Mourning

A Halo fanfic

Summary: The last Spartan grieves for the only family he ever knew. Takes place during "Halo: The Fall of Reach". Possibly OOC, no slash, ChiefxCortana friendship.

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He strode through the metallic halls of the Pillar of Autumn, a lone armored giant amongst the uniformed Navy crew.

To those around him, he seemed calm, stoic even, despite the overwhelming odds they faced and the horrible loss they had just endured. But to a more observant person, one who had watched him grow and develop into the man he was today, the signs of his inner turmoil were almost blatant. His overly straight posture, the gauntled hands curled into tight fists, the almost robotic stiffness of his movements. It was obvious he was in pain. And, seeing what he had lost in the past few hours, it was easy to see why.

Of the seventy-five original Spartans who had been conscripted at the tender age of six to be trained and taught the art of modern warfare, only he remained. Some had not survived the augmentation process, others had fallen in battle. There were even those who had been sacrificed simply because there was no way for them to return from a particularly hazardous mission. But this last had been the worst blow.

James had been lost to the blackness of space, his thruster pack having been ruptured while he attempted to police the C12 explosives from the battering ram of their customized Pelican. Linda had been shot in the back and chest by the invading alien forces, her armor failing to save her. Kelly, Fred, and all the others who had went to the planetary surface to push back the extraterrestrial infantry from the Super MAC guns fusion generators, had been obliterated while attempting to meet up with the Pillar of Autumn at the extraction point. Every single one of them a family member, and now, only he was left alive. Of course, there were those who had survived the augmentation process, but had been unfit for battle duty. They had been given intelligence positions, but he never saw them. As it was, they were as good as dead to him. But it wasn't their deaths that pained him so, though the knowledge hurt more than he dare express. It was that fact that they had been his troops, his family, his responsibility, and he had failed them. He was supposed to keep them together, keep them safe, keep them coming back from each and every mission. The crackling silence permeating the private COM channel was more than enough to remind him of how well he had done on that front.

Something bumped against his arm, hard enough for him to feel it through the gel layer, and he jerked to his senses to see what it was. A lone assault rifle jutted out from the automated rearmament system, its' sturdy metal stock thudding into the soft spot between his upper and lower bracers, pressing on the inside of his elbow. The hydraulic mount had been damaged, fluid lines severed in the Covenant attack that had wounded the Halcyon-class UNSC cruiser. For a long moment, he simply stared at the weapon, totally motionless, before reaching out and lifting the matte black firearm from its cradle.

It felt right, holding the rifle in his hands, a comfortable weight resting complacently in his grasp. Still cradling the weapon, he lifted his gaze to observe his surroundings, and realized just how far he had wandered. He stood in the armory, a compact and deceptively innocent room that housed the Marines' arms and ammunition. It lay at the cruisers' midsection, three levels down from the bridge. Quite a long walk, even for a Spartan. As he looked around, he realized that the room was in more than a little disarray, the harsh battle against the Covenant having damaged several of the automated systems and tossed open ammunition lockers.

In laymen's terms, it was a mess.

Magnetizing the assault rifle to his back, the lone Spartan began to clean up, righting containers that had fallen loose and collecting loose ammunition. He dug up a handful of rags and cleaning oil from under a metal crate, then proceeded to tend to the various pieces of weaponry that needed to be repaired. As he disassembled the multitude of different firearms and scrubbed their innards, he found his tension slowly beginning to ebb. His thoughts did not stray from those he had lost, but rather turned to more pleasant times.

Training back on Reach, working together to accomplish a single objective, playing tag in the woods surrounding the barracks, even that one time they'd broken into a food fight in the mess hall. Sure, they'd had to clean up the mess afterwards, but it was fun while it lasted. A small smile quirked up the corners of his mouth as he remembered, and calmly snapped together the battle rifle he had just finished cleaning. Reaching over, he felt his heart sink as he retrieved a wonderful specimen of the distinctive long barreled sniper rifle. Linda's weapon of choice.

The sorrow that had been dulled through the mundane chore he had assigned himself returned, a crushing weight in his chest. His eyes burned oddly, a foreign sensation to the battle-hardened soldier, as he began the process of cleaning the firearm, clearing his lap so he could work unhindered. Each section was gently caressed in the soft rag, scrubbed and buffed to a soft shine before being set aside. Slowly, for the Spartan at least, the rifle was scoured clean of all dust and grime, even better than if it were fresh from the factory. Almost tenderly, he reassembled the sniper rifle, checking and rechecking to make sure it was in tip-top condition. For several moments, he simply sat there, the lovingly tended sniper rifled resting in his lap. The strange burning sensation built behind his eyes, a soft pressure that became too much to bear. And he felt a single tear break loose, slipping silently down his cheek, hidden by his reflective golden visor. That was all it took for the dam to burst, and the pain to flood through.

He found himself clutching the rifle to his armored chest, tears pouring down his face as he trembled with soundless sobs. For the first time in his entire life, he felt totally alone, and the fact that it was his fault, his decision that sent his fellow Spartans to their deaths made the pain of loneliness that much worse. Linda, Kelly, James, Sam, Fhajad, Fred, Nichole, Li, Kurt, everyone but him. It took several minutes for him to compose himself, allowing the excess moisture to dissipate within the controlled atmosphere of his helmet, and even longer for him to release the rifle from his tense grasp. Luckily, he had been able to keep his immense strength in check, allowing the weapon to remain to remain in its' pristine state.

"Better?"
The Spartan stiffened, helmet whirling to meet the source of the quiet voice. Cortana sat cross-legged upon a hither-to unnoticed holo-tank in the near corner of the room, her hands in her lap and an almost soft expression upon her glowing features. He stared for a long moment, then turned his visored gaze back to the rifle still cradled in his arms. Silence reigned for almost a full minute before he finally spoke, his gruff voice oddly quiet and thick with suppressed emotion.

"I miss them."

The AI rested her head on one hand, her expression unreadable.

"Your fellow Spartans?"

He paused a moment, trying to keep the pain from surfacing again.

"Yes."

Another long silence, followed by the green armored super soldier taking up the cleaning rag once again to buff out a few imaginary scratches from the silvery metal. They sat like that for a long time, the only sound the faint shush of the cloth rag. Surprisingly, it was the Spartan who finally broke the silence, gently setting the rifle aside before reaching for another weapon, a battle rifle this time. As he disassembled the firearm, he spoke, his voice low and barely audible, so only the AI would ever hear.

"We were always together. A tight group. Raised to become the saviors of the human race. There was always just us, a couple doctors every once in a while, our trainers. But we grew to become more than just teammates. We were family."

He inhaled a shaky breath, that curious stinging coming to his eyes again.

"And I am all that is left of that family."

Cortana watched as the soldier deftly cleaned and reassembled the battle rifle, moving on to a Magnum with a jammed clip. She marveled at his strength, as she knew that any other person would have been completely broken by such a devastating loss, yet there he sat, tending to the care of the Marine's damaged armaments as if it were just one more occurrence in an ordinary day. Had she not seen him earlier, clutching the sniper rifle to his chest and trembling with uncontrollable sobs, she would have thought him one hell of a cold-hearted bastard. But then, that's what the UNSC brass expected of him, didn't they. An indomitable force of armored man that never lost and never surrendered. It was a brave face, to keep the human race from losing hope. Too bad that was all it was, a brave face. For, no matter what physical prowess or high-tech armor he possessed, he was still a man. And he had just lost everything he held dear. The AI pressed her lips into a thin line. That would not do.

"Well, I'm here."

He froze mid-motion, turning his visored gaze to meet her glowing blue one.

"I'll be your family, for as long as you need me."

She smiled, folding her hands under her chin and resting her elbows on her knees, letting her simulated hair to fall forward.

"I'll be here."

For a long moment, it was totally silent, the two of them with their eyes locked. The Spartan finally gave a curt nod, snapping the pistols' barrel in place. His words, when he spoke them, were so faint she barely heard them over the dismemberment of yet another rifle.

"Thank you."