Title: Once in a Lifetime
Rating: T (shocking!)
Warnings: language, death, implied future rape
Summary: They say that if you meet someone once in a day, it's chance, twice is coincidence, and three times is destiny. So what if you did meet someone three times in a day – just not in the manner that everyone expects? August 29th is their day. MC x C.
The first time they meet is August 29, 2010.
He is a soldier returning to duty, weary of civilian life, having decided to cut short his leave in favor of getting back on the battlefield so others don't have to. He is an Army Ranger who had no reason to stay, after all; his parents have been dead for going on five years, he has no pets, no plants, no siblings to look after, no other known relatives that are close enough for him to truly have bother with.
He sighs, heaves his duffle further up on his shoulder as he goes in search of coffee; his flight was a red-eye out of Orlando International Airport, formerly McCoy Air Force Base, and he knows that if he intends to stay awake until his delayed flight arrives, he's going to need it. Though he knows that it's going to take a while, especially when he glances out of one of the large windows following a brilliant flash of lightning; the "Sunshine State" is not always sunny.
'Looks like Starbucks is my only option,' he thinks, meandering over to the small café in the terminal and digging in his back pocket for his wallet. The girl behind the counter – short black hair, electric blue eyes, nails rough and uneven like a nail biter's but clearly someone who was trying to break the habit – looks up as he approaches. Most would be intimidated by a soldier in fatigues appearing at the café, but both of her eyebrows shoot up, and a slight smile lets him know that she is impressed.
He glances at the menu and decides to keep it simple, orders a short Caffe Misto to go, and she turns to make it, asking, "Army?"
"I'd ask you if you were just entering the military, but your age and rank just scream, 'I've been around the block a few times.'" She pulls out the steamed milk and begins mixing it with the coffee he ordered, making sure that it is a perfectly smooth and creamy blend by the way it pours from the blender into the cup before she presents it to him.
He confirms her theory and tries to pay for the drink, but she refuses gently, saying that it was on the house. He promptly drops the twenty he pulled out into the tip jar, making her laugh; it sounded like music, and a smile twitched his lips just before an immense "kra-KOOM!" from overhead makes her jump and squeak in fright, the glass windows rattling in their frames. He is unable to stop himself from chuckling at her expense, and she playfully swats his arm in mock-indignation, trying (and failing) to conceal her own laughter.
The next lightning strike, however, makes it abundantly clear that he is not going anywhere anytime soon; the power in the terminal snaps off, and he looks up at the ceiling as if to say, "Why me?"
There is a soft, "Aw, shit," behind him, followed by an "EEP!" and the thud of someone falling to the ground.
"Having technical difficulties?" he asks, helping her to her feet when she successfully crawls out from around the counter without further incident, and they both settle into the chairs outside the café to watch as the maintenance crew of the airport scurry hither and thither in their efforts to restore power to the terminals.
They never meet again.
The second time they meet, it is August 29, 2399.
She is a scientist working on the HAVOK Tactical Nuke for the UNSC, serving as the head of the research and development team, and it winds up that it was her assistant was a spy for a particularly nasty group of early Insurrectionists, mostly men – men who've threatened to rape her once she's finished building the bomb. If she had not long ago memorized the plans for the weapon, she would be raped and dead, drifting in space, never to be found.
She shivers at the thought, fingers clenching on her upper arms as she hunches further into her corner of her cell, face buried in her knees. She could delay no longer; today is the day that the nuke will be finished, and the only thing she can do is rig it to blow as soon as possible once it is complete. The UNSC could easily replace her if she goes through with this course of action, despite the fact that she alone knows how to build the detonator; someone could just as easily look at the bomb and fabricate something until they could come up with more solid plans.
'Sacrifice a few for the good of the whole,' she thinks, lifting her head so she could rest her chin on her knees, contemplating. She sighs, then looks up when she hears voices outside of her cell. The door is thin enough to where people can be heard through it but not so thin as to enable her to escape; they are speaking in hushed tones, and though she cannot make out their words, their furtive intent is clear. She is understandably surprised when the soft pops of silenced gunfire precede the door sliding open with a groan.
Outside the panel stands a four-man team of UNSC soldiers in black ops gear, assault rifles at the ready. A moment later, one of them is at her side, visor up, letting her meet a dark chocolate gaze. His eyes are warm but intense, dark with remembered horrors; the voice that comes with the eyes is exactly what she expected: deep and gravely, aged, the voice of a man, not a boy with something to prove.
"Doctor Latrec?" he asks while his companions move to cover the hall.
"Yes?" she responds automatically, shifting into a more natural sitting position.
"The HAVOK – is it complete?" He helps her to her feet and guides her out into the hall, both him and his team using their bodies as shields as they move toward the lab where she has been working. Two swift snaps later, they are in, both now-dead guards being hauled inside with them, their heads lolling at odd angles before they are dumped unceremoniously on the floor out of the way. Two of the take up the guards' positions outside the door while the remaining pair help her with the final stages of preparation. She sets the timer so that it cannot be overridden before the soldier who had first spoken to her scoops her up in a fireman's carry so they can run like hell toward the Longsword that the team used to board the station.
They don't bother with stealth anymore; the Insurrectionist station is going to be blown to hell in a handful of minutes, so there is no point in making any attempts to conceal their presence. Anyone who crosses their path with a weapon in hand is gunned down on sight.
They reach the Longsword with a little time to spare and blast away from the station, weaving through the asteroid field to get out of the blast radius before the bomb explodes; she plasters herself against one of the side windows in hopes of getting a glimpse of the detonation. For a moment, the station is there, suspended in the void, surrounded by other, equally innocent-looking chunks of rock; then it is gone, consumed by an incandescent explosion from within that takes out several other nearby asteroids. The shockwave reaches them seconds later, rattling the fighter to its core; she is thrown to the deck, but he catches her before she hits the ground.
She is safely returned to ONI; they never meet again.
Their fateful third meeting is August 29, 2552.
He is a SPARTAN-II, one of the UNSC's supersoldiers, taken when they were just children, taken and trained to be weapons of war. He has been fighting the Covenant for twenty-seven years, lost brothers and sisters to the alien juggernaut and fought all the harder against Death's greedy hands. He is the Master Chief Petty Officer SPARTAN John-117.
She is an artificial intelligence, the most powerful to date, created from a flash clone of the brain of Doctor Catherine Halsey. She is only two weeks old, only going to live for seven years before she will begin to descend into rampancy. She is UNSC AI "Cortana" serial number CTN 0452-9.
They meet just before a combat situation, Doctor Halsey inserting her into his brand new MJOLNIR Mark V powered assault armor, and she is pleasantly surprised when he snarks right back at her following their introduction, making her smile to herself inside her electronic home. She works well with him though the simulation, assessing the possible locations of the Lotus anti-tank mines and using the satellites overhead to warn him of the SkyHawk jump jet and calculating the timing require for his 'swat the missile' maneuver.
They pass the test with flying colors, and she takes her revenge on Ackerson; the doctor had suggested live rounds, yes, but not a full squad of ODSTs, Lotus mines, and the airstrike. She is sure that he will escape from her clutches, but she will circle around and try again when he does.
She is also sure that she has never met the Master Chief face to face before, but somehow she knows that he would like a Caffe Misto if someone got him one and that he could begin any mission stealthy-like but not finish it that way. He is about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face like that, and she knows that hiding somewhere below that tough outer shell, that armored exterior is a terrified child who was taken too soon, turned into an emotionless killer too young; she is determined to never let anything like that happen to him again.
And much later, in the bowels of High Charity, he keeps his own promise to her.
They are left behind in the eternal void of space, cut off from their home, but perhaps… perhaps that was for the best.