Camilla found retreat to be a common occurrence; an old friend and reminder of her failures alike. It found her in the time between stars, wrapping icy black tendrils of fear and sorrow around her chest and constricting tight around her heart. No reason to go into cryo—not for a jump between Epsilon Eridani and Sol—just an empty bunk room with seven bunk beds and lockers along the wall. A marine unit once took up residence here, as evident by the posters along the wall, and half-drunk canteens on the footlockers by the end of their bunks.
Camilla clenched her fist in a tight ball,squeezing her fingers against the palm of her MJOLNIR bodysuit so hard, she thought she might compress what lay in her hand into a diamond.
She let her eyes wander over to where she had dumped her helmet. Discarded, damaged, due for a servicing by the ships technicians, but who had the time? Everyone else busied themselves as best as possible, but she saw it in their eyes, she saw the constant fear, the anxiety. Reach fell, and humanity as a whole were reeling from the blow. A gut-punch, staggering the entire military and civilian bubbles en-masse.
Her reflection, twisted and contorted by the cracked visor of her CQB helmet, stared back at her in a mockery of her face. For the first time since stepping foot on the ship, she fought anger instead of apathy. Camilla felt the need to drive her fist through the compromised structural integrity of the suit and blame it for all her failures.
But she couldn’t do that.
Slacking her fist, she let a breath leave her in a shuddering sigh.
“Put the rifle down, Chimes.”
Her eyes squeezed shut, and she felt the pulse of a migraine behind them.
“You first, boss. You haven’t been fit to lead this group for years—maybe you never even were!”
Camilla’s head slumped down into her free hand, her other still a fist, and shaking now as she ran her other hand through her cropped blond hair, tugging at it. Her memories played back the moment over, and over, and her eyes squeezed shut in an effort to block the images out, but they came unbidden.
“This has been a long time comin’, Kennedy.”
The venomous voice of Spartan Chimes came to her as clear as when she was standing in that clearing, with the rest of her Spartans pointing guns at one another, too stunned to react.
“Nathan, think about what you’re doing! Look around at what’s happening! This is not the time!”
Reach burned, covenant rampaged across its surface, and here was a squad-mate taking aim at her head with a rifle.
“Now is exactly the time,” Chimes said. “Because if we keep going the way you want us to, all of us are gonna die! I won’t let that happen!”
He tensed, his finger pressing down on the trigger.
There was a gunshot in her memory, and Camilla jumped up, sending her fist careening into the helmet lodged in the locker, and smashing through the visor with a tinkling of golden shards.
Another voice made Kennedy whip around, bracing her feet against the decking and bringing her hands up. She saw another Spartan standing at the doorway, looking at her with some undecipherable expression.
Camilla relaxed, wrenched her fist free of her ruined helmet, and relaxed all but one hand.
“Carrie,” she sighed. “What’s the problem?” she asked.
The other woman stepped into the room, hitting the sliding door switch behind her and waiting for it to hiss shut. “You didn’t show up for mess,” she said. “The others were worried.”
Camilla sat back down on the bunk and felt herself sink into the springy foam mattress. “Just checking out our new digs,” she said, a false smile on her lips.
Carrie saw right through it, with tired eyes that were adorned with heavy bags. Her hair was matted and knotted atop her head, like she hadn’t showered in days. She looked worse than Camilla did, and that made the woman’s heart go out to her. They were both suffering right then
She didn’t say anything when Carrie walked up to her, and sat down on the mattress next to her. She didn’t say anything when Carrie put a hand around Camilla’s waist and left it there. Nothing needed to be said between them, they understood it all the same.
With her other hand, Carrie put it over Camilla’s balled fist, and brought it up to inspect it for damage. Camilla let her, but didn’t relax her tensed muscles, keeping her fingers locked tight.
“That was a stupid thing to do,” she said. “Brass won’t like another wrecked suit.”
“They can bill me.” Camilla turned her head away.
“Why are you so tense?” Carrie asked.
Camilla went to snap at her, to bite and claw and snarl, but she didn’t. She shut her eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out. “Isn’t it obvious?”
“I suppose,” Carrie said, having the decency to shift in place in realisation at the stupid question. “But, I meant right now.” She tapped Camilla’s fist for emphasis.
Kennedy looked down at her hand, turned it over, and relaxed her fingers. They opened with agonising, glacial slowness, revealing a collection of crushed, powdery dirt.
Carrie tilted her head down at it, furrowed brows and narrowed eyes. Then, realisation slowly brought her eyes up to Camilla’s, and she opened her mouth to ask a question that never left her throat but for a strangled breath.
Camilla broke the gaze and looked down at the collection of soil in her hands. “I grabbed it by accident in the mad dash for the evac bird,” she said, staring through the collection of particulates in her hand. “This dirt is all that will exist of Reach’s soil in a few days. This is all i could save.”
Nothing more passed between them, only a silence which strangled out even the thrumming of the engines beneath the deck-plate beneath.
Without another word, Carrie shifted closer, pulled Camilla tight, and rested her head on the other woman’s shoulder. “Hold me, Camilla,” she said. “Hold me like that time at the clearing, when I told you they couldn’t own every star.”
Camilla tilted her head down and rested it atop Carrie’s, balling up her fist again to trap the dirt, and snaking it around her squadmate’s shoulders. They stayed like that for a moment, enjoying nothing more than one another’s comforting presence.
“Hold me like the time before this all started,” Carrie continued, “and say the thing you wanted to say but that I wouldn’t let you.”
Camilla felt her throat go dry, and she tensed up, bringing her head away, and staring down into Carrie’s green eyes with her own. Her mouth gaped a few times, struggling to form words. “Twenty seven years is a long time to hold it in,” she said. “If I say it now, I won’t be able to stop.”
“I thought you saying it would jinx it, somehow,” Carrie laughed and looked away, baring the scarred side of her face to Camilla. “Stupid to think of, now, isn’t it?”
“Carrie, what if—” Kennedy began.
Carrie shut her up with a hand to the lips. “Don’t say it,” she said, shutting her eyes. “Don’t say what if I’m right, or what if tomorrow one of us doesn’t make it.” She brought her hand away from Kennedy’s lips and leaned forward to press their foreheads together. “It took me twenty seven years to realise it doesn’t matter. Keeping it cooped up didn’t make it any less real, didn’t make the dread I felt whenever you would vanish off the comms, or disappear during a firefight any less real.”
She paused, gulping around the lump that had lodged itself in her trachea. “After Chimes—after what he did—all of us have been shown just how far apart we’ve drifted. I just need to know someone is still close to me. So hold me, please.”
Camilla did. She wrapped her arms around Carrie and held her, as possessive as one would hold a precious stone or family heirloom. As tight as she could, clinging on for much more than just Carrie’s comfort. Clinging on because it was the only thing keeping her tethered in that moment.
Carrie took a breath, and released it as a sigh. “Sometimes I think this war isn’t so bad, you know.”
Camilla arched an eyebrow and looked down at her.
Carrie shrugged. “And then I remember it’s actually a whole lot worse.”
Kennedy couldn’t help but huff out a mirthless laugh at that.
“But these moments,” Carrie said, reaching down to Camilla’s hand, and locking their fingers together. “I wouldn’t change. Our moments, even if I had to go through the whole war again to be here, I would.”
Kennedy reached a hand up and cupped Carrie’s face. “Carrie…”
The other Spartan leaned into the touch and stared up at Kennedy with wide eyes. “Say it. Please.”
Kennedy smiled. “I don’t need to,” she said, leaning forward and planting her lips on Carrie’s.