The Enclave feels empty now.
It isn't, but it feels that way. Four weeks after they silenced the Heart of Rage it's busier than he's ever seen it. Almost like those two quiet, lonely years had never happened. People respect freelancers again, want to be freelancers. Even the sentinels are starting to warm back up to them.
But all the color is gone. All the light, all the enthusiasm. There's no bright grins to greet him or blue-gray eyes to warm his heart. No mostly harmless mischief, no excited rambling about nothing and everything, a steady stream of noise and comfort.
Owen had brightened his life so much after the failure at the Heart of Rage. He'd needed those smiles, the terrible jokes, the endless chatter. Owen had healed him, maybe even saved his life, if he's honest with himself. And then Owen had betrayed them, betrayed him, and undone all of that and so much more.
The Enclave has never felt so cold and unwelcoming.
He avoids it when he can.
- - - - -
It'd be easier if he could just be angry. Anger is clear. Anger is simple. Other people would understand it.
Almost everyone in the Fort knows what happened. Of course everyone knows. Fort Tarsis isn't that big, and gossip travels fast on the edge of the civilized world. People look at him with sympathy when they recognize him, and these days that's more common than he'd like. If he was just angry, he could laugh and show them he was fine, that he just wanted to put it behind him and move on.
He's not fine. He can't seem to move on.
These days his anger only simmers beneath sea of hurt and guilt and why. He tries not to blame himself. Blame doesn't help anyone. What Owen did is not his fault. He knows that. He tells himself that every morning when he wakes and as he lays sleepless in bed at night. Owen made his choices. But still, he knows he pushed him toward it after they'd found Faye and Haluk. In the days after they silenced the Heart of Rage he'd had time to look back and see that. He hadn't been watching, hadn't been listening.
He hadn't been kind.
He can't forgive himself for that.
So when he walks by people in the halls, in the courtyard, in the bar, hears them whispering about Owen, all he can think is that they're sorry for the wrong man.
He's the one who hadn't been kind when he needed to be.
- - - - -
It’s been weeks since the last time Owen was in his mind on a contract, but he’s still surprised every time it’s Faye’s voice that comes through the link. His heart breaks a little each time. He’s gotten good at hiding it, ignoring it, staying focused on the task at hand or the enemy trying to take him down. But it still hurts. Every time.
Faye may not be able to read his exact thoughts, but she must notice something is off. She's in his mind, after all, and she's always been a very skilled cypher. But she doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t know if it’d be better if she confronted him about it, if she knew how much he missed the man who betrayed them, or if ignorance, or the pretending of it, is better. Safer.
Tassyn wouldn’t trust him if she knew. No one would.
- - - - -
He dreams of Owen more often than not. Sometimes the dreams are full of laughter and warm smiles and soft skin. Those dream brings tears to his eyes when he wakes and an unbearable ache to his chest, both a taste and a reminder of what might have been possible if they'd had more time. He wants nothing more than to jump into his javelin and take off into the sky, search the whole world for Owen if he has to, but instead he pulls his pillow into his arms and holds it like it's all that's saving him from drowning. He resolves not to chase after him. He doesn't know how long his resolve will last.
But as much as those dreams hurt, at least there's a sweetness to them. It's the other dreams that leave him drained, make him wake up screaming into his empty apartment. When he dreams he's back in that cave where they first saw the Monitor, when Owen was still in his mind. Each time, he watches the Monitor questioning Tassyn's agent. Except it isn't her. It's Owen.
Sometimes Owen dies. Those dreams ache, but they're a mercy. Sometimes Owen's just left burned and thrown to the side, and the dream always ends before he reaches his side. Sometimes he tries to stop the Monitor, but he never succeeds.
But sometimes he doesn't try to stop him. Sometimes Owen catches his eyes and words flow into his mind as he begs to be saved, to be forgiven, apologizes with tears streaming down his face. Sometimes, he listens to all of that and just turns and walks away. Cold, angry, uncaring.
It takes him days to convince himself that isn't who he is.
Some days, he’s not sure it isn’t.
- - - - -
About a week after they take down Diggs, Yarrow finds him in the bar.
He’d come to get away, to be somewhere other than the Enclave, his apartment, or on a contract. But the only seat that's available is the booth where Owen had sprawled in a way he doesn't want to believe may have been intentionally seductive.
He stares at it with a drink in his tightened grip, for a few moments missing Owen so desperately that if he lets himself move he knows his resolve will break.
“Seeing ghosts, Freelancer?” Yarrow asks, startling him enough that his drink splashes over onto his hand. Yarrow gives him an apologetic look, raising his own drink in greeting. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.”
“No, it’s... it’s fine.” He says, and he means it. Yarrow has become something of a father figure to him in the last few months. His presence is grounding, reassuring.
After a moment, Yarrow asks gently, “would you like someone to talk to or would you rather mourn alone?”
Somehow, he's not surprised Yarrow can see that he's mourning, in a way. Yarrow is no stranger to loss. He's dedicated himself to honoring it.
He hesitates long enough that Yarrow seems to assume silence is his answer, but as the older man turns to go, he says, “Yeah, I could kinda use the company.”
Yarrow turns back to him with an understanding little smile. The older man grasps his shoulder in a steadying grip, then sits on the padded bench and makes himself comfortable. Following his lead, he sits with a couple feet between them and sips his drink.
“Silent company?” Yarrow asks, in the kind of voice that doesn’t require a verbal response.
He swirls his drink, debating. Yarrow had been furious when Owen betrayed them. Of course he had been. Anything that hurts people's trust of freelancers makes him angry. Their livelihood depends hugely on trustworthy cyphers. But Yarrow is also understanding, possibly one of the most sympathetic, even empathetic, people in the fort. If anyone is likely to listen without judgement, he realizes, it's Yarrow.
So he goes for it, because he's just been wasting away. He has to do something. For a while he tries to come up with a way to explain himself, to sound less broken than he feels, but in the end all he can say is Owen's name.
He’s not sure he’s spoken that name aloud in weeks.
“Ah,” Yarrow says. Somehow, he doesn’t seem surprised, but his reaction is hard to read beyond that. The silence drags on, then the older man shifts. “I think perhaps I understand, at least a little. Garnet may not have betrayed me, but I never knew why he left and that felt like a betrayal. Especially because he didn’t come back. I was angry for a while. It was easier to be angry. But in the end I was only sad he didn’t trust me enough to tell me where he was going, or why. I wondered if I was to blame. Perhaps I had done something to make him leave without knowing. But blame does the dead no good, and the living even less.” He pauses to sip his drink. “You and him were good friends, yes?”
"Yeah." He says. It comes out more like a breath than a word. And then the words start coming, weak but relentless. “I met him years ago in Ponteix. We were just two lone teenagers running from our responsibilities. Instant friends. But after a week we went our separate ways and didn't stay in contact. I didn’t see him again until after the Heart of Rage. He recognized me right away, practically bullied me into letting him be my cypher." He can't help but smile at the memory, no matter how much it aches now. He sips his drink, stares down into it, swallows. "He was exactly what I needed after the Heart of Rage. I’m not sure I’d still be here without him.”
He can feel Yarrow’s eyes on him when he finishes, but he doesn’t have the courage to look up to meet them. "I recall hearing that he helped you in the end, despite his betrayal."
He shuts his eyes as Owen's face comes to the front of his mind. His face as it had been the last time he saw it. That beautiful face, blackened and burned. Eyes milky, no longer blue. He can't imagine how much that must have hurt. He doesn't want to imagine it. But he does. Of course he does.
"Yeah," he says eventually. "We couldn't have silenced the Cenotaph without him."
There is a long silence after that. When it comes, Yarrow's next question is as staggering as it is inevitable
“Were you romantically involved?”
The air freezes in his lungs, as if he'd been caught in a wolven's icy breath. He shakes his head.
“But you wanted to be.”
It isn't a question, and he doesn't deny it. Because that's the truth of it, isn't it? He wanted to be. He wants to be. What does that say about him, that he still loves a man who betrayed him? Maybe more now than he ever did before. Maybe he's just as fucked up as Owen. At least Owen had the sense not to be loyal to someone who never seemed to value him.
"What will you do?" Yarrow asks.
He huffs a laugh as thick as tar. "What is there to do? I just have to find a way to live with it."
Yarrow leans back against the wall, humming thoughtfully. "You feel something is unfinished with him, yes? Too many things left unsaid. That is why you cannot let go."
It's true, of course. He can't bring himself to answer, but he doesn't need to. Yarrow throws back the rest of his drink and stands. Tha man's free hand falls heavy on his shoulder, and he tries not to tremble under the weight of it.
"Garnet's story is lost to me," Yarrow says, his grip almost painfully tight. "Maybe one day I will find it. Thanks to you I have hope, but still I know the chance is slim. But your friend is still alive out there. His story doesn't have to be lost."
Then the weight of Yarrow's hand lifts, and his footsteps fade into the gentle noise of the bar.
- - - - -
When he wakes the next morning, his resolve breaks.
He packs a small bag with supplies, buys bread and cheese and preserved fruit from the market. He writes a note for Faye and leaves it on the little kitchen table and doesn't bother to lock the door when he leaves. He expects she'll come looking for him tomorrow at the latest. Even a few hours is all the head start he needs.
When he gets to the forge, Faye is sitting next to his interceptor.
He sees her first, and for a moment he considers turning back before she spots him. But no, he's made his choice. If he's just going to up and leave, maybe she deserves the chance to try to stop him.
She catches sight of him as he climbs the stairs. He can't read her expression at all. Her eyes linger on the small bag slung over his shoulder, and then she says, "I didn't think you were actually daft enough to go after him, but when Yarrow suggested last night that I might want to keep an eye on you, I made an educated guess."
He'd told her? Hadn't Yarrow encouraged him to do this? To find Owen before his story was gone forever?
They stare at each other for a long minute, then Faye sighs and stands, dusting off her skirts. "Yarrow thinks you need to do this, but I believe he wanted me to be a last obstacle for you, make sure you're actually thinking this through and not just acting on pure emotion." She leans back against his javelin, holding his gaze. "I don't agree with what you're doing, but I'm not going to stop you. You've been wasting away since we silenced the Cenotaph, and your mind startles every time I speak to you on contracts. Like you're expecting someone else. If you really believe you have to do this, then I'll trust you on that."
He doesn't know what to say. It's not at all the response he expected. He takes a few steps closer and sets his bag down on the metal floor.
"I have to do this," he says, and smiles at her. It's small and fragile, but it's real. For the first time in months he feels like he has a purpose, like he's light enough to fly.
She looks at him with all the focus of a skilled cypher, then gives him a curt nod. "Then I just have one thing to ask of you. Promise me, whether it's days from now or months, promise me you'll come back alive."
He knows that's a promise he can't keep, but she knows that just as well as he does.
"I promise." He says. "If I'm gone more than half a year, I'll find a way to tell you I'm still kicking."
"Good." She pushes off from his javelin and gives it a last look, then turns to go.
He stops her with a hand on her arm, then pulls her in for a hug.
"Thank you, Faye," he says, then adds, "I'm sorry I didn't trust you with this. Clearly I should have."
She huffs a little brokenly into his shoulder and hugs him back. "I'm not so sure about that," she says, then pulls back. Don't want to make a scene, she says into his mind. It might raise questions. Someone from Corvus could see and Tassyn might get curious.
He smirks. "Keep her off my tail, will you?"
She laughs. "I think you need to worry more about Haluk, actually. He'll want to chase after you the moment he finds out you've left just so he can smack some sense into you."
He laughs too. It's good to laugh again.
When their humor fades, she gives him a resolute smile. "Good luck, Freelancer," she says, and turns to leave.
Then she pauses, sighs, and turns back to him. "Speaking of Tassyn, I asked her a few weeks ago if she'd heard anything about Owen. Apparently a lancer in a javelin matching the description of the Javelin of Dawn defended a group of arcanists from scars near Fort Arden a couple months back."
He sucks in a breath, not quite able to believe he actually has a lead. It's not much, and it's an old one, but it's a place to start.
She smiles, and then she's gone.
He checks in with Zoe before he leaves, makes sure his javelin is in perfect working order. "Good luck out there," she tells him, and he smiles and gives her a thumbs up like he always does.
Then he climbs in, tries to calm his racing heart as his suit closes up around him. He slings his bag over his shoulder.
And he flies.