It had been a long, long time since Trent had been able to just...sit down and relax. Eons and eras. At least, that's how he felt about it. Sitting there in a small diner, having had time to eat a hamburger, fries and down three cups of Mountain Dew Vex, Trent felt content. The sun shined in through the windows, the dozen or so people that occupied the interior, mostly younger couples, chattered quietly and happily. The waitress had flirted with Trent every time she came by, and he hadn't exactly shot her down. Not yet, at least.
Trent kept his eyes open, scanning the entryway and the stretch of sidewalk on display in front of the diner. He'd been here two hours already, but she hadn't shown yet. It had taken a great deal to track her down and, despite what Childs had said, her information hadn't been lost in the chaos of the Human-Covenant War. Trent frowned briefly, thinking of Childs. He'd had to put up a bit of a fight with the commander to get some time off. Which was ridiculous, considering he'd been fighting the Flood for almost three months straight at this point.
Trent's frown deepened as he stared at the table and his thoughts continued to darken. After the nightmarish incident aboard the Icarus and then the Darkwind, both of which had been lost to the void, Trent expected things to heat right up. He expected Eric to wake up, expected to go full force against the Black Ops, expected to clean house. Only none of that had happened. Eric was still in a coma even now and the Black Ops had completely disappeared. The only thing they'd manage to accomplish was to prove to ONI that Black Ops had gone rogue.
Instead, Trent spent the next three months running missions. When the irregular stuff dried up, he took to hanging out with the Yellowjackets, hosing down ships and installations infested by the Flood. He thought about Blake and the hellish incident aboard the Erebus two weeks ago. What a nightmare that had been.
"Need more soda?" Trent glanced up. The cute, young waitress was hovering at the edge of his booth again, smiling and leaning forward just a little, flashing her cleavage. She was maybe twenty and it spoke of how old Trent felt now when he found himself hesitating on that bit of speculation alone. He was twenty five, dammit, not in his late forties, like he sometimes felt. He smiled up at her, declined and thanked her, then watched her ass, clad in tight jeans, as she walked away. If he was here for any other reason...
Trent reflected on himself interestedly at that thought. Not even six months ago, he had been almost literally a different person. At first, there hadn't been many differences between Jason DuPree and Trent Temple. But now? Jason DuPree didn't really give a shit how he looked. He kept himself in shape, but for the sole purpose of being able to more effectively kill enemies. That, and working out was a good way to pass the time. Jason was shy and socially awkward, whose friends and girlfriends numbered below half a dozen.
Trent Temple, on the other hand, had realized something one day while looking in the mirror. He didn't look like shit. In fact, he might actually be somewhere in the ballpark of attractive. Trent had been wrestling with that fact for a while, because one holdover from Jason's era was that he did not want to become cocky or arrogant. However, after so long of thinking that you looked like shit, that the opposite sex didn't really want anything to do with you...it felt good, damned good, to think that maybe, just maybe, that might not be true.
As a result, Trent was in the best shape of his life. He kept his dark hair buzzed and now, instead of shaving his face bald, buzzed it as well, keeping a permanent few centimeters of dark stubble on his jaw. He flirted with women, he had flings and one-night-stands. On top of the morphine, he now smoked weed on a regular basis and had developed an acquired taste for adrenaline stimulants. Some part of him thought that this behavior might not be productive, or even safe, but the rest of him was having too much fun to care.
Trent glanced up, his thoughts broken, as the door to the diner opened once more. He felt his chest tighten in nervous apprehension as she walked in, looking around for a moment, then went and sat in a booth by the window. Trent drummed his fingers on the tabletop for a moment, chewed on his lip. It had been a long time indeed since he'd been nervous like this. He considered just leaving. He'd already paid his bill, he could do it.
No. Trent made himself calm down and stood up. He crossed the diner and slipped into the booth opposite of her. She glanced up curiously as he did so and apprehension fell across her face like storm clouds over a plain.
"Can I help you?" she asked, her voice strained but polite.
"Hello Lindsay," Trent replied. Her tension went up another notch, but he could tell she was still trying not to make a scene by playing the diplomat. She always was concerned about appearances, about the social contract.
"Do I know you?" she asked.
"You did, once." Trent paused, staring at her intently, wondering if she might recognize him. His face was different, he was much more cut with muscle than he used to be, even his eyes were different. But his voice wasn't. And a flicker of recognition seemed to shoot through her eyes. She hesitated before speaking.
"Did we...go to high school together? Your voice..." Trent smiled and clasped his hands together on the tabletop.
"We did," he confirmed. Lindsay seemed to relax and now seemed more curious than anything else. He waited. He'd waited a while to do this, he could wait a few minutes more.
"Are you..." Her eyes widened suddenly. "No, you couldn't be. He..." She trailed off, staring at him intently now.
"Tell me who you think I am," Trent replied.
"I think...you might be...No. There's no way. You're not Jason." Trent smiled wider now and Lindsay shifted uncomfortable.
"I'm afraid that I am." She shifted again and the waitress came over. She looked sadly at Trent, then disapprovingly at Lindsay. When she asked what she could get Lindsay, her voice was terse and unpleasant, and she disappeared almost as soon as she could.
"Bitch," Lindsay muttered, watching her go. She returned her attention to Trent. "Prove that you're Jason," she said finally.
"Okay. You took my virginity in high school, in the bathroom on the second floor, next to Miss Fieldman's classroom." A few people glanced over and Lindsay immediately began to blush uncomfortably, carefully not looking around.
"All right, all right, Jason. Christ, keep your voice down." She shook her head, disbelievingly. "So what...you just show up in my life out of the blue, looking completely different, I might add, for...what reason? Why now? I saw you on the news, you know. That interview you did about the Elites. I thought I might try to find you after that, but when I started asking around I got stonewalled. Said you'd been called away on some important mission or just that you were unavailable."
"Why did you want to find me?" Trent asked. Lindsay chewed on her lip uncomfortably and in that moment Trent felt an immense pain spear him, a long loneliness riding in on a frequency of adrenaline and despair.
"Maybe...to apologize," she murmured. Trent stared at Lindsay for a long moment. Here was the woman that he had fallen in love with, given his virginity to. The woman he'd been willing to call his wife, to move in with, to spend the rest of his days with. Here was the woman that had broken his heart and nearly driven him to suicide. The woman who had broken his mind, the effects of which were still being felt to this very day.
Did he have it in him to accept her apology? To forgive her? Lindsay had given him a great deal of pain, what felt like a lifetime's worth of misery and suffering, anguish and torture. Trent had come a long way from trying to kill himself, but he was quite a long way from feeling completely at ease with himself.
"Just tell me something..." he said finally, quietly. Lindsay leaned in. "Why'd you do it? And be honest. I just want the truth." She leaned back out, pain hitting her gaze like lightning, and she looked away from him, down at her hands for several moments before speaking.
"Maybe...we should take a walk," she said. Trent nodded. They stood and left the diner, then began a slow stroll down the street.
Lindsay began to speak.
"To be completely honest, the reason I gave you on...that fateful day, was mostly true. I...I did love you, a lot. But, at least half the time you seemed so...closed off, emotionally. You wouldn't let me in, you wouldn't tell me what you were thinking, what you were feeling...it made me feel worthless, like I wasn't good enough for you. Pain is the biggest power of love, Jason...you made me realize that. I was in pain, emotionally, for...weeks, months. I was miserable. But that wasn't all of it. That wasn't the whole thing." She fell silent once more, collecting her thoughts. They stopped at a small park and sat across from each other once more, this time over a table outdoors.
"But the ugly truth? The heart of the matter? I was scared. You were my first, Jason. And, up to then, my only. I...all my friends were still serial dating, only Jenny had made the big jump and actually moved in with her boyfriend after she graduated. But...we were engaged, Jason. We were going to be married. The thought that you were going to be the only person I would ever have sex with in my entire life...it consumed me. At first the sex was great, by the time we moved in together, it was routine, but still good..." She reached out suddenly and took his hands in hers. The move startled him, but he found a quantum of comfort in her smooth, warm grasp, still familiar even after all this time, after all these years.
"Don't ever think that I did what I did because I hated you, or because the sex was bad or I was no longer attracted to you. Never think that I was trying to hurt you. I know that our intentions don't really matter, that, in the end, what really matters is the result, but still...I couldn't stand the thought of you thinking I'd been trying to hurt you. I just...I wanted, needed, to try it with other people. I just...it seemed imperative at the time. It seems stupid now, obviously. I sacrificed what could have been a great, stable life with a man that I loved for an hour of exhilaration with a man I came to hate with all my soul..."
Her words cut at him, even though that wasn't the intention, but Trent remained silent. He was beginning to think that this was a real mistake, but another part of him was thinking that this was a long time coming, a necessary step in a process of healing that had been going on for six years now. He listened intently as she kept going.
It was time to take the medicine, no matter how much it burned, no matter how much like godforsaken shit it tasted.
"So that's the honest truth, Jason. I was afraid of commitment. I should have broken up with you, I see that now. I should have just broken it off, gone on a sexual bender for a few months, and then come back to you and hoped that you loved me enough to take me back. Or maybe I should have just talked to you about it, given you the 'we should see other people' speech...but it's far, far too late for anything like we once had, I'm afraid."
Trent suddenly became aware of something pressing against his hand, something not with the texture of skin but of metal. It was on one of her fingers. He glanced down and spied the narrow band of gold, tipped with a diamond. How had he missed it earlier? She followed his gaze, then took her hands away.
"How long?" he asked after a moment.
"About a year now," she murmured.
"Is he good to you?" She'd been looking down at the table, but now she looked up at him and he realized there were unshed tears in her eyes. She sniffed suddenly and wiped at them with the back of her hand, laughing softly.
"Yes. He's good to me, Jason. We dated for about a year, got engaged for three months, then got married..." she hesitated for a few seconds, her eyes darting towards his own ring finger, then coming back up. "What about you?" she asked.
"I'm single," he murmured. "There was..." He considered telling her about Melissa, about Veronica and her thick, pale thighs, about Linda and her wonderful, tall, lithe body and bloodred hair. He considered, briefly, telling her about the string of Yellowjacket women he'd slept with in the past few months, about their fit, flexible bodies and how willing they were...
"There was someone, last year. She was the first since you and we had a thing for six months but...we just couldn't do it. I-we both had...problems."
"Oh, Jason...I'm sorry to hear that. I don't want you to be unhappy. I mean, I know a lot of guys think that, about their exes, and maybe its true for some but...well," she laughed uncomfortably. "I never wanted to hurt you."
"Do you still feel like apologizing?" Trent asked.
"Yes! God yes! I'm so sorry I hurt you, Jason. I know it ruined my life for at least a few years and...I know it couldn't have been easy for you."
Trent shook his head. "No, it wasn't," was all he said to that. Then, after a moment, "I forgive you...and I'm sorry, for being a crappy fiancee. And for, well, you know, threatening to kill you."
Lindsay laughed easily. "Oh, don't sweat that. I'd have probably done the same thing if our roles were reversed, honestly. I might be having doubts, but, dammit you were still mine." They both laughed and then fell silent.
"Well, I forgive you, too, Jason. Though you got the shit end of the deal, really...so what have you been up to lately? Why do you look so...different? And when did you get into such good shape? I mean, you looked good during that interview last year, but you're ripped now. It's kinda weird, though. You're like really fit without being super bulky, like those godawful bodybuilders." Trent laughed and found himself heading towards blushing himself. He supposed Jason hadn't completely departed yet. He shrugged.
"I just...I've been doing a lot of stuff. Have you heard of the Yellowjackets?" She shook her head. "It's a company of ODSTs, volunteer only, that was formed just after the war ended. We go and clean out Flood infestations."
Her eyes widened. "That sounds...really dangerous."
He shrugged uneasily again. It was a lie, but it was close enough to the truth that he could live with it. "It is. One mission recently went very pear-shaped. Everyone died but me and this one kid..." he sighed. "But I finally got some time off, figured it might be high time to come and find you. Maybe...get some closure."
Lindsay nodded. "Yeah, I thought I might see you one day. I hoped I would." They sat for a long time after that, just looking at each other in silence.
Finally, Lindsay broke the quietude. "So...this is goodbye, then?" she asked softly.
Trent nodded sadly, feeling his eyes beginning to burn. "Yeah, I guess so. I think...that would be best," he replied. She looked at him with a lonely longing for a few seconds, then they both stood. Trent lingered awkwardly, not sure what to do but just turn around and walk away. He was getting ready to do just that when Lindsay suddenly grabbed him by the wrist, leaned in and kissed him firmly on the lips. He was so surprised that he hardly had a time to register what was happening when she let him go.
"Goodbye, Jason." She turned and walked away. He watched her go, smiling sadly. She didn't look back. She walked out of sight, turning onto another street, and she was gone out of his life. Trent reached into his pocket after a moment, pulled out a Yeheyuan and his Zippo. He lit up, turned, shoved his hands into his pockets and began walking away.
Trent walked to the local starport and pulled his military rank out, getting a first class seat on the first flight to Thule. It began to rain as he walked onto the shuttle with the others and when he strapped into his seat, he stared out of the window at the gray gloom and the water streaking down the glass. Since encountering Tech N9ne during his time hunting down Jason Voorhees, Trent had become addicted to the long-dead wordsmith. As a result, he bought an audio player and wireless headphones and loaded it up with every song the man had ever made.
Trent was despairing when he took off, and as a result threw on The Rain (Welcome Back, Party Hard). But by the time the flight to Thule was coming to a close, he found himself listening to Slacker again and smiling, fondly remembering MacReady, Windows and the others. The weed and the good cooking. The isolation of the outpost.
Trent landed on Thule during the midday and requisitioned a civilian grade Mongoose from the starport. Then, he took to the road, driving for three hours across mostly open country and some forests to reach his destination.
As he saw it appear down the road, Trent killed the radio and replaced the wireless earbuds in his pocket. Lindsay had taken a lot out of him. He hadn't felt so emotionally stressed out since coming out of his own mind and discovering that Veronica wanted to break up with him. Trent realized that this felt a lot like that, although he wasn't nearly as angry or upset. He just wanted a break. He pulled up to the perimeter fence of Outpost 31 and slowly got up off the Mongoose. Trent stood and popped his neck, back and shoulders, happy to be done driving.
The sun was dying by then, heading toward its perennial grave just beyond the horizon. A cool but comfortable breeze whispered between the trees. Trent was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt still, though he'd held onto his combat boots out of habit. He began to walk up to the fence, but saw that someone was already coming out to greet him.
MacReady looked weird without his big, bushy beard and sunglasses. But the half-empty bottle of J&B looked right at home in his hand.
"...Trent?!" he managed.
Trent laughed easily, already starting to feel better. "Hey, Mac, how you doing?"
MacReady laughed wildly, then leaned back into the front entryway and called, "Hey guys! Trent's back! Get your asses out here!" Without waiting for them to come, he walked forward hurriedly to open up the fence.
"Holy shit man, it's good to see you. Radar pinged someone coming up the road and we don't get many visitors. Decided I'd come out and see what was what...never expected in a million years to see you again, man!" He grabbed Trent's hand and shook it eagerly, then offered him the bottle.
"Trade you a swig for a cig," he said. Trent laughed and fished out a Yeheyuan, then passed it to MacReady. After taking a swig of the J&B, finding it as strong as ever, he pulled out his Zippo and lit the man's cigarette for him. MacReady took a big breath and blew out a perfect blue smoke ring, then let out a long sigh.
"Ah, that's good. Ever since you've left I've been craving that brand but they don't sell them out this way. I've been arguing with Command to get me some but," he shrugged. "What can you do?" Both he and Trent turned to look as the others emerged from the base. Trent was surprised to see that they hadn't added anyone to the roster for Outpost 31, since three of the seven members had died during his last time there.
Windows, Parnevik and Lavelle came out into the twilight and wore easy grins when they spied Trent. He greeted each of them in turn, shaking Parnevik's and Lavelle's hands, and being swept up into an unexpected bear hug by Windows. The bushy-haired, sunglasses wearing comms tech reeked of weed and still wore his permanent smile.
"My god, it's good to see you, brother!" Windows cried. He slapped Trent on the back a few times before letting him go.
"So, what've you guys been up to, no one else got assigned to the outpost?" MacReady shook his head and pushed the gate the rest of the way open. Trent settled onto the Mongoose and began to bring it in, so he could secure it in the garage.
"Nope. Just us. Command's been getting a little tight with the resources lately. Though, to be fair, Lavelle here is a jack-of-all-trades. He pretty much picks up what little slack was left behind. I mean, to be completely honest, Pace and Norris were more or less useless. I mean, we never needed any security and anything Norris could do, Windows and Lavelle could do. Better, too. Not to say that we don't miss them, we do. Clarke was probably the most useful guy here...but not in Command's eyes. The figured we could live without a chef."
Trent felt for them as he parked the Mongoose in the garage. They secured the gate, then the garage behind him. The five men began to head into the base.
"Which, I suppose, we have lived without Clarke. But we've all picked up the slack in that department. He left all his recipes behind, so we make due. And Lavelle knows how to garden, so he took over Pace's garden. So what about you, what the hell have you been up to?"
Trent chuckled. "Cook me some dinner, get me some weed, and I will be happy to regale you all with tales of my many exploits," he replied happily.
They ate dinner and, despite what MacReady said, the man could cook. They had steak, eggs and mashed potatoes. Trent caught them up on the stuff he could tell them and the stuff he couldn't. For a reason he had never quite been able to discern, he trusted these men. He realized, as he laughed so hard he nearly choked and ate the best meal he'd had in months, that Outpost 31 was the closest thing he had to a home now.
The night kept going after dinner. He toked it up with Windows and listened to a lot of Tech N9ne. He hung out with Parnevik in the infirmary where he fussed over his medical equipment and told Trent about an awkward relationship he'd begun with another medic stationed at a base fifty miles to the north. When Parnevik ran out of things to say and said that he wanted to go and have his usual nightly chat with the medic, Trent wished him luck and hunted down Lavelle, who was stationed in the garage, building...something.
They talked for a while, but even Trent could tell that Lavelle's mind had difficulty hanging on to a conversation when he was busy, which he often was. Midnight found Trent and MacReady sitting on the roof of Outpost 31, passing a new bottle of J&B back and forth. Trent was filling Mac in on his encounter with Lindsay, which he hadn't brought up during dinner.
"So how do you feel about it? And really, don't BS me, friend-o," he asked after Trent had finished the story and he'd had a moment to mull over it.
"Honestly? Like dirt, but also relieved. I feel like...I've been poisoned for a long, long time, and I finally started taking the treatments to get cured. I won't be up to snuff right away...but I'm on the road to recovery, you know what I mean?"
"I know exactly what you mean, my friend. Well put. You're pretty well-spoken, you know that?"
Trent laughed and shrugged. "Can't say I agree with you. I'm just a dumb soldier, I'm afraid."
MacReady chuckled and playfully punched him in the shoulder, spilling some of the J&B. "Bullshit you say! You've got a brain, at least own up to it. But...this is good, man. This chick, this Lindsay, she really messed you up. You'll probably never been back to what you were, to tell you god's honest, but..." he shrugged. "That isn't always a bad thing, you know? You can't escape your past, but you can make peace with it. Sounds like you're making some peace. Now, if you can just make peace with that other girl...what was her name..."
"Yeah. And Melissa...heh, do you get serious with every girl you shack up with?"
"No! Not...not all of them..."
"Ha! You're a hopeless romantic Trent."
"Hey! I banged ten women over the past few months and it never went past just a few rolls in the hay! Well...you know...for the most part..." MacReady laughed long and loud, then killed the rest of the J&B. He stared at it contemplatively for several moments. Trent found the Thule night air comfortable, probably around sixty degrees. He felt he could've slept out here on the roof if he had a bed. MacReady began to crawl slowly to his feet. He swayed when he finally stood.
"Looks like we need some fresh booze, and maybe to hit up Windows for a joint or six. Nothing quite like getting stoned while you're drunk," he declared. Trent couldn't agree more and stood himself. He slipped his hands into his pockets, then hesitated.
"Hey, Mac...before we go...there's something I got to do," he said, sobering up a little. MacReady turned to look at him curiously. Trent reached deeper into his pocket and pulled out one of the three objects that he never let out of his sight. He pulled out Lindsay's picture and looked at it forlornly.
MacReady came over. "That's Lindsay, huh?"
Trent nodded. "Yeah, back when we were young and stupid and engaged." He reached into his pocket and pulled out another object he never let out of his sight anymore. His stylized Zippo. He flicked it open and lit the flame, then applied it to the corner of Lindsay's picture. MacReady watched him do this without comment. Trent held onto the picture for as long as he could, watching it curl as the flames consumed it. By the time he let go of it, there was little left but ashes, dancing in the cool Thulian breeze.
"Goodbye, Lindsay," he whispered. He snapped the jaws of the Zippo shut and replaced it in his pocket. He turned, hesitated briefly, then, he started walking. MacReady joined him. They made for the hatch that led to the roof from the garage, and Trent was in the middle of wondering just how he was going to navigate the ladder drunkenly when the hatch popped open. Windows' bushy hair came out first, followed by his head.
He looked around and locked onto the two men. "Hey, Trent. Uh, I think your boss wants to talk with you."
Trent blinked. "Childs?"
"Yeah, that's him." Trent frowned as he began to go down the ladder, followed by Mac.
"How'd he find me?" he mumbled. He wasn't ready to come back yet, but, then again, he didn't exactly have the kind of job that you could get solid leave from. If Childs needed you, he needed you, there was no way around it. Carefully, with great deliberation, Trent and MacReady managed to navigate the ladder and then the base. The three men came to stand in the comms room, which reeked of weed. Childs' head and shoulders were on one of the screens.
"Trent! Where the hell have you been? We've got a situation here! I need you back right now. I'm on my way to you as we speak and I should be in orbit over the outpost in ten hours. I expect you to be sober when the Pelican comes down for you."
"All right, boss," Trent replied. Childs disappeared from the screen before Trent could ask him what was up, not that he'd answer anyway. "Guess that means I should get some sleep," he mumbled quietly.
MacReady nodded. "Come on, you can stay in the room you slept in last time. Sleep off that booze." Trent nodded and allowed them to lead him to the dormitories. He fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow and when he opened his eyes, what felt like a few seconds later, sunshine was streaming in through the window and Mac was banging on the door. Apparently the Pelican had arrived. Trent sat up and moaned, clutching at his head.
"I'm coming!" he called. He stood and made his way out into the corridor, squinting and trying to ignore the pounding in his head. All four of the inhabitants came to see him off before he left. Windows gave him a bag with almost a dozen and a half freshly-rolled joints, containing what Windows confided was his best batch yet. MacReady handed him a brand new bottle of J&B Rare Scotch and wished him luck.
Through a haze of hangover, Trent stepped onto the Pelican and began to head back to his responsibilities.
It was time to get back to work.