down next to Ryan.

"Hey," Boyd said with a faint smile that seemed aimed at everyone equally, pulling his messenger bag off and setting it on the floor next to him.

Sin didn't even acknowledge Boyd but Boyd didn't seem to mind so Kassian figured this was normal or at least normal as of late. Feeling out of his realm and mildly put off about being so unsure of how to behave or what to say to anyone, Kassian just nodded at Boyd and didn't bother trying to hide the fact that his mood was down the shitter.

"Hey Boyd, Jeff. Did you get the my e-mail?" Ryan asked, looking Jeffrey with a slight frown and went on before Jeffrey could reply. "My contact dropped out so I don't have up-to-date intel. You may have to re-run the simulation to add in the possibility of anomalies."

Jeffrey raised his eyebrows. "Yes, I know; I already did it." He shuffled some papers around, looking rather self-important. "It does change the parameters a little but we'll get into that when the meeting starts."

"Okie-doke." Ryan looked relieved.

Boyd looked between them curiously but didn't say anything. Before anyone could speak, the next member of the unit arrived.

Owen entered the room clenching a steaming cup of coffee; he was watching the floor as he entered but when he looked up, he was so thoroughly shocked that it was comical.

"Great Moogly's Ghost!" Owen nearly shouted, almost dropping the cup. "It's a nexus of the 10s!" He stared at Sin and Kassian in shock and confusion. "What's happening? Did I walk into an alternate universe? Wait, where are the other two?" He looked around the room as if expecting the other two Level 10s to be hiding in the woodwork.

"Sit down, Owen," Jeffrey hissed, looking at once highly affronted and embarrassed.

Kassian stared at Owen in confusion, wondering if the linguist had lost his mind since the last time they'd worked together or if he'd just smoked something really strong.

"No," Owen replied to Jeffrey distantly, still staring at Kassian, aghast. Kassian's eyebrows drew together, not knowing how to respond. "No, I think I'll stand here until I'm sure this isn't a dream and I'm not naked if I look down or something."

"Owen," Jeffrey said sharply, turning a full glare on him. "Sit the hell down! We finally get someone serious in here and you're embarrassing the entire unit."

But Owen didn't immediately move. Disgusted, Jeffrey actually got out of his seat and yanked Owen down into a chair. "We should have warned you about him, Senior Agent Trovosky," Jeffrey said with a frown, looking over at Kassian. "I know you've dealt with him before--"

Jeffrey and Owen started talking over each other at the same time.

"No really, what's happening?" Owen was saying in the background, looking around the room in complete confusion.

"But you probably hoped the way he acted was an anomaly--" Jeffrey continued.

"We had a meeting, remember?" Ryan reminded Owen.

"I think I'd remember a memo about both old skool super dudes in one room," Owen said somewhat haughtily.

"Unfortunately it's his natural state--"

"I'd've prepared myself with at least a little espresso," Owen continued.

"But he still gets the job done." Jeffrey looked over at Owen in annoyance as it became clear that Owen wasn't ready to stop talking.

"You said the same thing at the meeting, though," Ryan said. "Nexus of the 10s..."

"I did?" Owen asked, looking startled as he eyed Ryan. "Are you sure that wasn't evil me?"

"Owen, honestly--" Jeffrey started to say in irritation.

"I'm pretty sure," Ryan's eyebrows drew down as he seemed to seriously be trying to remember.

Owen seemed to consider this seriously. "Well, I guess great minds think alike, then." He took a sip of his coffee and made a face that was quite dramatic. "Espresso?" He sounded scandalized. "Did I remember until I walked in--" His eyes narrowed in paranoia and he immediately glanced toward the hallway. "Someone must've released a memory suppression bomb along the way."

"Jesus Christ," Jeffrey said in disgust, apparently giving up on salvaging the moment.

"Wow. That was-- wow." Kassian shot a glance at Boyd, wondering mildly if this type of scene occurred regularly in the unit. Boyd just met his gaze evenly and raised his eyebrows slightly, looking more amused than anything. Nobody else looked especially surprised or dismayed by Owen so it seemed that this was normal.

General Carhart had apparently selected the most eccentric characters possible to be in his unit. Although, it was said that the most eccentric people were usually the most brilliant.

"Hello, Owen. We haven't worked together in a while," Kassian said finally.

"Yeah, I remember, I was there," Owen agreeably, making a face as he took a drink of coffee. Jeffrey's eyes narrowed and he reached over, forcefully making Owen set the cup down when he went to take another drink almost immediately. Owen shot Jeffrey an indignant look but otherwise seemed unaffected.

"What's up?" Owen asked, looking at Kassian again, as if this were a completely casual conversation and he hadn't walked in talking about alternate universes. "I see you have a scrolly-mcthingy there." He gestured to the panel. "Find anything exciting yet?"

"Not especially." Kassian tapped his index finger against the panel and studied Owen's disheveled red hair and hastily put together clothes.

"That's too bad." Owen actually looked disappointed as he slouched back in his chair.

The door opened again and Kassian was relieved to see that it was General Carhart. Kassian had been wondering if Emilio Vega would be sitting in on the briefing but wasn't too surprised that he wasn't; Boyd had said that the senior Vega would be undergoing Agency reintegration and retraining for months.

"Good morning, everyone," Carhart said, sitting down at the head of the table and glancing at each of them briefly. His eyes rested on Kassian and he inclined his head slightly, "Good to see you, Kassian."

"Thank you, sir," Kassian replied automatically, sitting up straighter and temporarily putting all of his discomfort and confusion aside. He saw Sin make a face but Kassian didn't react.

"We recently received intel that Sector 13, otherwise known as Project Underground, has once again started working to become a major Janus cell." Carhart picked up a small remote and hit a button, turning on the projector as an image of a group of men and women appeared on the screen.

Kassian narrowed his eyes slightly and tried to remember what he'd just read about Sector 13/Project Underground. He knew that they were primarily based out of Eastern Canada and specialized in the research and development of weapons that should be exclusive to the military. There were theorized links between the leader, Nicks Harris, and government officials but nothing had been verified as of yet regarding such a tie.

"They had a period of downtime over the last couple of years," Ryan spoke up, nodding at the screen and glancing from Sin, Kassian and Boyd in turn. "That's why we haven't been dealing with them lately. There was a big bust up on the inside but in the past few months they re-organized and have been trying to strengthen ties to Janus and become relevant once again."

Carhart hit the button again and the image changed to one of a middle-aged Indian man with curly black hair and light brown eyes. He had a jagged scar on his chin and wore wire-rimmed glasses. "This man, Jerald Joshi, is the second in command of Nicks Harris and the resident brain of Sector 13's research think tank. He has recently developed a formula for a new plastique that is capable of large explosions from mere ounces of the material and it's rumored that he has also figured out a way to shield it from generic scanners."

Kassian's eyebrows drew together at the possibility. An explosive small enough to fit into someone's pocket that wouldn't be picked up by airport scanners? The idea was disturbing. "Is that confirmed?"

"No, but it's highly possible, especially since whatever they are doing has re-captured Janus' attention," Carhart replied with a serious frown.

Kassian looked down at his panel and used the touch screen to keyword 'Joshi.' The man's image and profile came up; he was a genius who had received a PhD in nuclear engineering from MIT at the age of thirteen, many years before the start of the war.

"The guy is brilliant," Kassian observed, almost feeling impressed.

"He is," Carhart agreed. "That's why, if possible, we want him alive."

The General changed images again and this time it was an aerial view of a large factory. "It is believed that this is the site of Sector 13 and Joshi's lab. We want samples from the lab, Joshi captured if possible, and the whole thing taken down. Every trace of their research must be destroyed."

Carhart changed the image again, showing the building from a different angle. It was located in what appeared to be a mountainous and wooded location, although a long and well-used road went in front of the main entrance.

"The issue is that during business hours, the facility is a legitimately run plant which is operated by civilian employees. In addition to finding where exactly the lab is located within the building, you will have to ensure that there are no civilian casualties. Otherwise this will turn into a media frenzy that Vivienne wants avoided at all costs."

"Yeah, but there's a problem," Ryan said with a wince. "My contact within the factory, a worker named Vanessa Marshal, went silent within the last two days. I tried getting in touch with her but I think she got spooked-- paranoid that she'd be tied to whatever she knows is about to go down and since she's just a civilian that we got our hooks in, I can't blame her..."

"How does that affect the mission?" Boyd asked, looking between Jeffrey and Ryan.

"It lengthens it, most likely," Jeffrey said, picking up one of his stacks of paper and sliding small packets to each person. "I ran a new simulation based on the fact that she's not responding. With the size of the facility and the number of civilian staff, you'll probably have to do a lot more recon."

Boyd slid the pages closer and flipped through them, eyes narrowed thoughtfully as he skimmed the information. "Three to five days?"

"Depending on how quickly you can locate the lab and finish the mission," Jeffrey said as he absently straightened the remaining sheets of paper. "It could be longer or shorter."

"Hmm." Boyd looked over at Ryan. "Is it possible there's more to her disappearance than fear? If she knows when we're coming and 13 discovers her, they could get the information from her and it could be a trap."

"I think it's unlikely," Ryan replied with another one of his high-lifted shoulder shrugs. "She has no idea who Sector 13 is or that a lab even exists. She was arrested some time ago for an unrelated incident and since it was in a high activity sector, I looked into it. As far as she knows, I'm an undercover police officer looking into suspicious activity at the plant and she's my informant. But she's also super scared of jeopardizing her job so when I started asking for a specific timetable of events, I think it just spooked her-- like she thought her info would lead her boss back to her?"

"Hmm." Kassian sat back in his chair and rubbed his chin thoughtfully as Carhart brought up an image of Ryan's contact. She was in her late twenties to early thirties and had blond hair shot through with pink and red streaks. "Has she provided legit intel in the past?"

"Yeah, I mean, I got the tip-off about Joshi actually being in that specific building from Vanessa. She gives me weekly reports of the comings and goings, any oddities within the plant, and she sent his description and an attached cell phone image that she managed to capture whenever she noticed him coming around toward the end of her shift." Ryan frowned slightly.

"Is it possible that she was snooping a little too deep and someone in 13 picked her up?" Kassian queried, eyebrows drawing together as his eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "If so, they may be tipped off that someone's onto their set up. They may have blackmailed her into talking, or worse."

"I hope not," Ryan worried, chewing his lower lip. "She's a single mom... I'd hate to think--"

Sin gave Ryan a withering look. "Don't start getting all worked up. Just because Mister Wonderful jumps to the worst scenario doesn't mean it's the case."

"I'm just exploring the possibility," Kassian replied, glaring at Sin.

"Aside from her disappearance, do we have any information that would lead us to believe Joshi or anyone in 13 is aware of our interest?" Boyd asked calmly, keeping his gaze on Ryan. "Strange occurrences in the surrounding area, suspicious or unusual activity reports sent to the admin in the factory, any sort of media that may be possibly related... The sort of thing unrelated civilians may report not knowing what it's about?"

Ryan shook his head and shrugged again although this one was less expressive. "No, not really. I've been keeping an eye on things pretty closely ever since I got word of Joshi's appearance. But I guess it shouldn't be ruled out that they may have a notion of an idea that they're about to have company."

"Even if they do, it won't change anything," Carhart said finally. "All it means is that we have to act now. This is the first time we've got a location on Joshi with the added bonus of his lab being in the same area. If there's an anomaly during the course of the mission, I expect you to compensate for it and deal with it."

Kassian nodded, not really having expected anything else. The fact that they were given a three to five day recon window would provide more than enough time to factor in any possible movements or increases in security. It wasn't anything they wouldn't be able to handle. Although it was the type of mission that would normally be assigned for an entire team or two, Kassian had the suspicion that Carhart and Vivienne counted Sin as a team all by himself.

"Kassian, your role here is mostly to observe how Sin and Boyd work, to become acquainted with their style and the way they carry things out. Take your cues from them and as Boyd is the tactician, for the moment follow his orders." Carhart's eyes went from Kassian to Boyd and back again, and his eyebrows lifted slightly.

"Yes, sir."

Boyd's eyes flickered briefly in mild surprise but it was there and gone almost immediately. He nodded, his gaze steady on Carhart.

"If no one has anything else to add, let's wrap this up. Meet at transport in two hours." Carhart pushed his chair back and stood, clicking off the projector. He started to turn but paused and looked at Kassian again. "Kassian, see me before you leave."

Kassian watched the general depart and wondered what else there could possibly be to talk about. He couldn't help a slight sense of trepidation at being summoned to Carhart's office, especially knowing that the general hadn't been exactly pleased with him following the incident at Boyd's house on New Year's Eve.

Kassian shook his head slightly with a sigh and slid the panel into his pocket. He looked at the rest of his trial-unit and studied them as they began gathering their things before they left. The briefing had been odd-- a distinct change from what he was used to whenever he'd gone out on group missions in the past. He supposed that if this unit was anything like how he had been with Harriet, Archer and Blair, perhaps they were just comfortable enough around each other to behave so oddly.

Sin got up and left the conference room without a backwards glance and Kassian didn't know whether or not he should feel surprised by that. Kassian turned his gaze to Owen, who looked like he'd dozed through some of the briefing, and Kassian couldn't help wondering why the man had even been present for it.

Jeffrey left almost immediately, taking the time to smack Owen on the shoulder as he passed. Owen jerked at the touch and looked around wildly for a moment before blearily resting his eyes on the mostly-full coffee cup in front of him. Looking as though it took great effort, Owen gathered his things and wandered out of the room with a large yawn. Ryan wasn't too far behind Owen; bearing Kassian farewell and telling Boyd to call him after the mission.

Boyd finally looked over at Kassian more fully now that most of the unit was gone. He'd placed the mission file in his messenger bag and although he'd placed the bag on the table, he didn't look ready to leave immediately. Instead, he stayed seated, leaning against the table as he watched Kassian.

"First impression," Boyd said with slightly raised eyebrows, his tone questioning at the same time as it was curious.

"Not that impressed," Kassian replied honestly with a shrug. "Between Owen and Ryan... I don't know who's stranger. And the fact that you're the team leader is just... no offense, but you'd think that job would go to Vega, which obviously it doesn't because he doesn't care about anything. But the fact that they let him get away with that attitude is just ridiculous."

Boyd nodded easily; judging by his calm, unsurprised expression, he didn't appear offended by Kassian's analysis. "I didn't think to warn you about Owen, and Ryan mostly gets off-topic only when it's about Sin. They're both really good at their jobs, though. Sin's more cooperative now than before; when I first started, he wouldn't come to the briefings and I pretty much did all the missions alone."

Boyd shrugged. "That's why they needed a partner for him, though. He's extremely good at his job but he's uninterested in the details. They know they wouldn't get anywhere trying to force him to be otherwise so that's just the way it ends up being."

"Uh huh." Kassian wasn't entirely placated by this explanation. He idly wondered if he was the only person who actually cared about being professional and doing a good job. But instead of going on with that line of thought, he just shook his head with a sigh. "Any idea what General Carhart wants with me?"

Boyd drew his eyebrows down slightly and shook his head. "No... Actually, I was wondering the same. It could be about the mission but since he wants to talk to you privately it may be more about getting along with Sin for the sake of the mission or something. I don't know."

"Of course," Kassian said dryly, pushing his chair back to stand. Of course he was the one to get the pep talk on how to behave when it was Sin who instigated a dispute every chance he got. The concept was ludicrous and Kassian already started formulating a civilized reply to Carhart in case that was really what their meeting would be about.

"Are you headed there now?" Boyd asked, idly leaning against the table as his gaze followed Kassian's movement.

"Yeah. I'll meet you in Supplies." Kassian walked towards the door. "Don't you anticipate a wonderful week of being stuck in a safe house with Vega and me?"

Boyd smiled wryly despite himself. His expression softened slightly and it was unclear whether it was simply due to amusement or if it was due to something else. "It'll be interesting, to say the least, but I'm not about to complain."

Kassian looked over his shoulder just as he opened the door. "I can interpret that so many ways, kid. Seriously."

"I wonder how many of them are right," Boyd said innocently with raised eyebrows.

"Hmmm." Some of his irritation faded slightly and Kassian couldn't help a quiet chuckle of amusement. He sincerely doubted that Boyd had meant anything even remotely close to what Kassian wanted to imply but it wasn't really the time or place for sex talk. "I'm going before I say something that shouldn't be said in our current location."

Boyd laughed and shook his head to himself.

Kassian left the conference room, heading to the elevator bank.

It wasn't the first time he'd been summoned to General Carhart's office but it was the first time he'd been summoned there without a clue as to what the General actually wanted. As Kassian got farther away from the conference room and exited the elevator, anxiety flooded him. Kassian stopped just inside the long corridor that led to conference rooms and offices belonging to the lower ranked generals and captains.


Kassian turned his head and realized, as Agent Michael Alvarado approached him with a cautious smile, that he'd been standing in the hallway for longer than a brief time as he simply stared into space. Kassian forced the perplexed frown off his face and nodded at Michael politely.

"How are you, Agent Alvarado?"

Michael's smile wilted even more at the coolly detached tone of Kassian's voice and Michael shrugged dejectedly. Kassian had dropped the other man from his unofficial team shortly after the Monterrey mission and Michael had since been demoted to level 8 upon Kassian's suggestion. Since Kassian made it his business to rarely be on the compound and they no longer had reason to be assigned together with such frequency, Kassian hadn't seen the other agent since.

"Not too good, Senior Agent Trovosky," Michael replied stiffly, looking away for a moment as he put his hands in the pockets of his black slacks. "But I guess you know that."

Kassian nodded, not seeing any reason to play ignorant. He hadn't masked his displeasure with Michael on the plane back from Monterrey and he saw no reason to do so now. "You can get your rank back if you put more effort in. They promoted you for a reason before; there's no reason why they wouldn't do it again after you prove yourself."

Michael frowned and his brown eyes returned to Kassian's face. He looked half desperate and half angry before sighing as resignation slumped his shoulders and slackened his face into a dull-eyed and hopeless expression. "I guess."

"Well, good luck to you." Kassian started to turn away, no longer familiar with Michael in a manner that would make the moment anything but awkward, but Michael looked up again.

"Can't you put in a word for me, Senior Agent Trovosky? I mean--"

"No," Kassian cut him off bluntly. His tone was serious but not cruel, and when he looked at Michael again it was with some sympathy but his expression was otherwise stern. "You let me down, Mike. I had high hopes for you as an agent, as did General Carhart and Marshal Connors. You have so much potential but you let unprofessional foolishness ruin it for you."

Michael sighed in frustration, eyebrows drawing together. "Man, it was just one stupid mistake!"

"Yes, one mistake," Kassian agreed calmly, nodding. "But it was a stupid mistake that nearly cost a man his life. I like you, Mike, I always did, but our jobs aren't about friendships and they certainly aren't about compound gossip and personal biases. When you let something like that get in the way of your duty-- that's the worst mistake you can make. I'd have looked kinder on you if you'd mishandled your gun and accidentally shot me. At least then it'd have been an honest mistake."

The younger man just shrugged his shoulders again, looking for all the world like he wanted to knock Kassian out but in the end he just nodded shortly. "Fine. Thank you for your time."

Kassian just shrugged and walked away, feeling an angry glare burning into his back. He couldn't help feeling a measure of disappointment in Michael and his inability to accept his punishment, accept the fact that he'd been deadly wrong. More than the fact that Kassian was disappointed in Michael, Kassian actually scolded himself for not seeing that aspect of Michael's character before including him in the unofficial team of people that Kassian hand-selected for specific assignments and storms.

When Kassian arrived at Carhart's office, some of the anxiety returned although the distraction of Michael had quelled most of it.

Kassian knocked once, waited, and started to knock again but the door opened. Emilio Vega stepped out, brushing rudely past Kassian and giving him nothing more than a vaguely interested glance before walking out of the lobby.

Kassian found himself staring after the senior Vega dumbly, unable to move for a moment after his first encounter with Sin's father. He'd heard that they looked alike but the similarities were amazing...

"Come in, Kassian," Carhart called impatiently.

Shaken out of the momentary stupor, Kassian stepped inside and shut the door behind him. "Sorry, Sir. I was momentarily distracted by Senior Agent Vega... Senior." Kassian frowned, unsure of how he was supposed to refer to Emilio.

"Don't call him that," Carhart advised, his clear blue eyes looking at Kassian with something akin to amusement. "He'll just mock you relentlessly."

"Ah." Like father like son. "Did I interrupt anything important?" Kassian asked when the General just stared at him.

"No. Emilio was here for no real reason." The General sat back in his chair and studied Kassian closely, his direct gaze taking in every aspect of Kassian's body language. There was nothing overtly intimidating about General Carhart, not in the way that most people had feared Marshal Connors or were even shaken up by Inspector Beaulieu, but Kassian always felt anxiety when he was in Carhart's presence.

It may have been because they both shared a similar military background, or maybe because they'd both joined the Agency around the same age; Kassian had no real idea why but their similarities made him feel even more pressured to live up to a certain standard. It was why he shifted slightly under the General's stare, why he had trouble maintaining eye contact even when the General gave him those genuine but impersonal little smiles.

It was difficult to explain, difficult to understand, especially when Kassian hadn't even felt anything similar to this kind of nervousness around Marshal Connors. It likely had something to do with the high esteem in which he held General Carhart; Kassian genuinely feared making a fool of himself, or failing at something, in the view of someone he respected so much.

"I ran into Michael Alvarado," Kassian said for lack of anything better to comment on when the General continued to study him.

"Ah." Carhart nodded his head, pursing his lips together slightly, the expression giving him an air of distaste. "Agent Alvarado. He's been attempting to regain his rank."

"Will he be granted it?" Kassian asked curiously.

"I don't know. I need to go over his records and see how they are in comparison to the other field ops in line for promotion. He seems to think he can just win this thing over. He fails to realize he has to redo the entire process."

Kassian nodded in understanding, wondering if that meant Michael would be re-trained as well if he ever did get promoted again. If so, Kassian had no doubts that whatever dislike Michael felt for him now would triple in its intensity. "That's unfortunate for him."

"I didn't call you in here to talk about Agent Alvarado," Carhart said with a raised eyebrow.

"I know. I'm unsure what it is that you do want to talk about, sir." Kassian frowned slightly and figured that the best approach was to be direct. "Did I do something wrong?"

"I don't know," Carhart replied calmly. "Did you?"

Kassian's eyes narrowed slightly in confusion. "I'm not sure what you're implying, sir."

Carhart sighed and leaned back in his chair, eyes drilling into Kassian steadily. He didn't look angry but at the same time he didn't look pleased. His entire demeanor was hard to place, hard to figure out. "I want to know what you're doing here, Kassian. Why are you going through with this trial?"

"I--" Kassian stopped talking, realizing he didn't have an answer to that question. He'd almost replied with a default of 'I'm doing what you asked me to do,' but Carhart had never asked him to go through with it. The idea of the trial hadn't been anything more than a suggestion.

After a moment, Kassian could do nothing but admit honestly, "I'm not sure."

"Okay let me phrase it another way." Carhart tapped a finger against the desk. "What do you hope to gain by doing this?"

Kassian paused, staring Carhart directly in the eye as some of his anxiety was replaced by a mild sense of indignation and defensiveness. He sat up straighter and lifted his chin slightly, unconsciously, although the rest of his expression was calm and unreadable. "I don't hope to gain anything, sir. I'm not sure what you think my intentions are."

"I don't know what your intentions are," Carhart replied calmly. "But I'd like to understand them. I find it difficult to believe that a man of your rank, of your tenure and with your reputation would willingly put himself in such a position without having an underlying goal."

"I'm not trying to be difficult, sir, but I really don't know what you're getting at here," Kassian replied evenly, not letting any of his frustration get through.

Carhart reclined slightly in the chair, eyes narrowed at Kassian, a touch of impatience glinting in the cerulean blue. "Do you think Agent Alvarado deserves to be promoted again?"

"No," Kassian said without hesitation, failing to see the relevance.

"But you think Boyd deserves to be level 10?" Carhart asked shrewdly.

There was a long pause this time and Kassian found himself hesitating, not wanting the conversation to be about Boyd and the sham of his promotion, not wanting to go into the details of something that had been so upsetting to his friend. "What does that have to--"

"Answer the question, Kassian."

Kassian set his jaw and sighed. "No. I don't."


Kassian looked away, focusing on the view out the window, the broken skyline and the surprisingly light sky. "He's too emotional," he replied grudgingly. "Or he can be. He can also be rash, reckless. But at the same time, he's a new agent and he has potential." Kassian looked at the General again. "He's a good kid."

"A good kid," Carhart replied with a slight smile. "If this were anyone else, you wouldn't be giving me this half-hearted speech on potential. If this were anyone else, you would never stand by and allow me to assign a 'good kid' as your team leader without an argument or at least a mote of resentment. I know you, Kassian."

"Okay, you're right. Boyd's my friend and I think given the circumstances he's been--"

"Shut up."

Kassian closed his mouth, embarrassed by his own behavior but unable to help it. At this point Boyd was probably the closest friend he'd had in over ten years.

It was hard to find someone outside the Agency who he didn't have to constantly lie to in order to maintain a friendship. And it was difficult to find someone in the Agency who didn't have a skewed view of him, who didn't have expectations that his outside life wouldn't meet.

Boyd was the only person who didn't cause either of those issues for Kassian and because of that, Kassian had found himself confiding in Boyd and generally enjoying the younger man's company.

He hadn't expected them to get as close as they were but he was fond of their friendship and so he couldn't help giving Boyd the benefit of the doubt, even though he would likely never do it for anyone else if they were in similar circumstances. It was that part, the obvious flip-flopping, that was embarrassing.

"I'm not expecting you to sit here and slander Boyd," Carhart said dryly. "Far from it. I agree with you-- he has potential to be a great agent and despite the conditions of his promotion, I don't entirely disagree with his mother's motives. Boyd has more invested in this place than most and because of that, he is loyal."

Kassian nodded noncommittally, understanding the sentiment but unable to really support it. In the grand scheme of things it was unfair to everyone else on the compound who had to work for their positions and when Kassian just thought about how it affected Boyd, it made it even worse. It made Boyd feel used and it put his life in danger on missions he might not be ready for.

Carhart gave him a long look before continuing. "However, what I am expecting is honesty. I want you to honestly tell me why you're doing this trial if you're going to be in my unit. I hand-selected everyone in it because I can read every single one of the team very well-- I understand them. I thought I understood you but now I'm not so sure because this move doesn't make any sense. You're doing a favor for a man who despises you and who you don't really have very fond feelings for either and in the process of granting this favor, you're being downgraded in status and put beneath someone who should technically be lower than you in every regard professionally. Why?"

Kassian looked away again, frowning, wanting this conversation to be over. He wished he could be like Sin at that moment-- that he could sit there with a steely glare and resolute silence and just wait it out until Carhart gave up and sent him away. But Kassian knew he couldn't do that-- he had too much respect for the General to ever disrespect him that way and he knew for a fact that he wouldn't be allowed to get away with it even if he thought to try.

"I can't explain it, sir. I just thought it was the right thing to do."

"I see." Carhart raised his eyebrows again, tilting his head inquisitively. "Is it because you're having sexual relations with Boyd?"

Kassian's gaze snapped back to the General and his back stiffened, eyes narrowing; at first he couldn't even formulate a reply. His heart began to beat faster in his chest and for a moment he really thought he was going to have an anxiety attack as a strange sort of panic overcame him. It was odd and he couldn't explain it, but the idea of Carhart knowing about his sexual orientation, let alone details about his sex life, was humiliating.

"I don't know why you would say something like that," Kassian said, his tone flat and unemotional but he still couldn't allow himself to outright lie; not to General Carhart, not when the man was looking into Kassian's eyes so knowingly and would likely see through any falsehood.

"Really?" Carhart looked at him in the same calm manner, neither agreeing or disagreeing.

"Really." Kassian forced himself not to look away, not to shift uncomfortably, not to show how disturbed he was.

He'd never had any doubts that Carhart, that even Marshal Connors and Inspector Beaulieu, had anything but respect for him professionally. Kassian grimaced inwardly at the possibility of the Inspector or General Carhart finding out details about his personal life, seeing pictures or videos, overhearing things whispered in the halls. Once a superior found out about his or anyone's dirty laundry, about the things he did behind closed doors, they would never look at him the same way again.

Where there had once been total confidence would now be hesitation, wondering; concern that extracurricular sexual activities would interfere with a partnership, with a mission. And even though Kassian had no doubts about being able to keep things professional no matter who he was fucking, his superiors wouldn't know that for certain.

"This isn't the military, Kassian. You won't be discharged for homosexual conduct," Carhart said mildly.

"I'm not a homosexual," Kassian snapped, sharper then he'd intended. He winced, mouth drawing down. "Please let this subject drop, General Carhart. I have a lot of respect for you as my commanding officer and I would hate to say something stupid out of anger."

"I didn't say you were a homosexual," Carhart continued, completely ignoring the last part of Kassian's statement. "But I've seen your file, Agent. I know you're inclined to be attracted to both genders."

Kassian mentally cursed himself and his Level 10 torture training, shaking his head and closing his eyes briefly in embarrassment. They'd grilled him mercilessly about his personal life, likely to find out if there was anything compromising in it that would give him trouble as a Level 10, and he'd slipped up in his delirium and mentioned being attracted to a 'he' at some point in his life.

He didn't even remember exactly what he'd said now because he'd shut down completely after the slip-up, not letting anything else go, but obviously they'd remembered and made a note of it.

"I'm not judging you, Agent Trovosky," Carhart said when Kassian didn't respond. This time the General's voice was more personal, serious; his brow slightly furrowed as he studied Kassian's troubled expression. "I'm just trying to understand your reasons."

"What does this have to do with the trial?" Kassian demanded in frustration, shaking his head. "I don't understand."

Carhart studied him for a long moment, a tense moment, before he inclined his head slightly as if accepting something. "I think you're telling the truth and that you really don't understand your own reasonings but my theory is that even if you haven't yet accepted it, you're willing to do this so that Sin can get out because you feel guilty for having sex with Boyd. I think it bothers you that Sin feels hurt and betrayed by the two of you and now you're trying to even the score because I doubt you intended him to react this way."

Kassian didn't respond but his face was burning. Carhart had obviously put some thought into this theory to have pegged it so closely-- even before Kassian had figured it out for himself.

He'd been bothered by Sin's reaction, so much so that it had actually surprised him. Yet for some reason he had never consciously admitted that he was sacrificing his own contentment with his current state in a lame attempt to square things with Sin. It was likely due to the fact that deep down, Kassian didn't want Sin to hate him and it bewildered him that Sin did. They frustrated each other and their personalities clashed completely but Kassian had never understood the loathing that Sin possessed for him and Kassian had never returned the sentiment as strongly.

"I don't know what to say," Kassian said finally. "With all due respect, sir, I'm not going to talk about my personal life. I don't think it's Agency business and I don't think it's relevant. Besides, at this point Vega is leaving the unit due to his father."

"Yes," Carhart agreed without hesitation, finally dropping his close scrutiny of Kassian to pick up a mug of coffee that had sat cooling on his desk. "But I wasn't trying to blame you for Sin's attempted departure. Like I said, I just wanted to know why. Do you accept my conclusion?"

Kassian watched the General, watched the way he took a long gulp of coffee, the way he glanced back at Kassian with the slightest raise of an eyebrow, the way his eyes appeared void of all judgment. Kassian just shrugged slightly. "If I were having sex with Boyd, your theory would be acceptable."

"I see." Carhart set the mug down again but his long fingers stayed curled around it. "Well, if this trial does succeed and you actually join this unit, that would be fortunate. I don't enjoy lover's quarrels and drama on my team."

"Well, sir," Kassian replied in the same toneless voice. "If I were sleeping with a member of your unit, I would hope that you'd read my file deeply enough to understand that I do not form romantic attachments any longer and any dalliances I do have would not be a cause for potential drama."

"Well, Kassian," Carhart said, looking at Kassian skeptically. "Any dalliance with a Vega attached is cause for drama."

Kassian said nothing in response, unwilling to further incriminate himself. He'd only said as much as he had because the cat was already out of the bag; it didn't really hurt his cause to reassure Carhart that he and Boyd weren't actually in love or something ridiculous like that.

The General shook his head slightly and picked up the mug again. "Good luck on your mission, Kassian. I expect a full report upon your return."

Even though Sin never had to do that, Kassian added silently before standing up with a short nod. "Yes, sir."

Continue to Flip Side: Part II