-somnia ~ Owen

This site is..

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

The story contains..

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

Side Stories

The Beginning ~ Emilio, Sin
Minuet ~ Chingón, Gioia
Rainbow ~ Ryan
A Morning in Cedar Hills ~ Kassian, Boyd
Preface: Book 2 ~ Sin
Vanilla ~ Emilio, Carhart
Sideways ~ Emilio, Carhart
Fool ~ Emilio, Carhart
The One Left Behind ~ Blair
-somnia ~ Owen
Scrollwork ~ Vivienne


Around the Compound Stories, a Series of Events:
Incident #1 ~ Rebecca, Sin


Our AFFN profile


Owen side story

2/29/2009, written by Ais

Timeline: late May 2021

The curtains were heavy and dark but the breeze was strong enough that they shifted to display hints of grey-white clouds beyond the window. The scent of summer was drawing close, yet the seasons were slow to turn this year. The air was still cool, crisp; it put Owen in mind of apple pies and horse shoe contests in the backyard. It also reminded him of soot, of gunfire, of people screaming and his mother demanding to know where the morphine had gone.

The memo he'd received earlier that week lay on the side of his desk, the sheet rocking faintly in the soft gusts of air, drawing attention to the cold, precise lines of the words filling the page. He tried to ignore it, the same as he had for days, but it was nearly impossible. Even when not looking at it, the words were on his mind. He'd tried burying it beneath a pile of paper but somehow he'd thought of it more and, out of frustration, he'd finally set it back on top again. Where he could try to avoid thinking about it by concentrating instead on his work.

Red curls dangled in his vision and Owen pushed his hair back with the slow movements of the exhausted. The pages blurred before his eyes and his computer whirred in the background; a soft, constant noise that he felt like he was never without even during the times he shut his computer off to sleep. The length of time his computer was off seemed to be decreasing dramatically as the months passed, as his nights grew longer and his body grew wearier.

The font was not large enough on this printout and not for the first time he wished he'd taken the extra few seconds to check the print previews at 100% rather than just blithely telling the computer that all the settings were okay and it should go forth with printing immediately. But he had been in a hurry and he'd barely made it to the meeting on time so even those few seconds would probably have been too many.

He narrowed his eyes, studying the paper again, looking between the Russian and the English text. Unsurprisingly, one promised something the other didn't mention. Owen sighed and slouched back in his chair, his arms dangling at his sides and legs kicked in front of him, head tilting all the way back until his neck ached.

"Why don't they ever agree?" he grumbled.

A buzzing erupted to his right, an angry vibrating of his cell phone that he ignored at first. The phone rang until his voice mail picked up and immediately started buzzing again. He made a face, knowing not only that the person would not stop calling until he answered but also that if he didn't stop the phone soon, it would vibrate itself right off the table. He didn't even bother opening his eyes; he just flopped one hand around blindly, nearly knocking over a glass of water, and flipped the phone open just as it was on its last ring.

"What the hell are you doing?" a familiar voice demanded.

"Hey Mannix," Owen greeted him lazily, using his feet to idly rock his twirling chair back and forth, back and forth.

"Ma's pissed," Mannix informed him stuffily. "And for good reason. We went out of our way to schedule it on a day you'd be there..."

Owen sighed. "I was busy."

"We're all busy," Mannix said, unimpressed. "Ma's the busiest of all of us and she was still there for you."

"It's not like I'm practicing or anything." Owen slid a hand through his hair, his tone long-suffering. "Can't we just forget it this year?"

Mannix's glare could practically be felt through the phone. "Shut up. If you're not here in half an hour, I'm coming to drag your ass to my car." The call was ended abruptly without Owen having a chance to reply.

Owen grimaced. Well, that was annoying. Now he'd just be even more delayed finishing his work; not that it necessarily had to be done that night but he had so much piled up that he'd been hoping to get a lot of it off his desk and into the Finished Piles that littered his room like little paper hi-rises in the City of Owen.

That thought made him wonder what the people would be in that scenario (would they be made of used staples or paper clips or would they just be little moving blobs of ink?) and then he tried to imagine how many paper cuts the poor little guys would get just trying to hop paper-pile-building to paper-pile-building. And then he wondered what sorts of weddings they'd have and would they throw rice because if they had bubbles it'd crinkle up their homes if they got wet enough and then he realized it had been a few minutes and he really needed to get going.

Belatedly flipping the phone closed, he let it rest against his tired eyes.

He wanted to sleep.

Not that he would have been able to anyway but now that he couldn't lay down he felt even more tired, as if there was an inverse relation between proximity to his bed and his ability to stay awake.

Unfortunately, now he had to get his ass out of his chair and get ready. He'd been so hoping he wouldn't get that call but, he had to admit, that had really been wishful thinking. Especially with Mannix as team leader of the Brother-Collecting Brigade. The man had probably been sitting by the phone, just twitching for the chance to enact one of his famous speed-dial bitchings.

Owen sighed and pushed himself up, his chair spinning and rolling to the side in response to the abrupt movement. He plodded his way down what he liked to think of as Main Street in the City of Owen, which was really just the clear path between his computer and his bed.

It was one of the few pathways that existed in the chaos of his apartment and it was probably his favorite.

"You're late."

Mannix stood in the doorway, glaring from behind smooth black-rimmed glasses, his dark eyes narrowed and cool. He wore a richly-colored button-down long-sleeved dress shirt with a pinstriped vest over it. The quality pair of black slacks he wore was ironed so that not even a hint of a wrinkle showed. Even on his days off he wore loafers instead of sneakers.

As far as Owen was concerned, the man's sense of relaxation was criminally absent.

Sometimes Owen felt that it was almost a shame to be related to him, as if Mannix brought down the family's good name with his crazed tendency to be so put-together. But actually he himself was more the minority with his perpetually scatterbrained, tired demeanor than his older brother was with that damned go-getter attitude.

It was too bad that Mannix had turned out this way; he hadn't always been so stuffy. There was a time when he not only would have smiled at some of Owen's jokes but would have joined in as well. Unfortunately, that day was long gone.

"Just gonna be later if you don't move out of the way," Owen pointed out a bit lazily but when he tried to step past his brother, Mannix snapped a hand out to grip his upper arm.

"What the hell is your problem?" Mannix leaned in close so his words were a harsh, heated whisper against Owen's ear. "You've been acting troubled for months now but you've been especially bad lately."

"Nothing." Owen yanked at his arm but was unable to loosen his brother's hold so he just frowned petulantly. "I want my chocolate, damnit. It's gonna get cold or melt or something and then we'll all be sad. Lemme go."

Mannix's eyes remained narrowed in suspicious scrutiny but before he could say anything, a woman's excited squeal could be heard from inside the house, growing louder as she approached.

"Owen! Owen, you came!"

A woman about three years Owen's junior came running over, grinning widely as her bare feet made loud smacking noises on the wooden floor. Long, dark red hair in two braids fell over her shoulders as she slid to a stop, grabbing Owen's free arm and nearly dragging him down as she hung onto him with her thin frame. Her skin was pale and scattered with freckles and her eyes were a bright green-blue.

Her fashion sense certainly hadn't changed since the last time he'd seen her. She wore skinny black pants and over that a skirt made of more patches of different kinds of fabric than most people had in their wardrobe. The bright purple nail polish on her toenails did not match the deep blue color on her fingernails. The pale peasant top she wore looked like something caught between the renaissance fair and one of the old celebrity trends and was augmented with various clunky jewelry, yet it didn't look ridiculous or out of place on her somehow.

"Oh my God, just in time, too," she gushed. "I wanted to start this trivia game with Dad and he'd kick my ass but if you're here we'll totally win! Come on, come on, we'll be late!" She nearly yanked him away from Mannix, who frowned in annoyance but let him go. As she tugged him one way, Mannix scowled at the two of them and brushed past, heading into another room.

"Thanks, Keelin," Owen said after Mannix had left.

She grinned trickily and let him go. "He looked like he was about to go medieval on your ass." She punched him lightly in the arm, frowning briefly. "Serves you right, though, slacker. My boss's gonna kill me if I keep randomly taking days off. Can't you at least take a break long enough to visit family so I don't have to keep getting calls from Ma about my loser brother?"

They turned the corner and headed down a hallway with soft, plush carpet and pictures of family lining the walls.

"That's what caller ID's for," Owen said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Y'know. To let you Coincidentally Not Pick Up when you know you're in for a bitching. I do it all the time. Also, I never pick up telemarketers. They're devious and you can't always tell it's them, though, right? So my secret is I don't pick up anyone anymore usually unless it's Mannix 'cause he's obsessed and never stops and I wouldn't put it past him to have cameras in my apartment so he'd know I was there. By the way, do we have any coffee?"

Keelin rolled her eyes. "You wouldn't be in for a bitching if you'd just put some bloody effort in. And if you think I'm actually giving you coffee, you're nuts."

"I put in plenty of effort," Owen grumbled but Keelin looked at him incredulously. He frowned. "What? I do. I'm the effort-giving man of the family. Like that one time Mannix almost killed the interior design in Ma's craft room and I swooped in to save the day with my mad painting skills..."

"That was five years ago, Owen."

"Yes, but stories are still sung in praise of the gallant blue I chose," Owen said, somewhat dramatically. "I'm pretty sure that place became her safe haven from the evil clutches of the Boring Brigade. I put anti-accountant and -lawyer charms around the door in pencil, you know. Hidden under the paint. The paint only shields it from the mortal eye; it doesn't affect its strength at all. They'll never know."

"Anti-- What?" Keelin said with a smile trying to pull at her lips despite her attempt at otherwise having a stern expression. "God, have you gotten any sleep lately? You're making less sense than usual."

"I get plenty of sleep. Last night, I think I slept one whole hour." Owen thought hard for a moment. "Oh, and then there was sometime this week when I slept three hours in a row. Or—wait. Maybe that was last week..."

"You need to tell your boss to stop working you so hard." Keelin's eyes narrowed in disapproval. "What the hell are you doing that requires you to have so little sleep anyway?"

"Nothing," Owen said with a one-shouldered shrug. "I just like to watch the sunset and sunrise and all the time in between."

She gave him a look but Owen just continued innocently, "It's very fascinating. Did you know there's a point at 3 AM almost every morning when the clouds get this weird dirty orange-y color on the bottom 'cause of the city lights? I don't know why it always seems to start at that time and not earlier. My current theory's that there's some sort of super-villain who runs around at three every morning with one of those huge spot-finder lights and he shines it up at the sky because he wants to blind airplane pilots and make the planes crash and wreak havoc but his light is no match for the clouds. He's determined so he keeps trying anyway and one day a shadow-loving superhero will come and throw a giant blanket over his light and muffle it forever. And everyone'll be all, 'Yay, thanks for saving the day! Or the night, as the case may be!'"

"I'm sure they'd yell it just like that," Keelin said in vague amusement. She raised an eyebrow. "But-- Contrary to popular belief, ramblings do not equal a proper excuse."

Owen threw his hands up. "All I'm pointing out is there's a battle between good and evil, light and dark, order and chaos, every single night and I'm the only one witnessing it. One day some journalist's gonna track me down and interview me and then you'll all be sorry, at least when you're not bragging to friends that you're related to me."

"I don't think I've ever bragged that I'm related to you, Owen," Keelin said with a laugh. "Although of any of the sibs, you'd be the one if I did."

"Sweet," Owen said, pleased and somewhat smug. "In your face, Innis."

"Even so!" She punched him again on the arm and he made a face. "Seriously, what's up? You've been AWOL like a gay soldier lately."

"What a weird analogy," Owen said, baffled by her choice in words.

"Oh, yeah. So this poor guy came out in the army the other week and then went missing." Keelin narrowed her eyes. "Some people think he just disappeared out of shame or some shit but, seriously? If I find out anyone hurt him I'll kick their fucking asses."

Owen looked at her a little more seriously. She was playing it off as no big deal but he knew situations like that honestly angered her. She had always been the fan of the underdog but she especially couldn't stand intolerance or bullying in any form. She had a tendency to get herself involved when she shouldn't and especially in a case with homosexuality issues she was bound to get more emotionally attached.

And despite her initial analogy, he knew she never would have said that in front of anyone but someone she trusted. She otherwise wouldn't have made light of the situation. With Owen, though, she tended to use those sorts of offhanded comments to hint at something that was really bothering her.

"You gotta work on that case, huh?" he asked her with mild sympathy.

She frowned, looking troubled. "Yeah. Sucks, too, 'cause his parents didn't know, right? So they're all shocked and wondering what to make of it but I just told them it's not like it changes anything. I mean, honestly. Who cares what a person's orientation is?"

"Spoken like a true bisexual," Owen said to lighten the mood.

Keelin stuck her tongue out at him. "Shut up. I'd think this way even if I didn't think girls were hot."

"That reminds me, how's Jane? She coming today?"

Keelin made a face. "I'm not sure; she had to work but she was gonna try to get out early. Lindsey's supposed to come by later, though."

Although Owen thought Keelin's girlfriend Jane was pretty entertaining so it was a shame she may not make it, at least Innis's girlfriend would appear. Lindsey had been dating Innis for nine years now and Owen often joked to Keelin that the only reason the two hadn't married was because Lindsey was too smart to screw up like that. She was a businesswoman whose calm but generally amiable personality, combined with her dry sense of humor, served to balance some of Innis's seriousness.

"Sweet," Owen said, pleased. "I like it when the anti-ISBF forces arrive." He said the acronym like 'izbif,' and Keelin didn't have to ask what it meant; she already knew he was referring to what he called the Innis Serious Business Face.

"Speaking of--" Keelin grabbed his shirt sleeve and yanked him to a stop. He looked at her curiously and saw she had a completely serious expression. "Before you go down there, they really aren't happy with you."


"And Mannix and Dad too if he wasn't so damn reserved half the time."

"And Ma?" Owen asked, trying to ignore the sinking feeling in his stomach.

"She's just disappointed and covering it up with crafts and cookies," Keelin said, her bright eyes serious and a little sad. She'd never liked to see the family at odds with each other on a scale other than the usual sibling rivalry.

Owen sighed, giving up for the moment on trying to brush this all aside. Keelin was like a hound on the scent of deeper issues; she would never stop until he caved and treated serious situations with less flippancy. "I don't see what the big deal is anyway..."

"The big deal?" Keelin echoed incredulously. "Are you nuts?"

She ticked the points off on each finger as she listed his transgressions. "You've skipped the last several family outings, were a no-show at Innis' big presentation, never answered Mannix last time he tried inviting you to drinks, never came to that family fun day Ma set or Easter Sunday, missed Innis' birthday, sent a late present to Ma and Dad's anniversary and never came to the party, and now you're trying to avoid the secondary celebration we set up specifically for you to join us." She raised an eyebrow. "Really, Quinny. If I didn't know any better, I'd think you hated us."

Owen made a face. He and Keelin had special nicknames they'd developed for each other out of boredom one day. Years ago, she'd started writing her given name Caoilfhionn with the phonetic spelling of Keelin. Her middle name was Kailee so he used to call her KK when he was feeling especially familiar or teasing. Around that time, she'd taken to occasionally calling him Quinny after his middle name Quinn. The nicknames didn't often get used anymore so the fact she said it now meant she was being patronizing and was trying to drive home a point.

"Don't call me that right now," he said with a hint of impatience. "And don't be stupid. Why would I hate my family?"

"Why would you avoid them?" she asked keenly and he just frowned tiredly, running a hand over his eyes.

"I've been busy," he said simply.

She gave him a long, hard look. "You've been more than that."

Owen dropped his hand at his side and met her eyes. They stared at each other for a long moment; she didn't seem to be directly criticizing him but it was clear she wasn't going to let him keep getting away with sidelining conversations and making jokes as excuses.

He hadn't thought he'd been neglecting them that badly but given the fact they were a close-knit family despite differences of personalities, he supposed it would look that way to them. And anyway, she actually wasn't wrong at all that he'd been avoiding them; after all, his family above all others were most likely to be able to read what he was thinking.

At a time when even he wasn't comfortable examining his own thoughts, he didn't particularly relish the idea of being around people who had a chance to peer into his psyche and scrutinize them for him.

At least Keelin had taken the time to warn him. As always, she was his greatest support in the family. He'd have to properly thank her at some point but right then he was still tired, weary, and a little cranky because he knew he was going to get stuck in annoying and/or accusatory conversations from his older brothers and he didn't really feel like it.

He didn't have a choice, though; Mannix probably really would have shown up at his place to drag him away against his will. Damn lunatic accountant, abducting people and forcing upon them belated Easter celebrations. When would the evil end?

Owen frowned then suddenly tugged Keelin closer for a brief hug, patting her a little awkwardly on her upper back. She was surprised by the move and was only just bringing her arms up to return the hug when he said, "So hey, when do I get my coffee?"

"No coffee for you!" she scolded and slammed him on the back instead, causing him to make an exaggerated, pained noise. "You make all these weird ass faces and hate the stuff, anyway. It is entertaining, though, so maybe for amusement value..."

Owen grimaced and pulled her closer to try to stifle her violent tendencies with a bear hug. He hugged her as hard as he could and debated leaning back to try to lift her off the ground as well. She struggled and hit him again although she wasn't really mad because he could hear her laughter muffled against his chest.

"Stop! Stop! Uncle!" She yanked on his shirt impatiently. "This smells like five-week-old shirt! It's torture!"

"Five and a half to be exact," Owen said a little evilly. "And I didn’t use deodorant half the time."

"No!" Keelin wailed, trying to push him away while still laughing. She struggled for a moment then suddenly gave up, leaning against him in exaggerated weakness as she spoke in a monotonous, faint voice. "Olfactory senses overloaded by massive stink... Cannot control muscles... Might... die..."

"What the hell is that?" Owen asked in amusement, loosening his hold. "Computer KK announcing a self-destruct sequence?"

"All life-loving human beings should vacate immediately," she intoned. "This package will self-destruct in five... four..."

Owen laughed and released her fully, taking the opportunity to ruffle her hair just before she got out of reach. She scrunched her face up and made a big show of wiping her nose and mouth with her shirt to get the smell off but she seemed happier. They had always been closer to each other than either of them was with their other siblings and he knew that she didn't feel right when they didn't get along.

"I think if anyone should cry Sibling Abuse, it's me." Owen stretched and grimaced at the mild pain in his back. That was definitely going to leave a bruise.

Keelin was surprisingly strong for her size and equally feisty; she lived in an area of the city that was rather quickly on its way to becoming pretty rough but she didn't care. She had gotten involved in other peoples' business by attempting to stop bullies and muggings more times than Owen could count and, honestly, he sometimes wondered why she hadn't ever been seriously injured. Somehow she always managed to come out of the situation fine except once when she had broken her arm, although that was partially her just being clumsy.

"Whatever, whiner," she said unsympathetically. "You can take it."

"You're so mean to me," Owen said, pretending to be upset. She didn't seem moved; if anything, she seemed pleased. He frowned. "So anyway, about that coffee--"

She punched him before he could finish, harder than before but somehow managing to aim at the same place that she'd hit before.

"Ow!" He gave her a hurt look that was only partially feigned as he rubbed at his sore muscles. "Christ, Keelin. Behind my suave exterior there's still a human inside who feels pain and suffering like anyone else."

Keelin smirked then turned and innocently started walking. "I'll keep that in mind," she said offhandedly and Owen gave her a disgruntled look that she didn't see anyway.

"Also," Owen said pointedly to save face, "despite what I said, my shirt is not, in fact, that stinky at all."

She looked over her shoulder with a disbelieving look. "Shit, dude, you try having your face shoved in it for a minute and see what you think."

"Well maybe I have," Owen said haughtily. "Maybe I rub my face in all my shirts before I put them on. Maybe I have a shirt-bed that I roll around in every morning and maybe I think it smells like lavender and roses."

Keelin laughed and grinned widely. "Maybe you're a freak, then."

He considered making a face at her but since she'd already turned he didn't bother. Instead, he just followed along behind her sedately. They continued down the hall and headed through a doorway that opened to a set of stairs leading down into the lower level. The stairs were carpeted and the railing was rickety, and the entire thing was so familiar that for a moment Owen, who had not been home for what felt like ages, felt a sense of nostalgia.

It wasn't even just the house, because truthfully his parents had only lived there for not much longer than a decade. It was the idea of being around his family. A lot of things had changed since he was a kid. At one point, they'd traveled the globe together but now he felt like that connection was straining.

Maybe it was just because he'd been avoiding them of late. Or maybe it was finally getting to him -- all the years at the Agency, keeping secrets not only from his family but also between different units, constantly being low on sleep from overworking and doing more than could be fit into the hours of the day.

Keelin was right that he was overworked, but it wasn't his bosses who were doing it to him. It was himself and the fact that he couldn't pass up a task brought to his attention if he truly thought he could help others and he was in the best position to accept. Sometimes, he really did feel that he was a rather hopeless person.

They didn't speak as they reached the bottom of the stairs and, both moving without needing to look at their surroundings, they turned to the left to head through an open archway. A long room with a low ceiling spread before them, a pool table set up in the center. Along the far wall there was a large television with a few comfortable chairs and a couch situated for best viewing.

A bookshelf filled with mystery, romance, and fiction novels in various languages lined one wall and through an open doorway in the back the laundry room could be seen with piles of clothing heaped in several baskets. Although their mother, Hannah, enjoyed baking sweets and working on crafts, one could never exactly call her a stereotypical housewife. Laundry duties typically fell to their father, Tiernan, who had a tendency to wait until he was down to his last pair of underwear before he bothered to do any sort of cleaning.

Tiernan and Owen's eldest brother Innis were in the middle of playing a game of pool when Keelin and he entered. Unsurprisingly as far as Owen was concerned, Innis was wearing an expensive-looking, very nicely fitted sweatshirt with pressed black pants. His dark red hair was cut short and neatly combed and his expression was as serious as ever. He wasn't as thin as Owen and he had broad shoulders that made him look stronger than he actually was. He looked younger than his forty-one years of age and Owen had yet to meet a person who didn't know at first glance that his brother was a lawyer.

Owen's father had a small beer belly that was especially prominent when he leaned forward as he stared intently at the pool table. His hair was messy and a shade lost between dark red and brown, with the sides already turned white-grey from age. His eyes were a shade of brown so dark they looked black, the same color as Owen's and most of his family. He wore one of his old University College Dublin sweaters and his favorite, beat-up pair of blue jeans that Owen's mother had been trying to throw out for at least a decade.

Tiernan glanced up when he heard them enter. "Eóin," he greeted his son with a nod. "Ní fhaca mé le fada thu."

Owen made a face; it hadn't been that long since he'd seen his family so why did everyone keep making a big deal about it? Then again, maybe he was just being sensitive after Keelin's warning. He'd been told 'long time no see' before and not taken it as an affront.

"Hey Dad," he said casually, ignoring Keelin as she snuck past him to head directly toward her favorite chair.

She was rather territorial about the beat-up piece of junk, although it was probably unsurprising given the fact that their older sister Roísín also preferred the chair and often stole it from Keelin when she wasn't looking. Owen had sat in the chair and couldn't fathom why either of his sisters liked it so much. In the end, he'd concluded that the chair had some sort of malicious virus that affected only the estrogen-minded.

That, or they were both just crazy.

Innis didn't look up from the game but he did say pointedly, "Cáisc shona dhuit, Eóin."

Owen rose to the bait despite himself; he returned his brother's words in English and added his own snappy comment. "Happy Easter to you too, Innis, except it's not actually Easter. It's like a month later. Ever heard of something called a 'calendar?'"

He normally didn't mind speaking other languages and technically Irish Gaelic was his first language (although he and his siblings had basically learned English and Irish concurrently), but at that moment he didn't feel like getting into pissing matches between languages. He was tired and the last place he wanted to be was around his family, who always seemed to be able to read him far too well.

"Charming," Innis said dryly; he had a way of being so completely unimpressed that even Mannix could not replicate it. He hit the cue ball with the pool cue and glanced up briefly with a cool look. "Will you be here for awhile or were you planning to stop in to regale us with your terrible attitude before disappearing again?"

Scrunching his face up rather childishly at Innis, Owen walked past his eldest brother and dropped onto the couch near Keelin. "I'll be here today. I'm pretty sure Mannix's actually looking for some handcuffs or some shit to force me to stay."

"Eóin," his father admonished automatically as he eyed the pool table, considering his move as he waited for his turn. "Language."

"Dad," Owen said in annoyance, "I'm thirty-two years old. I think I should be able to say 'shit' without you ragging on me."

"Maybe when you grow up and act your age you'll get to be a potty-mouth," Innis deadpanned as he made a particularly difficult shot that landed the 3 ball in the corner pocket.

"And you people wonder why I don't want to come around when this is my reception?" Owen grumbled, irritated.

"Visiting your family shouldn't be like pulling teeth," Innis pointed out. He attempted another difficult shot but the ball went wide and missed the target. His expression didn't change as he stepped back, letting his father move freely around the table as the older man frowned in concentration.

"Yeah but I'm pretty sure I remember some discussion about meeting at a dentist office next time..?" Owen looked at Innis innocently.

Innis looked at Owen as if he were an imbecile. "It's a community room for rent in an old dentist building and you are just making yourself look childish so I suggest you stop now."

Keelin flashed an amused grin Owen's way but said nothing to defend him. He stuck his tongue out at her briefly which caused her to laugh and Innis to look disgruntled.

Honestly, sometimes he felt like he was destined to be stuck with this type of personality in his vicinity. If he wasn't visiting family, accosted in stereo by the two nitpickers Innis and Mannix, then he was at work with Jeffrey being stuffy and OCD about whatever he'd decided had affronted him that week. It was a good thing Owen had a high tolerance for that sort of person and for the most part just let it slide. Besides, after having worked around Jeffrey for awhile he'd almost started to be entertained by his predictably haughty attitude.

Sometimes he found himself spacing out at unit meetings, imagining amusing scenarios such as Jeffrey, Innis and Mannix as three Munchkins from that old movie Wizard of Oz; in perfectly choreographed ridiculousness they would bob and sing, "We represent... the Nitpicker Guild, the Nitpicker Guild, the Nitpicker Guild. And in the naaame of the Nitpicker Guiiild, weeee wish to rag on you in ste-re-o!" They would each be wearing their little pinstriped suits and their hair would be perfectly slick. The lollipops would be pens and they'd probably have a clipboard or three each. It would be priceless.

The sound of Tiernan sinking two pool balls into the corner pocket in one shot brought Owen out of his short reverie. Tiernan didn't say anything or look over, but there was a quiet strength in his presence that Owen had become used to reading over the years. He knew his father was studying him in his own way without ever needing to directly look at him or speak.

It was only so long until he'd determined exactly what was wrong; somehow he always seemed to come to the correct conclusion without ever having to do anything but observe.

It used to be unnerving to Owen, when he was younger and liable to have done something stupid that he was trying to hide, but as he grew older it almost became a comfort. In his line of work, he often couldn't say much for fear of compromising secrets; having someone who understood the basis of the issue without knowing any details was relieving.

He just didn't know if he wanted that right now; part of him did and part of him wanted to keep avoiding everything, to just throw himself into work desperately. As if it made things better, as if doing three times as well on twice as many assignments would make up for his failure.

He nearly grimaced as he looked away. This was why he didn't want to come home; he felt too serious here. It was easier at the Agency sometimes, where his overworked state of mind combined with his lack of sleep allowed him to be overlooked by others who didn't know him, who didn't realize there was anything more to him than a crumpled shirt, a rambling mouth that tended to get him a bit in trouble, and an intense dislike of coffee.

Most people there considered him to be someone who could be relied on to get good information and do his job well but to otherwise be dismissed as inconsequential or laughable. It was a comforting place to be for him, since he didn't have to add to his responsibilities to also be someone presentable and prepared.

There, he just had to do his job well and that was the important part. Here, he had to be a son and brother who could be loved and returned their love as well. Here, he had to be something other than two-dimensional; he had to be taken seriously. Here, they paid attention to him, and here, he couldn't hide or deflect forever with non sequiturs.

Before the unspoken scrutiny could become too much for Owen, his mother's warm voice suddenly interrupted his thoughts. "Eóin, mo pháste chroí!"

Hannah's voice and words were a familiar, affectionate greeting she'd used since he was little, when he had memories of her lowly humming a song while her fingers ran through his hair. It should have been odd that his American mother chose to call him 'my dear child' in her non-native language, but the story he heard was that it had been something she'd picked up from his father at Innis' birth and it had never quite gone away.

He looked over to find her already bearing down on him, her arms outstretched beneath the baggy sweater she wore. He'd barely managed to stand before she pulled him in for a bear hug that nearly took the breath from him. He hugged her back, if a bit awkwardly because she was a good seven inches shorter than him and Innis was giving him the evil eye from across the pool table. He sighed inwardly and turned his attention to his mother.

Hannah's deep brown hair had far more silver in it than he'd remembered from the last time he'd seen her and he could tell she'd lost several pounds, which was not a good thing since she was a small woman to begin with.

When she pulled back, her hazel eyes flashed with several emotions that he couldn't read all at once; sadness, disappointment (Keelin was right), happiness, and something else that was deeper but impossible to interpret. He knew her well enough to guess that she was probably upset that she thought she was losing her youngest son, or at least the closeness they'd all once shared.

"You came," she said, sounding pleased and admonishing at once.

There were a number of comments that flashed through his mind, most of which were sarcastic or random, but he'd always had a bit of a hard time brushing his mother off.

"Hey Ma," he said instead, smiling at her.

She smiled back and searched his eyes, that same pensiveness in her expression. She briefly rested her hands on his arms and squeezed lightly but before she could say anything further, the sound of the door slamming open and screeching children could be heard from upstairs.

Owen took the excuse of her glancing toward the stairs in distraction to gently slip out of her grip.

Hannah looked as though she was about to say something but there was the sound of glass crashing and a loud thump, followed by wailing. Within seconds, Owen's eldest sister Roísín could be heard immediately taking control of the situation. "Ian, don't touch that! Audrey, get your brother-- Caitlin, clean that up. Sean! Sean, where's Clarissa with the eggs?"

There was so much commotion upstairs that it sounded like a stampede of wild animals had entered the home. That wasn't unusual for when Roísín and the posse arrived; with six children, it was probably impossible to stay quiet.

For all that her first appearance often coincided with immediate orders to her kids, Owen knew that Roísín was a good mother and really wasn't that hard with them. She was a stay-at-home mom who devoted the majority of her life to her children, although Owen felt that her husband leaned a little too far toward the Women Have Their Place In The Household mentality, which Owen found to be annoying.

Loud, staccato footsteps thumped down the stairs and a girl with long red-blond pigtails and bright green eyes flew around the corner. She barely even took in the room before she literally threw herself at Owen, who barely caught her in time before she crashed to the floor.

"Uncle Eóin!" she yelled excitedly, giving him a bear hug with all of her eleven-year-old strength. "You're here!"

"Easy there, Mad," Owen said dramatically. "Today I'm made of glass and you've gotta be careful. Very fragile, plus I cut."

She giggled, burying her face in his stomach. "You can't cut me," she said as if it was silly he ever thought otherwise. "You're too soft."

"Yeah, well, I'm rubber and you're glue and all that," Owen said with a wave of his hand.

"It doesn't work that way," she protested, giggling again.

"Madeline!" Roísín's firm yell cut through their conversation. "Come upstairs and help your mother." Madeline pulled back from Owen, making a face.

"Called by the Momster," Owen said, giving her a sympathetic look. "Can't escape now, she's ensnared you in her web."

"Mom," Madeline yelled in a loud whine, looking toward the door as if her mother was standing right on the other side. "I'm with Uncle Eóin! Can't I later?"

"Uncle Eóin will have to wait," Roísín called out immediately. "He'll be here all night. Right now I need help; the sooner you come here, the sooner you can play with him."

Madeline twisted her face up dramatically but dutifully pivoted and ran toward the stairs.

Owen watched his niece go then turned back toward the room, just catching Keelin's amused little snicker before she noticed him looking and raised her eyebrows innocently. She had once told Owen that she thought he got along with the kids so well because he was a child himself, and Owen knew she was thinking that now. He rolled his eyes at her and ruffled her hair casually as he passed her. She made a face and raised one hand to protect her head while she smacked his hand away with the other, with a somewhat whiny, "Don't!" Owen just grinned as he walked over and dropped onto the couch near Keelin's favorite chair.

Hannah noticed the interaction between her children and it made her smile quietly, if still a little pensively, before she sat down on the couch as well.

Despite Owen's trepidation, the rest of the evening passed relatively painlessly, aside from a few uncomfortable moments and some random comments he had to make to steer the conversation away from information he couldn't talk about.

Once Mannix deemed to show himself in the basement, Owen found himself getting into more childish arguments, partially because Innis and Mannix tag-team irritated him, and partially because he found it entertaining to watch Mannix sputter indignantly while Innis grew increasingly serious in the background.

By the time dinner was made, Lindsey had arrived in her perfectly-pressed business skirt suit, her brown hair cut shorter than Owen had ever seen it. She'd smiled widely when she saw Owen and pulled him into a quick hug, whispering in his ear that she'd "take point" with Innis. Owen had laughed quietly and when she'd pulled away, she'd given Innis such a casual, innocent expression that Innis never realized she'd said anything about him.

The house became quite crowded but the mood remained comfortable. The dining room grew loud as it always did with six children and nine adults, some of whom sometimes acted like children themselves. Halfway through the meal, Jane arrived with flowers for the table that she'd picked up at the florist next to the cafe where she worked. She was wearing her typical goth-like clothing, her jet black hair dyed red, orange and yellow in one area in what she informed Keelin was her 'phoenix look.'

As the day grew long and night started to fall outside, Owen felt increasingly preoccupied. After dinner, he felt like it took him nearly an hour until he finally had the chance to escape the rowdiness of nieces and one nephew running around, along with family members and in-laws popping up every time he turned around.

He went upstairs to his old bedroom and, jerking open the rickety window that always stuck no matter how many times he tried to fix it, he crawled out onto the roof. There was a space that was relatively flat that he'd long ago taken to using as his Place To Think when he was home. Anyone who knew him as he typically behaved-- distracted, confusing, tired and often rambling-- may not have recognized the pensive man who sat there, arms loosely draped over his knees as he silently stared at the darkness of the sky looming over the houses and trees across the street.

The wind was cool but not uncomfortable enough for him to go inside and he didn't know how long he sat there silently until he heard the quiet squeal of the window as someone rattled it. He looked over in time to see his father crawling through the window, a glass of whiskey held carefully in one hand that he expertly balanced as he moved over by his son and sat down.

Tiernan stared at sky and took quiet drinks of the whiskey, not acknowledging Owen immediately, and Owen looked away after a moment to watch the clouds as well. They sat in silence for nearly a minute, distantly hearing the voices and laughter of their family inside as the sound drifted up from the first floor. Owen looked down at the yard below them, at the moving shadows as family members passed by the light cast through the windows with open curtains.

"I got some people killed," Owen said quietly, suddenly, without preamble.

Tiernan's steady gaze didn't leave the sky and rooftops in front of him. "Bad translation?" he asked without judgment.

"No, not... exactly," Owen said uncomfortably, then trailed off briefly.

His gaze slid back up to the sky and he looked pensive as he tried to figure out how to say what he wanted. He couldn't tell his civilian father that he worked for the Agency, that some of the projects he worked on were used by or against rebel groups. He couldn't say that Intelligence had received last-minute word that there may be an attack but the information was in two different languages; that they'd had someone else translate it who was less fluent and afterward had sent it to Owen for verification. He couldn't say that he'd gone over it and noticed two mistakes. He couldn't tell his father that as a result of doing his job, of being a better translator and more in tune with the nuances of the language, the parts he had clarified had resulted in the Agency deciding against intervening.

And he certainly couldn't tell his father that as a result, a village in Russia filled with innocent civilians was caught in the crossfire of two rebel groups.

The crisp words of the memo haunted him still; the calm relaying of events, the simplistic mention of 86 dead and 12 wounded, 34 of whom were innocent, and the congratulations at the end for a job well done on his part. The Agency considered it to be a success; they hadn't gotten involved or wasted their resources on what was deemed an inconsequential skirmish and, in the end, rebel groups pitted against each other had whittled down their own forces.

Yet if Owen had not answered that request, if he didn't always feel compelled to take these extra projects, if he'd just realized that the parts he was so calmly clarifying were going to make a difference to the administration... If he hadn't translated it, an Agent would have probably been sent to investigate; maybe the Agency would have been involved and maybe, somehow, those people would still be alive.

There wasn't anyone else at the Agency with quite the expertise Owen had in this situation so if he hadn't looked it over, no one else would have. Part of him knew he shouldn't have wished his coworkers to be sent, because maybe they could have been caught up in the skirmish, too; maybe they could have been hurt. But considering the fact that the issue had basically come down to one group needing supplies and deciding to steal it from another, if the Agency had shown up with offers of providing those supplies then this never would have happened. And Owen knew that was probably what the Agency would have done; he'd heard Boyd mention it in their meetings enough to realize that was often a useful tool in negotiation. If Owen had just not gotten involved, those people may still be alive.

He couldn't say any of that.

As far as his father knew, Owen worked in the interpreter division of Murphy Corps, but that due to a separate contract, he was stationed indefinitely at Johnson's Pharmaceuticals to help with international issues related to the distribution and shipment of their drugs.

"I... translated something and as a result, there wasn't backup where there needed to be for a shipment of drugs. Some people who shouldn't have been there, who were just innocent, were caught in the crossfire when some other people fought over it." It was the closest Owen could come to telling his father what was really wrong; what was really bothering him.

Tiernan nodded silently and didn't speak for a long moment. When he finally did, his voice held the same quiet strength that had held Owen steady all his life. "Do you know why God gave us so many languages, Eóin?"

Owen shook his head, feeling too tired for a talk about religion. "I dunno," he said, waving one hand dismissively. "Punishment for man's hubris or something like that..."

"There's that story," Tiernan agreed steadily with a simple nod. "But I think God gave us language so we could communicate. So we could learn." When Owen didn't answer, Tiernan looked over at his son with calm, dark eyes. "When you look at the world, what do you see? We can all be staring at the same thing and see something different. What we call one word, another language will call another. Words can differ so greatly that a man of one language could be completely incapable of pronouncing even the simplest word a child from another can. What does that tell you?"

"That people think differently," Owen said, not seeing why this was a significant point.

"Yes. But we have the same eyes, the same hands; we have the same mouths and tongues. " Tiernan watched Owen with the same gentle but penetrating gaze he'd always had. "We're still the same people at heart."

Owen sighed and wearily ran a hand over his face. "I don't understand what this has to do with anything. I know we're all the same people-- that's why I'm upset. They shouldn't have..."

"Eóin." Tiernan waited until Owen finally looked over again, not fully aware of how tired he looked or the hint of redness in his eyes that wasn't entirely due to lack of sleep. "Words have power but the greatest power we can give is helping others communicate. You can't take responsibility for actions that were not your own, whether or not information you provided was involved. When we put information out there, it becomes available to all, for good or ill. A person who would use your translation to hurt others would have done so regardless. As long as you translate to the best of your ability, as long as you are truthful and honest in all that matters in life, then you have done this world a great service by lending your abilities to others."

"But if I hadn't--"

"Eóin." Tiernan's voice was a little stronger, a little firmer, and Owen immediately fell quiet. "Son," Tiernan amended more gently. "You can't think about these issues once they've passed; give too much credence to one mistake or regret and you'll build yourself a fear that will stop you from helping others in the future. What you need to do now is focus on that man and that child-- on the words they cannot repeat between each other, and of the joy you can bring by allowing them a chance to communicate. Think instead of the knowledge you can lend, of the passion you have for words otherwise unspoken. Care about what you can do, not what you have done. Love what you've done right and do more of the same-- don't fear and hate what you feel you've done wrong. All we can do is our best in this life. And I know that since the day you were born, that's all you've ever done."

Owen's expression twisted slightly-- in sadness, in hope, in relief-- and he said quietly, with a hint of a choked voice, "Dad..."

There was the loud slamming of a door within the house and Madeline's shout, "Uncle Eóin! Where are you? C'mon, I wanna play a game!"

Owen looked over at the window in distraction and Tiernan reached over to place a heavy, comforting hand on Owen's shoulder. Without immediately speaking, Tiernan turned and crawled back to the window, pausing to look over at his son just before he went through.

"Take as much time as you need, Son," he said with quiet understanding, then disappeared into the house.

Owen could hear the heavy footsteps of his father as he walked into the hallway, his calm voice as he offered to play a game with her instead, and Madeline's sudden shriek of triumph as she raced away to find others to join.

Turning his face back toward the rise and fall of roofs and treetops against that dark, heavy sky, Owen felt at once conflicted and hopeful. And as he rested his chin on his arms and watched the lights turn a little blurry, he thought that maybe returning home once in awhile wasn't so bad after all.