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Chapter Text

Kyler Maddox was having an ordinary day. Living in the Last Safe City on Earth, one could generally expect some form of excitement or other. Not today. Today found him tinkering contentedly with the small robot he was building.

He'd never thought he would get the chance to pursue his dream of becoming an engineer. His parents, he had been told, were poor. They had left him at a very young age. And there was a part of him that couldn't blame them. After all, a child would only bring more hardship. It was logical. But the other part of him didn't agree. They were his family. Family wasn't supposed to leave you to die on the streets. He had been lucky to find a new home with Dalton, an old man whose doorstep he had sheltered from the elements on. Dalton had taken him in and treated him like a son. Kyler was eternally grateful. His childhood had passed in that house, with many an afternoon spent in the shade of the ancient oak tree outside, listening to the old man's stories. He had amazing stories, all about the Guardians of their City. Kyler remembered passing many hours in front of his wooden rocking chair, listening with wide eyes as the old man told tales of bravery and sacrifice while his wizened fingers danced through the air as though they were painting pictures of heroes gone by. His best story always started the same way.

"I saw it, you know," he would say with a glint in his eye, "Lord Shaxx's famous counterattack that broke the Fallen lines. Of course, I wasn't there myself. I'm not a Guardian, after all." His eyes would always crinkle up at that, as though he were enjoying a private joke. "My friend and I snuck up to the roof of one of the City buildings with our spy glasses to see the Guardians fight for ourselves."

"And did you?" he would always ask.

And Dalton would smile. "We did indeed. I couldn't possibly begin to describe it… the roar of thunder, the flash of lightning mixed in with blazing light like the very Sun itself had come down to rest upon the Earth. I saw a wave of pure void rip through the Fallen's midst like it was sent from another dimension." At this point, he would smile and shake his head slowly in remembrance. "Watching them...it was as though the very powers of the universe itself were at war. It was a sight I had never seen before and one I would never see again."

Kyler used to pretend that he was a Guardian, calling up pure force to crush and scatter his enemies. As he grew older, he would look in vain for Guardians on his walks to and from school, as Dalton had mentioned that they sometimes visited the City. He never did see one. Then in the following years, as he joined a university and began to focus more on his studies, the reports started to come in, passing through the City from mouth to mouth. The rumors grew as more and more Guardians stayed off-world, traveling where they were needed the most. He'd hoped that maybe a Ghost would happen upon him and he would be the one to bring the Guardians back, but as time went on and the Guardians continued to dwindle, he stopped waiting to become something he wasn't destined to be. Then one day, a new rumor spread through the City like wildfire. A Guardian had been found on Mercury. It was all anyone would talk about. Time went on and the rumors only continued. Eventually, a name was put to them. Harley Hayden. A Hunter who was widely known as "Ace." More was added to his story every day. The discovery of Rasputin. An audience with the Awoken Queen. The defeat of the Black Garden. Then nothing but silence. For four months, no new tales had cropped up. But then those other Guardians had shown up. Battled the Hive on the Moon. Stopped Crota from waking. And then Ace's triumphant return. As soon as he got back, he was right in the middle of things. Defeated Omnigul. Traveled to another dimension to end Crota once and for all with the help of the team he'd created. The Chasers. They were the talk of the City. Everywhere Kyler looked, there they were. On posters, T-shirts, hats. The list was endless. There was even a plot to make figurines. After their victory on the Moon, they were hailed as the highest of heroes. People even took to calling them - and Hayden specifically - Crota's End. And it just escalated from there. When they left unexpectedly, people were confused. Why had they gone? When would they be back? Once they returned, the words "Vault of Glass" were on everyone's lips and the people's admiration was renewed. And the time that followed only brought it to new heights as the Chasers simultaneously defeated the Taken King and squashed a Fallen threat that had made itself known in the Plaguelands. Lord Saladin had even appointed four of them as new Iron Lords. Kyler could be sure of hearing all the latest Guardian news - if from nowhere else - then definitely from Dalton. It was kind of exciting. These events would become part of recorded history and Kyler was there to witness them. Little did he know, the status quo was about to change for good.

He leaned back in his chair, taking a break. The robot was coming along nicely. A few more hours of work would have it operational. He had just taken out his Holo to browse Cliq when someone else entered the room. Kyler looked up. It was one of his classmates. Normally, he would have gone back to his device, but she was looking at him with an odd expression - almost a mix of confusion and worry.

"You're still here?"

"Yeah. Prof said I could stay late."

"I know. I just thought you would have gone home…" A look of realization came over her. "Unless you don't know."

"Don't know what?"

"I thought someone would have told you by now. Why haven't they told you?!" She was becoming increasingly hysterical.

Kyler jumped up, grabbing her shoulders. "Tell me what? What happened?!"

"There w-was an a-attack. R-river District."

Releasing her, Kyler dashed out of the room. His heart pounded fast and loud in his ears as he sprinted through the City's streets. The sky was dark by the time he entered River District, a crisp autumn wind biting at his skin. He turned onto his street and stumbled to a halt. The flash of red and blue lights danced along the walls of the houses, flickering off their windows. Bridging the street about halfway down was a thin strip of yellow; a holographic sign that flashed WARNING: CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS. His breath shuddered in his lungs as he moved closer, toward the dark silhouettes of neighbors and officials that dotted the street. But before he could cross the barrier, someone moved to block him.

"I'm sorry, sir, no one's allowed past this point."

The man looked to be in his early thirties with dark blond hair styled in a coif. His blue-grey eyes were quite serious. His jeans, white button-down, and leather jacket didn't appear official, but the gleaming badge on his belt showed otherwise.

"I need to get through," said Kyler, "I live there." The man followed his gesture, wincing a little. His reaction scared Kyler more than he cared to admit. "What happened?" he demanded.

The man sighed. "Have you been following the Taken War?" he asked.

Kyler nodded. "The Guardians have been clearing them out of the system since the summer."

"There was an incursion. A few rogue Taken came to Earth and got past the walls. A Guardian fireteam was tracking them, but...they didn't get here in time."

"How many?"

"Seven dead."

"The man in that house, is he..?"

The man sighed. "I'm sorry."

Kyler's world dropped away. Dalton was dead. The man who raised him was gone. He started backing away. He couldn't stay here. He had to get away.

"Whoa, wait!" the man called, "You got a place where you can stay?" Kyler nodded numbly. The man didn't seem happy, but he didn't pursue him. "You need anything, go to the 7th precinct and ask for Detective Alyn, ok?"

Kyler turned and ran. He ran until the only sound he could hear was the thudding of his feet against the pavement

As the weeks passed, Kyler stopped attending class. He'd gone to the academy to become an engineer but in the wake of Dalton's death, that goal no longer meant anything. He stayed in the dorm day and night. Warning after warning was posted to his door until eventually, the school kicked him out and he moved to a friend's couch. The Taken attack on the City was big news for weeks. Normally, Kyler would resent the constant reminders of Dalton's death, but in this case, the news coverage paid off. Thanks to it, Kyler learned that the leader of the Guardian fireteam tracking the Taken was none other than Harley Hayden himself. Upon learning this, a white-hot flash of anger darted through him. The Guardian the City fawned over was the same one who had a hand in his adopted father's death. If he'd been tracking those Taken properly, there was no reason he couldn't have been there in time to stop them. Thanks to his negligence, seven people had died. And all of a sudden, Kyler didn't feel like moping around anymore.

It was well-known in many circles that the City had a thriving Underworld. Perhaps its presence wasn't as apparent in the inner districts, but it was common knowledge on the outskirts. Rumor was the Underlord had half of the City's precincts in his pocket, as well as more than a few political figures. War bred crime and what better feeding ground was there than the Last Safe City on Earth? Kyler had had some qualms about getting into bed with the Underlord, so to speak, but he needed an in to the Tower — Guardian HQ — and the Underlord could make that happen. There was nothing the Underlord liked more than having talented individuals at his disposal and Kyler knew he was talented. His professors at the academy had certainly thought so. He couldn't count the number of times he'd been told about the bright future he had ahead of him. If only they could see me right now, he thought bitterly. He was on his way to meet one of the Underlord's men. Not a particularly high-level individual, but the man had enough influence to suit Kyler's needs. As he made his way to the location the man had specified, Detective Alyn's offer popped into his head. If he altered his course and went to the precinct instead, there was a possibility of reclaiming the path he'd abandoned. He shook his head, reminding himself of his father's death, squashing the rebellious thoughts. His course was set. Hayden would come to regret the day he had lost Dalton's life.

As it turned out, the next part of his plan was met with much less resistance than he'd expected. The very opposite was true. When the meeting with the Underlord himself finally occurred, he had simply listened to Kyler talk, looking faintly bored throughout the affair. However, when Kyler mentioned seeking revenge on Hayden, Fyster seemed to sit a bit more upright. He held up a bone-white hand, eyes alight with interest.

"You desire revenge on Hayden for his actions?" When he nodded, the Underlord's face split into a grin that was almost too wide. "I do believe that we can be of use to each other, Mr. Maddox. Ace Hayden is a rather central figure in the Tower. I'm sure you can see how removing him would directly benefit my position. Instability, as you'll come to learn, is an excellent source of profit." Kyler nodded again. The Underlord clapped his hands together. "Good. Now, as for the terms of our arrangement… I hope you understand I can't simply insert you into the Tower out of the blue. I'm afraid you'll have to earn the position yourself. However, I can give you a way to do so... Come and work for me. I guarantee you'll make it into the Tower in a year. Perhaps less, for a motivated individual such as yourself… In this way, you'll gain access to Hayden and be able to get retribution. Sew chaos into his life, anything you feel will make him pay. My one condition is you must finish the job. Kill Hayden, destroy his Ghost. Anything less and there will be consequences." The menace in his tone made it clear that whatever the "consequences" would be, Kyler wouldn't want to experience them.

"Ghost too. Got it," he managed to say.

"Good. While there is no set deadline, I will become impatient if you take too long. A few of my associates will be stationed nearby to check up on you." The phrase itself was harmless but the implications were much more telling. "Do we have a deal, Kyler Maddox?"

Kyler nodded. "We do."

Chapter Text

Kyler looked out across the City and the Traveler suspended above it. He had never seen it from this point of view before. I could get used to this. He'd worked for the Underlord for just under a year, accumulating influence and favors until he was able to land a job as a mechanic at the Tower. All in all, it was a pretty good payoff. The only irritating thing was the fact that Hayden wasn't at the Tower. But on that front, Kyler was willing to wait. He'd already waited this long, after all, and the game he played was a long one. When he arrived, he'd been shown around by a white-shelled Ghost named Jaro. Why Jaro didn't have anything of more importance to do was no concern of his. They'd visited the Traveler's Walk, the North Tower, the Library, the mess hall, and the Guardians' quarters before ending at the plaza. The Tower was much bigger than he'd thought and he knew there were more areas he hadn't seen, but he'd get his chance sooner or later. After all, he worked there now.

"So where to next?" he asked.

"Now I'd better get you to the Hangar so Amanda doesn't come after me," said Jaro, "This way."

Kyler followed him through a corridor to his left that opened into the Hangar. A few Frames were walking around, helping manage the ships, but he couldn't find the Shipwright. Amanda Holliday was well-known in the City, a figure possibly as legendary as the Vanguard themselves. Her mechanical skills were unparalleled and envied by every other mechanic in the City. Finally, he spotted her under the wing of a Regulus.

"Amanda!" called Jaro, "I brought that mechanic you wanted."

The Shipwright scooted out from under the ship and stood up, brushing herself off. "About time!" She strode over, eying Kyler appraisingly before sticking out a hand. "Amanda Holliday. Nice to meet ya."

Kyler shook her hand. "Hello. I'm Kyler Maddox."

"Well, Kyler, I only got one question for ya... Any good at fixin' ships?" She held up a hand. "Before you answer that, I know it's a long shot. Ain't much need for a ship mechanic in the City."

"Don't worry," he assured her, "I'm very good with ships."

Amanda smiled. "Fantastic." She nodded at Jaro. "Thanks for showin' him around, Jar."

"No problem Amanda. I was happy to help." He turned to Kyler. "Goodbye, Kyler. I'm sure we'll see each other around."

"Bye Jaro."

The Ghost nodded before zooming out the door, leaving him with Amanda. The Shipwright regarded him critically. "Well, you look beat and I ain't one to start you workin' on your first day, so why don't you take some time to settle in? Did Jaro show you your quarters?"

He nodded. "Yes." Staff quarters were located in the same area as the Guardians' quarters.

"Alright, then you're free to go. Report here at 0600 tomorrow."

"Will do. Thanks."

With that, he made his way out of the Hangar. He was about to set off for the mess hall when he realized that he didn't know the way. Jaro hadn't shown him the route from the plaza. He was resigning himself to going without dinner when a cheerful voice piped up from behind him.

"You lost, dude?"

Kyler turned and came face to face with a Guardian. The Guardian wore blue and orange Hunter armor and the hood of his cloak was pushed back, showing his face. He was young, probably around Kyler's age. His skin was fair but Kyler could make out three long pale scars mapped across his face. Despite this, he had the feeling that he was someone who smiled a lot. His hair was reddish-brown and on the shaggy side. An orange-shelled Ghost hovered at his shoulder. Kyler realized he hadn't answered the Guardian's question.

"Afraid so," he said wryly.

"It's cool, man. Everyone gets lost their first time here. I'm just lucky to have Spark with me. He's better than a GPS."

"I would hope so," said the Ghost.

"Anyway, my name's Fyr Allerton," said the Guardian, holding out a hand.

Kyler felt a flash of surprise. He shook the Hunter's hand. "Kyler Maddox."

"Cool. So where were you headed?"

"The mess hall."

"Oh, nice! I was just on my way over there! Follow me."

Kyler walked with him, listening as he chattered amiably. It was hard to believe that he was next to one of the legendary Chasers. Allerton may not be as well-known as Hayden, but he was up there. And so far, he wasn't anything like Kyler had expected.

"Here we are!" Allerton declared, "The place where dreams come true! Why don't you sit down and I'll grab us some food… Oh man, it's lasagna night! Sweet!"

Kyler seated himself at one of the nearby tables. It wasn't long before Allerton was back. He set a tray in front of Kyler and sat down across from him. Soon he was preoccupied with the food in front of him. Kyler picked absently at his own but he found that he was no longer very hungry. As it turned out, this was a good thing because Allerton was soon peppering him with questions, heedless of whether his mouth was full.

"So whatcha doing here?"

"I'm a new mechanic. I'm supposed to start working tomorrow."

Allerton nodded. "Nice, nice… So you lived in the City your whole life right?"

"Yes."

"What's that like, man? I've only really been there a couple times. They had good ramen."

For some reason, the information surprised Kyler more than it should have. He shrugged. "It's nothing special. School, work, friends… It's just everyday life." At least it was when your father figure wasn't getting murdered by Taken. "What about being a Guardian?"

Fyr shrugged. "It's cool. Lots of missions n' stuff. Lots of shooting aliens. I get to see my friends a lot, so that's pretty groovy."

Kyler nodded. "Hey, do they talk about Guardians a lot in the City?"

The question took him by surprise. "Why?"

Allerton shrugged. "I dunno. Just curious."

"Oh. Well, yes. They do… Quite a lot."

The Hunter's face lit up. "Really? Man, that's so cool! So am I famous?"

Kyler felt like rolling his eyes. Of course he'd ask that. "Yes. They talk about the Chasers a lot down there."

"Awesome. Any songs about me?"

Again, Kyler fought the urge to roll his eyes. "Not that I've heard. They have you guys all over posters and shirts though."

"Dude that's wicked!"

"Yes," said Kyler dryly, "I'm told they have individual as well as team merchandise."

Allerton didn't pick up on his tone. "I wonder which of us sells the best?"

I could tell you, thought Kyler, You could probably guess it if you tried. Instead, he decided to change the subject. "So where's your team?"

"Huh? Oh." He shrugged. "They're around. Rogue's in the Crucible mostly."

Kyler nodded as if he knew all about the Crucible. In reality, he only knew a few vague details. It was supposed to be some kind of arena where Guardians went up against each other. "What about the others?"

Allerton shrugged again. "Bazzle runs a lot of patrols. Kinda boring if you ask me. Kay hangs out around here when he's not with him. Jade too." He frowned. "I think Rae's working on something for the Vanguard or whatever and I dunno where Ace went, but he's been gone for a while."

Kyler nearly sighed in annoyance. Clearly, Allerton didn't have any good information. He rose. "I think I'm going to head to bed," he said, "It's been a long day."

"That's cool, dude. Oh hey, you mind if I finish your lasagna?"

Kyler shrugged. "Sure."

"Hell yeah! You're the guy, man. Later!"

"Goodnight."


Kyler ate with Allerton a few more times after that. The Guardian was entertaining, if annoying. So far, he hadn't run into any of the other Chasers, which he wasn't entirely happy about. He sighed contentedly as he left the mess hall and strolled in the direction of the plaza. That day had been a good day. Everything had gone smoothly and he was on good terms with Amanda. By the time he reached the plaza, all the vendors had departed for the night. He stood at the balcony for a while, enjoying the peace and quiet for a few minutes before turning to go back to his quarters. The sound of hurried footsteps was the only warning he got before collided with something and reeled backward. Luckily, someone caught his arm before he could completely fall.

"Shit I'm sorry!" said the other, "I wasn't looking."

Kyler waved him off, glancing up. "It's fi-" Standing in front of him was none other than Ace Hayden himself. His eyes widened then narrowed as he realized who he was looking at. Then he assumed a neutral expression. It was time to move forward with his plan. He knew Hayden hadn't caught any of it in the dark, for which he was grateful.

"Harley Hayden," said Hayden as he stuck out a hand, "Most people call me Ace."

Kyler shook it. For all he'd heard about the Guardian, he hadn't expected to have a good few inches on him. "Kyler Maddox… no nicknames here," he said jokingly.

Hayden chuckled a bit before seemingly realizing something. "Oh! You're the new mechanic, right?" Kyler nodded, surprised that Hayden knew who he was. "You like working in the Tower?"

Kyler shrugged. "It's interesting."

Hayden laughed. "You could say that." He gestured to the Ghost that hovered next to him. "This is Prism."

"Nice to meet you," said the Ghost.

"Likewise… I didn't know you were back." Hayden looked surprised. Weren't expecting that were you? "Fyr told me."

"Ahh. Yeah. I was over at the Reef… Chasing down rumors about Prince Uldren."

"Oh?"

Hayden nodded before adopting a sheepish expression. "Listen… I'm technically not supposed to be back yet. I was just giving my preliminary report to the Vanguard. I'll be leaving as soon as I get back to the Hangar."

Kyler nodded. "I see… Well, good luck."

"Thanks... I guess I'll see you around?"

Kyler smiled. "Probably."

"Alright! Later, Kyler."

With that, Hayden quickly departed. As Kyler walked back to his quarters, he thought about what he'd learned. He'd finally met Ace Hayden in person and he hadn't been as much of a jerk as Kyler had expected. But that only increased his dislike.

"Hayden," he scoffed, "The Guardian who can do no wrong."

Still, if Hayden was coming back to the Tower soon, Kyler would finally be able to make progress. I'll show him that his life isn't as great as he thinks it is. All I have to do is wait for an opportunity. And he didn't have to wait long before one presented itself.

Chapter Text

Kyler walked toward the mess hall in high spirits. He'd managed to get the room to himself for the past few days and now he looked forward to eating alone. But his hopes were dashed as soon as he entered. An Exo was sitting at one of the tables, his armor marking him as a Hunter. And a closer look told Kyler that the Exo was none other than Kaedro-22, another member of the Chasers. He hurried past to get his food and felt relieved when the Guardian didn't so much as glance up. He needed time to think. After Kyler had his tray, he moved to sit at a table on the opposite side of the serving station to spare himself any awkward contact. He was glad the Hunter was alone, the less noise, the better. But barely ten minutes later, Kyler heard someone else enter the room.

"Kaedro! I'm glad I found you!" The voice was unmistakably female. Kyler heard the scrape of a chair being drawn back as the other person sat down.

"Hey Jade," Kaedro replied, "I didn't know you were looking for me."

Jade. Kyler took in that piece of information. It must be Jade Wrythal. After all, how many other 'Jades' were in the Tower?

Wrythal sighed, sounding mildly exasperated. "Only everywhere."

"Well, looks like you found me… Why were you looking for me in the first place?"

"I found another one."

From there, their voices dropped and Kyler couldn't make out anything else. But he was intrigued by how serious they seemed to sound. Why are they whispering? What could be so important that they'd want to hide it? His meal forgotten, Kyler sat back and tried to make out what they were discussing. Unfortunately, he was having little luck. Then Kaedro's voice rose suddenly, sounding incredulous.

"You risked your life for a piece of trash?"

"It wasn't trash!" The Warlock sounded defensive.

"I know that but you didn't and that's my point."

"I already found two pages. Finding a third one wasn't much of a stretch."

Their voices grew quieter again. So Wrythal found pages of something. I wonder what they said? He wasn't able to hear anything past that, but there was a moment where Wrythal seemed to be speaking for a long while. Suddenly, both Guardians went dead silent and for a dreadful moment, Kyler was certain he'd been discovered eavesdropping. Then he heard Kaedro's voice raise slightly again.

"Shit," said the Exo emphatically.

Kyler glared at the table in front of him, insurmountably disappointed that he didn't know what had transpired. The Guardians went on to have another exchange and Kyler thought their Ghosts might have chimed in at some point. Then their voices rose a bit.

"...figure out some way," said Wrythal.

Kaedro didn't seem to agree. "Why? Why do we have to take this any further than it's already gone? Why can't you just let it go?"

Wrythal sighed, sounding disappointed. "I wanted to pursue this to the end...but maybe you're right," she agreed reluctantly, "There's no way we could ask him about it without being extremely out of line."

Ask him? Ask who? About what?

"So we agree?" said Kaedro, "We drop it for now?"

"We drop it for now."

The Hunter's reply sounded relieved. "Good. The last thing we need is for there to be more drama… On that note, don't leave those anywhere Cayde might see them. Ace either, just to be sure."

"Don't worry, I'll keep them in my quarters."

"Alright, then I guess that's done…" Kyler heard scraping as a chair was pushed back. "I think I'm gonna turn in for the night... Catch you later."

"Goodnight, Kaedro."

Kyler listened to the Hunter's footsteps as he left the mess hall and mulled over what he'd learned. So Wrythal found pages of some kind and told Kaedro about them. And they, for some reason don't want Hayden or Cayde to know about it… And just like that, Kyler knew how he could start getting back at Hayden. If they don't want the Vanguard to see it, it must be something that would cause trouble for Hayden. Whichever way he twisted it, he was certain that they'd be damaging to Hayden. The thing was, Kyler didn't have the papers and from what Wrythal said, he wouldn't be able to get his hands on them any time soon. He tilted his head to the side, listening. The soft clink of silverware told him that the Warlock hadn't left yet. He grinned. I'll either have to try lifting them off of her now or find a way to steal them from her rooms. You didn't last long in the Underworld if you didn't have light fingers. Many of his starter jobs had involved stealing in some form. He rose and crept as silently as possible to the other exit. As he made his way around back to the main entrance, he pulled various pieces of scrap from his jumpsuit pockets and began to construct a device. If I can't get them now, this will be my contingency. He finished the gadget as soon as he stepped through the door. Wrythal was still there, finishing her food. She looked up as he entered.

"Oh hello."

He smiled at her. "Hi."

"I don't think we've met. I'm Jade Wrythal."

"Nice to meet you… I'm Kyler Maddox."

"Would you like to sit down?" Wrythal offered.

"Really?"

"Sure."

"Thanks." He moved to sit across from her.

"You haven't been here long right?"

He shook his head. "I just started a little while ago. I help Amanda with the ships and Sparrows and do repair work around the Tower."

"Oh, so you're the new mechanic." Wrythal shook her head. "Sometimes I feel so out of step with everything that goes on here."

"Were you out on missions?"

She shook her head. "Patrols mostly."

"What's it like being a Guardian?"

"Well, it's a lot different than most people think…"

Kyler pretended to listen as Wrythal chattered on while he looked around as covertly as possible for where the papers might be located. He couldn't see them anywhere. She must have them in a pouch or something. Looks like Plan B's the safer bet. He turned back into the conversation in time to hear her say, "...Anyway, I think I covered a lot more than I meant to." She smiled sheepishly. "Sorry for the info dump."

He returned the smile. "Absolutely no problem here. It was interesting. Obviously, I need to talk to Warlocks more."

Wrythal gave a small laugh before rising to her feet. "Well, it's getting a bit late so I should probably get back to my quarters."

Kyler stood up as well. "Me too. Why don't we walk back together?"

"Sounds great."

They headed towards the door. Kyler stepped to the side, gesturing for Wrythal to go in front of him. "After you."

She smiled and moved to go through the door. As she did so, Kyler's right hand came around to plant the device he'd made on the back of her armor. He watched carefully but Wrythal gave no sign of having felt him, so he relaxed and fell into step beside her.

"You must be a pretty good mechanic to get recruited by the Tower."

He nodded. "It's a great opportunity. Seeing the Tower, talking to Guardians… I would've taken this job for free."

Jade laughed with him. "I've never really thought about it from an outside perspective before. It's hard to believe people in the City look up to us so much."

He leaned toward her conspiratorially. "You know, I always wanted to be a Guardian when I was a kid."

"Really? That makes me feel kind of bad because there have been a few times when I wished I wasn't."

"You did?"

Wrythal nodded. "Between you and me, I think it's something all Guardians wish at some point."

"Hm."

"Well...this is me."

Kyler glanced around and found that he'd walked with her up to her level. "Alright. It was nice talking to you."

"Thanks. It's nice to meet a new face around here."

"Well, goodnight then." He smiled. "If you ever need anything fixed, you know who to call."

She laughed. "If anything needs to be fixed, I'll make sure to take you up on that… Goodnight." Wrythal opened her door and stepped inside.

He waited outside for a few minutes until he faintly heard the shower start up. Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew a small transmitter with a button on it. Pressing it would activate the EMP he'd planted on Wrythal's armor. He listened once more to make sure she was in fact in the shower, then he pressed the button. After a couple of seconds, the lock pad next to the door flickered. Kyler tucked the transmitter away and turned to head back towards his quarters. By tomorrow, Wrythal would notice the EMP's effects on the electronics in her quarters. She'd ask him to fix it and while he was doing that, he'd be able to grab the papers from wherever she'd put them. Kyler nodded in satisfaction, whistling as he made his way to his room.

Chapter Text

He was in the Hangar repairing a Sparrow the next morning when he was approached by one of the Frames.

"Mr. Maddox, your presence has been requested by Miss Wrythal in her quarters."

Kyler hid a smile. "Did she say why?"

"Several systems in her quarters seem to be malfunctioning."

He nodded. "I'll get right over there." He stood, brushing his hands off on his jumpsuit before grabbing a nearby toolbox.

As he knocked on Wrythal's door, he noted the still-flickering lock pad. He didn't have to wait long before the door was opened, revealing a desperate Warlock.

"Thank the Traveler you're here, Kyler!"

He laughed good-naturedly. "I didn't think you'd be taking me up on my offer so soon."

Her answering laugh was flustered. "Believe me, neither did I." She gestured behind her. "I thought my entire room would go under!"

Kyler looked over her shoulder and saw several sopping wet towels placed in a furtive barrier around her bathroom door, from under which seeped a puddle of water. He whistled.

"Haven't seen anything like that before."

"I'll say."

"Is anything besides the shower malfunctioning?"

Wrythal nodded. "The TV, the lock, and my HoloDesk are all having problems."

"Alright. I'm pretty sure I can fix that, but it'll take some time…"

Wrythal suddenly looked conflicted. "I told Bazzle I'd meet him for a patrol…"

Kyler made a show out of puzzling over the problem. Then his face brightened as he 'came up' with a seemingly brilliant idea. "Listen, if you have somewhere to be, well… I have no problem working on it while you're out. That way it'll all be back to normal when you get back."

"You'd do that? Thank you so much! I should be back before tonight."

He nodded. "No problem. Good luck on your patrol."

Jade smiled in relief. "Thanks. You're a lifesaver, Kyler."

He waved goodbye as she left, then once he was sure she'd gone, he set to the task at hand. Fixing the damage he'd caused was a simple matter and he knew his EMP would have shorted out any cameras, but he was having a lot less luck in his search for the pages. He checked under the mattress and pillows. Where could she've put them? Then an answer came to him. She wouldn't've expected anyone to actively be looking for them. Bearing that in mind, he crossed over to the desk. He'd only pulled open two drawers before finding what he'd been looking for. But his triumphant smile faded when he saw that the Warlock had thought enough to lock them in a sealed container.

A brief examination told him that there was no way to see what was on the papers without giving away his tampering. He'd just have to turn it into the Vanguard and cross his fingers. Kyler cursed softly to himself. He hated leaving things to chance and for a moment he debated revealing the papers at all. In the end, however, he concluded that revealing them could only help him. If they contained damning information on Hayden, then the Hunter would surely get in trouble and nothing made a person more vulnerable than bad fortune in their own life. Kyler should know. On the other hand, if the papers were harmless, he wasn't losing out on anything either. With a grin, he closed the desk drawers and did one last sweep of the room to make sure everything was as it should be. Then he left, heading in the direction of the plaza.

As he walked, he pondered on how he should approach presenting the information to the Vanguard. That would be the riskiest part of the whole thing. He had to do it in such a way that they wouldn't be suspicious of him. Kyler thought on this for a while and by the time he entered the plaza, he'd figured out more or less what to say. He could feel his heart rate accelerate as he descended the stairs into the Hall of Guardians. He kept his eyes on the other end of the room, not wanting to become trapped in a conversation with Lord Shaxx. The Guardian cut an intimidating figure in the stories Kyler'd heard. He didn't feel like it was in his best interest to get on the legendary Titan's radar in any way. He breathed a soft sigh of relief upon making it through the hall. However, the feeling died when he entered the room and was faced with the stares of all three Vanguard.

"Hello?"

"Yes?" said Commander Zavala.

"You're the Vanguard, right?" It would work better if he acted like he didn't wasn't completely sure of who they were.

"Yes," said Ikora Rey, "We are the Vanguard. Who are you?"

"I'm, uh, Kyler Maddox. The new mechanic?"

"Ah." Ikora nodded. "I see. What brings you here, Kyler?"

"Yeah. Not that we don't like ya or nothin', but we're kinda in the middle of somethin' here," said Cayde-6.

"Absolutely," said Kyler, nodding, "I won't take up too much of your time. I just… I found something that I think concerns you." He held up the container. Cayde reached out for it, but Kyler didn't hand it over right away. "Before I give it to you, I want you to know that I never opened it and I have no idea what's inside."

"If that's true, how did you know it concerns the Vanguard?" asked Ikora, arching an eyebrow.

"I, um, overheard two Guardians talking… I didn't think it was right for this to be kept hidden - from you no less."

"Two Guardians?" said Zavala, "Do you know which Guardians were involved?"

"I wasn't able to see them from where I was," he said apologetically.

Finally, he gave the container to Cayde, who nodded at him before inspecting it. "Sundance, couldja get this for me?"

The Hunter's Ghost floated forward, shooting a beam of light at the lock. A few seconds later, it clicked open. Wish I had a Ghost to open it for me. Cayde withdrew the papers, unfolding them. Kyler studied the Hunter as he read. Exo faces were often difficult to read, but he got the impression that if Cayde were human, the color would've drained from his face. Evidently, Ikora and Zavala could tell something was off as well.

"Thank you, Kyler," said Ikora, "You may leave now."

Kyler nodded, then turned and made his way toward the exit, a smirk on his face. The tricky part was done. Now all he had to do was sit back and wait.


It turned out that sitting back and waiting was harder than Kyler had thought. It had been two days since he'd handed in the letter fragments and Hayden hadn't been back to the Tower. Hopefully, he would return sooner than later. Kyler sighed. At least the letters were affecting someone. According to rumor, Cayde-6 had spent the past two days in his quarters for some unknown reason. He smirked. Well, the reason was unknown to them. The Hunter Vanguard had reportedly gone back to the Hub today. Not for the first time, Kyler wondered what the letters said. Raising his arms above his head, he stretched out his back before settling back against the North Tower hallway entrance. The day was bright and clear, a good day for relaxing. As he looked out over the City, a familiar voice piped up next to him.

"Hello, Kyler!"

Kyler turned with a smile. "Hey, Jaro..."

Anything else he'd been about to say was forgotten when he saw that the Ghost wasn't alone. Instead, he hovered next to a young man. Kyler took in the other's outfit with a small frown, noticing that he was dressed in the fashion of the Hunters.

"Hey." The guy stuck out a hand. "The name's Sebastian Gale."

Kyler shook his hand. "Kyler Maddox."

"Ah, so you're the master mechanic. Jaro's told me about you... 'Best mechanic next to Amanda Holliday.'"

"Sebastian is my Guardian," said Jaro happily, "I found him yesterday on the Moon. I even got to name him!"

"Oh. Congrats!"

"Thanks," said Sebastian with a chuckle, "Still getting used to not being dead."

"We'd better be going," said Jaro, "We just got assigned our first official mission! I just wanted to drop in to say hello before we left."

Kyler nodded. "Yeah. Well, it was good to see you again. Nice to meet you, Sebastian. Good luck on the mission."

"Thanks, man," said Sebastian, "See you around."

Kyler nodded, watching as the pair set off for the Hangar. Once they passed out of hearing distance, he sighed. Jaro was probably the closest thing he had to a friend in the Tower. Even if he didn't see him very much, it was nice to know the Ghost was around. Now though, he'd likely be out on missions with his new Guardian all the time. More than ever, he was impatient for Hayden's return.

As the hours passed, he was starting to wish that Amanda hadn't given him the day off. He knew he wasn't there to repair ships, but it was a good way of keeping his mind occupied. As his gaze wandered across the plaza, he spotted a figure exiting the Hangar doorway and felt a conflicting flash of distaste and satisfaction as he recognized Harley Hayden. The Hunter was coated in a film of reddish-brown dust and looked exhausted. Kyler watched as he disappeared into the Hall of Guardians, presumably to report to the Vanguard. He sat up a bit straighter, anticipation coiling in his stomach. Maybe this would be the catalyst he needed.

He waited for about twenty minutes but was disappointed when Hayden emerged looking only faintly troubled. He said a few things to his Ghost, but Kyler was too far away to make anything out. However, it was clear that he'd have to wait a bit longer for his actions to bear fruit.


The next morning, Kyler was in the Hall of Guardians, having run a datapad over to Shaxx about something or other. Whatever it was, it hadn't been interesting enough to bother with. Now he was just waiting for the Titan to finish looking it over. Footsteps sounded behind him and he saw Shaxx look up from the datapad.

"Good morning Hayden."

Kyler turned and saw the Guardian in question pause at the top of the stairs to the Hub. "Morning, Shaxx. Jade and I are planning to join up in the Crucible today."

"Splendid! I'll see you out there!"

The Hunter gave a smile before continuing down into the Hub. Kyler leaned out, but he couldn't see much of anything. He strained to see if he could catch any of the conversation, but Shaxx chose that moment to start talking.

"Well, it seems like Holliday has everything in order," he said, handing the datapad back, "Is that all?"

Kyler forced a smile. "Yep."

Shaxx nodded. "Thank her for me."

"Will do," he said through clenched teeth.

He started making his way back to the Hangar, but before he left the plaza, he caught sight of Hayden and Cayde leaving the Hall of Guardians, heading for the Traveler's Walk. Hayden looked even more troubled than he had the night before. He smirked. This had to be it. He checked around to make sure no one was watching him, then proceeded to follow them. The Hunters walked down to the railing, but he stopped several meters back in a nook on the right side. As they began to converse, he groaned in annoyance. He could only catch some of the words. However, he was reluctant to move any closer and risk being detected by either the Guardians or their Ghosts.

He settled for studying their body behavior for any visual clues. Both seemed more than a bit uncomfortable and he watched as they stumbled through an exchange that he knew was awkward even without hearing it. Finally, Cayde's Ghost seemed to get fed up with the Hunters and divulged what her Guardian had been trying to say. Hayden looked like he was having a hard time comprehending it if his agitated motions were anything to go by. Kyler shifted his weight to stop his legs from cramping up.

The minutes dragged on as the two Hunters continued to talk. They both still acted very awkward, but he didn't see any antagonism and they didn't seem as uncomfortable as before. He wasn't happy about that, but he told himself that there was still time for it to go the other way. That was until the Guardians hugged. Outwardly, Kyler remained still and quiet, but he could feel his irritation rapidly building. This wasn't at all how it was supposed to turn out. Clearly, he had misjudged the contents of the pages.

Digging his nails into his palm to stop himself from punching the wall, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. As the air moved in and out, he found himself calming down. The only meaning behind this was that he'd have to try something else. And next time, he wouldn't pull any punches.

Chapter Text

Kyler paced through his quarters as he reevaluated the situation. Hayden was back at the Tower full time and it would likely be staying that way for a while with nothing but patrols going on. The upside to this was that he now had more time to figure out the best plan of attack. Then an idea flitted into his head. The most effective attacks were unexpected. He would befriend Hayden. The more he thought about it, the more sense it made. Gaining Hayden's trust would not only present him with multiple opportunities to wreak havoc in the Guardian's life, but it would also give him more time to put more extensive plans into action. He was playing the long game now. It would take more effort, yes, but the payoff would be much greater. And he knew exactly where to start.

It was well-known that Hayden loved his ship, The Wandering Star. After all, it had been his salvation from Mercury and he'd done most of the repair work himself. Kyler maintained Guardian ships all the time. He could easily make a few alterations to Hayden's. By fixing the resulting mechanical failure, he was sure to get into Hayden's good graces and start a foundation of trust. The plan was a good one and Kyler knew it. However, he refrained from going to the Hangar right then as he was sure to stick out in people's minds for being there outside of his usual hours. That was why, the next day, he arrived at his normal time. Making sure that no one was watching, he walked casually over to where the Guardian ships were docked, moving down the rows until he came to the Star. He paused for a moment to admire her. She truly was an incredible ship. One look and he could see himself hurtling through starfields or soaring through the skies of alien worlds. But that could never happen. She belonged to someone else.

Getting the required panels open was simple. Deciding which components to alter was slightly more complex, but luckily it didn't take him long to choose. Locating the main engine control, Kyler used his tools to remove both the 600-degree retaining ring and the anti-rotation pin. Then he reassembled everything and closed up the panels before retreating to his work area to resume tuning the Sparrows Amanda had assigned to him the previous day. SRL was due to have its annual Dawning racing tournaments in a couple of months and the mechanic wanted to make sure the racers' Sparrows were in order. Since so many people participated in the holiday races, there were a lot of Sparrows to get through.

He estimated he'd been working for about three hours before he heard someone enter the Hangar, moving in the direction of the Guardian ships. He looked up from the sleek red Sparrow he was working on. Well, look who it is. Didn't expect to see Hayden in here this soon.

As if the Guardian had heard Kyler's thoughts, he looked up. "Good morning...Kyler, right?"

Kyler nodded. "Morning," he greeted cheerfully, "What brings you to the Hangar?"

"Just running a few patrols in the Cosmodrome for Bazzle. Nothing major, thankfully. How 'bout you?"

Kyler gestured to the Sparrow he was working on. "Getting things ready for SRL."

Hayden's eyes brightened. "Really? I heard about their Dawning events. I was thinking about racing myself… You've probably seen more races than me. Any tips?"

That was unexpected. "I can't say everyone has an equal chance at winning," he replied with a chuckle, "Marcus Ren has an unbroken winning streak and Enoch Bast always comes in second. They've been racing probably since before I was around."

Hayden nodded. "I'll remember that… But I've probably taken up enough of your time. I'll let you get back to work."

"Alright," said Kyler, "Have a nice flight."

Only when the Hunter turned his back did Kyler allow himself to smile at that statement. Hayden's flight was sure to be many things, but "nice" was not one of them.


As the hours passed, Kyler slipped further and further into what he referred to as "autopilot" with his body continuing to work on the Sparrows while his mind was elsewhere. Tighten that bolt. Refasten that wire. Once a nerve-inducing puzzle, these things had become second-nature to him. So much so that he'd zoned out multiple times before while adjusting Sparrows. He was so far out of it that he almost didn't notice Amanda rush past him. He probably still wouldn't have noticed her if it hadn't been for the host of maintenance frames at her heels. Their metallic footsteps were enough to snap him out of it.

Amanda continued on her path. He could see that she was making for one of the nearby consoles and if her pace and worried expression were anything to go by, something serious had happened. Pushing himself to his feet, he hurried after her, standing at her shoulder as she typed commands into the console.

"What happened?" he asked.

"Emergency broadcast from Ace," she replied, "The Star malfunctioned."

Kyler shoved down the triumph he felt. "Is it bad?"

"Don't wanna jump to conclusions," said the Shipwright, "But he was losin' altitude. Losin' it fast. Tried gettin' more outta him but the uh… The frequency cut out."

"He crashed?"

"...There's a good chance. S'why I'm trying to get his last position. If the Star ain't flyin', we gotta send out some maintenance drones, get her and Ace back here…" She stared intently at the screen. "Got him! Dispatching drones..."

Kyler could tell Amanda was anxious. It took about twenty minutes for the drones to get back and she didn't stop moving once. As the Star was guided into the Hangar, Kyler's eyebrows lifted in surprise. The body of the ship was mostly intact, aside from a rent in the plating toward the front. Smoke wafted from the engine compartment, prompting a maintenance frame to hurry over with a fire extinguisher. Hayden emerged from the cockpit looking a bit disheveled but otherwise fine.

"Ace!" Amanda rushed over, wrapping the Guardian in a hug. "Thank the Light you weren't hurt!"

"Nope. Just a bit confused… The Star's never had a problem before."

"We'll get her back in shape," said Amanda, "Did Prism scan for the cause?"

"I did," replied Hayden's Ghost, "It seems to be a problem with the differential pressure pilot valve. Somehow, it must have come out of alignment, causing the main engine control to meter abnormally high fuel flow to the engine."

The Shipwright nodded. "That'll do it. Incorrect fuel flow like that'll give ya engine overspeed and severe over-temperature that ultimately leads to fire and a pretty nasty engine failure." She sighed. "Problem is, we can't prioritize the repairs, what with us already bein' behind schedule on SRL prep… You don't have any pressing missions, right Ace?"

Hayden shook his head. "Nothing right now." The Hunter looked unusually downcast. Clearly, he had an aversion to being stuck at the Tower.

"Well, I'm sure I can get to it in a couple days," said Amanda.

"I'll do it," Kyler volunteered, earning slightly incredulous looks from both of them, "I can have it fixed by the end of today."

"That's nice of you, Ky, but what about those Sparrows?"

"I'll stay late to finish them up."

"No," Hayden was shaking his head, "I can't have you give up your free time on my account. I can wait."

"It's no problem. I'll get started now."

Grabbing a toolbox, he headed over to the ship that was still smoking faintly while Amanda and Hayden finished up their conversation. He hovered a hand above one of the panels to feel for heat. Luckily, it seemed to have cooled off, so he opened the panel to assess the damage. More than a few wires and tubes would have to be replaced, but other than that, it seemed to be in decent shape. Replacing the retaining ring and anti-rotation pin were easy, though if anyone else had noticed their absence, the crash would've screamed "sabotage."

Replacing the parts damaged in the crash took considerably longer, but it would all be worth it if his plan worked. He didn't leave the Hangar until around midnight, but when he did leave, he was glad in knowing that his plan was underway. It was improved. Of this, he had no doubt. Before, he was just lashing out in the same way a sulky child, neglected by its parents might. His previous "plan" had been doomed to fail from the start, he told himself. There had simply been too many unknowns. His new plan gave him the chance to limit those. As part of it was getting close to Hayden, he would come to learn more about the Guardian. He would understand him and, in so doing, he would know how best to destroy him. That his plan would take a while didn't bother him in the slightest. As Dalton had often repeated during Kyler's youth, "All things come to those who wait." This was often followed by "haste makes waste," a saying the old man was particularly fond of. Kyler was playing the long game, and the long game couldn't be rushed. Tomorrow, he would bring Hayden the news of his repaired ship. This was bound to further advance his plans by a substantial margin. Tomorrow we'll see where the chips land.

Chapter Text

Harley couldn't lie, the past few months had been pretty stressful. Things had begun to wind down after Oryx had been beaten. The Guardians weren't having too much trouble removing the Taken from the system now that they were leaderless. But after the Taken breach in the City, more things had started to pile on.

He still wasn't exactly sure why he'd felt so compelled to investigate the rumors about Uldren. Either way, he had found no sign of the Awoken Prince having survived the Battle of Saturn. But once he'd returned to the Tower, he'd had a revelation dumped on him that he'd never have thought to expect. Not in a million years. He, Harley Hayden, was the son of the Hunter Vanguard. The circumstances of this reveal were still unclear, but the excitement still hadn't stopped coming. The Star, his Star had crashed. He was lucky he hadn't needed Prism to revive him. He'd also narrowly escaped being grounded at the Tower. What bad luck, to have crashed during one of the busiest times in the Tower.

He was eternally grateful to Kyler Maddox. Thanks to him, Harley could still go out on patrols. When Kyler had told him he'd fixed the Star, Harley could've hugged the guy. She was more than just a ship to him. She was his freedom. A week had passed since then and Harley had yet to figure out how to pay the mechanic back. It was eating him up. He knew Kyler had given up precious hours of his free time to repair the Star and there was no way Harley could let that go.

"Prism?"

His Ghost flashed into existence. "Yes, Harley?"

He sighed. "What should I do to repay Kyler?"

She hummed thoughtfully. "You could write him a thank-you card." Harley started to chuckle. "What's wrong with that?" asked Prism.

"Nothing," he said, "That just sounds like something Jade would say."

"It's up to you what you do, Harley. There's no right or wrong answer here."

"Maybe I should just ask him," Harley mused.

"Oh hi, Ace."

Harley looked up to see who was standing there. Speak of the devil. It was Kyler. "Hey!" he greeted, "Just who I wanted to see."

Kyler looked confused. "What? Why?"

Harley got to his feet. "It's killing me that I haven't been able to pay you back for what you did for me."

Kyler shrugged, waving him off. "It was no big deal."

Harley shook his head adamantly. "It was and I want to repay you for it. I just don't know how."

Kyler tapped his chin, seemingly deep in thought. "I might have an idea... I'd like to experiment with ship design at some point and the type of drive I want isn't easy to find. As far as I know, only one shop in the City carries it."

"I'll buy it for you," said Harley immediately, "If it's as rare as you say, it probably costs a lot of Glimmer."

Kyler chuckled. "I was just going to ask if you would come along. I can buy it myself."

"Then I'll carry it for you," Harley said firmly, "It's the least I can do."

"If you insist."

"I do. When did you want to leave?"

"Sooner is better for me. I'm not entirely certain it won't be sold to someone else... Are you doing anything right now?"

Harley felt a flicker of surprise. "You want to go now? It's nearly lunchtime."

Kyler shrugged. "That's fine. We can get lunch in the City."

Harley didn't have a problem with that. He hadn't been to the City nearly enough and was always up to see more of it. But he also couldn't forget the last time he'd been, when things hadn't ended very well. "Ok," he said, "I'm on board. Just let me change out of my armor first. I'd rather not be recognized if I can help it."

Kyler shot him a questioning look but seemed to accept it. "Alright. Meet me near the elevators." Harley nodded, then hurried off to his room to change.

A few minutes later, he was headed to the elevators wearing jeans and a hoodie. The clothing was comfortable but more importantly, he could hide his face with the hood. Last time he hadn't been aware of how well-known he was in the City and things had gone south. Hopefully, things would be different this time. As he neared the elevators, he saw Kyler waiting for him. The mechanic wore dark pants and a long tan overcoat. Harley was surprised to see he even wore a dark blue scarf wrapped around his neck.

"It can get really cold during this time of year," said Kyler, as though having read Harley's thoughts, "It'll be winter soon. Honestly, I'm surprised we haven't had snow yet."

Right. Harley had forgotten how cold it could get in the City. "Well, if I freeze to death, Prism can just revive me," he joked.

Kyler looked at him strangely. Harley felt his face heat up. It was the kind of joke that would only be funny to Guardians and he'd forgotten that Kyler wasn't a Guardian. It was easy for that to happen, considering he'd only ever been around other Guardians. He cleared his throat awkwardly.

"Guess we'd better get going."

Kyler nodded and pressed the call button. The doors in front of them opened and they stepped inside. Harley shoved his hands into his hoodie's pocket and tried to think of a way to start a conversation. But nothing came to him and they rode the whole way down in that particular kind of silence one could only find in an elevator.

Kyler hated the silence. It was rarely silent when he'd lived with Dalton. "No silence here if I can help it," the old man had said, "I'm too old to leave words unspoken." They'd entered the City outskirts and still neither had talked. Finally, Kyler took it upon himself to break the silence.

"First time in the City?"

Hayden shook his head. "I was here in late spring with some friends... Then again after some Taken. They breached the walls. We got them but...not fast enough." Kyler's jaw clenched, all too familiar with what Hayden described. After a brief pause, Hayden spoke again. "I can't imagine what it's like to grow up here… or grow up at all."

Kyler blinked. He'd heard so many stories about Guardians, but there were certain things that none of them touched on. Everyone knew they were revived as adults, but it was never really acknowledged. Harley Hayden had never had a childhood. At least, not one he could remember. Kyler found that extremely depressing, and for a fleeting moment he felt sympathy for Hayden, but it was gone as soon as it came.

As they walked along, he considered whether he was making the right move. He could have easily kept Hayden on the hook for that favor until it came in handy. However, letting Hayden pay him back now could also end better for him by opening the way for more favors - and therefore trust - between them down the line. Foot in Door. It wasn't long before they were coming up on the area Kyler was looking for. He hadn't been lying about wanting the NLS drive. Mechanical engineering had been his chosen field of study and would probably always be his main interest. He could always work in the ship somewhere if he wanted to. He spotted the shop ahead of them, noting that it didn't look busy.

"Look," he said, turning to Hayden, "That's the shop right there. Why don't you wait for me across the street?" He gestured to an empty lot where a group of children was playing some kind of tag game.

"Sure you don't want me to come with you? I could pay for half of it, or at least help you carry it."

"I'll be fine. Just worried the owner might recognize you if he sees you up close."

"Oh. I didn't think of that… Yeah, I'll wait over there."

Kyler let out a sigh of relief as Hayden crossed the street. The real reason he didn't want the Guardian there was because the man he'd be doing business with ran black market goods for the Underlord. Kyler wasn't sure how much the Guardians knew of the Underlord or his associates - likely not enough to pose a threat - but he didn't want to take the chance. There was also the possibility that the man would reveal something on accident. Kyler had dealt with him before and he'd deemed it too risky having both himself and Hayden there. He entered the shop.

"I'll be damned… Kyler Maddox. Didn't expect to see you back here for a long time."

As Kyler's eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, he was able to make out the figure. "Gavin," he greeted, "How's business?"

The man shrugged. "Can't complain. Last I checked, though, you were headin' for some fancy job up in that Tower. Been good to you, has it?"

Kyler shrugged. "I'd be lying if I said otherwise."

Gavin chuckled. "Good on you. Suits you, it does." He gave a mock frown. "Don't know about that though," he said, gesturing to the side of his head, "Wasn't nearly as long last time I saw you. Now it's gettin' t'be longer than my daughter's."

Kyler brushed a hand through his hair. What Gavin said was true, it hung a bit past his shoulders. He shrugged. "Didn't feel like cutting it… How is Arabella, by the way?"

"She's doin' good. In the third grade now," said Gavin proudly.

"Good for her."

Gavin nodded. "Pardon my saying so, but I didn't think you were here for small talk."

Kyler shook his head. "I'm not. I'm here about the Wasp."

The mechanic shot him an incredulous look, then guffawed loudly. "'Here about the Wasp' he says. You sure you can handle her? She's light years past them other jump drives, what those egghead folk call 'experimental.'"

"What can I say? I want the best."

Gavin nodded, scratching his rust-colored beard. "Wait here."

Kyler watched as he disappeared into the bowels of the shop. After quite a bit of clanging and clattering, Gavin remerged, carrying a shiny metal NLS drive in his arms. With a huff, he set it down on the front counter. They talked about price. Kyler knew the drive would end up costing an arm and a leg, which is why he was immeasurably grateful when Gavin gave him a discount. It was still pricey, but more within his budget.

"Need help carryin' it out?" Gavin offered.

"No thanks," said Kyler quickly, "I can manage."

Being sure to lift with his legs, he hauled the drive into his arms, thankful that his time with Amanda had added some muscle. He was heading to the door when Gavin called after him.

"Keep an eye out, Kyler. You were always in Fyster's good graces, but you owe a lot of favors for that Tower job. It ain't a good thing to be in debt to the Underlord, son."

Kyler nodded. "I hear you. Take care, Gavin."

"Same to you."

Kyler walked over to where Hayden was standing, watching the kids play. He took measured steps, careful not to drop the drive. As he got closer, he saw that something was off. Hayden's face was pale and his eyes seemed focused on a point in the distance. Kyler followed the path of his gaze and saw that he appeared to be staring at the group of children. Kyler opened his mouth to ask a question, but then he heard something that made him forget what he was going to say. One of the children had tagged another and they were arguing fiercely with each other. But it wasn't so much the argument as the words that gave Kyler pause.

"I got you!" said the little boy, "That means you're Taken and you have to do what I say."

"Do not!" the girl who'd been tagged argued.

"Do so! I'm Oryx and that makes me the boss!"

"Then I'll become un-Taken," the girl said smugly.

"You can't do that! It's against the rules!"

"Says who?"

"Says me!"

Just as the children seemed like they would come to blows, an adult hurried over to break it up. Kyler pursed his lips. Those kids were using Oryx and the Taken as a game. He knew it was common for Guardian battles to become games for the children of the City. Six Fronts and Twilight Gap had both risen and fallen in popularity. When Kyler was a kid, it had been the Great Disaster, with kids pretending to be Crota and the Hive on one side and Guardian heroes on the other. The recent emergence of Hayden and the Chasers had brought back a lot of those games, as well as new ones based on their exploits. But clearly, something about the game was rubbing Hayden the wrong way.

As Kyler considered the best way to approach the situation, he repositioned the drive to shift its weight. It wasn't working. He was on the verge of carefully placing it on the ground when Hayden's Ghost flashed in next to him, nearly making him drop it.

"I can help with that," she said kindly.

She scanned over it once and it vanished, leaving Kyler's arms empty. He turned to thank her, but she dematerialized, leaving him thanking the air. Refocusing, he reached out to touch Hayden on the arm. The Guardian blinked a few times before turning to look at him.

"You good?" he asked.

Hayden shook himself. "Yeah, let's get out of here."

With the drive stored away, both were able to walk unburdened. Kyler frowned to himself as they walked along. He wanted to ask Hayden why he was acting so weird but another part of himself told him that wasn't the best idea. So instead, he asked, "How do you feel about lunch?"

Chapter Text

Kyler led Hayden to a sandwich place he'd visited many times before. As they waited for their orders, Hayden looked at him inquisitively.

"So how did you know about this spot?"

Kyler shrugged. "You can't expect me to only stick to the district where I lived, can you?"

Hayden smiled slightly. "I guess not."

The truth was, Kyler hadn't found the place until later. Once he'd been working for the Underlord for some time, he'd started frequenting this part of the City as he'd had a lot of dealings with Gavin. He felt himself relaxing as they began to eat, drawing comfort from the familiar atmosphere. It didn't take much for him to notice that Hayden wasn't feeling the same way. On the contrary, the Guardian's movements were on the jumpy side and his shoulders were tensed. Kyler frowned and began to study Hayden in earnest. Under the hood, he could see the Hunter's eyes moving, scanning across space as he ate. He'd chosen the corner seat, something Kyler hadn't wondered about at first but did now. The more he thought about it, the more deliberate it seemed. And now that he considered it, he didn't think Hayden ever acted that way in the Tower. It must have something to do with being in the City. He'd hinted at having a bad experience there, after all. He wasn't sure why, but Kyler found himself wanting to know what had happened. However, it wasn't exactly the best time to do so. Possibly when they were walking back to the Tower.

"So," he said, "You were found on Mercury then?"

Hayden blinked at him as though he'd been shaken awake. "What?"

Kyler raised his eyebrows pointedly. "Mercury."

"No, I know. I heard you. I just didn't know you knew about that."

Kyler shrugged. "It wasn't exactly a secret. Opposite really."

"Good to know…" Hayden clearly meant otherwise.

"What do you mean by that?"

Hayden sighed. "I dunno. I'm just tired of everything in my life being a public affair. Honestly, hanging out in the City today has probably been the closest I've ever come to feeling like a normal person."

"Really?"

"Yeah. Apart from a couple moments, it's been pretty great."

Kyler tried and failed to repress his curiosity at the Hunter's words. "A couple moments?" He hastened to clarify before Hayden could say anything. "You don't have to tell me. Just...if you want to…"

Hayden considered it for a few moments before responding. "It was just...when those kids were playing...it caught me off-guard to hear people refer to Oryx and the Taken so casually. Almost like they hadn't nearly wiped us out."

Kyler nodded. "I know what you mean… Well, as much as I can, really." He shrugged. "Kids will be kids and the kids in the City have been playing games like that forever."

"They have?"

He nodded. "Yep. I remember pretending to be Crota in the Great Disaster when I was little. When you're a kid, stuff like that's fun and exciting."

"I wouldn't know."

"No, I guess not… What about free time? What do you do then?"

Hayden frowned thoughtfully to himself. "I dunno. I guess I hang out with the Chasers, play cards… Uh, I like reading."

"I like reading too!" said Kyler, "Fantasy's my favorite."

"Most of my reading's been research. I like it though. It's interesting to learn about events and backstory."

"Really? I never went in for that kinda stuff. Maybe I should try it sometime."

"You should! The library in the Tower has loads of info. I learned a lot about humanity's history."

"Sounds like it's worth checking out," said Kyler with a smile, "Are you done?"

"Huh?" Hayden glanced down at his plate. "Oh. Yeah. Yeah, I'm done."

"Great, I'll get them to bill us." He waved down a server. "We're finished here."

"Right," the girl said, pulling out a Holo and tapping rapidly. "Who am I charging?"

Kyler found himself cut off by Hayden. "That'll be me," he said with a grin.

The server held out her Holo, allowing Hayden to scan his thumbprint. "The Glimmer will be paid from your account," she informed him.

"Sounds good." Hayden stood up, Kyler rising with him.

"Thanks for the food," said Kyler, "Have a nice day."

"You too!" called the server.

Harley shivered as they made their way down the street back towards the Tower. Winter was truly preparing to sink its cold claws into the Last City, a fact he remarked to Kyler, who nodded solemnly.

"It'll keep getting darker and darker until the Winter Solstice," he said.

"I think there was a celebration for that last winter. I wasn't around much then, so I probably missed it."

"They usually do a big SRL event that night. You can expect that this year too."

"Huh. That's worth knowing…"

"You thinking of participating?"

"I might. I haven't had the chance to do much Sparrow racing apart from practice matches with Rae and her SRL friends."

"You should go for it," Kyler encouraged, "I'm told it's a lot of fun."

"Here's a thought...why don't we both enter?" From the look Kyler shot him, Harley knew he'd said something stupid.

"I appreciate the thought, but I think entering a high-velocity vehicle race against a bunch of immortals would be pushing my luck way too far," he said with a snort.

"Oh." Harley laughed, shaking his head. "Sorry. I'm a dumbass sometimes."

Kyler shrugged. "Aren't we all? Seriously, though... I appreciate the thought."

"I guess there're other ways to celebrate."

"Oh definitely. The Dawning's gonna hit in a few weeks, remember? Parties galore."

Harley chuckled. "You sound like Fyr. But you're right. There'll be no shortage of things to do during the Dawning... Besides, I'm excited to see what Eva has in store for us, going by the other holidays she's managed."

Kyler nodded. "Her Festival of the Lost was a lot of fun."

"Do people do those holidays in the City?"

"Oh absolutely. In fact, I'm pretty sure Eva brought them from the City."

"Huh. Well, I'm glad she did. Even if it means I have to think of Dawning gift ideas for nine people."

"I don't envy you there. I've come to appreciate having a small gift list."

"Is that what you bought the drive for? Dawning gift?"

Kyler shrugged. "Honestly, I've no idea. I thought about building a custom ship but it could just as easily be a present."

"Well, if you do end up giving it as a gift, just make sure it goes to someone who likes ships. Otherwise, the significance would be very lost."

Kyler laughed. "I'll keep that in mind… After you."

"Huh?" Harley looked around to find that they had reached the entrance to the Tower elevators. "Oh, thanks."

He entered, passing between the Frames guarding the doors and pressed the 'up' button. It only took a moment for the elevator to arrive. As they stepped inside, Harley fished around for a topic of conversation. He wasn't keen on the awkward silences that could easily arise from being in close quarters with someone. However, to his surprise, the silence didn't feel awkward at all. He felt no pressure to fill it with words, something he was very grateful for. He'd often found that most people expected small talk even when there was nothing to talk about. Kyler was different. For some ineffable reason, Harley didn't feel like he had to make conversation with him. The elevator ride passed in silence, each occupant lost in their own thoughts.

As they exited the elevator, Kyler turned. "Well, I'd better get back to work. Still lots of Sparrows that need to be tuned."

"Right, yeah. Um, do you want me to drop off the NLS drive for you?"

Kyler shook his head. "No. Your Ghost can transmat it in now. I'll get one of the Frames to help me with it."

"As long as you're sure," said Harley.

With a nod of Kyler's head, Prism transmatted the drive onto the floor in front of them. "Thanks for coming along," said Kyler.

"Thanks for inviting me," Harley replied, "See you later."

"Yup. Later."

After departing, Harley made his way to the Tower lounge, a space for Guardians to relax and hang out together. He knew it was more than likely that his friends would be there. Sure enough, as he entered, he immediately spotted Liv's purple head bobbing energetically as she faced off against Rogue in a card game. The nature of the game because extremely obvious when Rogue's hand smashed into the table. The poor table had only been built to withstand so much and as such, imploded under the force of the Titan's hand, collapsing to the ground in a collection of debris. This earned an aggrieved groan from Liv, Kaedro, and Kai. Rogue, for his part, managed to look sorry.

"Oops," he said.

Tristan looked over from an adjacent table. "Another excellent quality of King's Corners...it doesn't prompt you to destroy the table."

Jade nudged him, eyebrows furrowed as she studied the cards. "Either finish your turn or I'm going to start playing my cards."

As Tristan turned back to the game, Liv looked up. Harley could tell she saw him immediately because her eyes widened and she screeched "ACE!" at the top of her lungs.

"What're you talkin' about?" asked Rogue, "If I had any aces left, I'd've used 'em."

But Liv was already out of her seat, closing the distance. Harley barely had time to blink before she'd grabbed his wrist, yanking him towards the rest of the group. He stumbled along after her. For someone so small, Liv packed a lot of power. The others' faces lit up as they approached.

"Oh that Ace," said Rogue with a grin.

"Yeah that Ace," chuckled Kaedro, "'Course, we almost forgot about him 'cause we haven't seen him around much lately." He threw in an unneeded pointed look at Harley.

Liv pushed him into the spot next to Rogue, then sat back down between Kai and Kaedro.

"Robo Boy's right," said Kai, "Where've you been?"

Kaedro scoffed in mock offense. "Robo Boy? Were I not drunk off my ass, I'd take you down."

"What's the news, Ace?" reiterated Kai.

"Who says there's news?"

"Your unanswered Holo messages, boy!" said Liv, "I can't believe you left us on read!"

"What? What Holo messages?"

Kai leaned forward to knock on his skull. "We were trying to set up a crucible match, brainless. Where's your head at?"

Harley batted her hand away with a glare. "Excuse me for being busy."

"That's the thing, Acey," said Rogue through a mouthful of food, "You're never busy."

"It's true," said Prism, "He has the social life of a dead Vex."

Harley mock scowled at his friends. "I didn't come here to be insulted," he said, making as if he was about to leave.

Apparently, he'd underestimated just how gossip-starved they were because, at one word from Liv, Rogue grabbed the back of Harley's hoodie, lifting him easily off the ground. Harley twisted for a few moments before resigning himself to the situation. Crossing his arms, he glared at Rogue. The Exo was having far too little difficulty.

"Do I actually weigh anything at all to you?"

Rogue shook his head. "Nah. It's like I'm holdin' a bag of chips."

"Probably not even a full-sized one," smirked Kai. Harley turned his glare on her.

"No, she's right," said Rogue, "It's like one of those bags you get from vending machines."

"When did Rogue start doing your bidding, by the way?" Harley demanded, looking at Liv.

She shrugged. "I won the last game of Egyptian War, so he has to do stuff for me."

"Some prize," remarked Harley dryly.

She shook her head, eyes serious. "It is! I'm probably the shortest person in this Tower. With Rogue, I can get back at all the tall people!"

"Yeah, we're all quaking in terror," Kai deadpanned, "But who cares about that? I wanna know what Ace was doing that was so interesting, he passed up getting to see me own Allerton. That's first-rate entertainment."

"He isn't wearing any of his armor," commented Tristan, "Perhaps he was in the City."

The others blinked and narrowed their eyes at Harley. "You went to the City?!" said Kaedro, "I can't believe it! Getting you into the City with me is like pulling teeth!"

"What did he do in the City?" Kai asked Prism.

"He went to lunch," Prism replied.

Harley frowned at his Ghost. "Traitor."

"Oooooooh!" said Liv, "Ace went to luuuuuunch! I bet it was a date."

"It was not a date," he retorted, "If you must know, I was with the new mechanic, Kyler. He fixed the Star for me and I wanted to pay him back."

"By going on a date," finished Liv.

"Not a date."

Rogue shrugged. "Good enough for me." He lowered Harley to the ground.

"So where're the others?" The Hunter asked as he sat back down.

"Rae's practicing for that big race on the Winter Solstice and Bazzle's probably watching one of those City shows in his room. No idea where Allerton's been."

Harley nodded. "Shouldn't you be training too?" asked Prism, "That is if you are serious about racing this year…"

"You're gonna enter?!" said Liv incredulously.

"I was thinking about it. I mentioned it to Kyler earlier."

Rouge chuckled. "If you wanna race, you'd better start practicing. Still won't have a chance against Ren or Bast, but you might not come in dead last."

"He's not that bad at Sparrow-racing," said Prism.

"Thank you."

"But there's no way he's touching the winner's circle."

"Gee thanks. You know, Rae did teach me for a while."

"Yeah, but she's never come close to beating those two and she's been racing a lot longer than you've been alive," said Kaedro.

"We'll be there to cheer you on," Jade added supportively.

Harley frowned. "Maybe I should go practice…"

"Don't you dare!" ordered Liv, "We were trying to get you to hang out with us all day and now that you're finally here, it's time for some Egyptian War!" She scooped up the cards and began to shuffle them. "Tristan, we're taking your table... Now, who among you peasants wants to take me on?"

Chapter Text

Kyler couldn't believe how much work it was to prepare for SRL. He saw more Sparrows than he'd ever thought he'd see in his lifetime. He was even privileged enough to see the racing Sparrows of some of the most well-known racers in SRL's history. Of course, these experiences came with the territory of having extra-tiring work shifts. Kyler would often go straight to his quarters after getting off work.

However, when he wasn't working, he found himself hanging out Hayden a lot more. Most of the time, they did nothing more than eat in the dining hall due to their respectively busy schedules. But there were also occasional outings to the City. Hayden seemed to enjoy these, particularly since he usually managed to avoid getting recognized. Life passed quickly for the next few weeks and the Dawning was fast approaching.

A couple of days before it was due to begin, Kyler and Harley were heading to the Lounge. Being a place reserved for Guardians only, Kyler had never been there before.

"I'm not so sure this is a good idea."

"It'll be fine," assured Harley, "It's not like anyone will kick you out."

"Hopefully not."

Kyler spotted a few of the Hunter's friends relaxing on one of the couches. Almost as if they could sense his gaze, someone popped up with a huge grin. It was an Awoken Guardian with yellow eyes and a curly purple pixie cut. Whatever Kyler was expecting, it wasn't for her to shriek at them. His pace faltered for a second before he follower Harley over.

"Hey Liv," said the Hunter, far too calmly for how she'd greeted them.

She smacked him on the arm. "You've been ditching us again."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"You do so too so! You've basically been off the grid for the past two weeks!"

"Three weeks," Tristan put in.

"Three weeks!" Liv paused, turning to Tristan. "It was three weeks?"

The Warlock nodded. "Yes. Remember the week with the-"

"Oh yeahhhh. Well, that's worse. Did we offend you somehow?"

Harley frowned in confusion. "The week with the what?"

Tristan opened his mouth but was cut off by Liv before he could answer. "If you want to know, you should've been there." Behind her, Tristan shrugged apologetically.

"Good to see you, Kyler," Jade broke in before the discussion could continue.

"Hey," said Kyler.

Harley blinked at her. "I didn't know you guys met."

"Kyler helped me out when the systems in my quarters were malfunctioning." She flashed him a smile.

Kyler returned it, feeling an odd tightness in his chest. Did he feel guilty for sabotaging her room? It had been nothing more than means to an end at the time, but now he felt kind of bad about it.

"He repaired the Star for me," said Harley, "After it broke down a month ago."

Jade's eyebrows pinched together. "The Star broke down? You didn't crash, did you?"

A pink tinge crept into Harley's cheeks as he looked everywhere except the Warlock's face. "...Maybe. Look, it was less of a crash and more of an...unexpected midair engine failure leading to a sudden impact with the ground."

"Harley! This is the kind of thing you're supposed to tell us about!" She took the Hunter's hands, forcing him to meet her eyes.

"You are ok, right?"

Harley's cheeks reddened further. "Jade, I'm a Guardian. I've been through a lot worse than a crashed ship."

Kyler felt a hot prickly feeling behind his sternum as he watched the interaction. He was pretty sure it was because he wished that someone would worry about him like that. Harley coughed, extracting his hands from Jade's grip.

"Anyway… Guys, this is Kyler Maddox. Kyler, this is Liv, Kay, Rogue, Tristan, and Kai."

"Nice to meet you," said Kyler. The others gave various responses, ranging from "hey" to just a nod.

"So you're the reason Ace's been ditching us," said Kai.

"I am?" He glanced at Harley, who was looking a bit sheepish.

"Sorry, Kai," he said, "I just-"

"It's fine."

"Surely Ace is entitled to spend time with whoever he chooses?" Tristan put in.

Kai rolled her eyes. "I know. I just like giving him a hard time." She smirked at Harley, who crossed his arms.

"Rude."

"What I wanna know is if Kyler's any good at cards?" asked Kaedro.

"Sadly no," said Kyler.

"All the more reason for you to play with us, then! C'mon, I'll teach you some of my favorite games."

Liv groaned. "Couldn't we get to know him a bit more before you take his Glimmer?"

"Who said anything about Glimmer?" The Hunter's tone was far too innocent. "I just want him to share in the fun."

"Sure you do," said Kai flatly.

"I'll play you, Kay," offered Harley.

"Excellent."

Harley turned to Kyler. "It's much safer to watch him try to take other peoples' Glimmer."

"I'll take your word for it," replied Kyler with a chuckle.

He lost track of the game after ten minutes. It wasn't moving fast by any means, but the goal had never seemed clear and now the players were too wrapped up in what they were doing to explain much of anything. So he opted to lean back and watch.

"Heads up, Maddox," said Rogue, sliding a drink over.

Kyler wasn't sure what it was, but it was glowing neon pink. Just before he could take a sip, Tristan spoke up.

"Drinking that would not be a good idea."

Kyler paused. "Why?"

"Because that drink was mixed with Guardians in mind. It would be much too potent for you."

Kyler blinked as it was removed from his grasp by Kai. "You trying to kill him, Rogue?"

"I was just tryin' to be nice," the other Titan pouted.

Kai plonked the glass down in front of Liv, who downed it all at once before returning to the game.

"Here," she said, passing Kyler a different drink. She laughed when he gave the glass a scrutinizing look. "Don't worry, that one's safe...mostly."

"If you say so…" He took a tentative sip before relaxing. As he watched the group of Hunters talk animatedly among themselves, he became aware of the conversation around him.

"...seen him in a while, which is pretty odd."

"Particularly with the Dawning beginning in a few days."

"Yeah, and we all know how excited he is for that."

"He's been spending more time in the City," said Jade.

"Huh?" asked Rogue, "What for?"

"Don't know. Don't care," said Kai bluntly.

"I believe he's been spending time with one of Kaedro's friends," said Tristan, "An Exo named Jia-6."

"Well how 'bout that," remarked Rogue.

The conversation moved along, but Kyler stopped listening. He focused in on Harley, trying to puzzle out a few things. Unfortunately, the alcohol he was drinking did not help him focus. He ended up zoning out instead. He wasn't sure how long he was like that when Jade broke him out of it by nudging him.

"I'm guessing we can expect to see you around more."

Kyler looked at her. She wore a small smile on her face, but she wasn't looking at him. "What do you mean by that?"

She shrugged, eyes still fixed elsewhere. "I just have a feeling… I'm glad you and Harley became friends. I think it'll be good for him."

A frown tugged at Kyler's mouth. Something was off with her, but he couldn't put his finger on it. He decided to change the subject.

"Any plans for the Dawning?"

"I'm sure we'll be going to plenty of Dawning parties. Guardians are prone to party as hard as they fight."

"That sounds like a lot of fun," he remarked wistfully.

Jade nudged him again. "You can find that out for yourself!"

"Huh?"

"It doesn't take a Thanatonaut to see that Harley's going to invite you along." Kyler stared at her in confusion. "When Harley makes friends, he goes through a sort of "honeymoon" phase with them. He'll probably be hanging out with you a lot."

"You think so?"

"It's a pretty safe bet."

Kyler thought about this. She was right, he'd been seeing a lot more of Harley ever since their first trip to the City. They'd gone a few more times after that, mostly sticking to the fringes, exploring parks and small shops. When Harley wasn't with him, the Hunter was on patrols. Winter was fast approaching. The majority of patrols had been relocated to around the City and Cosmodrome. Winters in the City could be brutal and they didn't need a Fallen attack on top of everything else.

He'd asked Harley about the patrols. They were mostly scavenge and scouting missions. At one point, he didn't see Harley for a week as he'd been assigned to scout the Wall's perimeter. Kyler had gotten a bit concerned about the prolonged absence, but everything turned out fine as the Hunter had come back no worse for wear. He frowned to himself as he sipped his third drink. Why had he felt concerned for Harley? Aside from the fact that Guardians recovered from both injury and death, he shouldn't care whether Harley lived or died. In fact, his entire reason for coming to the Tower was to kill him.

Maybe the reason he'd really worried was because the Underlord might have him eliminated if he failed his task. Many might think that it didn't matter who killed Harley as long as something did. To them, Kyler would say they obviously had never met the Underlord. Fyster could afford to be particular about how things got done and Kyler wasn't about to forget how much effort had been put in to get him into the Tower in the first place. Regardless, he knew he had to be careful. Befriending Harley was part of the plan, but he couldn't afford to get too close. Things got messy when you got too close.

He watched Harley interact with his friends. The Hunter's eyes sparkled and his smiles came easy. For a moment, Kyler felt a flash of irritation towards Harley's friends. They didn't have to watch what they said or worry about slip-ups. For them, things were easy. Even now, Harley and Liv were laughing at something Kaedro had done.

"Come on, you know we won't fall for that," Harley was saying, "It was a beginner mistake and we all know it. You can talk all you want about how you were distracted by...how did he say it, Liv?"

"Operating on a higher level,'" said Liv in a terrible impression of the Exo.

Harley laughed. "Kay, it's a card game! There are only so many 'higher levels' to be operating on."

"That doesn't explain why I didn't catch- look, there's probably a glitch in my optics," said Kaedro.

Liv snorted. "Nah, you just weren't paying enough attention."

"S'probably time for you to turn in, Kay," said Rogue with a chuckle.

The other Exo frowned, then sighed. "You maybe right."

Kyler checked his watch and was surprised at how quickly time seemed to have passed. It was almost midnight.

"Rogue's right," said Kai, "I have plans tomorrow." She stood up. "Come on, Liv."

"What? Noooo."

"Tristan and I'll walk with you."

"She's right," agreed Tristan, "Someone of your stature does not need another drink."

Liv glared at him. "You calling me short?"

"You are short," said Kai, pulling Liv out of her seat.

Tristan bade the rest of them good night as he and Kai escorted their diminutive fireteam leader out of the Lounge. Kaedro got up.

"Guess I'll be off too." He looked at the others. "You guys coming?"

"Yeah," said Rogue, standing up.

Jade rose with him, but stopped to look back at Harley, who showed no sign of moving. "Are you coming with us, Harley?"

The Hunter waved them on. "You guys go ahead. I'm gonna have one more drink."

Jade nodded, but made eye contact with Kyler. "Watch him," she mouthed. Kyler nodded.

"Goodnight."

"Night, guys," said Kaedro.

Soon, just Harley and Kyler were left. Kyler watched as Harley ordered the same pink drink Kai had saved him from earlier. He decided to move to sit across from the Hunter.

"Hey," said Harley distractedly.

"Hey," Kyler replied.

"What were you and Jade talking about?"

"Oh, nothing. Dawning stuff… Got any plans for the Dawning?"

"I never do," said the Hunter, "And yet...they seem to find me anyway."

Kyler wasn't sure if he was imagining the hint of bitterness in Harley's tone. Either way, he decided not to press the subject. "The Winter Solstice race should be fun, at least."

Harley's eyes narrowed. "Who told you I signed up for that?"

"We keep a log of everyone entered in the race. Actually, I just tuned your Sparrow the other day."

"You did?"

"Yep. You've been keeping it in pretty good condition. The only thing that really needed adjusting was the drift control."

"I've been using it in practice races with Rae."

"Oh, nice."

"Yeah hopefully I won't come in dead last. Will you be at the race?"

Kyler nodded. "Amanda does the commentary for them. Why?"

Harley groaned. "I was gonna invite you but it loses all impact if you were gonna show up anyway!"

Kyler stifled a smile. "Ok, then no, I wasn't planning on going."

"Right. That's what I thought. So, Kyler...would you like to come and watch me race on the Winter Solstice?"

This time, Kyler couldn't quite stop the smile from showing. "I'd be honored," he said in a mock serious voice.

Harley pouted at him. "You're laughing at me."

"No I'm not," said Kyler unconvincingly.

The Hunter glared at him. "You are."

Kyler started chuckling. He knew it wasn't even that funny, but the late hour and alcohol were coming into play.

Harley sighed. "I have a race with Rae tomorrow."

"Yes, you do," confirmed Prism, "And it's early."

"You'd better get to bed, then," Kyler said, a bit regretfully.

Harley heaved another sigh. "I guess you're right," he relented. He tossed back the rest of his drink and got to his feet.

"Will you be alright going back?" asked Kyler, "Tristan said those drinks were really potent."

"I'm a Guardian. I'll be fine."

"He's had five," said Prism, "He will not."

Kyler stood up as well. "I'll walk back with you. I should be going to bed anyway. Work in the morning."

He began to walk with Harley. As it turned out, five drinks had not yet compromised the Hunter's balance, though they did make him easily distracted. Kyler was hard-pressed to keep him on track.

"What kind of drinks were those anyway?" he asked.

"Sevyt," said Harley. He pronounced it like sev-eet.

"Sevyt," Kyler repeated, "Is that a brand or…"

Harley shrugged. "S' just what it's called. Color-coded to potency."

"Different colors correspond to different levels of potency?"

"Yeah."

"Interesting."

He wondered how high the pink kind was on that scale. Then again, maybe it was better not to know.

About ten minutes later, they arrived at Harley's room. Kyler watched as Prism unlocked the door.

"I can handle him from here," she said, "Thank you, Kyler."

Kyler nodded. "No problem."

"Goodnight Kyler!" said Harley, stumbling over the doorframe.

The door closed before Kyler had a chance to respond. He sighed.

"Goodnight Ace," he said to the air.

Chapter Text

Harley was on edge as he walked through the Tower. Anyone who observed him might think he was expecting an attack of some kind. They would have been right on two fronts. Harley had a reputation that every other Guardian in the Tower during the Dawning was all too aware of. He had yet to be hit with a snowball. Upon leaving the Hangar, he'd had to evade 3 separate attempts to snowball him. It helped when you expected it to happen. However, he was much more concerned with a very different threat.

It was no secret that his experience with Oryx had affected him. The winter after Oryx had been defeated turned out to be one of the coldest on record, plunging the City into a two-month blizzard and dredging up memories of Harley's time as a Taken. He'd barricaded himself inside his quarters until it ended, refusing to even go out for food. Prism started transmatting it into the room after she had to resurrect him from death via starvation. Even after the blizzard had ended, the cold served as a constant reminder of what Oryx had done. He'd spent the rest of the cold season jumpy and evasive, sequestering himself on solo-missions. This year, he'd passed the autumn season in a state of low-level paranoia that increased as winter drew nearer.

The Dawning was in full swing and he couldn't relax. He wouldn't let himself be lulled into a false sense of security. He stopped walking. Someone was waiting around the next corner. The snow on the ground showed signs of disturbance and while Harley couldn't really hear them, he could sense their presence. He sighed. His friends could be so predictable. He moved forward once more. Just as he got to the corner, a figure jumped out. Harley was a bit surprised to see it was Kyler. A grin on his face, the mechanic sent a snowball hurtling at him, hitting him square in the chest. Harley heard several cheers and turned to see some of his friends approaching, snowballs falling from their hands.

"Nice one, Kyler!" congratulated Liv, "I can't believe you got him!"

"Man! I thought this year was gonna be my year," said Fyr.

"Your year?" Kai scoffed, "I'm the one who almost got him last year."

"There was a bet to see who could hit you first," said Tristan, "I didn't participate."

"Well, it looks like Tristan's the only one I can trust," said Harley, mock glaring at the others.

"I can't believe Kyler was the one to get you," Liv grumbled as they started walking, Harley and Kyler falling into step with them.

"It wasn't that hard," said Kyler.

"Oh, quit gloating!"

Harley chuckled but stopped when he heard Prism's voice in his head.

"You let him hit you, didn't you?"

"What do you mean?" he thought back.

"You could've easily stopped him or moved out of the way. Why didn't you?"

Harley bit his lip. Had he really let Kyler hit him on purpose? "I don't know what you're talking about."

Her reply was exasperated. "You know exactly what I'm talking about."

He didn't respond and continued to follow the others in the direction of the mess hall.

Once everyone had gotten their food, they sat down together at one table.

"I've been seeing a lot more Guardians around lately," commented Liv.

Kai nodded. "Yeah. Crucible's pretty busy right now."

"Is that where everyone else is?" asked Harley.

The Titan nodded. "They don't want to miss Dawning Mayhem. Except Wrythal. I think she went to the City."

"I've seen a ton of Guardians in the City," Fyr put in, "I run into them almost every time I go down there!"

"Speaking of which, how's Jia?" Kai smirked.

Fyr's face reddened slightly, causing the scars on his face to stand out a lot more. "She's amazing!"

Harley blinked. "I must have missed something pretty big. Who's Jia?"

"Jia-6," said Liv, "She's one of Kay's City friends. You played poker with her last year, remember?"

There weren't many moments from the previous year that Harley particularly wanted to think about. Still, the name rang a fuzzy bell in his head. "Sort of."

"Well, she and Fyr have been dating for a while now."

"What?!"

The rest of the group chuckled. "I think even I knew about that," said Kyler.

"Will she be at the party tomorrow?" asked Tristan.

"Nah," said Fyr, "She's got plans in the City. She said she's coming to the SRL Winter Solstice race though."

"Are you racing?" Harley asked in surprise.

"Nope! People take SRL too seriously for me. We're gonna cheer you and Rae on!" He hit Harley lightly on the shoulder.

"Oh, good," said Kyler, "I won't be sitting by myself."

"You're coming too? Dude, nice!"

"Ace invited me."

"Did he now?"

Liv side-eyed Harley, who mouthed back at her, "Go die."

"We're all gonna be there anyway," said Kai, "The race kicks off the rest of the celebrations."

Fyr perked up. "Celebrations?"

"The Winter Solstice Festival," clarified Tristan, "It lasts the entire night."

"An all-night party? Count me in!"

"How come I've never heard of it?" asked Harley.

"From what I've heard, you've been busy ever since you were revived," said Tristan, "And it was snowed out last year by the blizzard." Harley fought down a shiver.

"I hope we don't get one this year," said Liv.

"It doesn't seem like we will. There's a system moving in, but it's supposed to arrive the week after."

"Can we trust the forecast?" Harley asked.

"Yeah," said Kyler, "They're usually pretty accurate. If they say we should be fine, then we should be fine."

"Will ya make it to the party tomorrow Ace?" asked Fyr, "There's supposed to be a buffet!"

"And a lantern-lighting," Tristan added.

"I should be able to make it. I have a patrol, but it's pretty early in the day. I have to check up on one of the Wall sectors."

"Ew, right when there's a party planned?" said Liv.

"Yeah."

"Sucks."

"Yep, and I'm supposed to be up at six for it."

There was a collective groan at this. While Guardians could wake up as early as they had to, most of them harbored a deep appreciation for sleep. The early hour didn't bother Harley much since he was likely to wake up before six anyway.

"Solo patrol?" Kai asked.

He nodded. Another groan. Everyone knew patrols went faster with more Guardians. Although their numbers had slowly been increasing since Oryx was defeated, the Vanguard were generally reluctant to assign multiple Guardians to the same patrol. One could almost always handle things. The others were needed elsewhere. Harley rose with a sigh.

"Guess I'd better get to bed now," he said, "Have a good night, guys."

"Goodnight, Ace," the others chorused back.

Leaving the mess hall, Harley walked back to his room. He knew retiring early was the smart move, but he doubted it would make much of a difference.

Sure enough, he awoke the next morning feeling extremely tired. He'd woken up no less than three separate times in the night. While it didn't come as a surprise, he wished he could sleep through the whole night at least once. He got dressed and left the room. As he walked to the end of the landing, he pulled his cloak tighter around him, grateful that it was able to retain body heat. Stopping off briefly at the mess hall to pick up a coffee, he made for the Hangar. Amanda was at her station, going over Holodocs of some kind. As Harley headed over to where the Star was docked, Amanda turned, calling out to somewhere else in the Hangar.

"Hey, Ky! Come give these a look and tell me if you're seein' what I'm seein'!"

Kyler walked over, wiping his hands off on a rag before accepting the Holopad. His eyebrows scrunched as he read the docs. "You mean the inconsistency between the-"

"The amounts, yeah." She clicked her tongue and took the Holopad back. "Someone musta miscounted. We'll have to send in for another order asap."

"I can do that."

"You sure?"

"Of course. It's no problem and I know you're busy prepping for the race."

Amanda sounded relieved. "What would I do without you?"

"I'm sure you'd find a way to get everything sorted… I'll put in the order and get back to you." He headed off.

Amanda turned. "Ace! Off on that patrol?" Harley nodded. "Alright, I'll check ya off. Good luck!"

"Thanks," replied Harley.

Prism transmatted him into the Star and in no time at all, he was speeding through the sky above the frozen terrain. He adjusted his course, following the curve of the Wall to the sector he was supposed to patrol. He could have made the journey on his Sparrow, but he wanted to spend as little time on the patrol as he could. He read the briefing again.

"Prism, why does this sector sound familiar?"

"It's the one near River District."

"Oh."

Harley felt his insides twist. Now he was even more eager to finish the patrol as soon as physically possible. River District. He'd been there last fall. The Taken hadn't vanished when Oryx was slain. Instead, the Guardians spent several months hunting down Taken across the system. That fall, Harley, Kai, and Tristan had been tracking a rogue band of Taken that had made it to Earth. They knew the Taken were making for the City but were reluctant to try cutting them off as they weren't sure which side of the City they were heading for. The Taken breached the Wall right beside River District. Harley's team was able to neutralize them, but not in time to prevent casualties. Now there were seven civilian deaths that Harley would never be able to forgive himself for. Prism transmatted him out just outside of the Wall. The sector hadn't seen maintenance in a while, making it an optimal target. He brought Prism out to scan the infrastructure.

"Looks good," she reported, "They did a good job repairing it."

Harley nodded, turning his gaze toward the forest. "I'll do a sweep for any Fallen in the area," he said before walking off. Prism must have phased because he heard her voice in his head.

"It wasn't your fault."

"Don't try to make me feel better," he muttered.

"Any other Guardian would have made the same decisions."

"No, they wouldn't have. And you know how I know that? Because the entire time we were on their tail, Kai was telling me to flank them and cut them off. But I was so sure we could catch up to them before they reached the City… I didn't consider any other course. Because of my choices, seven civilians were killed! So don't try to tell me it wasn't my fault."

His Ghost didn't respond, leaving them to walk on in silence. Harley stifled a sigh. All his yelling probably wasn't good for finding Fallen. He'd probably alerted every Fallen scout in the area. Thanks to the link between Guardians and Ghosts, he was able to communicate with Prism telepathically. While most Guardians preferred to speak out loud when possible, there were many times when silent communication came in handy. Like on a scouting patrol. Harley checked his radar but saw no sign of any hostiles. Just to be on the safe side, he poked around a bit more, scouring the ground and trees for any sign of Fallen passage. After two hours had gone by without so much as a footprint, Harley signaled the Star. He flew back in silence, his thoughts still on the incident from last fall. This time, he didn't see Amanda when he exited his ship. However, Kyler was there and greeted him with a wave.

"How was the patrol? You look tired."

"Didn't sleep very well. The patrol was alright."

"Which sector were you sent to?"

Harley sighed. "I'd rather not talk about it right now."

"Oh."

The expression on Kyler's face made Harley feel guilty. He decided to change the topic. "Look, I'm gonna go get something to eat and take care of a few things. I'll see you at the party tonight." He phrased it like a statement, but it was really more of a question.

"Sounds good," said Kyler, "I've got a few things to finish up myself."

Harley nodded. "Alright, I'll see you later."

"Later!"

Chapter Text

On the night before the Winter Solstice, Kyler could barely sleep. He was far too eager for the big SRL race. Granted, he'd seen them before, but tickets to the Winter Solstice Race always cost more and sold out extremely fast. Tower inhabitants, on the other hand, got in for free. Logically, he knew that Harley's chances of winning were virtually nonexistent. After all, the other racers had been honing their skills for decades or more. Still, he was beyond excited for him. He spent the hours leading up to the race more distracted than usual, especially since his workload had lightened considerably.

During lunchtime, he was eating in the mess hall with the Chasers, minus Harley, Rae, and Fyr. He knew why the first two were missing but had no idea what Fyr could possibly be up to. As it turned out, the answer to that question wasn't far off. Halfway through lunch, Fyr entered the mess hall holding hands with an Exo woman. She was a couple of inches shorter than him, with light gray plating. Her optics were green and she had a purple paint splatter across her face.

"Hey, guys!" called Fyr as they walked up.

"Hi," said Kyler.

The other Chasers gave various greetings. "Hey, Jia," said Kaedro.

"Heya, Kay," she replied.

"Right," said Fyr, "Everyone, this is my girlfriend, Jia-6. Jia, this is Bazzle, Jade, Kyler, Tristan, Kai, Rogue, and Liv."

Jia laughed and patted his arm. "Oh, I know. I've met Bazzle and Rogue lots of times. Kay's told me about everyone else. Even you!" The last part was addressed to Kyler.

"Really?"

She nodded. "Yep. He's told me some. Not as much, since he hasn't known you as long. But he says you're a good guy. And that you're good friends with Ace. Who I assume is prepping for the race tonight?" Kyler nodded, dumbfounded. Jia knew a lot more than he'd expected. "Shame I couldn't wish him luck. I remember when Kay brought him over to learn poker last year." She laughed. "I don't think I've ever seen a Hunter look so nervous!"

The others laughed. "It's good to see you again, Jia," said Bazzle, "I'm sorry we missed you when the others visited last year."

The Exo waved him off. "It's fine," she said, "You had to save the galaxy from SIVA."

"Have you been to the Tower before?" asked Kyler.

"I'm sorry to say I haven't. Civilians aren't really meant to be here," she added in a stage whisper, "Lucky for me, Fyr was able to get me a visitor's pass for the day. He's been showing me around."

Fyr nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah! That reminds me… Wanna see the pond in the Traveler's Walk? If you're quick enough, you can pick up the fish!"

Jia laughed. "Sure!"

The pair said their goodbyes, promising to rejoin them when it was time for the race.

Kyler sat there for a moment, processing everything that had happened. "...So was it just me who expected any girlfriend of Fyr's to be-"

"Just like him?" Kai finished, "Nope. I was sure we'd be dealing with two Allertons."

"Jia can be talkative," said Kaedro, "But in a different way than Fyr is."

"Huh," said Kai.

There was a long moment of silence before Jade spoke up. "So Kyler, do you really have to go back to work after lunch?"

"Ehhh kinda… I'm meant to, but there's not really anything to do right now."

"You should come hang out with us!" said Liv, "We're gonna go play kickball in the outskirts until the race starts."

Kyler had to laugh. The mental picture of Guardians playing kickball was too good.

"Alright," he said, "I'll come. But I'm just gonna watch. I don't need my head getting taken off by a wayward kickball."

The others chuckled.

"Nah, you're playing," said Liv. She glared at everyone who was still eating. "Now hurry up so we can get this show on the road."


Playing kickball took Kyler back to his childhood when he'd played it with some of the other kids in River District. He knew it wasn't a good idea to dwell on the past since the loss of Dalton was still sharp, so he did his best to refocus on the present. At the moment, their latest game was winding down. The temperature dropped as the sun dipped low on the horizon, filling the sky with glowing colors. They began collecting their discarded jackets.

"We'd better get moving if we want to be able to see the race," said Kyler.

The Guardians nodded. "We can Sparrow over," said Kaedro, "It'd take a while to get there on foot."

Kyler watched as they summoned their Sparrows, at a loss.

Jade waved him over. "Come on, Kyler. You can ride with me."

"Thanks," said Kyler, getting on behind her.

"Stick together," Bazzle reminded everyone.

"Let's go!" Liv called.

"Hold on tight," warned Jade.

Kyler secured himself as best he could. "I'm ready."

"Move out," said Bazzle.

The Guardians gunned their Sparrows. Kyler was extremely glad for Jade's warning. As it was, he could feel the force pulling at him, trying to break his grip. He watched the buildings of the City as they sped toward the sector where the starting line was. Within a few minutes, he saw a crowd of people come into view, growing larger by the second. As they neared, the Sparrows slowed and he was able to see the bleachers that had been constructed for the event.

"The course'll take 'em 'round the City," said Rogue, "I heard Amanda's got a few surprises in store."

They got off the Sparrows, letting their Ghosts transmat them away. As they headed toward the bleachers, Kyler marveled at the number of people present. He knew there would be groups spread along the course, but the seats at the start line were the most sought after. He followed Bazzle as the Titan led them toward a section of bleachers reserved for Guardians and Tower personnel. Fyr and Jia were already seated there, right at track level. Kyler's group moved to sit down on the same row, though a few of them were forced to the one above.

"Exciting, isn't it?" asked Jia as Kyler sat down next to her, "I'm never able to get seats to this thing." She squeezed Fyr's hand.

Kyler was finding it difficult to sit still. Anticipation permeated the air as the crowd chattered excitedly. His mind wandered back to when he had tuned Harley's Sparrow. A part of him had considered sabotaging it. His entire reason for being in the Tower was to get revenge, after all. But for some reason, he hadn't been able to go through with it. Even now, he found the idea distasteful.

Suddenly, the conversation around him buzzed louder. He looked around to find that the thirty-two racers were lining up, decked out in form-fitting racing suits. He was able to locate Harley towards the middle of the group. The Hunter wore a sleek maroon and gold suit that perfectly matched his Sparrow. Harley seemed to be scanning the crowd. His face lit up when he saw their group and he gave them a wave before putting on his racing helmet. Kyler looked towards the front, where Rae was also getting ready. Her suit and Sparrow were an electric blue. At the very front of the pack was Marcus Ren, the undefeated champion of SRL. Enoch Bast was right next to him. Those two would probably come in first and second, just like they always did. Kyler watched as Harley got onto his Sparrow. Most of the other racers were already seated. Then Amanda's voice came over the speakers.

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the annual SRL Winter Solstice race!" A cheer went up from the crowd. "Y'all know the rules. Three times around the track, hit as many gates as you can, and watch out for obstacles! Now, are ya ready to race?" There was a chorus of agreement from the racers. "Alright. Racers...on your mark."

The Guardians leaned forward, their feet leaving the ground.

"Get set."

Engines revved.

"Go!"

And they were off as if shot from a cannon, leaving nothing but an empty track and dust in their wake. Amanda kicked off her commentary.

"Ren's leadin' the group, think we all saw that comin'. Bast not far behind. Could this be the year Ren's streak is broken? Ain't likely, but you never know."

Jia nudged Kyler. He turned. "Wanna watch?"

She held a Holopad in her hands. Playing on the screen was footage from one of the racers' Ghosts.

"Prism linked her feed," said Fyr excitedly, "Now we can watch Ace!"

"I'll hold it so you can both see," said Jia, "The others have their own Holopads."

"Jaxton's comin' up on Bast. Ooh! Knocked back to sixth place by Korrin! Don't let anyone tell ya Warlocks can't race." Kyler watched the feed as Harley sped through the gates. He could make out the tail of another Sparrow ahead of him. The number in the right corner of the screen read "10th place."

"Racers are comin' up on the finish line, about to complete their first lap…" Kyler looked up as the Sparrows whipped through.

"Onto lap 2! Ren, Bast, and Korrin takin' up the first three places, but that could easily change. Still a good ways to go before the end."

Kyler looked back at the Holopad. It looked like Harley was working his way up the ranks. He was now in sixth place.

"Looks like Reynolds took a hit. Might cost him fourth… Yep! Here comes Hayden, passin' Lym, and overtakin' Reynolds!" She whistled. "Can't let anyone get an edge over ya when you're in front."

Kyler winced as Harley had a near-miss with a piece of scrap metal. As the racers passed the finish line for the second time, Kyler watched Harley battle Jaxton, who'd edged his way back. The two racers were neck and neck as they dodged obstacles and went for gates. The leaders were ahead of them by a decent stretch. This battle was for fourth place alone and the two Guardians weren't holding anything back. Kyler wasn't sure what class Jaxton was in, but if he had to guess, he'd say Titan. The Guardian's frame was huge, dwarfing Harley's by a lot. Kyler only hoped that Jaxton's size would slow him down.

They were halfway around the track and neither was giving ground. Both were heading straight for a gate. Then Harley pulled a risky move, dropping his speed slightly and dodging toward Jaxton's Sparrow. He hit the tail end, sending Jaxton spinning off course and causing him to miss the gate. Everyone watching Harley's screen let out a cheer as the Hunter sped through the gate, putting distance between himself and Jaxton. However, the other racer must have recovered quickly, because his icon reappeared right behind Harley's on the tracker map. Harley had to work extra hard to keep him from passing, cutting him off at every turn. As they rounded the final bend, Harley gained distance back by pulling some fancy maneuvers. Kyler watched with bated breath as he sped toward the finish line, eyes flicking between the track and the Holopad. The leaders crossed the finish line and the crowd rose to its feet with a huge roar.

"Congrats to Marcus Ren on another victory!" Amanda announced, "Second place was taken by Enoch Bast, third by Rae Korrin. Fourth and fifth place were taken by Ace Hayden and Hal Jaxton…"

She continued to list names as more racers reached the finish line, but Kyler stopped paying attention. Down on the track, the racers who'd finished had moved off to the side so as not to get accidentally run over. Marcus Ren was laughing with Enoch Bast. Rae nudged Harley, striking up a conversation. Kyler waited impatiently as the rest of the racers trickled in. His heart thudded as though he had been the one racing. Standing still was not something he wanted to be doing at the moment.

Finally, all the racers had arrived and dismounted. The crowd began to move toward the track. Being at track level, all Kyler had to do was run forward. He could hear the others behind him as he wove through the crowd. Then Harley came into his view. The Hunter was talking to Jaxton, who looked even bigger than he had on the feed. Both Guardians seemed to be in very good spirits, laughing and joking.

Harley caught sight of Kyler approaching. He put a hand on Jaxton's arm and said something about a good race before excusing himself to walk towards Kyler. Kyler felt an odd sensation building in his chest but chose to keep moving rather than question it. As he neared Harley, he could see that the Hunter's hair was tousled from his racing helmet, which he carried under one arm. Pink tinged his cheeks and his eyes were bright with an adrenaline high.

Harley came to a stop. He opened his mouth to say something but all of a sudden, Kyler found himself closing the gap to kiss him. His own impulsiveness surprised him but he quickly decided that it was better to enjoy the moment, especially since he had no idea how Harley would react.

The Hunter faltered, his helmet slipping from his grasp and landing with a thud on the dusty track. Then he put his arms around Kyler's neck, returning the kiss. Kyler felt a warm feeling explode in his chest as he wrapped his arms around Harley's waist. The sounds of the crowd became muffled as that one moment became the center of Kyler's known universe. As soon as it ended, he wished it would return.

Harley's eyes sparkled as he retrieved his helmet. Before either of them could speak, the rest of the group was there, clapping Harley on the back.

"Nice job, kid!" said Rogue, "You taught him good, Rae!"

Rae smirked. "I know."

"You came in third!" said Harley excitedly, "Right behind Marcus and Enoch!"

The Warlock shrugged. "What can I say? Practice pays off."

"Think you'll ever beat them?" asked Fyr.

"Doubt it. They're too good."

"It's a good thing this wasn't a ship race," joked Kaedro, "We all know Ace would fly circles around those guys."

Harley's face reddened further. "Kay…"

The Exo laughed. "What? It's true."

"You know, I've never been flying," said Kyler, "At least, not out of the atmosphere."

"You haven't?!" exclaimed Liv.

"Dude! You're missing out!" said Fyr.

"I could take you if you want," Harley offered.

"Really?"

"Sure. We could even go right now. I can summon the Star."

"That'd be amazing! I've always wanted to try it."

Harley glanced around at the others. "Any of you guys wanna join?"

There was a chorus of negatives. "Thanks, but we'd rather not miss out on the Festival," said Kaedro.

Harley shrugged. "Alright. We'll catch up with you guys later, then. Come on," he said to Kyler, "Let's get clear of everybody so the Star can land."

With that, they headed away from the crowds towards the open field.

Chapter Text

Kyler watched as the Star came in for a landing, settling on the grass a few feet away.

"I thought you Guardians transmatted into your ships," he said wryly.

"We usually do," replied Harley, "But I'm not sure if Prism can transmat you and I don't want to risk leaving, like, half of you behind or something."

"Ah." Kyler regretted bringing it up.

Harley climbed onto the wing of the ship and pulled Kyler up after him. Upon entering, Kyler found that the ship was bigger on the inside than it appeared on the surface. Apparently when it came to Guardian ships, looks were deceiving. He strapped into one of the seats behind the pilot seat as Harley prepped for takeoff.

"Where do you want to go?" he asked.

"Not too far, considering it'll be my first time in space," said Kyler, a bit nervously, "I have always wanted to see the Moon, though."

"The Moon it is."

Kyler felt the ship hum to life. His stomach dropped slightly when they lifted off the ground and then a lot more when they picked up speed. There was a slight jolt when they broke free of the atmosphere, but nothing too alarming. His eyes widened at the sight of all the stars.

"Entering warp space now," said Harley.

He pushed a lever forward and they shot away from Earth. A shifting array of colors streaked by. Kyler peered out of the viewscreen at them. Did Guardians really get to see this all the time? How lucky they were. It seemed to only take a couple minutes at most before the Star slowed suddenly, exiting warp space. The pale gray surface of the Moon drew closer and closer as Harley brought them in. They sailed toward a flat area of land, setting down gently on the lunar surface. As Harley made to open the cockpit, Kyler made a noise of fear. The Hunter shot him a quizzical look.

"Won't we suffocate if we go out there without helmets?"

Harley shook his head. "The Traveler gave Luna an atmosphere too. We'll be fine."

"Easy for you to say," Kyler muttered, "You can come back from the dead."

Harley chuckled. "Do you really think I'd let you die like that? Look, if you're worried about it, then wear my helmet."

Kyler accepted it from him, gingerly placing it on his head. "It doesn't need to be sealed to a suit or anything?"

"Nope. Just breathe normally and let the rebreather do its work."

Kyler nodded, but still flinched when Harley opened the cockpit. He watched the Hunter carefully for a few seconds. When he saw no sign of asphyxiation or death, he let out a relieved sigh, removing the helmet. Exiting the ship, he looked around. The ground sloped up on the right side, a path leading toward some old lunar bases. To the left was a vast area of rocky ground. Away in the distance, the Earth glowed in the sky, sunlight reflecting off of its marbled surface.

"This is incredible!" he exclaimed, "I must be the only non-Guardian to see this after the Collapse."

"Probably," Harley agreed.

Kyler looked down. The Hunter was seated next to him on the ship, his gaze angled toward the Earth.

"We'll stay here in Archer's Line," he said, "I'd rather minimize our chances of running into Fallen… or Hive."

He cast a glance over his shoulder towards the distant structures. Kyler noticed the sniper rifle Harley held across his lap and shivered. Hopefully he wouldn't need to use it. Kyler sat down next to him on the cooling hull of the ship, looking out at the open sky. Both of them were quiet for a long time, just watching the Earth and the occasional satellite that passed by overhead. Kyler was gathering his courage. He knew he had to bring up what had happened between them earlier, but that was much easier said than done. He ultimately just decided to go for it.

"Ithinkweshouldtalk," he said in a rush.

Harley looked at him. "Yeah. I think we should too."

"Do you regret it? The kiss?"

The Hunter paused, thinking about it. "I don't think we'd be here if I regretted it."

Kyler felt a part of himself relax. "Me either. But...we still need to decide what this even is."

Harley's gaze drifted away. "You should know…all of this is new to me. I was only revived three years ago."

"It's new to me too. I've been focused on school and studying for most of my life. Not a lot of time for much else... I'm not even sure what this is. It all seemed to happen so fast. Do we even have a label? Are you my boyfriend now?"

"Are you asking?"

"Yeah!"

"Well, then I guess I am."

Kyler blinked. "Wait… Did you think I was asking if you were my boyfriend or asking you to be my boyfriend?"

Harley just smirked and said, "Yes."

"No, but which 'yes'?"

"Kyler, do you want to label it that way?"

Kyler considered it. "I don't really have a problem with it."

"Then, yes, I think we are labeling it like that."

"Hmm." Kyler couldn't deny that he liked the idea. "So does that sort of make this our first date?"

Harley blushed. "I guess it does."

Kyler wanted to laugh. This was a Guardian who had faced down some of the darkest enemies the universe had to offer and here he was blushing about dating. However, another part of him found it very endearing. Whoa, he thought, I need to slow down. He needed to sort out exactly what had happened and what it meant. Harley seemed to have the same idea. He hopped down, picking up his sniper rifle.

"I'm gonna do a sweep...make sure no Fallen are sneaking up on us." Kyler nodded. "I'll leave Prism with you. She'll let me know if there's trouble."

On that ominous note, Harley walked away. As soon as he was out of earshot, Prism got in Kyler's face.

"Look here... I like you, Kyler. You make Harley happy and I love you for that. But if you hurt him in any way, I will make your life a misery." She paused to let the message sink in. "Just remember... I've got my eye on you, Maddox."

With that, she turned away to scan their surroundings. Kyler pondered what she'd said. It was one of the many things he had to figure out. He'd come to the Tower with every intention of ruining Harley's life and killing him at the behest of the Underlord. But over the past several months, he'd gotten too close to the Guardian, first becoming friends and now whatever this was. He knew the smart choice would be to disappear from Harley's life before they got any closer. There was no way he'd be able to go through with what the Underlord had asked of him. The problem was he'd have to leave the City. Fyster's influence was simply too vast. However, leaving the City meant almost certain death for a non-Guardian. Basically, it came down to killing Harley or dying himself. Neither were good options. His brain whispered to him that there was a third option: set aside his concerns and pursue the relationship. This option sounded the best by far. After all, it could be years before anyone checked in.

"Live in the present, right?" he muttered to himself.

"What was that?" asked Prism.

"Oh, um… I was just thinking… Do you think it's better to live in the present?"

"Versus?"

"I dunno. Always worrying about the future, I guess."

"Hmm… I'd say that worrying about the future rarely does anyone any good. So yes, it's usually better to keep your mind in the present. Is there something in particular that you're worried about?" Kyler shrugged. He was a bit worried that the Ghost might press the issue. "Well, whatever it is, I'm sure you can figure it out," she said warmly.

Inwardly, Kyler cringed. "Yeah, hopefully."

Harley chose that moment to return. "It's quiet out there," he reported.

"That's good."

"Yeah. You don't usually get this lucky on the Moon. It's almost impossible not to run into Fallen or Hive."

"Have you...met many Hive here?" asked Kyler.

"Some. Mostly they're underground. Some Guardians believe they hollowed out the Moon completely."

Kyler shivered, glancing at the ground beneath his feet. What could stop the Hive from breaking through and grabbing him?

Harley studied his face. "Do you want to leave?"

Kyler nodded. "I think that's enough space for one day," he said with a weak smile.

Harley nodded back. "I keep forgetting you're not used to this… Let's get back."

Kyler stood up, moving toward the cockpit. "I think I'd like to see more of the system sometime. Maybe Venus…"

The Hunter's face darkened. "Not Venus."

Kyler was surprised at the shutdown, but it didn't bother him. "How about Mars?"

"Hmm… Yeah, I can show you Mars. Not now, though."

"No, not now."

He watched as Harley sealed the cockpit and prepared to depart. He wanted to feel as relaxed as Harley seemed to feel around him. But something was bothering him. He wanted to hear about Dalton's death from the Hunter himself. As the ship pulled away from the lunar surface, he decided to bring it up.

"Last fall," he began, "the Taken breached the Wall near River District." The Hunter's hands froze on the controls. He didn't say anything, but Kyler got the feeling that he was waiting. "The news said you were leading the fireteam that was tracking them. I just wanted to know...what happened on your end?"

There was a long stretch of silence.

"When we found out the Taken were heading for the City, Kai wanted to flank them right away... But I thought we could catch them before they arrived, so I told her to wait. They took a different route...one we hadn't expected. We, uh- we didn't get there in time." The amount of sorrow in his voice took Kyler by surprise. "It was my fault," Harley finished, "I should've listened to Kai."

He could tell the Hunter truly believed what he was saying. "It wasn't your fault," said Kyler quietly.

And as he said it, he knew it to be true. The Taken were the ones who killed Dalton. Only they were to blame.

"Kyler's right," said Prism, "It was the Taken who breached the Wall and killed those civilians, not you. It's their fault...or the fault of whatever controls them now that Oryx is dead."

Harley sighed but didn't reply. Kyler realized that it had been wrong of him to blame his adopted father's death on Harley. The Guardians had been tracking the Taken, so he'd been the easiest figure to point the finger at. Still, it was wrong to do so. Kyler hadn't been thinking clearly at the time. Maybe if he had, he wouldn't have gotten mixed up with the City's Underworld. Part of him wanted to come clean to Harley, but he knew that if he admitted to what he'd done, he'd likely ruin any chance of an actual relationship between them. Plus, the knowledge would only hurt Harley, and Kyler didn't want to do that anymore. That's also why he didn't tell him about Dalton. The Hunter already blamed himself. Learning that Kyler's only family had been killed in the attack would only make him feel even more guilty. Kyler held back a sigh. Why'd you have to go and fall for him, Maddox? Hating him was easier.

Harley didn't speak until they landed in the Hangar. "It's just past midnight," he said, "The Festival's still in full swing." He looked at Kyler. "Want to head down?"

"Yeah."

They headed for the elevators. As they walked, Kyler mustered up the courage to give voice to an idea he'd been pondering for a while.

"Um...I know the Dawning is almost over, but I want to give you something." Harley looked at him curiously. "Remember that NLS drive I bought when we went to the City the first time?"

"Yeah…" he said slowly.

"I'd like to install it in the Star."

Harley blinked. "What?"

"I want it to go to someone who'd appreciate it. And I know you love to fly."

"Whoa whoa whoa," said Harley, "You can't give it to me! It was so expensive and you never even let me-"

"It's a gift," said Kyler firmly.

"You can't- look, I haven't even gotten you anything!"

"You flew me to the Moon, didn't you?"

"Yeah, but that doesn't count!"

"It does to me."

Harley sighed at him, but the expression on his face was nothing but fondness. "I feel like I'm never going to stop owing you."

Kyler rolled his eyes, taking the Hunter's hand. "You don't owe me anything."

Harley seemed surprised at the contact, but linked hands. "I hope you're ready for how the others are going to react."

"Do I even want to know?"

"Probably not, but you're about to find out."

Their friends didn't disappoint. The instant Liv saw them walk up holding hands, she jumped in the air, doing a fist pump. "I KNEW IT!" she yelled, "I knew it I knew it I knew it!"

Jade, Tristan, and Rae all turned to look. "Damn," said Rae, "I owe Kai a hundred Glimmer."

Jade's gaze seemed locked on their joined hands.

"Are you dating?" asked Liv excitedly. They looked at each other and nodded. "Yes! I freaking called it!" She started doing a victory dance, calling out "I knew it!" every few seconds.

"Congratulations," said Tristan.

Trillian, Rhys, and Shard all flew forward from where they'd been hovering next to their Guardians to circle Harley and Kyler. Delta remained at Jade's shoulder, watching her Guardian.

"I hope you're ready for everyone at the Tower to know," said Rhys dryly, "Trillian might not talk much, but she loves gossip." Trillian shot him a glare and chased him around the group.

"Guardian drama's always a good topic," said Shard unapologetically.

Harley's face was slightly pink. Kyler felt his own heat up at the thought of being a subject of gossip to the drama-hungry Ghosts.

"You guys are so cute!" said Liv. Harley glared at her. "Hey, I saw this coming. I get to gloat."

"Want me to transfer the Glimmer to Kai's account?" Shard asked Rae.

She scowled at him. "Whatever."

Chapter Text

"We're doing what?" asked Kyler.

"Camping!" Harley answered brightly, "Well, sort of."

"How do you go 'sort of' camping?"

"Liv found a cabin in the forest a while back. Some of us helped her fix it up and now we think it'll be fun to stay there for a couple nights."

"'Fun.' Right. It'll be fun to sleep out in a cabin in the middle of nowhere with no barrier between us and the Fallen. To be cold and hungry and get eaten by bugs."

"It's too cold for bugs right now."

"That's my point! At least most places in the City have central heating."

Amusement flitted across Harley's face. "I take it you're not an outdoor person."

Kyler scoffed. "No one in the City is an outdoor person. Kinda hard to be when we can't leave."

"Well, then you're about to experience the wonder."

"The wonder of being attacked by Fallen?"

"It'll be perfectly safe!"

"Easy for you to say. You're a Guardian. You'll be fine... I guess I'll just die."

"You really think I'd let the Fallen get you?"

Kyler sighed. "I don't see why we have to go during New Year… We'll miss all the celebrations."

"We'll be able to see the fireworks from the cabin," said Harley, "Besides, we'll be bringing food and champagne and blankets. Lots of blankets."

"Who's even going?"

"Me, you, Liv, Fyr, Jia, and Kaedro. Since us Hunters restored it, it's kinda become the Hunter cabin."

"Jia?"

"Fyr wanted to bring her. Just like I want to bring you."

He stared at Kyler with pleading eyes. Kyler put his face in his hands and groaned. Why did his stupid boyfriend have to be so stupid excited about a stupid camping trip? He knew he was going to give in. He was terrible at resisting when Harley wanted to do something that he didn't care for. Like camping.

"Fine," he sighed, taking his hands away from his face.

Harley's face lit up. "You're the best!"

He kissed him before rushing off, likely to tell the others. Kyler had to smile. At first, the Hunter seemed to have difficulty showing affection openly. It had only been a week since they'd started dating, but they were both already more comfortable around each other. A few minutes later, Harley returned, grinning.

"They're all really excited for it," he said.

"When are we leaving?"

"Tomorrow."

"Tomorrow? We haven't packed or anything!"

"I was going to do it tonight."

Kyler shook his head. "You Hunters can be so disorganized. We're doing it now."

Harley held up his hands in surrender. "Whatever you say."

Kyler stood up. "I'd better get to my room. I need to find out if I have any good wilderness clothes."

"You make it sound like we're abandoning civilization altogether," Harley chuckled.

"We might as well be."

"Don't sound so grim… Look, you go pack. I'm gonna check in with the others about transportation."

Kyler noticed the edginess in the Hunter's form. "You're not gonna pack right now, are you?" Harley's silence was the only answer he needed. Kyler heaved a sigh. "Fine. Pack tonight. But if you freeze to death, don't bother me about it."

"Prism will revive me," he said easily, "Meet me in the mess hall when you're done."

"Alright. But I hope you know I won't pack for you." With that, he left Harley's quarters to go pack.

As it turned out, he did have a few pieces of clothing suited to being outdoors in the cold climate. They all went into his duffel bag along with several pairs of warm socks and sweatpants. Harley had said they were only staying for a couple of nights, but Kyler wanted to be prepared. He glanced around the room, fairly sure he'd gotten everything. But he could always check again after dinner. Locking the door behind him, he headed towards the mess hall. Thankfully, there was no wind that night, but a light snowfall had started up. He tied his hair as he walked, knowing that the snow that melted in it would cause it to be a bit of a pain to manage. He selected some food upon entering the hall, then joined Harley at their usual table in the corner.

"How was packing?" the Hunter asked.

"Fine. Who's ship are we taking?"

"Kaedro's. His ship has the most room."

"Not the Star?"

Harley shook his head. "Jumpships are typically built to seat 1-3 people. Pilot's seat and two extras that can usually be folded away. The Star's built like that. When the other seats are gone, there's enough room for me to sleep in the ship but that's about it. Some ships have a copilot seat, but that depends on the model. The Tower has a few larger cruisers that can fit and sleep more people, but Guardians don't use them much. We need to be able to move fast. That said, Kaedro modified his ship to seat more people while still keeping its maneuverability."

"Huh. So is that why you guys didn't invite the rest of the Chasers? Not enough space?"

"We kind of want to keep the cabin as a Hunter thing. It's kinda hard to explain to someone who isn't a Hunter."

"You guys really do separate yourselves, don't you?"

"All Guardians do. Titans and Warlocks have their own deals."

"I get that you group yourselves according to which class you're in, but what about the different Light types? I know there are different types of energy you guys use."

Harley nodded. "Three. Void, Solar, and Arc. Some people call them 'subclasses' but a better term is 'specialties'. My specialty is Arc."

"What does that mean, exactly?"

"Usually either that I have more Arc Light than Solar it Void, or that it's the type that's easiest for me to reach."

"Can Guardians switch 'specialties'?"

"I asked Prism about that a while back." he looked at his Ghost. "You wanna explain it?"

"Sure," she said. Her blue eye turned toward Kyler. "Guardians can switch specialties and learn to use multiple types of Light. But it's not easy. First, they have to have different types present, and not all of them do. Then harnessing it is a different battle. It requires strict focus, as it's far too easy to fall back into the Light they're used to. Most Guardians are happy with their specialty, but some do make the change."

"Kay did," said Harley.

"Yes," agreed Prism, "Arguably, it was a bit easier for him since he took the Void Light from Tevis' bow. He's lucky the Void chose him back."

"How do you know what kinds of Light you have?"

"Ghosts can tell," said Prism, turning to study her Guardian, "For example, Harley could have been just as powerful of a Gunslinger as he is a Bladedancer. However, he has very little Void Light, surprisingly."

"Why's that surprising?" asked Kyler.

A dark look passed between Guardian and Ghost. "Not important," said Harley, "Point is, I'll probably never be a Nightstalker."

"Nor do you need to be," said Prism firmly, "I like you just the way you are, thanks."

Harley smiled at her before turning back to Kyler. "What brought all this on, anyway?"

Kyler shrugged. "Just curious. Guardians are pretty mysterious to the people in the City."

"I suppose," said Harley, "Anyway, we'd better finish up here soon. We're meant to be flying out tomorrow morning and I still need to pack."

"That's your own fault."


The next morning, Kyler met up with the other campers in the Hangar. While the Hunters weren't exactly in casual wear, they weren't going in full armor at least. They wore sturdy boots as well as soft pants and shirts with vests. They'd hung onto their belts and holsters, something Kyler tried not to think too hard about. Harley was wearing a winter cloak in place of his usual one. It was dusky gray with a couple of white symbols on it. The fabric was thick and the hood was fur-lined. Amanda watched them as they loaded the bags onto the ship, shaking her head.

"You kids are nuts," she drawled, "Light, do I wish I could join ya."

She had gladly given Kyler leave to go on the trip. The news of his relationship with Harley seemed to have spread like wildfire, just as Liv's Ghost had warned. Amanda was over the moon about it. She thought it was fantastic that they'd found each other, as she thought they'd both benefit from it. Kyler was touched at how much she cared for his and Harley's wellbeing, thinking back to one memorable day when she'd given them both the shovel talk at the same time.

"We good to go?" asked Harley.

"Yeah, I think that's everything," replied Kaedro.

"Let's get this party in the air!" Fyr exclaimed.

"Have a good time!" called Amanda as they boarded the ship.

Kyler scanned the interior as he strapped in, noting how much more space there was. He felt the ship lift off and exit the Hangar.

"How far out is the cabin?"

"Just a few miles out," said Liv, "We'll be there in five minutes."

"What a wonderful idea this was!" said Jia enthusiastically, her optics glinting, "I love the City, but it's nice to see some new sights every once in a while. And that's not something us non-Guardians get the opportunity to do a lot."

She shot a conspiratorial wink at Kyler, who managed a small smile but didn't return it. He seemed to be the only one feeling apprehensive about the trip.

"I hope you packed warm," Harley said lightly.

"I did. How long are we planning to stay again?"

"Tonight and tomorrow night."

Kyler let himself relax a little. Two nights. He could do two nights.

"We're almost there," said Kaedro from up front.

"Have you guys ever been camping before?" Kyler asked the others.

"Nope!" said Harley cheerfully, "I can't wait."

"Tons of times," said Liv, "Kay and I've both been around a while. There was a lot of camping."

"I'll say," said Kaedro, "Both out of choice and necessity."

"Fyr and I have never been," said Jia, "I've stayed out in the outskirts of the City with friends before, but nothing really past that."

"I haven't even done that," said Kyler.

The ship began to descend. "I'm putting us down in a clearing," said Kaedro, "We'll have to walk to the cabin. There's not enough space to land next to it."

No one seemed bothered by this, even though Kyler thought they should have been. The cold air nipped at his exposed skin when the ship's doors open. The Hunters were all quick to get out and unload, shouldering their packs. Harley handed Kyler his bag. Kyler accepted it with a quiet thanks. Kaedro closed up the ship and moved away from it.

"I hope everyone got everything because I'm sending the Javelin back to the Hangar. Don't wanna risk anything by leaving her here."

Kyler watched as the ship lifted off and flew out of sight with a few taps of Kaedro's interface.

"Let's go!" called Liv, skipping ahead.

Reluctantly, Kyler turned to follow the rest of the group. Thankfully, the walk didn't take them much more than a few minutes. The tree cover around it was by no means dense, but there was no space for a ship to land. The cabin itself was about the size of a house in the City outskirts. The walls and roof appeared sturdy, which brought Kyler some comfort. He was even happier to see a chimney at one end. Liv opened the door and bounded inside. The rest of them piled in behind her and stood, dripping, in the entrance. The interior was incredibly dark and unwelcoming. It made Kyler think of spiders and glowing Hive eyes.

"I'll get the generator going," said Kaedro, "Jyn, light."

Next to him, his Ghost let out a bright beam of light, which the Hunter used to locate a trapdoor leading to some sort of basement. After a few minutes of grinding and sputtering came the sound of a small engine powering up. Several lights around the room came on, flooding the place with yellow light. Kyler saw the small stone fireplace at one end, a sagging sofa in front of it. At the other end, there were two beds. One bunk and one double. Harley and Fyr met eyes for a split second before they both hurled themselves across the room to slap the double bed.

"Dibs!" they shouted.

Liv sighed and put her bag on the top bunk.

"I'm good with the couch," said Kaedro.

"Who won?" Fyr demanded.

"You both touched it at the same time," said Liv, "I think we all know where this is going…"

"Duel!" yelled the Hunters.

"Uh, what?" asked Kyler as the group headed for the door.

"Ace and Fyr always settle their differences with a duel," said Kaedro, "It started when Fyr bet Ace that since he was a Gunslinger, he could outdraw him."

"In a duel? Like a duel duel?"

"Yeah."

"...Not to the death?"

The Exo scoffed. "What kind of duel would it be if it weren't?"

An unsettling feeling slithered into Kyler's stomach. "Who usually wins?" he asked.

Kaedro shrugged. "I wouldn't call either of them winners, no matter the outcome."

The group stopped once they'd gotten a good distance away from the cabin.

"You both know the rules," said Liv gleefully, "Back-to-back, ten paces."

Harley and Fyr stood with their backs against each other. Then both took ten measured steps away before turning.

"Ready…"

Fingers flexed.

"Set…"

Hands were laid on holsters.

"FIRE!" hollered Liv.

Kyler didn't blink, but he still missed it. Bang! He glanced around to see Fyr on his back in the snow with a hole in his chest. Across from him, the muzzle of Harley's canon was still smoking. An instant later, Spark appeared, sending some kind of beam of light into his Guardian's chest. Harley holstered his weapon and crossed the space to help the other Hunter up. Both were grinning.

"I almost had you!" said Fyr ruefully.

Harley patted his arm. "Maybe next time."

"There shouldn't be a next time," said Prism, "You're both idiots."

They started walking back. Liv was practically prancing.

"You just wait till I duel you," she told Harley.

Kyler felt more than a bit disquieted. Everyone knew Guardians didn't stay dead, but it was still jarring to witness it firsthand. He couldn't believe they were so flippant about killing each other.

"Guess we're sleeping on the bottom bunk, Jia," said Fyr.

Liv shot him a glare. "You two better not try anything. Remember, I'll be right above you."

"No one better try anything," said Kaedro, narrowing his optics at all of them, "This is a New Year's celebration, not a couple's retreat."

Kyler's face reddened at the implications. When they got back to the cabin, Jia and Fyr unfastened the shudders from the windows while everyone else stored their bags. Harley and Kyler stashed theirs under the double bed. Kyler removed his snow jacket, rubbing his arms. He noticed that Harley was doing the same.

"We'd better see about a fire," said Harley.

Kyler followed him to the fireplace, surprised to see a preconstructed woodpile.

"We put that together the last time we were here," Harley explained, "There's extra wood in the basement."

"Someone say my name?" asked Fyr.

"Not really, but it's good you came. We're trying to light a fire."

"Groovy! Leave it to me!"

Fyr crouched in front of the fireplace and snapped his fingers. A small flame sprung to life at the end of his pointer finger, which he used to set the wood ablaze.

"Cool," said Kyler.

"Actually, it's hot." The Hunter made a finger gun and blew out the flame with a wink.

Spark rolled his eye. "I honestly don't know why they invited you," he told his Guardian.

"Because I'm incredibly awesome?"

"Keep telling yourself that."

"So what's on the agenda today?" asked Kyler.

"We should probably find where everything is," said Harley, "Then Kay said he's gonna make dinner later."

"I'm just excited to roast marshmallows!" said Fyr.

Harley and Kyler exchanged a confused look.

"You guys don't know what marshmallows are?!"

Chapter Text

Prism awoke from where she'd been sleeping in the hood of Harley's cloak. It had been hung up on the wall earlier, creating a perfect place for her to rest in. She left the cloak, looking around. It was dark inside, though the pale gray fingers of dawn were beginning to reach through the windows. Liv was sprawled across the top bunk. For such a small Hunter, she managed to take up a lot of space. Rhys slept on the pillow next to her. On the bunk below, Fyr and Jia seemed to be facing each other, closely intertwined. While the size of the bed didn't give them much choice, Prism still thought it was sweet. She couldn't see where Spark was, but it was a safe bet that he wasn't in the bed. Kaedro slept facing the fireplace that had long since gone cold, Jyn in a blanket nest next to him. Finally, Harley and Kyler were pressed close together in the double bed. Although pillows were available, Harley's head was currently resting on Kyler's chest. Prism wasn't about to disturb them, but she hoped her Hunter's neck wouldn't suffer from the odd position.

She flew over to the fireplace, transmatting in a few new logs before lighting them with a concentrated beam of Light. Even if it eventually woke the others, they'd be glad of its warmth. As the light in the room continued to grow brighter, the sleepers began to stir. The Ghosts were up and about before their Guardians.

"I know I give Fyr a hard time," Spark said in an undertone, "But I think Jia's starting to mellow him out a bit. She's good for him."

"I know what you mean," Prism replied, "Even before they got together, I could tell Kyler was good for Harley. Now I'm sure of it. Last night was the first time he's slept through the night since...well, Phobos."

Spark nodded. Prism knew Harley didn't want to let on how much being Taken had affected him. He'd done a good job of hiding it, but she was his Ghost. Nothing could be kept from her very long. She'd confided in several other Ghosts. It helped to have friends to talk to when her Guardian wouldn't.

"The nightmares never stopped?" asked Rhys, who'd been listening in.

"No. They never stop and they never change… After all this time, I thought he'd have built up a tolerance to them, but I didn't experience it. Maybe if I'd been there with him, he wouldn't have been Taken in the first place."

The other Ghosts exchanged a look. "Prism, I know it sucks to hear, but there's nothing you could've done to stop it," said Rhys, "Besides, if he didn't wake up, maybe the nightmares aren't happening anymore."

"I hope so… If only I could have killed Oryx myself for what he did to my Guardian."

"Believe me, I know how you feel," said Jyn, "Kaedro and I have been together for a long time and I still want to take revenge on everything that hurts him…" She paused, casting a look at her still sleeping Guardian. When she next spoke, her tone was hushed. "I've been worried about him for a while."

"Why?" asked Spark.

"Back before we killed Oryx, he went on a mission for Cayde to find one of their mutual friends. Tevis, the Nightstalker."

"I remember that," said Prism.

"Kaedro's always specialized in Solar Light," Jyn continued, "He experimented with Arc a few times, but he's always been Solar at heart. When he picked up that Void Bow...it was like it drowned out the Solar Light. I can barely detect any now. Traveler knows I'm glad the Void chose him, but sometimes I feel like I can no longer recognize his Light anymore."

"I hear that Void Light can affect a Guardian's personality," said Spark, "Most commonly with Hunters."

"You don't think that's happened to Kay, do you?" asked Rhys in a whisper.

"I haven't noticed anything," said Jyn, "But for all I know, it's just a matter of time."

The other Ghost sounded so heartbroken that it tore at Prism's core. "You can figure it out," she said supportively, "Find a time to bring it up to him. Make sure he knows about the dangers of Void Light. He'll understand."

"I hope so."

The Ghosts fell quiet as someone rose from one of the beds. Jia shuffled over to the small kitchen area to start up the coffee machine that Fyr had swiped from the Tower mess hall. She noticed the Ghosts.

"Good morning!"

The Ghosts all muttered replies, looking in different directions. The Exo had no clothes on whatsoever. Prism was willing to bet that she simply didn't care. Over on the sofa, Kaedro got up.

"Morning!" said Jia.

"Hey," said Kaedro, "You're not wearing clothes."

She looked down. "Oh. Sorry about that." She crossed to the bed and pulled off the blanket, wrapping herself in it.

Fyr lifted his head, blinking blearily. "Wuzzat?"

"Morning, Fyr," said Jia fondly.

"'Zmornin?"

"Huh?" came Liv's sleepy voice from the top bunk.

Prism chuckled. Most Hunters were light sleepers by nature. If one person woke up, they'd all wake up. Which begged the question: why wasn't Harley? Just as she wondered this, Harley's head popped up.

"Guys lemme sleep."

As much as Prism wanted that, she knew that her Guardian had a hard time going back to sleep once he'd woken up. She flew over to him, bumping her shell gently into his forehead. He smiled.

"Hey, Prism."

"Hey, Harley. You're one of the last ones in bed today."

"Really? That's different."

He shifted and started to get up, only to have to stop and unfasten Kyler's arms from around his waist. Once he was up, he made a beeline for the coffee pot, which had just finished brewing. He poured two mugs, then promptly got out of the way before the others ran him over. Returning to the bed, he poked Kyler until he was awake enough to hold the coffee.

"Do we have any plans for today?" he asked.

"Nope," said Kaedro, "Fireworks are at midnight so we can do whatever. Only rule is no working."

Prism enjoyed following Harley and Kyler around as they found things to do. She almost never got to be out when they were outside of the Tower. As it turned out, finding enough activities to satisfy bored Hunters was no easy task. When Harley inevitably got tired of card games, Kyler took him outside to show him how the children of the City had fun in the snow. Soon, the two of them were immersed in building an army of snow-Guardians around the cabin. As the sun dipped below the horizon, the others came out and in no time an epic snowball fight had started.

A couple of hours later, the group retreated inside to warm up and change into dry clothes before the fireworks. The snow cover didn't leave many good places to sit, but they managed to clear off the top of a flat rock. They piled onto it, facing the direction the City was in. The temperature had dropped severely. Cloaks and parkas had been broken out. Prism nestled herself into the hood of Harley's cloak next to his neck. Kaedro passed out mugs, pouring a little champagne in each.

"I wasn't about to bring glasses out here, so these will work."

"Just a couple minutes left," said Prism, taking care to speak softly.

"A new year already," said Harley.

"Yes. Let's hope it's less eventful than the last few."

Harley nodded. "I'll drink to that."

"The countdown's starting," said Prism, "I'll display it for you."

She projected a holographic clock into the air in front of Harley and Kyler. The numbers at the end were ticking up. Fifty seconds until midnight. The group chimed in at thirty.

"Twenty-nine, twenty-eight, twenty-seven, twenty-six…"

Prism was glad that the skies had stayed clear. Forget the snow, even just cloud cover would ruin the fireworks.

"...seventeen, sixteen, fifteen, fourteen, thirteen, twelve, eleven, TEN, nine, eight, seven, six, FIVE, FOUR, THREE, TWO, ONE!"

The first firework shot into the air with a distant whoooooo, exploding in a ball of purple and white. Then the rest followed in twos and threes, detonating in a series of pops and lighting up the sky with dancing colors.

"Happy New Year!" exclaimed Kaedro, thrusting his mug forward to toast the others.

The clink of the mugs was nearly drowned out by the sound of the display. Harley and Kyler grinned, sharing a kiss. If Ghosts could blush, Prism certainly would have been. What must it be like for someone to date a Guardian with a Ghost? She'd always thought dating one would essentially mean dating both. The Ghost would always be around. If a person wanted to have a Guardian in their life, the Ghost would also be in their life. She wondered how it would work with a Guardian dating another Guardian. Those relationships tended to be the most common. The Ghosts would have to accept each other's presence. Considering how closely Ghosts were tied to their Guardians, it would probably be too easy for them to get territorial.

For that reason, she was glad that Kyler didn't have a Ghost. However, another part of her wished he did. If the relationship lasted, she knew there would come a time when Kyler would die. Whether in a year from now or decades down the road, it didn't matter. Without a Ghost, when his death came, it would be final. She wondered if Harley had thought about it, then chided herself for thinking about such things. They were meant to be celebrating the new year. Such dark thoughts could wait, at least for a time.

The group watched the display for a full hour. But sometime after one in the morning, snow began to fall and they agreed that it was probably best to turn in for the night. They stood up, rubbing their arms, and headed back to the cabin. Just as Harley was about to go inside, Prism told him to wait. She stared into the dark forest to their left. She was sure she'd seen something move, but it could have easily just been the snow whirling down. Her eye narrowed as she attempted to determine whether she was imagining things or not.

"What is it?" asked Harley.

"I'm not sure," she replied, "Just a feeling…"

"What feeling?"

She dismissed it. "It's probably nothing. Let's go inside."

Harley nodded. "As long as you're sure."

As the campers prepared for bed, it was easier for Prism to convince herself that the darkness and snow had been playing tricks on her. One couldn't be too sure of what they were seeing in the snow. Still, a touch of apprehension stuck with her when she drifted off.

Harley's eyes flew open, only to meet darkness. He heaved a sigh. It appeared that his miraculously uninterrupted rest the night before was just that: a miracle. He squinted at the digital clock next to the bed. It was five in the morning. Seems about right, he thought bitterly, getting up and making his way over to the kitchen. He started the coffee maker and leaned on the counter, feeling a vague sense of uneasiness.

One thing wasn't tracking. He couldn't remember having had the Dream. Ever since he'd been Taken by Oryx just over a year ago, the Hive God's face had haunted his psyche. Whenever he dreamt about it, he always remembered having the dream. So either he didn't remember dreaming this time... or something else had woken him up.

Harley barely had time to turn and call for Prism before his world turned into a ball of fire.

Chapter Text

The blast flung Harley into the opposite wall, where he lay stunned for several moments. What had just happened? Something seized him by the neck, lifting him off the floor. He found himself staring into the glowing eyes of a Fallen Captain, which narrowed in menace as they studied him. Harley clawed at its arm, trying to loosen its hold. But the Captain only laughed harshly, tightening its grip.

His vision darkened as he continued to gasp for air. He knew he didn't have long left. He knew Prism would be there to rez him, but the Fallen might suspect that. He wasn't about to put his Ghost in the line of fire, so he did the only thing he could: he let himself go limp. The alien gave another grating chuckle before dropping him. Harley heaved in a huge breath of air, kicking out at the Captain's legs. The element of surprise was on his side and as soon as the Captain went down, Harley was on it, wrestling the gun from its grasp. He put a bullet in its head, then cast the gun aside.

The wall he had been standing next to now had a huge hole blown in it, still smoldering. Outside, the wind had whipped the snow into a frenzy, blowing it through the gap. A blizzard. Harley tried to swallow his apprehension as he peered out into the storm, watching and listening intently. Distantly, he heard a series of cries in the language of the Fallen. More were on their way. Knowing that he had to act fast, he grabbed the Freelancer from his discarded holster. The others were in various stages of waking.

"What happened?" demanded Kaedro.

"The Fallen," Harley replied briskly, "They're attacking."

"They ruined the kitchen!" Fyr complained, "Aw man!"

"Focus," said Kaedro, "That Captain wasn't alone out here… We need to get down into the basement."

Liv dashed around the cabin, grabbing supplies. "Get the trapdoor open," she commanded. Harley obliged and she chucked the stuff down the stairs. "No time to worry about breaking anything."

Kaedro moved to stand at the hole in the wall, his scout rifle at the ready. A sudden gust of wind assaulted the trapdoor. Harley pushed against it, trying to get it to stay open.

"See anything?"

The Exo squinted into the darkness. "Yes! Hostiles approaching on all sides. We need to get down there!"

Harley looked around. Liv must have already gone down to clear the supplies off the stairs. Fyr hurried over with Jia, escorting her down the steps.

Kyler was still over by the bed on his hands and knees. He heard Kaedro's scout rifle start firing and knew they didn't have much longer. Footsteps hurried over.

"What are you doing?!" Harley demanded from behind him, "We gotta get down there!"

"I know! I just need to find-"

"There's too many to hold back!" yelled Kaedro over the wind, "We need to go!"

"Kyler's looking for something," Harley snapped, "Get down there! I'll hold them off with the Freelancer until we can get to you!"

"Don't be too long!" Kaedro warned.

Kyler heard the Hunters move back to the trapdoor before Harley yelled at him.

"Kyler! Now!"

Just then, Kyler's hand closed around the necklace he'd been searching for. "Got it! Coming!"

As he was crossing over to Harley, the wind howled louder and the trapdoor jerked, dislodging Harley's grip on his gun. Kyler heard the hand cannon clatter down the steps as alien voices rang out over the storm. Harley turned back to him, cursing at having lost the gun. Suddenly, his eyes widened and he ran toward Kyler, letting the trapdoor slam shut.

Kyler felt dread curl inside of him as he whirled to see what the Hunter was looking at. A Fallen vandal stood in the gap in the wall, its sniper rifle poised to fire. Kyler hunched instinctively, wanting to close his eyes. Then a hand closed around the back of his sweatshirt, yanking him roughly. Harley pushed in front of him, causing Kyler to lose his footing and stumble. A shot rang out and Kyler felt something hit his left shoulder before he landed on the floor. He felt it, only for his hand to come away sticky. He'd been shot.

A wave of terror pulsed through him at the realization and he looked for Harley. The Hunter stood in front of him, looking down at something. Briefly, Kyler wondered what he could be looking at. Then he saw the small dark hole through the left side of Harley's back. As he watched, the Hunter crumpled to the floor like a puppet whose strings had been severed. He felt himself screaming, though he couldn't hear it over the keening of the wind and the jeering of the Fallen. The vandal's beady eyes landed on Kyler and this time he knew he was dead. A loud thud came from behind him, followed swiftly by a bang. The vandal collapsed. More shots echoed and several of the encroaching Fallen fell. Hands hooked under his arms and he cried out as he was dragged backward. Kaedro hauled him into the basement, bolting the trapdoor behind them.

Getting down the stairs was more of a chore, as the initial shock of Kyler's wound had worn off, leaving an intense burning pain. He made a halfhearted movement to get back upstairs but stopped when Kaedro placed a hand on his uninjured shoulder.

"Ace…" His voice sounded broken, even to him.

"I know," said Kaedro with a grimace.

"Why didn't Prism rez him?"

"The Fallen know about Ghosts. If she materialized, one of them might be waiting. Jyn's in touch with her. She'll rez Ace once the coast is clear."

The Exo began rummaging through one of the containers. Kyler thought about Harley's body lying on the floor of the cabin.

"We just left him there," he said hollowly.

"I hate it as much as you do."

Kaedro cast a glance at the gun still in his hand. It was Harley's Freelancer. He paused what he was doing.

"I never wanted to have to carry this gun again," he said, "Not after last time."

"What happened last time?"

The Exo regarded the gun with a grim expression but didn't answer, instead passing it to Kyler.

"Here. You take it. I think he'd appreciate you holding onto it."

Kyler took the gun, marveling at its weight and balance. It appeared that Kaedro had found what he was looking for because he moved closer to Kyler with items in hand. Kyler spotted a Hunter knife and a half-empty bottle of whiskey.

"Right," the Exo's tone was businesslike, "Try not to move too much."

He set the items down and unzipped Kyler's sweatshirt. The shirt underneath was soaked with blood at the site of the wound. Kaedro carefully tore it open to get access to the wound.

"Thought about making a joke just now, but given the circumstances, I'd better not." He considered the wound. "Bleeding hasn't stopped. Jyn, could you scan and see if the bullet hit anything vital?"

"Of course." The light pink-shelled Ghost appeared in front of Kyler with a flash, scanning his injury. "It would appear not. However, you should get the bullet out as soon as you can."

"Any chance you could heal me?" Kyler asked.

"I wish I could," said Jyn sadly, "But even healing Guardians other than Kaedro is nearly impossible and they have the Light."

Kyler sighed. "Damn."

"Alright," said Kaedro, "This might hurt…" His fingers probed the area around the wound. "Your skin feels pretty cold. Let's hope it stays that way."

"What? Why?"

"Less pain." He offered Kyler the whiskey bottle. "Here. Better drink some of this."

Kyler shot him a questioning look but didn't protest, taking several mouthfuls of the alcohol.

"Fyr," called Kaedro softly. The other Hunter looked up from where he sat with an arm around Jia. "I need your help."

Fyr came over. "Yeah?"

"I need you to help hold Kyler down." The Exo directed the next statement at Kyler. "I have to dig the bullet out and it's gonna hurt like nothing you've ever felt. Also, Fyr? Try to make sure he doesn't scream."

No part of Kyler felt good about what was about to take place, but he knew it was for the best.

"Ready?" asked Kaedro.

He nodded. Fyr knelt at his side, pinning his injured arm against his chest to give Kaedro enough space. Kaedro let out a breath and dug the point of his knife into the wound. Instantly, Kyler's world was enveloped in fiery pain. The knife felt white-hot as it dug into him. His mouth opened involuntarily, but before he could scream, Fyr's other hand clamped down on it, stifling the noise. Kyler wasn't sure how long Kaedro spent digging the bullet out, but he felt the sharp tug as it was extracted from the wound. Kaedro immediately set the knife and bullet aside to pour whiskey over the site. Fyr released Kyler, who hissed in pain as the alcohol made contact. Once it subsided, he saw Kaedro's face hovering over his own.

"This is gonna suck, but it needs to be cauterized. We're gonna have Fyr do the honors."

The Gunslinger rubbed his hands together and Kyler saw them glowing with yellow-orange light. This time, it was Kaedro's hand that covered his mouth. The Exo shot him an apologetic look before nodding at Fyr to continue. Fyr pressed a couple of fingers against the wound and Kyler was in agony once more. The Hunter's hand was searing hot — so hot to the touch that it almost felt freezing cold. It only lasted for a few seconds but felt like an eternity to Kyler. He could not have been more relieved when the Hunters released him. Kaedro applied a bandage to the area before passing him the bottle again. He eyed it warily.

"What now?"

The Exo chuckled. "You earned it, is what. Never seen a non-Guardian hold up so well. Hell, even some actual Guardians've taken it worse than you."

Kyler drank, feeling much better now that he wasn't bleeding or burning. Kaedro patted his good shoulder.

"Get some rest."

With that, he rose and crossed over to the others, Fyr trailing behind him. Kyler watched them for a while, but eventually, his eyelids got too heavy as his ordeal took its toll. A few moments later, he drifted off.


Prism hadn't felt such anxiety since she was separated from Harley on the Dreadnaught. She definitely felt just as useless now as she had back then, forced to remain phased as the Fallen ransacked the cabin. There were so many of them. More than they should be seeing so close to the City. And they bore King colors. At the moment, they were taking all the supplies they could find. Prism just hoped they didn't notice the trapdoor. Kaedro had shot down the closest ones when he'd grabbed Kyler, but there was always a chance of one of them discovering it now. Although, the table the Fallen had pushed over covered it, so maybe the chances of them passing it by were better.

Right now, her main concern was for Harley. There had been no window to revive him so far, and there likely wouldn't be one until the Fallen left. She could feel waves of distress radiating from Harley's being - his spark. While she couldn't speak to him in his current state, she attempted to comfort him on a metaphysical level. Just a little while longer, she told his spark. He couldn't hear her, but it made her feel better to say it.


Kyler awoke to the dimness of the basement. His eyes felt sticky and grainy. He rubbed them a few times before slowly sitting up. On the other side of the room, the others were talking in hushed tones. He felt in his pocket, relieved he'd managed to find his necklace before the Fallen had gotten it. It was a bone fish hook that he'd had ever since he could remember. Putting it on, Kyler forced himself up and walked over to the others, still holding Harley's Freelancer.

"What's going on?" he asked, keeping his voice low.

"We haven't heard the Fallen for a while," replied Kaedro, "But Prism hasn't given us the all-clear either."

"How long was I out?"

"A couple hours," said Liv, "I think we should just go for it. Those Fallen wouldn't be a match for one of us, let alone all of us."

"Not normally," said Kaedro, "But we have Kyler and Jia with us. I don't want the Fallen targeting them."

"Dude, let's just peek out through the trapdoor," said Fyr."

"I'll do it!" Liv volunteered, "One second…" Kyler's mouth fell open as she vanished before his eyes. A few moments later, the trapdoor was unbolted and opened seemingly of its own accord. There were several seconds of silence before Liv popped back into visibility.

"It's clear!" she announced. The others breathed a sigh of relief and headed toward the stairs. Kyler held the Freelancer pointed down, his finger off the trigger. Always treat a gun as if it's loaded and liable to go off, Dalton had said, There's no room for carelessness when you're handling a firearm. Kyler followed Kaedro up to the trapdoor. The Exo took a moment to confirm that everything was clear before holding it open for the others. As soon as he cleared the opening, he ran to where Harley's body still lay on the floor, grabbing the Hunter's shoulders.

"Ace!"

A few seconds later, Prism appeared in front of him. "Kyler? What are you doing here?!"

"The Fallen are gone," said Kaedro, "We were waiting for you to give us the all-clear before coming up, but no one wanted to sit in that basement any longer."

"I'm so sorry! I fell asleep in phase!" The Ghost sounded distraught. "What kind of Ghost doesn't watch over their Guardian?"

"It's alright," Kaedro reassured her, "You were stressed out."

"Yeah, no harm done!" said Liv cheerfully, "Just get Ace up, then we'll get out of here."

Kyler watched as Prism opened her shell, expanding into a transparent blue orb. There was a blinding flash of Light and then Harley was blinking and sitting up.

"What's going on?"

"I'm so sorry, Harley! I should have revived you as soon as the Fallen were gone but I fell asleep! I'm the worst Ghost in the Sol System."

"Hey." Harley cupped her in his hands. "First of all, nothing bad happened. Second, you could never be the worst Ghost in the Sol System. You're just as good as any of them. Better, even."

Prism seemed to relax at this, nestling into Harley's hands. The Hunter turned to look at Kyler.

"Kyler! You got shot!"

He let Prism go and leaned forward to see. But before he could move the bandage, Kyler flung his arms around him. They sat there like that for a long moment, despite Harley's attempts to break away so he could look at Kyler's shoulder. Finally, Kyler let go. Harley removed the bandage, wincing slightly at the sight of the wound.

"How did this happen?" he asked.

"The bullet when you got shot," said Kyler, "It went straight through…"

"And...did it go through when it hit you?"

Kyler shook his head. "Kay had to get it out."

Harley paled. "Traveler's Light… I should've been better. If I'd just killed that vandal before it could shoot-"

"Stop it," said Kyler firmly, "Ace you were dead. That vandal killed you. You can't blame yourself."

"Yeah," Kaedro chimed in, "Look, we're leaving now. We'll go back to the Tower and the med staff will check Kyler out, make sure everything's good."

Kyler pulled Harley to his feet. The Hunter still looked upset but didn't take it further. Over at the other end of the room, Fyr kicked at a broken piece of furniture.

"Aw man… All our restoration work."

Kyler couldn't help but chuckle at that. It was just so ridiculous. The others started to laugh as well, cracking up in a way that only surviving a high-stress situation could bring.

"C'mon guys," said Kaedro with a smile, "Let's get out of here."

Chapter Text

Kyler looked around as they entered the medbay. He'd only been to it once, when Jaro had first given him a tour of the Tower. It didn't appear to be any busier now than it was then. Kyler knew it was mostly used by Tower personnel. Guardian had their Ghosts and as such, didn't typically need to visit the med bay. However, Kyler had been told that they did in the event of an extremely serious or unusual case. He resisted the urge to rub at his shoulder, knowing that rather than easing the pain, it would make it worse. Next to him, Harley glanced around, likely looking for someone on the med team.

"Hey, Harley!" greeted a cheerful voice.

A man with pushed back dark brown hair walked over. The nametag attached to his scrubs read "Ryan."

"Hey," said Harley.

"What brings you here? Nothing bad, I hope."

"This is Kyler," Harley introduced, "Kyler, this is Ryan."

"Nice to meet you," said Ryan.

"Likewise."

"We got into some trouble with the Fallen. Kyler took a bullet to the left shoulder. The wound was cauterized, but we wanted to make sure there's no infection."

"Smart decision," said Ryan, his tone becoming more businesslike, "Follow me."

He lead them to a checkup room and instructed Kyler to sit on the bed. Harley stood in the corner, crossing his arms.

"So how'd you end up outside of the City with a civilian?" Ryan asked.

"We went camping," said Kyler.

"There were six of us total," clarified Harley, "Four Guardians, two civilians."

"Not very wise," Ryan remarked. He selected a tool and turned to Kyler. "Can I see your shoulder, please?" Kyler nodded, unzipping his sweatshirt. Ryan whistled. "That looks like it hurt...I'll need you to hold still."

Kyler remained as still as he could while Ryan used his tool to scan the injury. He watched Harley as the Hunter looked first at the walls, then Ryan, then back again. He didn't like how cagey Harley's behavior was.

"The good news is I'm not seeing any signs of infection," said Ryan, "But if you notice any discoloration, be sure to come back."

"And the bad news?"

"None! Although you'll probably want to take these for the pain." He passed Kyler a bottle of small rust-colored pills. "And apply this to the site to reduce the chance of scarring."

As Kyler took the ointment, he shot Ryan a puzzled look. "Shouldn't I have a prescription for these?"

"No need! Both are standard over-the-counter type stuff. A lot of City stores carry them."

Harley uncrossed his arms, looking relieved. "No infection? Thank the Traveler."

"Yes, it seems the odds are in your favor. Just make sure not to exert it for a few weeks."

Kyler nodded and stood up. "I'd better go let Amanda know I won't be able to do any heavy lifting."

"I'll come with you," Harley volunteered.

The Hunter started to leave, but Ryan stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Actually, I'd like to speak with you, if you don't mind." Harley's eyes flicked to the door.

"I can stay, if you want," offered Kyler.

"No, go ahead and talk to Amanda. I'll meet up with you later."

"Ok."

Kyler exited the room, pocketing the pills and ointment. Ryan closed the door behind him, He continued on for a few steps before faltering, realizing that he really wanted to know what they were talking about. He knew eavesdropping would come across as a breach of trust, but he also suspected that he might find out what prompted some of the Hunter's odder behavior. Bearing that in mind, he approached the door, keeping his footsteps quiet. He pressed his ear to the crack the door met its frame. For a few moments, he didn't hear anything. Then, Ryan's voice filtered through.

"It's been more than a year and you haven't visited." His tone was light, but it didn't seem natural.

"I guess I've just been busy," said Harley.

"Right."

Ryan didn't sound like he was buying it. There was another stretch of silence.

"Stop that." Harley's voice was raised slightly. "There's nothing wrong with me."

"Uh-huh… How've you been sleeping?"

The question must have taken Harley by surprise because it took him a few seconds to reply.

"Fine."

"No nightmares?"

"What? No."

"Not for the last couple nights," Prism clarified.

"So he has had nightmares?"

"Yes."

"How often?"

"Most nights."

"Does he dissociate?"

"I've noticed that a few times, yes."

"I'm right here," said Harley irritably, "Why don't you just ask me?"

"You've been dodging the questions. Are the dreams always the same?"

Harley sighed. "...Yeah. There're two but they're always the same."

"Those are all classic symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder."

There was another gap in the conversation.

"No, I'm fine," said Harley stubbornly.

"You're an idiot, is what you are," admonished Prism, "You're nowhere close to 'fine.' You've let this continue for far too long."

"I was worried about this," said Ryan, "I had no way to be sure if the symptoms would last past a month, but now it's clear that you have a severe case of PTSD. You interrupted me when I tried to check your vitals, but I could tell from your pulse that your heart rate was much higher than it should have been."

"It increased as soon as we got here," said Prism, "Why is that?"

"I'm willing to bet that being here reminded Harley of what happened when he was here last time. Not a lot of pleasant memories. It also explains why you haven't been back since. Avoiding places or people that bring up the memories is another common symptom."

"What are the other symptoms?" asked the Ghost. Her Guardian, it seemed, had given up on trying to argue.

"Many people experience a loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. They also tend to feel detached from others and have a pervasive negative emotional state."

"Only Harley would know those things."

"Well, have you noticed increased irritability or impulsive behavior?"

"Don't get me started."

"Hypervigilance, difficulty concentrating, and a heightened startle response are all telltale signs."

"Those I've definitely noticed. Are there treatments for PTSD?"

"Yes, there are. Quite a variety, as it happens. I can send you information on treatments if you'd like. Just be aware that Harley has to want to try them."

"I'm sure he will. And I'll be there to help him."

"Glad to hear it… I'm sorry to have kept you, Harley. Especially to talk about such a grim topic. But even just talking about it is an important step."

"Yeah." The Hunter sounded tired.

Kyler heard footsteps heading toward the door and hastened to get out of the med bay before Harley could see him. He pretended to have been casually waiting by the entrance to the med bay when Harley walked out, looking a bit upset. Kyler fell into step next to him.

"Hey." Harley muttered something in response. "So what did you and Ryan talk about?"

The Hunter sighed. "I know you were listening."

Kyler's face flushed red. "Oh."

"'Hypervigilance'... Ryan had me dead to rights."

"My...dad knew some people who had PTSD. I didn't ever think about Guardians suffering from it. It makes a lot of sense."

"Yeah," said Harley bitterly.

"So what happened?"

Harley looked startled. Then he shook his head. "I don't think it's something you want to know about."

Kyler took his hand. "Tell me."

A small smile flickered across Harley's face as he glanced at their joined hands. He sighed again.

"Last year, after Oryx's Dreadnaught arrived in the system, the Vanguard wanted us to investigate why the Phobos Cabal base was broadcasting a signal. Kaedro and I flew out. When we got to Phobos, we found out that the base had been overrun by Taken. Their rifts were everywhere. Kay and I got into a tight spot and I fell through one... Ended up on the Dreadnaught and the Hive just wouldn't stop coming. I sent Prism back through the rift, but the Hive got me. They locked me in a cell and drained my Light."

Kyler felt a bit nauseous thinking about that. He'd grown up hearing horror stories about the Hive.

"Eventually I was brought to Oryx. And he, um- he Took me."

Kyler's eyes widened at the implications of this. Guardians could be Taken. "I didn't know that could happen."

Harley's eyes seemed to have aged centuries. "Neither did I. I don't think they could have without taking the Light out of the equation… Prism always insists that he wouldn't've been able to do it if she was there."

"Is that what you think?"

"It doesn't matter. If she'd been there, the Hive would've crushed her or eaten her Light." Kyler nodded, dropping the subject. "When Oryx Took me...I was made to stand in front of the Darkness itself." Kyler didn't say anything. What could someone say in the face of such a revelation? "I...can't describe it. It was like a thousand eyes were staring into me and out of me at the same time... When I returned to the Dreadnaught at Oryx's call, I wasn't me anymore."

"Do you remember what happened while you were Taken?"

Harley shook his head. "Bits and pieces. I feel like I used to remember more, but I've forgotten some of it completely. Other parts are fuzzy… I try not to think about it too much. The clearest memory I had was waking up in the med bay afterward."

"How did they manage to reverse it?"

"Um...what did you call it, Prism?"

"Intensive Light Exposure Therapy... We had to give Harley Light to help him fight off the corruption. Multiple Ghosts volunteered."

Kyler shivered. "Glad it worked."

"So am I," said Harley, "I could've easily ended up being stuck as a Taken."

"So your nightmares…"

"I dream about being Taken by Oryx most of the time. But sometimes I dream about the med bay, being healed by the Ghosts. Their Light burns me but I can't escape it."

Kyler remained silent for a moment. "...You're going to get treatment for it, right? I know PTSD doesn't really go away, but you can learn to manage it."

"I thought I was managing it."

"You were managing it in a very unhealthy way," said Prism, "Instead of trying to alleviate the symptoms, you were just outright ignoring them."

"The Chasers know, right?" asked Kyler, "I mean, you had to have told them at some point?"

Harley shook his head. "They have enough to worry about. I don't need them worrying about me too."

Kyler knew that was a poor decision, but telling Harley that would likely only irritate him. They stopped walking, preparing to go their separate ways.

"Promise me that you'll look at the treatments tonight."

The Hunter sighed. "I will."

"Good. I bet Prism will tell me if you don't."

Harley turned to go to his quarters.

"Ace." He looked back. "Don't beat yourself up about the Fallen thing. It could've happened to anyone."

Harley just nodded before departing, Prism at his shoulder.

Chapter Text

The weeks passed quickly and before Kyler knew it, a month had gone by. The wound in his shoulder had healed completely, with only a small scar left behind. Even better, Harley had put effort into actually managing his PTSD. He'd been prescribed antidepressants and advised to start therapy. He'd refused the latter outright, despite Kyler and Prism's best efforts. However, Ryan had been teaching him a few techniques to manage symptoms such as panic attacks. According to Prism, Harley was improving.

On the relationship front, they were much more comfortable with each other. It was hard to find time for dates between Kyler's work and Harley's patrols, but they managed to get out to the City every so often. They even went on a couple of double dates with Fyr and Jia, which had proven to be an interesting experience. They'd just made plans for a movie night in Harley's quarters that evening, which had Kyler in high spirits as he headed toward the Hangar.

His day was shaping up to be a slow one. SRL season was drawing to a close, so there was much less Sparrow work to do. He still had to repair the occasional ship or Sparrow here and there, but now most of his time was spent dealing with the Hangar's inventory system, as well as custom ship and Sparrow orders any Guardians wanted to put in. Unfortunately, he was not yet qualified to fill the custom orders himself, so the only thing he could do was answer the calls and format the requests.

He'd just gotten to his work station and set everything up when he noticed something sticking out of one of the drawers. Frowning, he opened the drawer slightly and pulled the object out. It was a small piece of paper, no bigger than a postcard. The side that faced him was blank, but as he turned it over, a mass of cold dread formed in his stomach. Stamped on the other side in jet black ink was the image of a dripping butterfly. He glanced around furtively but saw no one in the immediate area. To most people, the image of a butterfly would seem entirely innocent. However, to those privy to the Underworld, this specific insignia of a black butterfly was a threat. The Underlord was known to send cards marked with the butterfly to those he wanted something from. It was a warning that if they didn't comply with his wishes, death would come to them.

Kyler inspected the card closer. Printed under the butterfly's left wing was an address in River District. His address. Of course, he hadn't been back there since Dalton's death, but he was pretty sure it had been added as a different message. It was meant not only to intimidate but also to remind Kyler of why he took the job in the first place. He also had a strong suspicion that the Underlord wanted him to meet someone at the location.

"Amanda!" he called.

"Yeah?"

"Is it cool if I dip out for a bit? I'm supposed to meet someone in the City."

"Fine with me!" replied the Shipwright, "Just make sure you're back before 1500 at the latest!"

"Will do. Thanks, Amanda!"

He threw on his coat, stuffing the paper into one of the pockets before hurrying out of the Hangar. He spent the entire trip down wondering who he was going to meet and what would happen. He could guess at the Underlord's reasons for having the note sent, but he dreaded what he'd be asked to do to fix it. When he got to the outskirts, he used his Holo to order an autonomous taxi to drive him to River District. The weather was overcast and gray. He wouldn't have been surprised if it had started snowing, given the time of year.

The cab pulled to a stop outside of his old house about twenty minutes later. He exited it, inspecting the house. It stood as silent and empty as it had been that one terrible night. After the attack, no one wanted to live in this part of River District anymore. His steps were tentative as he walked up the path to the door, wondering what he'd find inside. Reaching out with a slightly trembling hand, he knocked three times. The door was abruptly pulled open a few seconds later by a tall Awoken man with lavender skin and black hair. Kyler recognized him as Arion, one of the Underlord's associates.

"You're late," he said, walking away.

Kyler followed him in, eyes watering from the dust in the air. Arion led him into the kitchen, where a broad-shouldered man with a crew cut was waiting. Doug. Another of Fyster's men. Arion leaned back against the counter.

"Know why you're here?"

Kyler nodded. "Yeah."

"That was rhetorical. We all know you're here because you have yet to accomplish the task the Underlord sent you to do... You've had your chance to mess with him, so why is Hayden still alive?"

"I had to get closer in order to take him out."

Doug laughed. "You don't need to get close! Mate, you could do this from the Wall with a sniper."

"But I'm not a sniper. I wouldn't be able to hit the Ghost."

"Then poison him," said Arion, "And kill the Ghost when it comes out. Maddox, there are a million ways you could do the job. Just get it done."

"Why does Fyster even want A-Hayden dead in the first place? I don't buy the 'instability profit' bullshit."

"'Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do or die,'" quoted Arion, "Don't concern yourself with why the Underlord wants this done. Just do it, or it's your head that Doug's sniper will be aimed at."

Kyler swallowed, trying not to think about it. Arion and Doug moved past him toward the door.

"Since the Underlord is feeling particularly generous, you'll get two more warnings," Arion said, "If Hayden still isn't dead after that, then you'll meet us again under far less pleasant circumstances."

With that, the men departed. Kyler stayed in the empty house a good while longer, thinking over what he'd been told. Obviously, he couldn't kill Harley. But if he didn't, the Underlord's men would kill him. He could leave, but there was nothing outside of the City except for hostile aliens. So death or death. Great choices.

The cab ride back to the Tower felt twice as long as the previous one. He was no closer to an answer by the time he got to the top, and he was so preoccupied that he nearly walked straight past Harley on his way to the Hangar.

"Whoa," said the Hunter, "Bad day?" Kyler nodded. "We can go to the mess hall and talk about it if you want. I just have to submit this report to the Vanguard." He waved a piece of paper. "Systems went down so I can't do it by Holo. Walk with me?"

Kyler fell into step next to him, taking his hand almost reflexively. He had no idea what he was going to say to Harley. All he knew at the moment was that he wanted to be near him. Harley talked about the patrols he'd been on.

"I've been scouting everywhere, observing our enemies' movements. I even have a list of favorite locations now."

"No big missions then?"

"Not for a while, no. It's nice though. Gives us a chance to relax for once."

Kyler nodded. They descended the steps to the Hall of Guardians.

"Are there patrols on the Dreadnaught?"

Harley's face darkened. "Yeah. Liv said she's been on a few. But that's a can of worms I don't need opened right now."

"Yeah."

As they approached the Vanguard's table, Harley waved the report. "Cayde! I finished the report on that scouting patrol you wanted."

"Hey, nice job, Ace! Really lookin' forward to not readin' it." Zavala cleared his throat. "Uh, I mean, really lookin' forward to analyzing the crap outta the thing."

Harley laughed. "Alright, if that's everything, Kyler and I are gonna go to the mess hall."

"Hold on a sec," said Cayde, holding up a hand, "I got somethin' to clarify... I've been hearin' a lotta rumors recently and I wanna know if I'm hearin' right… Are you two a couple?"

Kyler felt his face heat up. From the look of it, Harley was experiencing the same thing.

Ikora sighed. "Cayde..."

"Hey, listen. I don't care what you say, this is my business. Ace is my kid!"

Harley's face got even redder. Cayde turned back to them, crossing his arms. He eyed Kyler.

"It true?"

Kyler didn't trust himself to speak, so he just nodded. Cayde just nodded to himself.

"Can't fool me." He narrowed his optics. "I'm sure you're a nice kid and everything, but you hurt him and I'll make your body disappear. I'm the Hunter freakin' Vanguard, so don't think I can't."

Kyler just nodded, watching Harley from the corner of his eye to make sure he wouldn't pass out. His face was so red it looked like he'd been sunburnt.

"Please refrain from threatening civilians, Cayde," said Zavala.

"I know, Zav. I was just kiddin' around..."

"I wasn't kidding," he whispered.

"...Makin' sure he knows the status quo," he continued in a normal volume.

"Body. Grave. Unmarked," he whispered again.

"We'regonnaleavenow," said Harley, "Thanks. Bye."

He made a hasty retreat, dragging Kyler with him. Kyler was pretty sure Harley didn't relax until they were back in the plaza heading for the mess hall.

"I am so sorry about that," he said, looking mortified.

"It's fine," said Kyler, "Does he treat all the Hunters like that?"

"Nope. Just the one that happens to be his son."

Kyler stared at Harley. "You're kidding."

Harley shook his head. "We only found out recently. He used to be human, back during the Golden Age. Had a family and everything."

"How'd you find out?"

"He recovered some pages from his old journal and made the connection. I found out later after I got back from looking for Uldren."

Kyler suddenly felt very awkward. He remembered those pages. He'd been the one who gave them to Cayde in the first place. How ironic was it that he'd been trying to get back at Harley for losing a father and instead helped the Hunter find one himself? He almost wanted to laugh.

"Needless to say, he's become about ten times more embarrassing since then… But enough about me. When I ran into you, you looked sort of upset."

"Oh. Yeah. I'd just gotten back from visiting my old house in the City."

"Ah. Family?"

"No. My father, Dalton, died last year. Being there reminded me of him."

"Ky, that's terrible! Are you ok?"

"I'll be fine."

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

Kyler smiled. "You sort of did already. That whole encounter with Cayde drove it completely out of my mind."

"As long as you're sure…"

"I'm sure."

They walked the rest of the way to the mess hall in silence. Kyler was still no closer to figuring out the Underlord situation than before. He knew he ought to give it more thought, but if he was being honest, he just really didn't want to think about it anymore. Instead, he opted to enjoy his early lunch with Harley and put the problem out of his mind. He'd cross the Underlord bridge when he came to it.

Chapter Text

Harley was awakened earlier than he'd planned by an alert from Prism. Apparently, the Vanguard wanted to see him. He dressed in his armor, sending a quick text to Kyler to let him know that breakfast would likely be postponed that morning. Then he set off for the Hall of Guardians. The only reason he could think of for the Vanguard wanting to meet with him was a new mission. There were more Guardians at the Tower than there had been for a while, so they must want him personally.

He entered the Hub to find that another Hunter was there as well. He had curly black hair and blue eyes. A Ghost with a white shell floated next to him. Harley spared him a glance before focusing on the Vanguard. The atmosphere in the room was not a cheerful one.

"You called me in?"

"It has come to our attention that a dangerous enemy has taken up residence in the Cosmodrome," said Zavala, "Zarok Halaax, Obsidian Will. A Taken zealot that survived the War."

Harley felt himself go cold. He hadn't had to deal with the Taken since the War, and even then, he'd kept out of it as much as he could, finding himself barely able to face them. Just the thought of going up against this new enemy made him want to curl into a ball.

"No one is certain of his exact location. However, several Ghosts have gone dark near the Skywatch over the past few days. Halaax is the most likely culprit. We are sending you and Sebastian to investigate his activities. Find Halaax and take him out."

Harley nodded. "Understood," he said hollowly.

"Dismissed."

Harley walked out, hearing the other Hunter's footsteps trailing behind him. He waved him off.

"Go on ahead. I'll meet you in the Hangar."

The Hunter probably nodded, but Harley wasn't looking. Within a few minutes, he was back in his quarters. Though they were at the tail-end of winter, spring wouldn't be showing its face for several more weeks. Knowing it was bound to be cold, Harley started piling together his warmer gear. He was hunting in the closet for his winter cloak when he heard someone enter the room.

"Another patrol?" came Kyler's voice.

Harley shook his head, leaning out of the closet. "Sounds like it's going to be a proper mission this time." The smile he gave was forced and he knew it.

"What's the mission?"

"A Taken called Zarok Halaxx has moved into the Cosmodrome. The Vanguard want him eliminated."

Kyler's face slackened. "They can't seriously expect you to do it?! This is the exact kind of thing that could trigger your PTSD-"

"The Vanguard don't know about that," Harley broke in, "Nor do they need to."

"Bullshit. This is the kind of stuff that you should tell other people about. The Vanguard have to know."

He turned toward the door. Harley dropped his cloak and rushed across the room, grabbing Kyler's arm before he could leave.

"I don't need the Vanguard thinking that I can't handle missions. They'd insist on keeping me in the Tower and I don't think I could handle that. I'm just not made for sitting around, Kyler. I can't stay in the Tower... Please, could you promise to keep this between us?"

Kyler huffed. "Fine. Tell me you're not going alone at least?"

Harley sighed. "Another Hunter's going with me. And before you say anything, I'm not telling him either."

Kyler shook his head but didn't press the issue. "How long will you be gone?"

Harley shrugged, going back to packing. "No idea. Could be anywhere from a day to a week. We don't have an exact location on Halaax and we have to find out what he's up to."

"Alright… And you're leaving right now?"

"That's the plan."

"Then I suppose I'd better tell you goodbye now."

Kyler moved in and cupped Harley's face, kissing him. Harley smiled.

"I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you too. Stay safe, alright? Come back to me."

"I'm a Guardian. It's what I do."

Kyler nodded. With one last wave, he made his way out, leaving Harley to finish packing.

A short while later, Harley was on his way to the Hangar, pack slung over one shoulder. He waved as he passed Amanda, then came to a stop next to his mission partner.

"Hey," he greeted.

The Hunter turned to face him. "Hi. I'm Sebastian Gale. This is Jaro." He gestured to his Ghost before extending a hand.

Harley shook it. "Harley Hayden. Most people call me Ace."

"I know," said Sebastian, looking more than a little awestruck, "The other Guardians tell stories about you."

Harley frowned. "What Guardians?"

"Most of them. A lot of them are newer, like me."

"When were you revived?"

"Just this past fall."

"Really? Wow. Know what you're doing?" Sebastian's grimace was answer enough. Harley chuckled. "Sounds about right. The Vanguard ought to get a training program going. Things have been pretty lax around here. Especially lately."

"You could run it," Sebastian suggested.

Harley shifted. The look in the other Hunter's eyes was a bit too admiring.

"Don't look up to me too much," he warned, "I've screwed up pretty bad in my time."

"How could I not? You've been one of my heroes ever since they told me about you."

Harley sighed. "Never meet your heroes," he muttered.

"What?"

"Nothing... We should get going. Hopefully, we can make a decent start before we lose too much daylight."

He crossed to the Star, transmitting in. He stored his pack in the back, then slid into the pilot seat, starting the engines. Through the right side of the viewscreen, he could see Sebastian doing the same thing in his own ship.

"I have a feeling that kid's gonna be trouble."

"What makes you think so?"

"He looks at me like I can do no wrong. That's dangerous. Not to mention false. I've made tons of mistakes."

"Oh Harley," said his Ghost fondly, "Haven't you considered that, just maybe, you're someone worth admiring?"


Kyler sighed to himself as he worked. He'd never imagined that being in a relationship with a Guardian would be this difficult. He had thought he knew what he'd been signing up for. He knew Harley would be sent on patrols, but knowing about it and experiencing it were two different things. His boyfriend was going into certain danger and there was nothing he could do but wait and hope that he'd return in one piece. He was careful not to let slip to Harley just how much he worried about him. Especially with the PTSD factored in.

Kyler reminded himself that Harley wouldn't be going alone. Two Guardians should be more than enough to handle the Taken. There was a popular expression that the citizens of the City liked to use: "one army, one Guardian." This stemmed from the popular belief that one Guardian equated to an army of enemies and could take them on single-handedly with almost assured victory. Kyler knew there were points in history that proved this wrong. One need simply to look at the most well-known conflicts. The Battle of Six Fronts, Twilight Gap, The Great Disaster. But history was often set aside in favor of romanticism. Who was Kyler to ruin that? The point still remained that two Guardians would be more than a match for Zarok Halaax. After all, he was no Crota or Oryx.

"Doin' alright there, Ky?" asked Amanda.

He looked up. The Shipwright was watching him with concern. He nodded.

"Yeah."

"Somethin' bothering ya?"

He sighed. "Harley was sent on a mission today. He and another Hunter are supposed to neutralize some Taken enemy in the Cosmodrome."

"Ah. I'm guessin' you're worried about him?"

"I am. I know it's stupid, but I really am."

"It ain't stupid, Ky. He's on a dangerous mission. You know it's dangerous 'cause Guardian missions always are, so you worry."

"Yeah, but Guardians can come back from the dead."

"Not always. If he goes down in a Darkness Zone or, Traveler forbid, if his Ghost gets got…" She shuddered. "They ain't pretty thoughts."

"Yeah…"

"What ya need to do is distract yourself. Take the rest of the day off. Go spend some time with friends. You'll feel better, trust me."

"Thanks, Amanda." He stood up. "I'll be back in tomorrow."

"Sounds good!"

Kyler walked out of the Hangar. He wasn't entirely sure where he was going. He really didn't have that many friends, although it was possible that some of the Chasers were around. He pulled out his Holo. He'd been invited to the group chat a while back, something he would now use to his advantage. He selected the member list. Almost all of them had the mission status symbols next to their names. He typed a message.

[2:34] What's everyone up to?

A few minutes later, he got a reply.

[2:38] JW: I'm in the Lounge, how about you?

[2:38] Amanda gave me the rest of the day off. Mind if I join you?

[2:39] JW: Sure! I'm not doing anything other than Solitaire at the moment.

[2:39] Omw

A short while later, he walked into the Lounge. It was quiet that day. There were a few Guardians around, relaxing and talking to one another. He spotted Jade on a nearby couch and crossed over to her.

"Hey."

"Hi, Kyler!"

He sat down on the couch across from her. "Where's everyone else?"

She waved her hand vaguely. "Oh, you know...patrols, missions, Crucible. Liv and her fireteam went on a strike."

"Huh. I've been meaning to ask...how does that work? The whole Chaser thing? I thought Liv and the others were part of it."

"They are. It started out as just one big fireteam, but when Fireteam Calypso was invited to join, I suppose it became more of a clan."

"Oh, cool. So who leads it, then?"

"Harley's the unofficial leader, but he ceded his leadership to Bazzle."

"Does he not enjoy leading?"

"Not really. I thought he did a good job of it in the past, but I don't think he liked being in charge. Bazzle has more experience with that sort of thing." Kyler nodded. "So why did Amanda give you the rest of the day off?" asked Jade.

He sighed. "I was worrying about Ace and she said hanging out with friends would take my mind off of it."

Jade nodded understandingly. "The Zarok Halaax mission. I know how you feel, Kyler. I worry about him too."

"Because of what happened with Oryx?"

Jade looked surprised. "I didn't know he told you about that. But yes, that's a big part of it. I visited him when he was recovering."

"You did?"

"Yes. You know, I had a huge crush on him."

Kyler chuckled. "Really?"

She nodded. "Since we met. I still do, in fact."

"Does he know?"

"I told him when I visited. But I also told him I was over it."

"Sorry, but that sounds like it was a bad decision."

"It was. But I could tell that he wasn't in a place where he could even think about romance. I always thought that maybe someday down the road…" She shook her head. "But that doesn't matter." She smiled. "Make sure to tell me if I overstep my bounds. I know that you two are together, so hearing this must be pretty awkward."

Kyler shook his head. "It's not that awkward." Actually, it made him kind of sad.

"You guys are great together," she said, "Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."

"You might still have a chance," said Kyler.

"Kyler, I wouldn't steal him from you. Trust me, I'd never do something like that."

"I know… Just, later I mean."

"And I thought Warlocks were supposed to be the ones to confuse other people. You two are solid, Kyler. I've seen my fair share of relationships so believe me when I say that you guys will go the distance."

"Maybe the distance isn't as far as you think it is," mumbled Kyler.

"What was that?"

"Sorry. I was just wondering if it's too early for a drink."

Jade shrugged. "I wouldn't say so. It's 5 o'clock somewhere, right?"

"Huh?"

"Sorry. Golden Age joke... Let's order some drinks."

Chapter Text

The wind sent Harley's cloak flapping as he scanned the cliffside, looking for anything out of the ordinary. He and Sebastian had seen no sign of Zarok on the first day, so they slept in an abandoned building and resolved to resume the hunt the following morning. The area was quiet. Much too quiet, considering.

The Vanguard had received reports that the Fallen had been in the process of withdrawing from the Cosmodrome, but Harley was sure they should still see signs of activity, especially here on the fringes.

"I'm picking up a faint distress signal," said Prism suddenly.

"Can you trace the source?"

"Maybe… I can sense Light too! A lot of it. It feels like it might be a Guardian."

"Jaro and I are coming over to you," said Sebastian over the comms, "He might be able to pick it up too."

"Alright," said Harley, "I'm gonna check along the cliff." He headed to the edge, looking over the side.

"It's stronger here! I think it's coming from the base."

Sebastian jogged over. "Did you find it?"

He nodded. "Prism's pretty sure it's coming from down there."

Sebastian peered over. "How in the Light are we supposed to get down there?"

Harley shot him a slight smile. "We climb." He slung his sniper rifle across his back and began lowering himself down.

"There's no way."

"Don't worry, there's plenty of handholds. Your Ghost will revive you if you die." After another few seconds, Sebastian sighed, stowing his pulse rifle and following Harley's path. "If you fall on me, you're buying me ramen," Harley warned. He heard the other Hunter chuckle.

"Sure."

They continued their slow descent down the cliff face. While there were many places to put hands and feet, the wind continued to tear at them, making the journey all the more arduous.

"Here's a thought: how are we gonna get back up?" asked Sebastian.

"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it."

Once he was only a few feet from the ground, Harley let himself drop, landing lightly on the stony shore. The beach met its end a few feet out, where waves crashed over the gray rocks.

"The signal's reading like a Ghost," said Prism. Sebastian dropped down.

"Prism thinks the distress signal's coming from a Ghost," said Harley grimly.

"Jaro said the same thing. I'll check down this way."

He began walking left along the cliff base. Harley started moving down the right side. With any luck, the Ghost was just trapped in a cave in and nothing too nefarious was going on. As he passed by one area that jutted out from the rest of the cliff, Prism told him to stop.

"The signal. It's coming from there." Harley called Sebastian over.

"It's coming from in there?" said the other Hunter.

"Appears so. I'm gonna go in, but I want you to wait out here."

"I know I've only been a Guardian for a little while, but I wasn't reborn yesterday. We're both going in."

Harley sighed. "Fine. But we have to stay quiet. We don't know what we're walking into."

Drawing the Freelancer, Harley squeezed through the gap in the rocks, emerging into a small dark tunnel.

"Want me to light it up for you?"

"No thanks," he thought back, "I don't want something catching you. My helmet's night vision can handle it."

Sebastian pushed through the opening, colliding with Harley's back. The Hunter was barely able to catch himself on the opposite wall, his face coming within inches of a black sparkling rift. Seeing it there sent a bolt of panic through him. He had nearly fallen in. Who knew where he could have ended up? He righted himself.

"Be careful," he warned Sebastian, "See this? We don't want to fall through these, trust me."

"I'm not sensing any sterile neutrino pathways linked to this rift. You should be fine."

"I'd rather not risk anything."

"We should find out for sure... Try touching it."

"Are you crazy?!"

"Do you trust me?"

Harley's shoulders slumped. "You know I do."

"Then touch it."

Haltingly, he reached out his hand. However, instead of passing through the rift as expected, his hand was stopped by the wall. The surface of the rift rippled and shifted. He could feel it humming under his hand. He pulled away when the edges of his vision started to blur and waver.

"What the hell?"

"My guess is these rifts are weaker than the ones on Phobos. I'll let you know if they get stronger as we go."

"Right," Harley muttered, "Down we go."

He started walking, following the narrow tunnel as it sloped deeper. His only comfort was Sebastian's presence at his back. He was lucky to have someone else with him. The tunnel began to wind, twisting and turning, sometimes doubling back on itself. Harley stopped when it led out into a small area with four or five tunnels branching off in different directions.

"Anything, Prism?"

"The signal's strongest at the far left tunnel."

He entered it, keeping his eyes peeled as he followed the twists. They followed the tunnel for a long time before it finally ended in a larger chamber. Rifts decorated the walls and ceiling. Along the sides of the room were small boxlike cages stacked on top of each other with objects inside. Harley moved closer and gave a shudder when he saw that the cages held dead Ghosts. Their shells were ragged and their cores were misshapen. Harley fought down a wave of revulsion. There were at least twenty cages here.

"Harley, when we find this Zarok Halaax...make him suffer."

Harley blinked. He'd never heard such a dark tone from Prism before.

"I will."

He picked up a faint rattling coming from a corner and moved to investigate. He found two cages stacked near each other. These held live Ghosts. He crouched down next to the cages.

"Hey," he said, carefully keeping his voice low.

"It's a Guardian!" hissed one of the Ghosts in a female voice.

"I told you so!" the other replied. Its voice was male.

"I'm Harley Hayden. Or Ace, if you want. I'm a Hunter. We're going to get you out."

"The cages are generating some kind of field that keeps them from phasing," said Prism.

"What? Like a Faraday Cage?"

"No, it's something else. I'm not sure what." She sounded troubled.

"As long as it isn't a Faraday Cage, I can short out the mechanism."

He reached out to touch the bars, sending out a pulse of Arc Light. The field stopped. He did the same thing to the other cage, unlocking both. The two Ghosts shot out, hiding themselves in his cloak.

"What happened?" he asked.

"It's that Taken," said the male Ghost fearfully, "He's been capturing Ghosts. Experimenting on them."

"What for?"

"We don't know," said the female Ghost, "But we think he's trying to figure out how to Take a Ghost."

A block of ice formed in Harley's chest. Taken Ghosts. Was such a thing even possible? He really didn't want to find out.

"Do you have names?" he asked.

"I do," said the female haughtily, "Root. We call him Bear."

"When I find my Guardian, they will choose my name," said Bear.

"This is Sebastian," said Harley, "The Vanguard sent us to kill Zarok Halaax, the Obsidian Will."

"Yes, please," said Bear, "He's been trapping Ghosts since Oryx was killed."

"Where can we find him?" asked Sebastian.

"Down there," Root replied, bobbing toward a tunnel opposite to the one they'd come from. Harley picked up his hand cannon again.

"You two stay here and hide," said Harley, "We'll be back for you."

"I hope so," said Root quietly.

Leaving the Ghosts where they were, Harley and Sebastian continued until they came to an opening that dropped straight down.

"The Light I felt earlier is even stronger," said Prism, "Those two Ghosts were broadcasting the signal, but the Light's coming from further below."

On that ominous note, the Guardians descended into deeper darkness, landing on the floor of a vast cavern. More rifts were there than anywhere else. Harley could make out a sort of glow at the back of the room. He pulled his sniper rifle from his back and looked through the scope. On the other side of the room, he could make out a towering spiky shape, shivering and shimmering in the way the Taken did. Gathered around it was an assembly of Taken Thrall. On a shelf of rock in front of the figure was a cage with a Ghost inside. As Harley looked on in horror, Zarok Halaax raised a hand, summoning a blight on top of the cage. When the blight melted away, the Ghost was dead, its shell corroded and covered in patches of Taken energy. Over to one side, he spotted three more Ghosts awaiting their turn. A cold fury ignited within him. Seeing a Ghost corrupted like that was so profoundly wrong, it nearly made him sick.

"What's the plan?" asked Sebastian.

"We split up," whispered Harley, "I'll go right, you go left. We have to get rid of the other Taken before we take on Zarok."

Sebastian nodded. "Sounds good. Let's go."

He started moving down the left side. Harley rose to mirror him, leaving his sniper rifle below where they'd entered. The plan went wrong almost instantly as a chorus of screeching rose up from the Thrall as they turned and charged at the Hunters. One lunged at Harley and he flinched, almost dropping his gun. He gave ground, backing up rapidly to match the pace of the encroaching Taken. The hand that grasped his Freelancer shook so badly, he wasn't sure he'd be able to hit anything. As the Thrall closed in, he threw down a grenade, wiping out half of them. Still backing away, he used both of his hands to hold his hand cannon steady. With each shot, a Thrall vanished in a swirl of Darkness.

When they were finally gone, he looked around for Sebastian. The other Hunter had taken out the rest of the Thrall much faster and was locked in battle with Zarok Halaax. The Taken's fighting style was something Harley had never seen before. In one hand, he clutched a massive trident with three wicked points that oozed menace. In the other was a large net that glinted with Taken energy. Its purpose became immediately clear when he swung it at Sebastian. The Hunter jumped, but one of his feet got caught in the net, sending him crashing to the ground. Zarok stabbed downward with the trident, hitting Sebastian in the left side of his stomach.

Harley started running as soon as he saw the other Hunter go down. He slid in, stabbing Zarok in the calf. The Taken bellowed and kicked out at him, sending him flying back into a pillar. Sebastian had managed to get a good distance away and was now laying on the floor, holding his stomach. Harley fired a few shots at Zarok, but they didn't seem to do much aside from making him angry. Just as he was about to shoot him again, the Taken vanished. Familiar with that trick, Harley turned in time to see Zarok's net heading straight for him. It landed on him before he could dodge, entangling him and sending him crashing to the ground. Not two seconds later, the trident pierced his leg. Harley screamed as the Taken weapon buried itself in muscle and bone. Zarok pulled it out, laughing as the Hunter writhed on the floor. Harley felt like his leg was both numb and burning at the same time. Whatever he did, he couldn't let the wound consume him. Zarok turned toward Sebastian, beginning some kind of Dark incantation.

"Is Sebastian a Gunslinger?"

Prism's reply was fraught with worry. "Yes."

"Good. Tell him to get ready to shoot on my signal."

As she relayed the message, Harley used his knife to cut himself free from the net. Bracing against the wall, he pushed himself to his feet, picking up the net. He approached Zarok from behind, keeping as quiet as he could. When he was close enough, he launched himself forward and up, throwing the net around the Taken's throat.

"Now!" he shouted.

Fire raced down Sebastian's arm, taking the form of a blazing hand cannon that he aimed at Zarok. Three rapid shots to the head put an end to him. Zarok Halaax, the Obsidian Will, would torment no more. Sebastian slumped to the floor, his energy spent. Using the wall to support himself, Harley crossed to the three caged Ghosts, setting them free as he had done for the others. They whirled about him, eyes bright.

"Thank you thank you thank you!" said one enthusiastic female Ghost, "You saved us!" Harley just nodded. "I'm Pippin," she continued, "But everyone calls me Pip."

"I'm Venti," a male Ghost said. Had Harley not been in so much pain, he would've cracked a smile.

"And I'm Lark," said the last Ghost, also a female.

"What's your name?" asked Pip.

"Harley Hayden. Most people know me as Ace." If the Ghosts had heard of him, they didn't mention it.

"Thank you so much," said Pip again.

"Don't mention it," Harley mumbled.

Venti inspected his leg. "Why hasn't your Ghost healed you yet?" he asked, somewhat accusingly.

Prism flashed into sight in front of him, getting right in the other Ghost's face.

"Don't you think that's the first thing I tried to do? The wound is like nothing I've seen before. Something about it is thwarting my attempts to heal it."

Harley gently pulled Prism away. "Then we need to get back to the Tower as soon as we can."

His Ghost vanished, muttering something about other Ghosts poking their shells in her business. Harley got over to Sebastian, checking him over. He was unconscious. Bending down carefully, he picked up the other Hunter with a groan, situating him across his shoulders. He was grateful that Sebastian wasn't a Titan. Even just him being taller than Harley made the process more difficult. From there, Harley made his slow painful way along the wall toward the tunnel entrance, the three Ghosts trailing behind him. Once he got to where he'd left his sniper rifle, he had Prism store it away.

"Now for the fun part…"

He was going to have to spring straight upward into the tunnel. He knew he could easily make it, but one damaged leg and the weight of his fellow Hunter wouldn't make it easy. Gathering what little energy he had left, he jumped up, having to use both of his Hunter jumps to make it. He crawled up the tunnel, dragging Sebastian along as the Ghosts hovered about his head, looking concerned. Only when they made it back to the room with the Ghost cages did Harley let himself collapse, sinking into unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

Harley awoke to find himself covered in Ghosts. Most of them were on his chest, but Pip had nestled herself into the hood of his cloak. He blinked and looked around. Sebastian was sitting against the wall, sharpening his knife.

"What happened?"

"I woke up and you were passed out next to me," said the other Hunter, "I turned you over to get a better look at your leg. It's pretty bad."

Harley sat up, waking the Ghosts. "Not as bad as yours."

"I managed to avoid the worst of it. Got a pretty nasty gash, but at least I didn't get run through."

"Zarok Halaax was one nasty customer. I've never seen a fighting style like that before."

"It's called retiarius," said Prism, "It's a very underhanded method of fighting."

"How long was I out?"

"About 12 hours."

Harley used the cages to push himself to his feet. "We need to get out of here."

"I still want to know where the Light is coming from," said Prism.

"We felt the Light too," said Root, "We all came here thinking that we'd find our Guardian. But that was Zarok's plan. He has a piece of the Traveler down there. He uses it to attract Ghosts and then conducts his Taken experiments."

"Well, he's dead now," said Sebastian.

Harley nodded. "We can't go back for the shard right now, but we can mark this as an area for Ghosts to avoid. The Vanguard can send another team to retrieve the shard once we get back to the Tower."

"Sounds good to me!" said Pip.

"Ok," said Harley, "We should start moving. It's going to take us much longer to get back than it did to get here."

Sebastian nodded, standing up. Harley saw that he'd wrapped the wound. The other Hunter helped him to his feet.

"It's ok if you lean on me," said Sebastian, "My wound won't get worse."

Harley considered this for a few seconds before shifting more of his weight onto Sebastian. With that, they began the slow climb back to the surface. The Ghosts zipped about, shining their lights around as they went. When they finally emerged from the tunnels, it was evening. Harley breathed in the crisp air as they waited for their ships to arrive. The Ghosts flipped and spun.

"I can't believe we made it out!" exclaimed Pip, "I thought we'd be trapped down there forever."

"Will you return to the Tower or keep looking for your Guardians?" asked Harley.

The Ghosts looked at each other. "We're coming back," said Lark, "I've had enough of the wilds for a few days."

The rest of them nodded. Harley looked up as the Star sailed in, hovering above them.

"Well, you're welcome to ride in my ship," he offered.

"Thank you!" chorused the Ghosts.

"Ready for transmat?"

"Yep." He looked at Sebastian. "Thanks for the help. I'll see you back at the Tower."

Sebastian nodded. Harley transmatted into the Star. After a quick count to make sure all of the Ghosts were there, he set a course for the Tower, opting to put the ship on autopilot since he wasn't so confident in his ability to concentrate. The flight was smooth and thankfully uneventful. Harley was immeasurably grateful to land in the Hangar. He transmatted out, staggering as his injured leg took the weight. Sebastian transmatted down just a few seconds later, moving to help him. Amanda jogged over, looking worried.

"By the wings of Oryx… are you two alright?"

"We need to go to the med bay," said Sebastian.

Harley shook his head. "No."

"Don't listen to him," said Prism firmly, "He's delirious. Both of them were wounded by a Taken weapon."

Amanda nodded and called out to some of the nearby Frames. "We're gonna need two stretchers over here!"

Just a couple of minutes later, the stretchers were carried over. Sebastian got on his voluntarily, though he didn't exactly look happy about it. Harley protested the need for a stretcher, but Amanda wouldn't take no for an answer and he soon found himself being carried out of the Hangar.

Harley woke up on his back with fluorescent lights shining down on him. Instantly, his heart rate sped up as terror set in. He could feel the straps, cruelly tight across his legs and chest as the Light set fire to every molecule of his being, burning him out into an empty husk. The burning stole the breath from his lungs, fire feeding on the oxygen before he could breathe it in. The straps across his chest were pulled tighter and tighter as the fire raced over his body and he didn't have enough air to scream.

"Ace!" a voice called. His eyes flicked back and forth, looking for the source. "Ace, are you ok? It's me, Sebastian."

Harley wrenched his head to the side and saw a hospital bed a few feet away. Its occupant was watching him with concern. Sebastian. Sebastian Gale, the Hunter. His Ghost's name was Jaro. Sebastian and Jaro. He looked down at himself, finding that he wasn't strapped down at all, but rather in an ordinary hospital bed just like the one Sebastian was in. His breathing evened out and he heard the beeping of the heart monitor stabilize. Outside the door to his right, he could hear running footsteps. The door was pushed open and Ryan hurried into the room.

"Harley! You're awake! I got an alert. Your vitals were really spiking a few seconds ago."

He approached the bed, checking the monitor before eyeing Harley critically. "You have goosebumps," he noted, "Chills?" Harley nodded. "How's your breathing?"

"Better."

"Were you experiencing any chest pain?" Harley recalled the feeling of the straps. He nodded. "Panic attack," said Ryan, "To be expected. You passed out last night as the Frames were bringing you in. Waking up to the med bay must have triggered the attack."

"Zarok Halaax...I was stabbed. My leg-"

"Will be completely fine," Ryan assured him, "Those Taken weapons are no joke. The wounds needed purification. But we took care of that. You and Sebastian are cleared to go as soon as your Ghosts give the ok."

"Thanks."

"Don't mention it. I'll be pretty busy for the rest of the day, so I'll say goodbye now."

Harley nodded. "Alright. See you later, Ryan."

"See you, Harley. Hopefully outside of the med bay for a change," he joked.

Once he'd left, Harley turned to look at Sebastian. "How's your side?"

"A lot better. Jaro was able to heal it after the doctors did their thing. I think he's just keeping me here to make a point."

Harley nodded, his gaze falling to the bed. The Ghosts they'd rescued were asleep on top of the covers.

"Yeah, they're pretty attached to you," said Sebastian with a chuckle, "Speaking of which...Kyler visited you."

"He did? I thought he had work."

Sebastian shrugged. "Beats me. He was in here for a while last night though. Left really late."

"Yeah. That sounds like Kyler. He's my…" Harley had always hesitated to use terms like "boyfriend." They never seemed to encapsulate his and Kyler's relationship. "We're together."

Sebastian nodded. "That's sort of what I was thinking. I just didn't want to be rude."

"It's fine," said Harley, "You weren't."

"That's good." He got out of bed, stretching. "Well, Jaro's finally letting me leave, so I'm gonna get going. If you ever need someone for another mission, let me know!"

Harley nodded, waving to the other Hunter as he left the room. It was easy to forget how new Sebastian was, especially after just having gone on such a high stakes mission with him.

"Will you yell at me if I leave the med bay?" he asked Prism.

"As far as I'm concerned, you're all healed. You should talk to someone about the panic attacks though."

With a groan, Harley got out of bed, gingerly putting weight on his previously injured leg, relaxing a bit when it didn't hurt. He exited the med bay, heading for his quarters.

"Those other Ghosts are still following us," said Prism.

Harley detected a note of irritation in her tone. "I don't believe it. You're jealous!"

"I am not." He had to chuckle. "They should know better," she said, "Following a bonded Guardian everywhere… People will get the wrong idea."

"It really bothers you doesn't it? I'll ask them to leave." He turned to face the myriad of Ghosts. "Look, guys. It was really nice of you to stay with me, but you're free now. Don't you want to find your Guardians?"

"There's plenty of time for that," said Venti, "We want to hang out with you." The other Ghosts nodded.

"Sure we can hang out," said Harley, "But right now I'm going back to my quarters. Now, I'm not sure if there are any rules about unbonded Ghosts staying in a Guardian's room-"

"There are!" said Bear. He looked at the others. "He's right. We should go."

"Thanks for saving us!" said Lark.

"We'll visit," promised Root.

"Thank you so much, Ace!" said Pip, bumping his forehead gently. Prism didn't say anything, but Harley saw her eye narrow.

"Bye!" He waved at the Ghosts, who all flew off together, surprisingly. Then he turned and continued walking.

When he entered his room, he found Kyler waiting on the couch with his arms crossed. He smiled.

"Hey."

Kyler smiled back, but it was halfhearted, troubled as his eyes stared into Harley's. "How was your mission?"

Harley blinked, his Hunter instincts sensing a trap. "It was a success. We killed Zarok and saved the Ghosts he was trying to Take."

"He was trying to Take Ghosts? From what I've heard, only Oryx could Take."

Harley nodded. "Zarok was attempting to use a different method of exposing Ghosts to blights. Luckily, he wasn't able to get it to work."

"Don't the Taken lose their free will? They're bound to the will of whoever Took them, right?"

"Certain Taken are allowed to retain their free will," explained Prism, "It depends on their rank."

Kyler's eyes flicked over to Harley, who sensed what he was thinking. He shook his head. Kyler nodded and changed the subject.

"The mission was a bad idea."

"What do you mean? Zarok Halaax needed to be stopped."

"Yeah, and look what happened! Both of you came back injured and now you're having more panic attacks again!"

Harley waved him off. "It was just the one from this morning and Ryan said it was because of me waking up in the med bay."

"It wasn't."

"Wasn't what?"

"Wasn't just the one. You had three separate attacks last night."

Harley's world inverted for a moment and he sat down next to Kyler. "What do you mean?"

"Prism and I had to bring you down from three panic attacks while you were asleep."

Somehow, Harley found the idea of experiencing panic attacks and not being aware of them even more frightening. He leaned forward, resting his face in his hands.

"I knew the Vanguard sending you on that mission was a bad idea. I knew it would trigger your PTSD."

Harley raised his head. "I know," he said, "Believe me, Kyler, I never wanted to face the Taken again... In fact, I still don't. But I'm a Guardian and I can't sit in my room while everyone else goes on dangerous missions. If Sebastian had been sent alone, he would've been killed. The Ghosts would've been killed."

Kyler sighed, but nodded, resting a hand on Harley's back. "I'm glad you made it back."

Harley smiled. "Glad to be back."

Kyler stayed with Harley that night. Neither of them said it, but they were both worried about panic attacks. Luckily, the only one that occurred had passed relatively quickly. The Hunter was still asleep when Kyler woke the next morning. He glanced at the time and decided he could afford to head back to his quarters to change before returning to eat breakfast with Harley.

He made his way out, taking care not to let the door slam. The walk to his quarters was short and in almost no time at all, he was in front of his own door, something that turned out to be both good and bad. He was glad to change into different clothes, but before he could do that, he would have to confront the piece of paper stuck to the door. A piece of paper that just so happened to bear the symbol of a black butterfly.

Kyler removed it from the door, catching a glimpse of writing on the opposite side. Crumpling it in his hand, he brought it inside and flushed it down the toilet without ever reading what it said. Yet, in his heart, he knew that the problem couldn't be solved that easily. The second warning had been delivered. The third and final warning still awaited him.

Chapter Text

Kyler walked into the mess hall in higher spirits than usual. Spring was almost upon them. He could feel it in the air. But there was another reason, one much more personal to him.

"Happy Birthday, Kyler!"

A grin split his face when he saw Harley waiting for him next to one of the tables, a cupcake in hand. Kyler kissed him hello before sitting down at the table. Harley placed the cupcake in front of him before sitting down in the seat across from his. Kyler inspected it. It appeared to be chocolate with purple frosting.

"A cupcake for breakfast?"

"Why not!" said the Hunter, "It's your birthday. You can do whatever you like."

Kyler considered that for a moment, before picking up the cupcake. "Did you make this?"

"Surprisingly? Yes. Fyr helped." Kyler raised his eyebrows. "Well, he helped eat the others. Jade did the frosting."

Kyler shook his head in disbelief. "I didn't think you'd know. I never told you when my birthday was."

Prism laughed. "Want to hear how he found out?"

"Sure."

"Remember that night when you walked him back to his room after he had those drinks?" Kyler nodded. "Well, after you left, he got really worried out of nowhere that he'd missed your birthday. So he asked me to find out. 'Prism, couldja look when Kyler's birthday is? I wanna get him a present.'"

Kyler had to laugh. Her impression of Harley was actually pretty good. Harley glared at her.

"She said it was March 15th," he finished, forestalling whatever Prism was about to say. "I made sure to remember after that."

"Hmm...Do Guardians celebrate birthdays?"

Harley rubbed the back of his neck. "Sort of? We celebrate the day our Ghosts found us."

"So when's yours?"

"June 6th."

"June 6th? Revival Day?" Harley grimaced. "Wait...you mean it's based on your revival?"

"Yup. I was hoping they'd find a different name for it."

Kyler tapped his chin. "I'll have to think of something to give you."

"Hey, it's your birthday right now. Don't try and derail it. Also if the cupcake really tastes that bad, you can tell me. I have no delusions about my baking skills."

"Actually, your baking skills are surprisingly adequate," said Prism, "Provided someone can keep you focused enough."

"Didn't Fyr say anything?"

"Kyler, Fyr's the last person you'd want feedback from. He will literally eat anything."

Kyler nodded thoughtfully, licking the frosting off of his cupcake. Prism beeped disgustedly.

"Harley does the same thing. Just eat it together like a normal person."

Kyler chuckled, biting into the cake. His eyebrows shot up. "Whoa, this is really good!"

Harley narrowed his eyes at him. "I don't know if I like how surprised you look. Were you really expecting me to be that bad at making cupcakes?"

Kyler shrugged. "Honestly, I never would've expected you to make them in the first place, so I can't really say anything."

"Huh. Well, eat the rest as we walk. I want to give you your present."

Kyler shuffled along after Harley, pausing now and then to eat more of his cupcake. Harley looked back.

"Can you really not eat and walk at the same time?"

"I dunno."

With a sigh, Harley grabbed his free hand and pulled him along. Kyler was content to let the Hunter lead him as he finished the rest of the dessert. They came to a stop just as he ate the last of it.

"What do you think?" asked Harley with a grin.

Kyler looked around. They were in the Hangar. "I think you walked me to work."

"What? No, I asked Amanda to give you the day off. We're here because I promised to take you somewhere."

Kyler had to think for a minute before the answer came to him. "We're going to Mars?"

"We're going to Mars!" He opened the Star's entrance. "Would you like to fly us there?"

Kyler felt a thrill go through him. He'd always wanted to fly. "Absolutely!"

Harley smiled and entered the ship, sitting in one of the passenger seats. Kyler followed him in, eyes bright with excitement as he sat down. Kyler pressed a button to seal the ship, strapping himself in. Behind him, Harley did the same.

"Do you know how to fly?" asked Prism.

Kyler nodded. "I took a class a while back. Might be a bit rusty, though."

"No worries," said Harley easily, "Prism can take control if there's a problem."

Kyler started the ship, lifting off of the floor. It took him a second to locate the throttle, but he found it and hit it. The ship shot forward, slamming him into the back of the seat. Harley coughed.

"Good takeoff," he said, voice sounding slightly strained, "You might want to pull up."

Kyler adjusted, sending the Star into a near-vertical climb. He followed the directions from the nav system and positioned the Star to make the jump to Mars. Pulling the warp lever sent them speeding away from Earth.

"Flying manually in warp space is pretty boring," said Harley, "I usually put it on autopilot. But if you wanna stay manual, all you gotta do is keep it straight."

Kyler nodded. "This is so cool! I don't know how Guardians stay on the ground for so long."

Harley chuckled. "Flying is one of the best things in the world."

"It really is."

The Hunter leaned forward to look at the nav display. "Looks like we'll be coming up on Mars in a couple hours."

"Are all travel times like this?" asked Kyler.

Harley shrugged. "It depends. Sometimes you get windows where the orbits are favorable. I'll use Mars as the example seeing as it's where we're headed. When Mars and Earth are close together, you get faster travel times. But when they're farther apart, like on opposite sides of the Sun from each other, it can take a long time to go between them."

With that, he leaned back in his seat to enjoy the flight. Kyler kept the controls on manual for the entire trip through warp space. Like Harley had said, it wasn't very interesting, but it also wasn't often that he got the chance to fly, so he intended to use every minute of it. Still, he couldn't have been happier when they finally dropped out of warp space. He could see the dusky red of Mars growing larger in the viewscreen.

"Watch your approach speed," cautioned Prism.

"Don't backseat fly," Harley told his Ghost, "He's got this."

Kyler felt the ship start to shudder as they entered the Martian atmosphere. Harley leaned forward to peer over his shoulder.

"On second thought, your angle of descent is a bit steep."

"Now who's backseat flying?"

"We're approaching Freehold, so watch for-"

Kyler jerked the ship to the side, narrowly avoiding a tall building. "Shit shit shit!"

Harley unbuckled and launched himself forward, taking the controls. Kyler was more than happy to sit back and let him fly. He wasn't sure he would be able to land it on the rooftop they were being directed to. Harley pulled up, sending the Star into a loop and twist that nearly threw him into the back of the ship. Kyler grabbed the Hunter around the waist so it wouldn't happen again. He saw the side of Harley's face twitch up in a smile as he brought the ship around in a wide curve. They slowed down as they approached their destination - a building that stood a bit further apart from the rest. The Star landed on the building's roof with barely a bump. Harley shut off the engines and attempted to exit, but Kyler hadn't let go. He looked over his shoulder.

"Do you want your present or not?"

Kyler sighed, releasing his hold to unfasten the buckles that held him in place. He followed Harley out of the ship and was met with the sight of a rusty red landscape that stretched out for miles. The surroundings glowed golden in the sunlight and Phobos loomed large on the horizon. Harley walked a short way away from the ship, before summoning Prism. The Ghost transmatted a basket onto the ground before blinking out of existence. Kyler walked over to see what was inside. Harley removed a blanket and shook it out, laying it on the roof. Kyler laughed.

"A picnic?"

Harley nodded. "A Martian picnic."

Kyler looked around. "What about enemies? Aren't there Cabal here?"

Harley sat down on the blanket. "Don't worry. Some of the Chasers did a sweep before we landed. The Cabal won't even know we're here."

Kyler sat down next to him as he began taking food out of the basket. "Did you steal this from the Tower?"

"I like to call it borrowing. Besides, it's made for us anyway."

"Good point."

They started eating, enjoying the Martian environment. Kyler noticed that the sky was much darker than it should've been. It looked like evening.

"Is the sun setting?" he asked.

Harley looked. "Yeah."

"How? It's not that late."

"The days on Mars are longer," explained the Hunter, "By about forty minutes. Because of that, it doesn't sync up with Earth's rotation very often."

"Interesting."

"Yeah. All the planetary time differences make traveling really weird. It's way too easy to lose track of how long you've been somewhere."

Kyler nodded and continued eating. By the time the food was finished, the sun was barely more than a sliver on the horizon. Kyler marveled at how many stars were visible. He hadn't realized how difficult the light pollution in the City made them to see. Harley poured them some champagne that Prism had stored.

"So what do you think of your birthday? Better than last year?"

Kyler nodded. "A lot better."

They spent the rest of the time watching the night sky and chatting about trivial things until the last of the champagne had been drunk.

"What time is it?" Kyler asked.

Harley checked his interface. "Just about 4 o'clock, Earth time."

"We should probably start heading back."

Harley nodded, and they stood up. The Hunter gathered everything leftover and packed it back into the basket.

"Another birthday nearly over…" Kyler mused as they returned to the ship.

"How many does that make?"

"Twenty-six." He sighed. "I'm getting old."

Harley laughed. "Nah. Kay's like a hundred-something."

Kyler chuckled. "What about you?"

Harley eyed him. "Don't laugh… I'll have been a Guardian for 3 years this June."

Kyler's chuckles morphed into flat out laughter, causing the Hunter to glare at him. "Guardian ages are so weird," said Kyler, shaking his head.

"You're not wrong." Harley got into the pilot's seat, strapping himself in. "I hope you don't mind me flying back?"

"No, it's probably for the best."

He strapped into one of the passenger seats as Harley initiated liftoff. Kyler watched the Martian surface shrink away as they left the atmosphere. Harley sent them into warp space before putting the Star on autopilot.

"I'm gonna get some sleep," he said, "We've still got a couple hours before we get back to the Tower."

"Sounds good."

As the Hunter settled in to get some rest, Kyler wondered whether he'd had a nightmare or panic attack the previous night. Ever since the Zarok Halaax mission, Kyler had been sleeping over in Harley's quarters with increasing frequency. In that time, he'd caught several panic attacks. Harley had been making progress until the Taken mission had come along and Kyler knew he couldn't be there for every attack. Harley might have experienced a panic attack last night while Kyler was asleep. Not for the first time, Kyler wished the Vanguard hadn't sent him on that mission. After a while of watching the colors flow past, Kyler decided to get some rest as well. Making himself as comfortable as he could in the seat, he let himself drift off to the hum of the engines.

It was dinner time when they landed in the Hangar, but neither Harley or Kyler was hungry for it. Instead, they opted to head to Harley's quarters and find something on the City's broadcasts to watch. In the end, they settled on a pre-Golden Age movie called WALL-E.

"It's weird seeing what kinds of things survived the Collapse," remarked Kyler. Still, the movie was a lot of fun and had a good story to it. "Thanks for taking me to Mars."

Harley smiled at him. "Of course. Be honest, though...was it a good birthday?"

"It was the best birthday."

"Well, then just wait because I'm gonna make the next one even better."

Kyler smiled, but he didn't quite feel it. He would love nothing more than to keep looking forward to future birthdays and Dawnings with Harley, but there was a black cloud over such thoughts. A cloud in the shape of a butterfly. So he decided to stop thinking about the future and simply live in the present, even if it was just for a little while.

He put the butterfly out of his mind and watched two robots dance among the stars.

Chapter Text

Kyler opened his eyes to the dimness of Harley's room. It appeared that both he and Harley had fallen asleep on the couch. Moving with care, he got up and padded over to the door. He opened it as little as possible, squeezing through. But as he turned to close it, he spotted the worst possible thing that he could have encountered at that moment. He took the piece of paper off of the door, closing it a bit more forcefully than he'd intended.

The ever-familiar black butterfly adorned the front. Knowing this warning couldn't be brushed off, he turned it over to read the message.

This is your last warning, Maddox. Either Hayden dies tonight, or you will. We'll be watching. - A.

Kyler went cold. He had finally run out of time. He started walking, his mind swirling with half-formed plans. The Underlord was calling in his debts. You or Hayden. One of them was dying that night and it was up to Kyler to choose. As he walked, an idea started to take shape in his mind. He sent a quick message to Amanda, letting her know that he wouldn't be able to make it in that day. Stuffing the note in his pocket, he broke into a run. He thought he knew what to do, but it would require some preparation. He ran through the Tower, attracting a few curious glances from Guardians. As he waited for the elevator, he sent a Holo message to Arion. "I'll do it" followed by an address.

He got into the elevator and called an automated taxi to meet him at the bottom. When it arrived, he entered an address down the street from the one he was actually going to. Call it paranoid, but he didn't want this traced to anyone other than himself. His leg bounced in agitation throughout the ride. As soon as the vehicle came to a stop, he got out and started walking, pulling up his hood. Not five minutes later, he entered the shop he'd been to with Harley. It had only been five or so months ago, but it felt like years.

Gavin looked from behind his worktable up as Kyler entered. "Kyler?" he said in surprise, "What brings ya?"

Kyler declined to answer in favor of locking the door and flipping the shop sign to "Closed."

"Something wrong?" asked Gavin.

"I need your help," said Kyler.

"Looking to buy another drive?"

He shook his head. "Not this time."

He withdrew the note from his pocket, showing it to the mechanic. Gavin paled as he read it.

"Traveler above, Kyler…"

Kyler grimaced. "I know."

"What on Earth could you possibly need from me?"

Kyler leaned toward him, bracing his hands on the table. "I know you move and store weapons for Fyster on the black market. I need one."

Gavin shook his head. "No, sir. I only sell machine parts."

Kyler slammed his hand into the table, causing the man to flinch. "Don't feed me that line! I know what your real business is. Fyster sent me to kill someone and I. Need. A. Weapon."

Gavin looked shaken but nodded. "Right," he said, swallowing, "What kinda weapon are you after?"

"Something small. A pistol or a hand cannon, I don't care. But I need it to be unmarked."

Gavin scoffed. "Black market weapons wouldn't be all that useful if they were marked... I think I have what you need." He disappeared into the back for a few moments and came back holding an unobtrusive black pistol. "How's this work for you?"

Kyler accepted it from him, inspecting it. "This should work."

He tucked it into the inner pocket of his jacket, noticing Gavin's eyes track the movement.

"Anything else you need?"

Kyler nodded, sending him a list he'd written on his Holo. Gavin looked at it and whistled.

"That's a steep order, my friend."

"I'm paying." He pulled up a pending Glimmer transfer, holding it out. "All it needs is your account."

Gavin's eyes widened. "Kyler, that's half of your savings!"

"I know. Consider it a gift. My gift to you and Arabella."

Gavin still looked like he wanted to argue, but he entered his account number. Kyler made the transfer, then pocketed his Holo.

"Will you be able to get it there?"

Gavin nodded. "Shouldn't be much of a problem. How are you planning to get to it?"

"I have a way. One more thing… Do you have access to a Faraday Glove?"

"Why in the world would you need one of those?"

"It doesn't matter. Can you get me one?"

"Afraid not. That's specialized tech. Used only by Tower technicians. But I know a guy who can get you one."

"Who?"

"He operates out of Core District. Won't leave it, in fact. He's a real high and mighty type. Thinks himself above everyone. Just show him the note and he'll cooperate."

Kyler nodded. "Thank you," he said, turning to leave. As he unlocked the shop door, he paused, looking back. "You probably won't see me again, but listen to me: stop dealing with the Underlord. Give him an excuse he'll believe. Any excuse. Just get out."

"Why?" asked Gavin, "You've been working for him for more than a year. Why are you telling me this now?"

"Because it's not worth it," said Kyler quietly. He met the mechanic's eyes. "Goodbye, Gavin."

He left the shop, trying not to feel anything. He was on a mission. He had to get to the Core.


By the time Kyler finished dealing with Gavin's contact, the sun was well into its westward fall. He was in another taxi, on his way out of Core District, fiddling with the black mesh of the Faraday Glove. It was an ingenious invention based on Faraday science created to aid in the repairing of damaged Ghosts. Most people described it as a wearable Faraday Cage. Kyler thought a better description for it was a portable field disruptor. It inhibited a Ghost's ability to phase. As a result, it was extremely useful when operating on Ghosts. The Tower had technicians whose purpose was to repair Ghost core damage.

Kyler had no idea how Gavin's contact was able to obtain any of the gloves. However, he knew that the Underworld had a major growth spurt when Guardians had stopped being revived, evidenced by the drastic increase in organized crime. It had gotten better following Harley's revival, but he was pretty sure that was just because Fyster wasn't stupid and knew when he needed to lay low. The cab came to a stop and he got out, pulling the Faraday Glove onto his hand. He looked around the deserted street, at the houses, now no more than empty shells. This is where it had all started.

He strode off the road, between his old house and a neighboring one to the dry yellow field behind them. He walked out to the tree - the old oak that he had spent his childhood in and under. Once he was standing under its branches, he took out his Holo and sent one last message. Then he dropped it on the ground and shot it with the pistol that Gavin had given him. He was a long distance away from his house, but he thought he caught a flash of movement through one of the second-floor windows. With a sigh, he sat down against the ancient tree, mentally preparing himself for what would come next.

The sun was barely peeking over the top of the Wall when Kyler glimpsed a figure walking towards him from the direction of the street. It was time. Steeling his mind, he stood up, waiting. He almost wanted to laugh when he saw Prism floating next to the Hunter, but he didn't. As Harley got closer, Kyler was able to make out the bemused expression on his face.

"Hey, Kyler. What's the occasion?"

Kyler forced a smile. "What? I need an excuse to see you?"

Harley's lips quirked up. "I guess not." He moved in for a hug.

Kyler's eyes were fixed on Prism. Why had Harley left her out? It was easy. Too terribly, heart-wrenchingly easy. A small part of Kyler wanted Harley to sense his intentions. Wanted him to run and leave Kyler to meet his end from the sniper rifle he knew was trained on them. But Harley didn't move. Instead, Kyler did. Acting before he lost his nerve, he grabbed Prism in his gloved hand, pulling away from Harley.

"Kyler?" the Ghost questioned.

Harley's eyes flicked over to her. "Kyler, what's going on?" His tone was questioning but carried an edge of wariness.

Kyler clenched his jaw, maintaining his hold.

"Ky?"

Harley took a step towards him. Kyler stepped back. Apprehension was sinking into the Hunter's posture. He took another step forward. Kyler drew his gun as he stepped back, pointing it at Prism. Fear crept into Harley's eyes. His Ghost didn't speak, but her eye had shrunk to a terrified dot. Kyler felt like he was ripping his own heart out of his chest.

"Kyler, what are you doing?" Harley's hands twitched and he reached out for Prism, possibly subconsciously.

"Stay where you are." Kyler didn't know how he kept his voice from breaking.

The Hunter froze. Kyler felt tears in his eyes and blinked them away. Continuing to keep his grip on Prism, he pointed the gun at Harley's chest. Harley looked down at it, then back at Kyler's face. His eyes were brimming with tears, but he managed to choke out one word.

"Why?"

Stone cold, Maddox.

"Because," said Kyler, "this is the way it was meant to be." And he pulled the trigger.

Prism's scream nearly drowned out the gunshot. Harley landed on his back in the tall grass, the tears he never got to shed trailing down his face. His Ghost was sobbing. But Kyler knew the job wasn't finished. Not yet.

He held Prism up, level with his face. "The Underlord's men are watching," he whispered.

The Ghost fell silent, watching him.

"I was sent to the Tower to kill Harley. Properly kill him." He shook his head. "I got too close. I couldn't do it…so I have to leave the City. I won't be able to stay once the Underlord finds out I disobeyed him. That's why I need you to wait. Before you bring him back, give me half an hour to disappear, understand? They'll be gone too, by then."

"I understand," said Prism.

"Also, you can never tell him why I did it. It's easier to let him think I betrayed him."

"Easier for who?" she retorted. He ignored the question.

"The Underlord's name is Jardan Fyster. He's corrupted the City at some of the highest levels. Watch out for his men."

Prism nodded. Kyler held up the gun.

"I'm going to fire this next to you. When I do, I need you to fall and stay down until the half-hour is up. Whatever you do, do not move."

"I won't."

"Good."

Taking a breath, he positioned the gun in front of the Ghost a couple of inches to the right. Then he fired into the grass and let Prism fall. After a moment's pause, he started to walk away.

"Kyler..."

He halted.

"Thank you."

He nodded slightly and continued on. As he was about to pass Harley's body, he stopped again. Reaching up, he removed the necklace he always wore - the bone fish hook - and tucked it into the front pocket of Harley's jacket.

"I'm sorry," he whispered.

Then he stood up and walked away, leaving the Ghost and Guardian lying in the empty field as dusk fell on the Last City.