Work Header

But a Letter

Chapter Text

“Shelly, play Mendelsohn Symphony No. 3,” Temple ordered as he stepped inside the quiet room. The door slid close behind him, locking itself with an audible click.

The sound of violins broke the silence, and he turned up the volume until he was sure no trespassers could accidently hear anything, should they wander by his quarters. It was getting increasingly hard to avoid such accidents. The Reds and Blues remained too curious despite the attempts to distract them, and the reporter was even worse. He’d have to take care of that soon.

And releasing Grif always came with a risk. He’d yelled a lot the last time, and Temple didn’t want to waste the time convincing Simmons that he was just hearing imaginary voices – though he could of course pull it off, if needed.

“Let’s try this again,” he said, putting the tray he’d been carrying on a nearby table. He received no muffled reply, just a slight wheeze from the statue in the middle of the room. The ocean blue light from the window fell upon the armor, tainting the orange color.

Temple reached down with his free hands – one grabbing the pistol strapped to his thigh, the other finding the remote that was slowly but surely granting Temple his victory.

“Remember,” he said, waving the pistol in front of the orange visor, “don’t strain yourself.”

He held out the remote with his left hand. When the button was pressed, the orange soldier crumpled to the floor, like a puppet with its strings cut.

Temple looked down at him, watching how Grif struggled to push himself up by the palms to get into a sitting position. While he was trying to regain his balance, Temple reached out, thin fingers releasing the clasps near his neck. The helmet came off, revealing the gray-tinted skin beneath. Tired eyes glanced upwards, and the dark rings that decorated them seemed deeper than ever. Grif’s lips cracked open when he spoke.

“Fuck off.”

“But I brought you dinner,” Temple hummed and wanted to fetch the tray. He placed it on the floor near Grif who remained where he was, panting with wheezing breaths. “Eat,” he said, gesturing towards the water and sandwiches he’d taken the time to prepare for him.

Grif’s hands shook when he raised the glass to his mouth, as if it weighed too much. It left such a mess, with water on the floor and drops trickling down his chin.

He drank half of the glass before setting his glance on the sandwiches.

Temple let him eat in peace. Grif’s eagerness was partly his own fault. He should have returned here sooner, but he’d been so busy the last couple of days. Having his lair filled with strangers had kept his mind distracted.

Besides, he wasn’t used to the fact he actually had to feed his prisoners.

“I hope this could brighten up your day,” he said when Grif was finally finished. “I can only imagine how boring it must be down here.”

“Yeah,” Grif said through gritted teeth. “It’s just awful.”

"I apologize for being such a rude host,” Temple said while picking up the tray. As he turned his back to the soldier on the floor, he quickly reached down to retrieve the remote. “Recent events have kept me rather busy, and, well, I suspected you could manage in the meantime. But don't worry! Once this business is dealt with, we'll get a lot of time to know each other! But until then-“

He’d just reached the table, putting down the tray when he pressed the button. He smiled, knowing what had happened before he even looked over his shoulder. He’d heard the grunt when the armor lock had taken place.

Grif was frozen in the middle of a dash for the exit.

His hand was even reaching for the door. Temple held back a chuckle – as if he’d leave it unlocked!

“Don’t you worry,” he said as he wrapped his arms around the frozen solder. He could almost imagine the warmth of the body through the armor plates. He was heavy enough for Temple to let out a grunt as he dragged him back to the middle of the room, turning the statue-like prisoner around until he faced the screen on the wall.

“Well,” Temple said, panting after the hard work. He turned off the music. “I suppose I could give you this to keep yourself entertained.”

The interviews began to play as he left the room, the screen illuminating Grif’s frozen body that was forced to stare right at it.

“I always thought you were close with Grif. Weren't you two friends?”

“N-no, friends have things in common. Shared interests, common sense of humor. Grif and I were practically different species.”

“Have fun while I’m gone,” Temple called over his shoulder before the locking the door.

There was something awfully funny about how eager they all were to run to their fate. Like mice in a labyrinth running around in panic with the walls inevitably leading them to the trap, waiting to snap their neck.

The Freelancers, despite being oh-so-clever super soldiers had been easy to deal with. A bit of naivety there, an outburst of aggression here… They’d all come close enough in the end, and from there it had been as simple as a push of a button.

Even Grif had run to them with open arms when they’d landed on the moon. Alone and confused, thinking his friends had returned to him. But they weren’t. They were so busy with their search, coming closer and closer. Surge’s latest report had made it clear they now knew the directions for Armada 8, and that they were heading for it now.

Everything was going smoothly, and this still allowed Temple to make a quick trip to the abandoned moon for a small pickup before heading back home to prepare the big welcome for the heroes of Chorus.

Temple had been unable to keep himself from freezing when he’d seen the orange soldier sitting in the distance, at the beach, staring at the sky when the ship had broken the atmosphere. But Grif had done the same when the hatch had opened, and the Blues and Reds were brought into view.

“Guys!” he’d yelled, stumbling over his own legs as he ran towards the ship. He’d fallen face-first against the sand but had quickly recovered, not wasting time as he ran to greet them. “Guys! Bud- No. Guys, I didn’t know- Shit, you’re here- I’m – Are you okay- I’m so fucking sorry and- I shouldn’t – Simmons.”

He’d turned towards Gene, body jerking for a second as he tried to fight back the urge to embrace him, but he’d failed. Gene had frozen as a statue when Grif’s arms went around him. “Uhhmmm…”

He’d tilted his head towards Temple for confirmation and Grif must have followed his glance. He let go of Gene with a gasp. “Church?!” He’d taken steps towards Temple, hand reaching out. “Holy shit, you guys, you did it- you’re ba-“

Temple pressed the button.

They’d dragged him to his own separate room in the lair, and Temple had told him to use his chance to nap while he had the chance, and then Temple had joined the others at the surface, awaiting their new guests.

When the Freelancers had been rotting in their armor, and the Reds and Blues in their cell, Temple had made sure Grif had been brought into their ship as they prepared for their journey to Earth.

“One little pitstop left before victory,” Temple had told him, making sure to roll the r’s in his mouth at the last word. Grif had said nothing as he was pulled into another darkened room. “Imagine that – a world without the UNSC! And you’ll be a part of it.”

Temple let his hand rest against the side of Grif’s helmet, awaiting a response that never came. But the muffled hissing from within the armor let him know that he orange soldier was still breathing, and Temple smiled.

“For now,” he said while turning Grif to face the window, forcing him to stare into the blackness of space, “let’s just enjoy the ride.”

He’d left Grif in the room as the ship landed on Earth.

Later, when he’d managed to wake up unconscious and wounded teammates, they’d dragged themselves back to the ship, and Grif was still there, of course.

Temple did deserve a prize after all this. 

“I’m back!” he said cheerfully to let Grif know he was there. The frozen soldier wasn’t facing the door, and the last time they’d had to go through this, he’d fainted inside the armor. Or maybe he’d just be napping. Either way, he’d woken up when Temple had slapped him hard enough.

“Fuck off.”

Ah. He was awake today.

“You know,” Temple said as he placed himself in front of Grif’s visor, “I can keep doing this over and over.”

“You…” Grif breathed in deeply, voice muffled by the armor lock. “You really need a better hobby.”

“So is there something you want to say to me?” He tilted his head. It’d been a couple of days now – Grif must have learned from his mistakes by now. No one could be that stupid for long. “Something about an apology for calling me a – what was it – ‘a batshit crazy lunatic’?”

He could hear the sharp hisses as Grif breathed inside his own personal, orange prison.

“…Fuck you.”

Temple sighed. At least they had all the time in the world ahead of them. He’d learn eventually, once he’d gotten rid of the bad habits.

“I’ll check on you tomorrow then,” he said as he turned off the light.

The others were waiting for him at the dinner table, waiting to discuss their new future.

If Grif finally stopped his foolish struggling, he could join them tomorrow.

At least it wasn’t Temple. At least it was Cronut who didn’t mock him but just praised his complexion and hummed quietly for himself. At least he wasn’t shoving the scissor into his skull. At least it wasn’t Temple. At least- at least- at least-

“So I was thinking,” Cronut said, placing his hands firmly on each side of his face to tilt it, “maybe we should try the Brazilian blowout. It might get a little messy but a little blow here and there has never harmed anyone.”

Grif wanted to laugh but it felt like the bitter sound would tear his throat open. “Of course,” he said, voice hoarse. “Of fucking course.”

“You’ll look great,” Cronut told him, as a comfort. His helmet was off, and for a moment Grif was pretty sure he could see pity in his eyes. If he thought it had a soothing effect, he was wrong. Grif just felt the tight knot of fury grow in his stomach.

But he didn’t call Cronut out on his infuriating, sickening sweet attitude that was so hollow that it didn’t cover up the fact that he was just as rotten as the rest of the group. Grif didn’t struggle against the straps keeping his wrists against the armrests – so much for Temple’s trust.

But he would earn it. Eventually.

Not that he wanted the trust, but fighting back had proven useless so far. He couldn’t- he couldn’t spend more time in the armor, with the silence and-

Something brushed against his cheek, and he flinched, for a moment believing that Temple was back, until the dark hair began to pile up in his lap.

The scissor continued its work, and Cronut hummed happily, and Grif felt his hair stick against his skin, falling under his shirt and leaving him itching. With tied hands, there was little to do but just endure the torture.

He closed his eyes, reminding himself that the hair will grow out. It’d just take some time. And time was all he needed – time to find a way out, or time for the others to finally show up…

The scissor kept slicing the air next to his ear, and he grimaced when he felt Cronut tug in his remaining hair, adjusting the position of his head.

“I think you’d look really good blond. Have you considered bleaching your hair before?”

“No.” The thought almost made him laugh. Or cry. Well, he only cried on special occasions, like when they’d taken the Grifshot from him, or when Donut had burned down his last snack storage.

They’d taken his hair before. Back when he’d been forced into the military, they’d cut it off with a razor.

He’d survived it back then. He’d survive it now. Even if-

The black hair kept landing on the floor around the chair, like dark water rising to surround an island.

It’d grow out. He’d make it. In time.

There was no reason to think about Simmons’ fingers in his hair, digging into his scalp when the temple’s effect hit them-

Grif bit down on his tongue and cracked a nail when he clutched the metal armrests in order to keep still.

Cronut fixed that later with a manicure, without even asking him, while the bleach set.

Wearing his armor made his skin crawl, like having a blade hanging right above your neck. But Cronut had insisted to put on his armor plates, because that was what Temple wanted to see. And gods forbid if Temple became disappointed.

But he’d been allowed to leave behind the helmet, at least.

“So you can show off your new look!” Cronut said cheerfully with a smile on his face, one arm wrapped around his shoulders in a light embrace, and his free hand pressing a pistol against his side.

Temple was waiting for them, obviously, since he was already sitting down in a chair facing the door. He clasped his hands together in excitement the moment they stepped inside his room.

Wonderful work, Cronut! Just… wonderful.” Temple left his chair. “Turns out you really can use a razor for more than slitting throats.”

When Cronut had left, locking the door behind him, Grif leaned down in a mock bow. “Ta-fucking-da. Happy?”

“Ssshhhh,” Temple said, waving a finger in front of his mouth. “Shut up.”


“Did I ask you to speak?!” He’d picked up his gun again, making his point clear. “Good. Just- Stay there.”

Grif bit down on his tongue when Temple can closer. The blue soldier walked around him in a circle, humming thoughtfully, as if admiring a statue. Or a prey.

When he finally stood right on front of him, he placed a finger on Grif’s chin to tilt his head upwards. “Cronut is a miracle worker,” Temple basically purred as he looked him his eyes. “Don’t you agree?”

“You’re a pretty sick fuck.”

“So people tell me,” Temple said with a smile. “But I didn’t ask you to speak.”

“Fuck you,” Grif spat, feeling his body shake. He should just lash out. What was the worst thing that could happen – a bullet between his eyes? “You can’t shoot me. We both know that.”

Temple tilted his head. “Maybe. But I can lock you up again. All alone in a dark, quiet room. You must have gotten used to it by now. Hmmm? Or we could bring in Gene. Oh, he’s been talking about how much he wants to break your ankles. Or maybe your fingers. Or maybe both – let the man have some fun! Gods know he deserves some recuperation.”

He bit down on his tongue until he tasted blood. “Gene is-“

“Oh, did nobody tell you?” Temple patted his cheek in sympathy. “A little worse for the wear, sure, but up and about already! I mean, technically, you shouldn’t be on the receiving end of his anger. It was Simmons who left him to die after all! But Simmons is- Well, Gene can’t really lash out on him any longer.”

“Simmons is…” Grif trailed off, frowning. “They beat your asses. Surge and Loco are dead, I know-

“They are. And I’m afraid the others think you should have to pay for that. It’s only fair, you see. With your friends dead, you’re the only one left-“

“They aren’t dead.” The blood in his mouth made him feel sick.

Temple just shook his head sadly. “If it makes you feel any better, they did ruin our plan to destroy the UNSC. But they got distracted so easily. They were so busy with our little invention that they didn’t even see me sneak away. So preoccupied they were still there when it exploded! And what an explosion! It was a shame you missed the view. Perhaps the reporter was right when she called it a doomsday machine.”

“You’re lying.” Grif pulled away, suddenly remembering that his armor wasn’t locked, even if it felt like his body was shutting down.

But Temple grabbed his hand to keep him near. His smile widened as he said, “Prove me wrong.”

but a letter

He shouldn’t have lashed out.

He’d thought it’d be easier without the armor, actually being allowed to breathe, but he’d been wrong. This was just as bad.

Grif looked up in the direction of the exit, even if he couldn’t see it in the darkness. There was nothing to do but wait until Temple would return. Grif knew the procedure by now – he knew that Temple would hesitate in the doorway, asking Grif if he’d learned his lesson.

He pulled his legs closer, hearing the handcuffs clink when he moved.

This wasn’t better. It was still too dark and too quiet, and he couldn’t-

“You fucks,” he said, staring into the darkness. “You can’t – you can’t leave- You’re not fucking dead! You’re not!”

They weren’t dead. Temple was a liar.

They just… hadn’t come for him yet.

Maybe they weren’t coming.

That was alright, of course. He- He had been the one who’d left them. He wasn’t a part of the team any longer. They’d made that clear in the interviews.

Apparently, he was a part of Temple’s team now.

He felt sick. He’d thrown up too, back on the moon, when he’d sat in silence, waiting, just like now…

The light blinded him. “Are we going to behave now?” Temple asked.

He didn’t move until he received an answer.

Cronut told him the story about Biff.

Things began to make sense after that.

“Sit,” Temple said, pushing him into the chair. The plate and cutlery had already been placed in front of him, and though the handcuffs made it difficult, the chain was still long enough to allow him to up the fork and knife.

Not that he had much of an appetite.

The others were already sitting at the table, and it was impossible to ignore the empty seats where Loco and Surge were missing.

“It’s a shame not everyone could be here today,” Temple sighed as he placed a slice of processed meat on Grif’s plate. “But we are happy to have you here, Grif.”

He said nothing as he focused on his meal instead, trying to cut the meat with the small movements that he was allowed to have.

“We should just kill him,” Buckey with food in his mouth. “He really isn’t worth the trouble.”

“Let’s not ruin the dinner with such talk,” Temple scolded him, pulling Grif’s plate closer to him so he could cut the food for him.

Grif kept his head low, remembering what Temple had taught him the last time he’d suffered through a punishment.

“Surge is dead,” Gene said through gritted teeth.

Grif looked up, watching the soldier. He was still wearing the maroon armor, but his helmet was off, and the pink burn scar was visible as it travelled up his neck.

“So now you’re kissing Temple’s ass instead,” he concluded with a shrug, failing to stay quiet. “What a tragedy.”

Gene’s knife scraped against his plate.

“Now, now, let’s not start a fight. We’re all friends here,” Temple said, and he wrapped his arm around Grif’s shoulders to give him a firm and warning squeeze.

In the silence, he was never quite sure if Temple was playing the audio from the interviews on repeat, over and over.

Or if his friends’ insults were just echoing inside his brain.

Grif slammed his bound hands against the wall.

It didn’t really matter. He knew he was going crazy no matter what the truth was.

“I’m not Biff,” he said, breaking today’s streak of good behavior.

Temple sighed because while it was easy to shove Grif into a room and lock it and wait, it also became rather tiring in the end.

“You might as well be. The UNSC picked you for a reason. It’s but a letter, really.”

“It’s more than one letter, you fuck. Don’t you know how to spell my name?”

“Quiet, please.”

It was easier when he didn’t talk. When Temple could just look at his face and see what he wanted – needed to see. The haircut had done wonders, as well as the change of color.

No one could deny the resemblance.

But of course the scar had to ruin it. The skin graft was like a stain on Temple’s work in progress. And the eye…

It really did ruin the illusion. There was nothing warm in that blue eye, nothing familiar. It reminded Gene of his near-death experience, and it reminded Temple of his failures.

The evil eye, as the great Edgar Allan Poe had once put it.

Sometimes Temple felt an urge to just cut it out in order to save his little project.

But that’d be macabre. Of course.

Temple always told him to be quiet, that his childish mouth was why he needed these punishments, but it’s too quiet in the room.

Grif bit down on his lip until it bled, and Temple finally opened the door again.

“I told him I’d be back,” Gene let him know. He was standing in the corner, letting the shadows embrace his scarred face, because apparently he’d now accepted the evil villain role with open arms. “Like- like Anakin. I can’t be stopped.”

Grif shrugged, playing with his handcuffs instead. Temple had said he might take them off soon, if Grif kept up the good behavior.

He wasn’t quite sure what he preferred. The handcuffs sucked and kept digging into his skin, but it was better than the complete armor lock. Being a prisoner was humiliating, of course, but so was walking around them freely, being kept in place by threats. If the others could see him comply like that…

But it wasn’t like he had much dignity left. It’d been painfully scraped off him with a blunt knife since he’d been born. His mom ditching him hadn’t exactly left him dignified. Then came the army where his name had been replaced with Dirtbag or Fatass or Numbnuts.

When had his lost his dignity? When he’d told the Blues he was a pretty girl who wanted to kiss all the boys? Or when he’d cried when they took away the Grifshot? Or when he’d thought he could actually be a Captain? Or when the others had left him without even looking over their shoulders? Or when he’d been stupid enough to think that Simmons might have meant what had happened during the temple party? Or maybe last night when Temple had ordered him say ‘Temple, please stay’, and he’d pushed the words past his lips because it’d been the only way out of the darkness and silence…

“Geez, he was so annoying. I mean Simmons. I think you thought he was annoying too.”

Grif jerked at the mention of the name. “You don’t know me,” he snorted, because Temple was the one who came too uncomfortably close, who asked too many questions. It’d taken weeks before Gene had showed his scarred face, and even then he’d preferred to glare daggers at Grif from a distance, standing in the shadows like a ghost of a maroon soldier.

Gene shrugged. “I know you two fucked,” he said and lifted his chin until he winced from pulling his sore skin. “And I know Temple won’t be happy when he finds out about that.”

There was a mirror in the small room he’d been given. A mirror and a bed. Grif usually went straight for the bed.

Temple had offered to let him sleep in his room – for the sake of Grif’s own comfort – but Grif kept refusing, despite how it worsened Temple’s mood.

He felt just fine in his prison cell. Though he could do without the mirror.

Every time he stared into it, he saw a face that didn’t quite belong to him. The bags under his eyes were more visible than ever, even with Cronut constantly offering to lend him his skin cream. The hair was too short, not even long enough to make a braid, and the dark long curls that’d always reminded him of Kai were gone. The color was all wrong, and he felt like one of the tourists back on Hawaii.

One day the mirror shattered against his fist, and Grif knew there was a certain irony about the situation, even as he made sure not to think back of memories he was supposed to let go of – Simmons in the bathroom, bleeding, Simmons’ soft skin as he applied the bandages-

Temple didn’t like it when he mentioned Simmons.

“Humor me,” Temple said, eyes gleaming with excitement.

It didn’t make sense to wait. What was he waiting for? His friends wouldn’t – or couldn’t – come. He didn’t expect a rescue. He didn’t deserve one either.

But it didn’t make sense to piss off Temple. If he could choose between punishment or a happy Temple and dinner and a soft bed, Grif knew to behave in order to get what he wanted. It was easier to behave. He was supposed to behave.

“I’m sorry, Temple,” he said, just as he’d been ordered to do. He wasn’t quite sure what he was apologizing for. But he’d screwed up so many times in his life. He was probably short of an apology.

He’d never told the others-

He shouldn’t think of the others.

Temple sighed in relief when the words had been spoken, as if he’d let hot water hit sore muscles. “Thank you,” he said, placing a hand on Grif’s shoulder and letting it stay there. “Even if you took your sweet time.”

Grif didn’t ask into the last statement. It was better not to ask about anything, really.

If his friends were dead, it’d be in the news. You didn’t save a planet and then get ignored by the rest of the universe. It had to be in the news.

Grif would be able to verify that – but there wasn’t any news he could check.

At least not within his reach. He was never allowed a datapad, and the few times Temple turned on the screen it was to have a movie night. It turned out he enjoyed the old classic sci-fi films. He’d invited Grif to join him.

There wasn’t much else to stare at. The windows only showed the blackness of space, with some stars here and there as variation.

He didn’t recall how long they’d been flying. He didn’t know if they were ever going to land. He didn’t think so. But he didn’t ask about it, either.

This whole trip had been going on long enough for Temple to slip up at times, the name ‘Biff’ leaving his lips instead.

It’d been proven easier to just respond. Temple kept insisting the names didn’t matter.

It was better than the silence.

“I’m not Biff,” he whispered, trying to remind himself of the fact. Sometimes, his mind just seemed to forget. He was stupid like that. “I’m not Biff. I’m not. I’m-”

Temple held his face in his hands, eyes gleaming as he looked down at him. “Of course you’re different!” he told him, comforted him. “Do you want to know how?”

He leaned closer to place a soft, ice-cold kiss on Grif’s forehead. “You’ll never leave.”

Chapter Text

“Grif,” Simmons said. “We have to go now! C’mon!”

Grif woke up. He was lying on his side, on top of the stone-hard mattress, allowing him to stare right at the doorway where the maroon soldier had appeared. He blinked, waiting for him to disappear, to dissolve into the air like the previous hallucinations.

But Simmons was there. Staring back at him. “Simmons?” Grif whispered, slowly pushing himself upwards with his palm. Out of armor, his hair short and all discolored, he felt naked yet grateful that Simmons had recognized his face.

“The others can’t hold them off for long – we have to hurry!”

And then Simmons was gone, having disappeared from the doorway to run down the hallway. Grif could hear his steps against the metal floor.

He stared at the open door, and a thousand worries flashed through his head before he stood up with stiff legs and followed him, reaching out by instinct.

“Simmons,” he said again, heart missing a beat when he lost sight of the soldier.

But then his voice rang out, “Hurry up, Grif!”, and he followed the sound, almost tripping over his own legs.

The ship was deadly quiet. It must be in the middle of the night, he supposed, though it was hard to tell. There was no day cycle in space, just pure darkness, always, as they seemed to drift through the universe. But he’d been sleeping, after Temple had followed to his cell and had as always offered him to share room with him in a more comfortable setting. And Grif had as always refused, curled into a ball on his bed and let the pleasant bliss of sleep take over him.

He’d expected to be woken up by Temple, as always – cold fingers clamping around his arm, pulling him upwards, while a cheerful voice wished him a good morning.

“Simmons!” he called out again, and the ship seemed less quiet when a thousand alarm bells went of inside his head. He knew it was strange, he knew something was wrong, but he couldn’t quite pinpoint it, couldn’t quite explain why he wanted to freeze and throw up.

It was probably Temple. In the end, he always seemed to have that effect on him. If he knew-

His head had a hard time focusing, with too many thoughts happening at once. But Simmons was here – and that was important. Simmons was alive, and Temple was a liar, and now he’d come here to save him and that made him want to call out in alarm, cry and beg for forgiveness all at once.

He wasn’t used to deal with so many emotions, such strong ones, and now he definitely didn’t have the time, so he just continued to run, panting more than he’d like to. He had to support himself with a hand against the wall, knees weak all of the sudden.

But at least Simmons decided to wait for him. He spun around, staring at him through the visor. “C’mon,” he said. “I told you to hurry, you- you fat piece of garbage?” He sounded unsure of his own insult, presumably frowning, though no one could tell while he was wearing his helmet.

Grif came to a halt. The cold uncertainty spread through his veins, and he opened his mouth, unsure of how to phrase his doubt. A part of his brain screamed Gene’s name, but another part screamed ‘Simmons!’, and he thought about all the dreams, the nightmares and hallucinations that had plagued him ever since he’d been alone on the moon.

He turned his head, looking for Temple who always seemed to be keeping an eye on him, judging his every movement and tsk-ing when he made a mistake.

But it was just him and the maroon soldier who gestured for him to come along. “Do you want to leave or not?”

And Grif thought about it. He wasn’t even sure how long he’d been on the ship, an endless amount of time it seemed, but he’d been longing to get away. Whenever he was in armor lock or stuck in a cell or when Temple had an arm around his shoulders, he’d wanted to flee so desperately – but he hadn’t been sure where to go to.

He’d left. And the others-

He hadn’t thought there’d been anywhere to go.

So he stepped forward, following him into the next room, where Temple’s hand clasped around his neck the moment he’d passed through the doorway.

He looked devastated, and Grif wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or not.

“You know,” Temple had said after Grif had been dragged to the living area. He placed the cuffs around his wrist with gentle hands, locking them with a loud click. “I feel sorry for you.”

Grif kept quiet, mentally reminding himself how stupid he was, how confused he was, how gullible he’d been to actually have hope for a second. He’d thought it was a dream. A nice one, for once.

Temple curled a finger around the small chain linking Grif’s hands together, pulling him closer. “I thought you’d understand by now. But they’ve… they brainwashed you! There’s no other word for it! After all this and you still chose them?”

“I’m sorry,” Grif said automatically, because it was the magic sentence that always made Temple smile in satisfaction.

But not today.

Temple moved closer until he could rest his forehead against Grif’s. “They hurt you – betrayed you! And you are still loyal! It’s- it’s fascinating, really, and oh so heartbreaking. You saw the video tapes,” he said, pulling his head away but putting a finger under Grif’s chin, forcing him to gain eye-contact. “You know what they said – what they thought about you.”

Grif, sensing the silent order, said, “Yes.”

“And what did they say?” Temple continued press him, not letting him take the easy way out. “What did Simmons say about you?”

Grif gulped, swallowing so hard it hurt his throat. “We weren’t friends,” he said, shrugging lightly.

It was okay, of course. It wasn’t like…

It wasn’t like Grif had liked him anyway.

Temple nodding, sending him a small, sad smile. “And what did Tucker say about you?”

“That I was the weakest link,” he said, staring back into the grey eyes without flinching. “That he didn’t want to carry my fat ass.”

The words had been burned into his brain. Temple had played the interviews over and over until he could recite them from memory.

“And those are just the things they said on camera!” Temple said, voice shocked. He hadn’t even needed to edit those videos. It was almost laughable simple. “You should have heard all the stuff they the said when no one was filming. It was… hard to keep my mouth shut. But I knew you were safe and sound in my room, that you wouldn’t have to put up with such… harmful mouths any longer. They were happy to leave you behind. You understand that, right?”

Grif nodded, unsure of what else to do.

“Then why,” Temple hissed, suddenly pulling at the cuffs again so that Grif bowed over himself, “do you choose them over me?”

Grif didn’t know how to answer.

“I saved you. You were going to starve to death on that moon if I hadn’t decided to pick you up. You would have been doomed to rot because no one cared. No one but me. You have been testing my patience – but that’s fine! The UNSC tested it for much longer and I- I won. I have given you a spot on my team, and I won’t give up on you,” he promised.

When Grif tried to look away, he tightened his grip on his chin again.

“And I will continue my – let’s call it tough love – until I’ve made you see. For your own good, of course! It breaks my heart to see you so deluded, so mislead. So much loyalty – wasted. Makes you wonder who the real villain is, am I right?!” He chuckled before inhaling deeply, sighing. “You need to let go. They manipulated you into thinking that you need them – and that’s not true. And they most certainly didn’t need you. They made that very clear.”

He then let go of Grif, stepping away from the bed to observe him from a distance. He tilted his head. “I understand this is not easy. And I have my patience and my hopes that you can change! And we are here to help you! As your new team. We can’t have you make mistakes all the time and you – You made a very big mistake today, Grif. Really broke my heart. But! I can be forgiving. Especially when it comes to you.”

Grif was staring at the floor, saying nothing.

“So,” Temple said, clasping his hands together, “to straighten out your mind and prevent future mistakes, I think the best way to deal with this is to make you sure you know just what the maroon color means.”

Even though he hadn’t said Simmons’ name out loud, the mention of the color was enough to spark Grif’s interest. Grif looked up at him, eyes widened.

“It’s for your own good, of course,” Temple told him before leaving the room. Gene was waiting on the other side of the door, a dagger in his hand.

He looked up at him, eyes showing a mix of uncertainty and eagerness.

“Makes sure he gets the point,” Temple told him. “But do have fun!”


“Goosebumps,” Temple noted as he ran a hand down Grif’s bruised back. Carefully touching the swellings and sores, his fingers travelled across the skin.

Grif said nothing. He hadn’t said anything for a while.

But Gene had given Temple a resume of their… lesson, and as expected, Grif hadn’t really put up a fight. At least not in the beginning. But that had been the real point of it all. To make sure the maroon color would be tainted, feared for now on.

Gene had been willing to make that sacrifice. That from now on Grif would flinch at the sight of him, cower. And if he didn’t, they’d repeat the process, until maroon would mean pain. Fear.

Temple wanted to compare the feelings to how he felt when he saw the color cyan. But the feelings didn’t quite fit. Temple didn’t fear the Freelancer. Not even after what she’d done. The only thing he’d been filled with was hatred. And then there’d been that weird calm sense of purpose. It’d kept him going.

Like it had a stone-hard grip on his soul and it’d kept pulling him forwards.

And now…

Now he was free.

He could do whatever he wanted.

And what he wanted was-

“Grif,” he said, touching a gash near his shoulder blade. “Does this hurt?” The wound was deeper than the others, not fatal but perhaps he should stich it.

He tensed under Temple’s touch but said nothing.

“Grif,” he said again, finger tapping against the sore. “Answer me.”

It took him a while to consider the question. But then he answered the question, “Yes.”


He cleaned the gash carefully, listening to Grif’s hisses of pain. “He sure did a good number on you,” he mused, applying bandages when needed. “You know why he did this, right?”

He spun Grif around with a firm grip on his shoulders.

Grif looked him straight in the eyes, and it occurred to Temple that Grif wasn’t good at hatred. Sure, he had called him names and spat at him, and a few times he’d even tried to fight back. But it hadn’t lasted long, and in the few flashes of fire in his eyes had turned into a dull glow, like embers.

Hatred didn’t drive Grif. It wasn’t what kept him going. Even after he’d been let out of the armor, when he’d begun to follow Temple around like a dog awaiting commands, the firm look in his eyes remained and it hadn’t been hatred. Anger, maybe, but there was something else.

Maybe… Loyalty? Temple hoped that was the case. It’d make it easier to fix him. He didn’t need to break his core entirely, just… redirect the loyalty. Towards something better.

“Because you asked him to,” Grif answered him. His tone wasn’t dry, but just monotone.

“True,” Temple said. “But I had to. It’s to help you. I understand it must be so hard to make the right choice, that the maroon color has been… alluring. When it shouldn’t be. So I thought this would make it easier.”

Gene’s knife had hit him across the face, right where the skin graft began. Temple touched the dried blood with his finger. “It’s so easy to misplace your trust,” he told him. “You think they are your friend and then… they want to leave you.”

He looked better without the long hair. This new color suited him well, but when Temple reached out, he realized it wasn’t as soft as he’d imagined. It felt like stroking a dog, actually.

Probably fitting. In a symbolic way.

“Do you want to watch a movie?” he asked as he removed his hand.

Grif glared at him, never returning the smile.

But he didn’t try to leave either.

Temple put on some of the old movie discs, all the sci-fi crap that Biff had loved. It was all about space ships and missions and how cool space was – so far from the actual truth.

But it was calming, and Temple soon found himself drifting off, one arm wrapped around Grif to keep him in place. He waited for the tension to leave Grif’s body, but it never happened.

“Biff,” Temple muttered into his neck, talking in his sleep. His sleeping body was like a deadweight pressing him against the mattress, making him aware of every sore and gash Gene had left him with.

He could have tried to shrug him off, but he was quite sure Temple wouldn’t be too happy with sleeping on the floor.

So Grif focused on the screen instead, watching the credits roll by slowly, and thinking back to movie nights that had been far more comfortable than this.

But every time the name Si-

He tensed, with his face pressed against his mattress, masking the hitch in his breathing.

Temple thought himself patient.

Grif wouldn’t call himself patient, but he knew he was capable of waiting for a long time. That had to count.

He’d waited before, back in the colony, when he’d woken up from the nap and the base had been quiet and the bodies had been rotting on the bloodstained floors. He’d waited for days that turned into weeks until that ship had appeared on the sky.

He’d waited on the moon, too, waiting for the ship to return.

He was waiting now, again. He wasn’t quite sure what he was waiting for, though. For help – any kind – to show up? For Temple to just kill him? Or maybe just for the day he’d finally lose the remains of his mind and break. Things would be easier then. They had to be. When you were broken you wouldn’t think so much about the painful parts.

It slowly occurred to Grif that the escape he was waiting for was probably not going to be a good thing, no matter what.

Bruises faded. Gashes healed.

Gene replaced them when Grif stared at him for too long, when Temple gave him a short nod as confirmation, when he was just a bit too defiant.

It was a good thing that Simmons was dead. Then it was easier for him to remind himself that it wasn’t real when Gene tried to act like he knew him, when the words were friendly before he raised the knife.

The voice was the worst part of it all, like it could crack his skull open and tear out his memories, crushing them before placing them at his feet for him to behold. Sometimes he could still hear the voices inside his head, but not so often anymore.

It didn’t make him happier. He didn’t like the quiet.

Sometimes, he wondered what had become of the volleyballs.

“Biff,” Temple whispered into his skin, in case he forgot. He never woke up but just held him tighter.

Grif wondered what he dreamt of.

Grif dreamt of Simmons. He didn’t want to, not now when Simmons either was dead or he hated him, and just the thought of Simmons hurt, worse than the wounds he kept receiving.

He imagined Simmons coming at him with the knife, and he imagined him embracing him, resting his head on his shoulder and telling him that he was back. In a mix of fear and joy, the name left Grif’s lips. “Simmons.”

Grif woke up on the floor, gasping when the air had been punched out of his lungs.

His eyes were still squeezed shut when he heard Temple growl, “You can sleep on the floor tonight.”

The joke was on Temple. Probably.

The moment Grif knew the team leader had gone back to sleep, he shifted, curling into a ball for the most comfortable position and let himself relax.

And for the first time since Temple had insisted on sharing bed, Grif slept almost peacefully.

In the morning, he first woke up when a boot connected with his already bruised stomach. By the time he was capable of looking upwards, the door had been slammed shut.

And he was alone.

He wasn’t quite sure what to do now, whether to stay or leave the room. He was used to Temple’s glare revealing what was expected of him.

Ten minutes passed before he even dared to reach up and see if the door was locked.

It wasn’t.

Grif wondered what Temple wanted, what the punishment would be for the wrong choice.

He chose to stay in the silence for a while, waiting for the voices to sound inside his head again. Being mad made it easier to humiliate yourself. It felt like an excuse to never figuring out a way to escape.

The voices had changed through the time he’d been here. They’d all been familiar, like a mess of memories mixed together, but in the end they had changed into one muffled voice. He couldn’t really pick out the words any longer. Only the names seemed to stand out – his own and Biff’s and, well, that was probably the same thing, in the end.

And when he slept, there were no voices at all.

But eventually the hunger settled in, and he woke up again with a growling stomach. The feeling was so familiar, it was almost comforting. Life had changed in the most strange and terrible ways, but food would always be something for him to long for.

It was probably dinner time, and he’d never minded far too old MREs before, and Temple had been so happy when he first joined them at the table. Maybe he was waiting for him – maybe the dinner was ready-

They’d already eaten. They were still sitting at the table when Grif entered the kitchen as silently as he could. The sight of the maroon armor made him flinch for a moment, remembering the last time…

No one lifted their head to acknowledge his presence but when he reached for an empty plate to give himself dinner, Temple glared at him in a manner that made it very clear that Grif was not supposed to join them.

So he bit his lip, sent the pan on the stove a longing glance, and slowly backed away until he was in one of the hallways.

He leaned his back and head against the metal wall, and the cold touch reminded him of Temple, and he slid down to rest on the floor, waiting, because that seemed to be the only thing he was good at.

He stared straight ahead until his vision grew fuzzy and he saw a shimmering in the air before he reached up and rubbed his stinging eyes.

He tried to visit the kitchen, but Cronut was always there, guarding the fridge without ever saying a word to him.

When he finally returned to Temple’s room, the leader was already lying on his bed, watching the sci-fi movie of today with little interest.

Grif heard the door close behind himself, and he took one step forward, not even sure what he was trying to achieve.

“I know you and Simmons fucked,” Temple lamented while staring blankly at the screen. “Tucker joked about it, and, well, Gene gathered the rest of the details. Simmons really fucked you over good, huh?”

Grif didn’t reply to that.

With a hiss, Temple sat up, resting his weight on his palm as he glared at Grif. “They really screwed up your brain, didn’t they? You said you didn’t like them. And man, were those feelings mutual. So why do we still have to go over this every fucking-“ He inhaled. “You still want to fuck him, right? You want to fuck him. Do you want to fuck Gene? It’s the same thing! The same- We could ask him. We could go and find him and ask him if he wants to be your stupid Simmons now! Do you want that?!”

Grif took a step backwards, shaking his head.

“Do you want me?!” Temple asked him, sounding desperate. He laughed when Grif flinched. “You don’t. You don’t and it’s…” He trailed off, eyes going dark before he suddenly laid back down again, turning over so that Grif had to stare at his back.

“Maybe,” Temple said loudly, putting his focus back on the screen. “You should consider being nice to me. Because, and this is the funny part, if I don’t care about you, well, then there’s no one left to give a single shit about you.”

Temple didn’t sleep that night. His eyes remained open as listened to Grif move. First he settled on the floor, right next to the bed, like a dog. If he continued like this, Temple might as well just give him a collar.

But that was the beauty of all this – no chains. Well, there’d been the armor lock in the beginning, then the handcuffs, and now Grif had finally realized there was no way to run – and therefor, no reason to move. So beautifully simple. It all just required some patience.

And that patience paid off when he felt Grif’s eyes on him. He turned around in his bed, finding himself staring straight into Grif’s face. The bruises were still there, like shadows around the healing gashes. Temple tried not to think of a corpse, how Biff had looked after he’d removed the helmet.

“I’m sorry,” Grif said, like a parrot using the magic word in order to get treats. Temple had heard him say the word so many times by now, even when he’d been locked in the cell, he’d apologized to the darkness, to the phantoms that he’d seen.

But Temple nodded and grabbed his wrist, pulling him with him into the bed. His skin was cold after spending the entire night on the floor, though Temple doubted he’d be willing to share a blanket. Grif was foolish like that.

“Are you really?” he hummed, searching for any doubts in his eyes but there was nothing to see. No regret, no fear. They looked lifeless. Like Biff’s.

Except the evil eye. That damn blue eye that ruined everything.

Temple dug his hands into the sheet.

“I deserve this,” Temple said, pulling him closer. It was a fitting prize after all the pain and hard work he’d gone through. The world was so ungrateful at times. “Say my name.”


“Call me Mark,” he said, like he’d told Biff all those years ago, when they’d taken off their helmets for the first time in Desert Gulch and had realized just how badly they’d been screwed over. But it hadn’t changed anything between them. It hadn’t-

He could feel the swelling on Grif’s skin, the scars and the bruises, and his hands travelled up his chest until he could wrap them around his throat. The pulse was beating quickly beneath his touch, but Grif’s eyes remained lifeless, staring right ahead without acknowledging him.

Temple thought about Biff, and he thought about Georgina, and he thought about what they’d been doing during his shore-leave. He thought about Biff’s dead eyes and the blood that had covered his lips when he’d pulled off the orange helmet, and Temple leaned forward, kissing his neck, chest, his lips.

Grif didn’t move.

Temple grabbed his limp wrists, cuffing them to the bedpost.

It was nice, that control. He’d felt it when he’d tried out the armor lock, when the Freelancers’ strength, their wrath, all their precious training had proved useless because he was the only one with the freedom to move.

He moved upwards, pressing his lips against Grif’s. It tasted of nothing. He pulled back, and something in his chest began to burn when he looked at Grif’s face, the shadows beneath his dead eyes.

“Say my name,” he said again, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been called by his first name, the last time he’d heard Biff’s voice.

Grif didn’t say anything. His lips didn’t move, but his eyes closed, just for a second.

When they opened again, Temple stared into the blue eye.

It ruined it. It wasn’t the same. It was a stain, only worsened by the pale skin around it, the ghosts of freckles.

Temple felt his breathing hitch. “Say. It.”


There was that ringing in his ears again, like when the pole had been pulled from Biff’s stomach. He stared into the eye, the evil eye, feeling its madness spread. He reached for the dagger strapped to his thigh – a part of the standard gear, meant to kill each other in a useless war.

Grif’s fingers twitched when he dug the blade into the scar, following it along the graft, as if he could pull the pale skin away and Biff would be revealed underneath. But only red appear, spilling from the wound, staining his shaking hands.

Grif shook his head, legs kicking, but Temple placed his knee on his chest, hovering over him, grabbing his chin to keep him still. His fingers left red prints on his skin. He felt nauseous, head swimming, but his grip on his dagger remained strong.

Then there the stinging appeared in his left hand. Grif had twisted his head again, digging his teeth into his flesh, and their blood mixed. Temple pulled his hand back, staring at it, and it occurred to him that this was the first time Grif had harmed him since his capture.

He wanted to laugh. He leaned his head back and he felt his throat shake.

The blue eye stared at him, widened, and its color was a contrast to all the red. Blue against red.

It was so hard to aim with a gun. Bullets seemed to choose their own direction.

Everything was so much simpler with a knife.

Grif finally broke the silence when Temple dug the blade into his eyeball, twisting it, and Grif screamed and yelled and howled, but he didn’t say any names.

Something warm spilled against Temple’s fingers, and his vision was swimming, waves of red making him feel sick. The blue was gone.

He pulled the knife back and retched.

Then it was quiet again.

Chapter Text

“You don’t need to be dealing with this, Wash.”

But her teammate just shook his head, wincing when he pulled the sore skin surrounding his newly healed bullet wound. Wash folded his hands on top of the hospital blanket. “You’re obviously carrying around some bad news, Carolina. I want- need to know what is happening with the team. I can take it.”

She sighed, giving up as she sat down on the chair next to his bed. “After many and… colorful discussions, the guys decided it was time to face the fact that we’re missing a member.” When Wash raised an eyebrow, she continued, “They went to the moon to find Grif. Even if he stands by his decision to stay there, we figured he should know that our mission is done and- and he should get the details of how it all ended. They returned today.”

“And judging from your face I suppose it didn’t go well.” Wash coughed, wincing again. After Carolina handed him a glass of water, his voice was back, hoarser, “So. He didn’t come with them.”

“He wasn’t there,” Carolina said, turning her head away.


Carolina unclenched her fists. “The moon was empty. And it’s been so for a while.” Sighing, she ran a hand through her hair, flinching when her fingers became entangled. Maybe it was time to cut it again. “The others are split on what this means. Tucker says he probably jumped on the first ship flying by and bribed his way to Earth so he could get home. And that we should leave him be. Kaikaina says we need to track him down, that this isn’t like Grif.”

“What does Simmons say?” Wash asked, tilting his head and bending his bandaged neck.

“Simmons doesn’t say so much these days.”

Wash adjusted his position in the bed, trying to look less exhausted than he felt. “And what do you think about this?”

Carolina stared out of the window for a moment, her lips pressed thin. “Simmons mentioned the fridge was filled with rotten food. Which means it’s been left alone for a long time. But… If Grif went somewhere, I know him well enough to say that Grif would not leave the snacks behind.”

“So what do we do now?” Wash asked her.

Just like the others had done.

And Carolina only had the same reply: “I don’t know.” 


The maroon soldier jumped at the sound of her voice, dropping the datapad in his hands. When he picked it up, the screen was broken. “Oh, hey, Carolina,” he stuttered, keeping his head bowed even as he straightened out his back. He shifted the weight on his feet and looked over his shoulder, trying to find an easy escape route. “I- uh- How’s Wash?”

Carolina pretended not to know the question had only been thrown at her in politeness and to steer her away from the original subject. “He’s fine. Still recovering.” She didn’t mean to sound so dry but she’d been asked that question so many times by now. And it wasn’t what she’d come here to discuss. “Simmons, we have to talk about-“

“I, uhm, promised Jensen that I’d go check our her, uh, new driving skills. In her car. New car. I- I have to go.”

When Simmons stumbled down the hallway, Carolina only watched him flee. She knew that if she pressed him further, he’d break, and no one was interested in that right now.

So instead she sighed and headed for her own apartment to find a quiet place to wonder about what to do next.

But she only returned to a blinking screen, alerting her of several missed calls.

From Dylan.

Carolina frowned, unsure what the reporter could want from her.

When she called back, it took less than a second for the reporter to pick up.

“Carolina,” Dylan’s voice sounded from the screen, slightly breathless. “Carolina, we need to talk.”

“Dylan.” She put a hand to her forehead, knowing the somber tone in Dylan’s voice wasn’t a great sign. “It’s… good to hear from you.” ‘Good’ really wasn’t the right word in this situation. “What’s happening?”

“I helped with the investigation of Temple’s lair to find further evidence that may lead to his capture and-“ She paused a few seconds before the reveal. “We found something.”

Carolina leaned towards the screen, trying not to sound too hopeful. “A lead?” It’d been too bitter to know that Temple and his team were still on the loose, after everything they’d done to them, to Wash, to their fellow Freelancers.

And she only had herself to blame.

When Church – not Epsilon, but Church. Alpha – had showed up in the portal, she’d been distracted. Just like the rest of them.

None of them had noticed Temple sneaking away, fleeing with the remains of his team.

“Not exactly.”

“You sound worried,” Carolina said, sharing the emotion.

“Temple had surveillance cameras all over the place. As I went through them, I found this.” Dylan exhaled softly. “I thought you should know.”

A pop-up tab appeared on the screen, showing a video. The recording was slightly blurry, obviously not coming from the best of cameras.

But the scene was clear enough.

A cobalt soldier directing two teammates – red and aqua – towards an isolated chamber in the deepest level of the liar.

They were dragging a frozen, orange soldier between them.

Locus took care of every Sim Trooper he saw on his way to the ship’s control room. A'rynasea had managed to stay undetected while he came close enough to board the enemy territory.

The Blues and Reds weren’t threats big enough to make him alarmed. With his cloaked armor, he made sure to render them unconscious and move their limp bodies to avoid any sort of alarm.

The next step was to disable their navigation system, cutting off their engines and notify the authorities, rendering them stuck here, in the middle of space, until UNSC units could appear.

What worried him the most was the chance of the Blues and Reds getting away again. But this time Locus wouldn’t let them.

With the work done, he pulled away from the engine. He stood up, prepared to leave, when he heard the scream. Distant and muffled, but Locus recognized it as being one of pain and horror – not anger.

He still hadn’t seen Temple yet.

He knew he’d found the correct room when he saw the maroon soldier leaning against the metal door, ear-dropping on the chilling screams.

The soldier crumpled with a weak gasp when Locus hit him over the head. The door opened and Locus stepped inside, boots placed on the blood spreading on the floor.

Temple heard the door open, and he looked over his shoulder the same moment that Locus decided to reveal himself. “You-“ Temple said, and then he didn’t get a chance to say another word, as Locus flung him away from the victim.

The dagger fell from Temple’s bloodied hand.

Locus felt the urge to reach down and grab his sword. Temple was trying to pry his fingers off his throat, but Locus kept him still until he made his decision and punched him with enough strength to make the visor crack.

Temple wouldn’t be standing up any time soon.

When Locus turned around, it took him a couple of seconds to recognize what he was staring at. Out of the orange armor, it was hard to tell immediately. Blood covered most of his face.

Locus’ frown deepened as he saw just what Temple had inflicted.

“Captain Grif,” he said, leaning forward to check for consciousness. One eye was wide open but blank, and Locus realized he’d gone into shock. “Grif.”

Blood kept pouring from the ruined eye. Locus tried to wipe it away to take a closer look at the damage, and by doing so he realized Temple had been holding his knife too close to the face when Locus had pulled him away.

There was a slash across Grif’s face, like the half of an X.

Unconsciously, Locus reached up to touch his own face, fingers stopped by the visor.

The best thing about the job as an officer was the time where he was alone, free to do whatever he wanted. Which was why he always chose the patrols on the outskirts of the city. Here he could smoke in peace. Hell, he could do anything. What could anyone do – call the cops on him?

He was the cops now.

Normally, these solo patrols were calm with literally nothing to be done. Palomo hated these outskirt patrols: he always complained about missing the action when someone was murdered in the city center.

But Bitters would light a cigarette, pretend not to see the faded missing posters for Grif on the buildings, and instead set his eyes on the sunset, enjoying the sight.

So when he saw the kneeling soldier with a bloody mess in his arms, he dropped his cigarette in shock.

“What the-?” Reaching for his gun, he took a closer look at the soldier. “Who are- You!”

The voice only confirmed his fears. “Captain Grif requires immediate medical assistance.” He raised his head, showing off his new helmet though Bitters could not be fooled by his new look. “I have not harmed him,” Locus promised him.

Bitters had been the one to tell his friends not to think too much about the war. That it wasted energy. That being haunted by the memories of seeing family members and teammates die was helping no one. But right now, having Locus kneeling in front of him, Bitters felt his finger brush against the trigger, slowly adding more pressure. “You-“

“Call the doctor,” he told him. “And the Sim Troopers.”

“I-“ Bitters’ hand felt like it was shaking but when he looked down he saw that his aim was completely steady. He lowered his glance a bit further, towards the bloodied victim, and he tried to understand what Locus had just been telling him, that this was Grif-

He looked over his shoulder, trying to see if anyone else was entering his scene.

When he moved his head again, Locus was gone. “No way! You don’t get to-“ Bitters rushed forward, only to freeze when he found himself looking down at a bloodied face. “Grif!”

For a moment he only had Locus’ words for him to believe that this was his former Captain. He didn’t look like Grif. Grif had been a fat lazy slacker in orange armor with wild black hair growing longer every day because he didn’t bother to cut it. This guy had short blond hair, now a bloody mess, and he looked skinnier, paler.

Bitters wanted to see the skin graft, knowing this was the fastest way to identify his Captain, but the half of his face was covered by a rag, stained by hardened biofoam.

He pulled away the rag.

And immediately retched.

His fingers slammed against the buttons on the side of his helmet. “Officer Bitters calling for medical assistance outside General Avenue.” He checked the pulse. It was there but weak. “It’s Grif. I found Grif.”

“…Excuse me – are you saying what I think you’re saying?” Grey’s voice sounded over his radio. “Because in that case: Doctor Grey calling all emergency vehicles to General Avenue.”

When Grif woke up, he looked for Temple. “I’m sorry,” he said, unsure why his tongue didn’t work properly, why the room was so white, why he couldn’t find Temple no matter where he looked.

If Temple wasn’t there, that must mean that Grif was back in the room, alone.

But that wasn’t true either because his vision was so bright and people’s face disappeared in and out without him registering it.

At some point he heard Gene’s voice.

And he remembered the knife and the pain and the darkness-

“I’m sorry,” he tried to say again and then he slept.

 When Carolina was informed that Temple and his team had been imprisoned by the UNSC she was relieved. When she was told that Grif would live she was relieved. When Grey informed her of all the damage and they knew Temple never went as far as sexual assault she was relieved.

Locus had sent them a message, that had proved unable to be tracked, where he’d informed them of how he’d found Grif, of which scene he’d interrupted.

It’d only increased her worries back then, and now, even with all the good news, she still found herself pacing back and forth.

However, she knew she wasn’t the only one nervous.

Guilty, as well.

The thought that if they’d stayed – or if they’d just dragged him with them.

If they’d just asked him to come with them.

Grif was sleeping most of the time, calmed down by the sedatives. Grey had… cleaned up the wound that was now shielded by a patch until Grif was strong enough for another surgery. The slash across his face was still an angry shade of red, and some places had been deep enough for Grey to add stitches.

Despite his closed eyes, he didn’t look relaxed. He didn’t even look like Grif.

Carolina had never met Biff, but glancing down at Grif, it felt like she had.

Dylan had been sure to give her Temple’s full story to explain just why all of this had happened.

It just made Carolina feel more guilty.

 “Grif?” There was a voice to his right. He turned his head to follow it. “Hey.”

His vision was still blurry but he could recognize that red hair anywhere.

“Carolina?” he muttered, tongue still weird. “I… You’re here?”

That was bad. It had to be bad. Temple had been very vocal about what he wanted to do to the Freelancers, what he had already done to them. The Freelancers were dead, just like the others, but now Carolina was here, and Grif was confused.

“Yes.” She reached forward to touch his arm. Grif tried not to drop his jaw. This meant that she was real, not like the hallucinations from before. “You’re in the hospital on Chorus. You’re safe. I’m not-“ She breathed in sharply. “No one here is going to harm you.”

Grif frowned. His face felt numb. So did the rest of his body. “Why are you telling me this?” he asked, confused.

He was in a hospital. He understood that. Temple wasn’t here. He wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but he understood that as well.

“Grif, do you remember waking up yesterday?” she asked him softly.

Grif shook his head and the motion was enough to make him feel nauseous.

“Simmons was with you,” Carolina explained to him. She sounded sad. “He- We understand why you must have thought it was Gene-“

He remembered that. The voice. It meant-

Gene,” he said, muscles tensing up. If Gene was here, then Temple would be, too. And even if he wasn’t, that’d still mean that Gene was nearby, and Gene was always pissed off and his knife-. “I- He-“

“Grif. Relax. They’re gone.”

He stared at the needles stuck in his arms, reminding himself that this was a hospital. That he’d been rescued. It was over. “Where?” he asked her.

“Prison. Locus made sure-“

Locus. “Where’s Locus?” He had faint memories of that rescue, just the pain, and then Locus’ unforgettable voice, and then he’d been sure he was about to die.

But the former mercenary hadn’t killed him.

“We don’t know,” Carolina told him, face lowered as she adjusted his blanket. “He dealt with Temple when he snuck into their ship and saw you- saw the torture. He brought you to us and disappeared again.”


He remembered-

“My eye?” Grif said and reached up to touch it. He winced before his fingers even met with the protective patch. The eye-

Simmons’ eye-

Grif swallowed what little saliva was left in his mouth.

When he turned to look at Carolina again, her face was strangely soft. Grif suddenly felt like he’s been told this a lot of times before. He wondered how long he’d been in the hospital.

 “Grey performed surgery. She will have to do so again in order to give you a cyborg eye.”

“Like-“ He couldn’t bring himself to finish the sentence. He kept remembering how mad Temple had been when he’d mentioned the others.

“Like Simmons,” Carolina finished for him. “I’m sure he can talk you through the changes that come with a new eye. Once you’re up for it. For now, you should rest.”

She sent him a small smile that didn’t reach her eyes. Not like back on the island, when she’d been happy, and he’d been too, and it’d been before- before Temple.


“Temple will pay for this,” she cut him off. “He’s going to rot in a cell the rest of his life with his team of torturers. You won’t ever have to see them again.”

But he did.

Ghosts of them, at least.

The armor was the same. He couldn’t tell the difference. Of course a moment later he would tell himself that he was being stupid, that he was of course safe and the Blues and Reds were locked up. That he had no reason to flinch.

These were his frie-

There were the Reds and Blues. He didn’t have to be afraid of them.

Grey visited him all the time, poking him with needles and informing him of his recovery. Offered him psychiatric help if he wanted to talk.

But he didn’t want to talk. Not about himself, at least. He wanted to know what had happened to the others after he quit.

And so he was given the story.

About the dead planet and Armada 8. About Temple playing nice, about how his friends had been right on the other side of the wall. About how Sarge had betrayed them. About what had happened to Wash and how he was stuck in the hospital as well. About just what had happened on Earth. About how they eventually figured out he was in trouble.

They spoke to him gently, shifting in their seats, taking off their helmet when they saw him flinch.

Simmons would stand in the doorway, quiet like a ghost, looking like Gene just waiting to-

Grif slept a lot.

He comforted him with the fact that at least Temple did not have a clone. He was pretty sure watching a cobalt soldier glare into his room would make him lose his mind again. But Temple did not have a doppelganger.

Because Church was dead.

And then Grif felt guilty that he found that thought comforting.

 The next time Simmons entered his room, Grif made sure not to flinch. He was already feeling bad about jumping yesterday when Tucker had moved too quickly.

“It’s me,” Simmons said weakly, standing a few feet from the bed while wringing his hands. He was thankfully not wearing his maroon armor. Instead, he was wearing some old civies that looked like they hadn’t been washed in weeks. It was a strange sight when Simmons was the one wearing them. He raised his head to make eye-contact. “I stabbed Gene. Back on Earth. And pushed him towards lava! So I thought-I thought he was dead. I didn’t think- I didn’t know.”

His voice broke-

The same voice that Gene had used while torturing him, talking to him while raising his knife over and over and-

It was so hard not to flinch.

But Simmons’ broken expression made him try to keep his expression neutral.

Simmons gulped before continuing, “If- If I’d known you there… I’d kill him. For real, that time. And I’d find you and- We didn’t know you were right there!”  With a quick motion he wiped his eyes with his cyborg hand. “I’m sorry that we didn’t know.”

The guilty knot in Grif’s stomach twisted again. He’d made Simmons cry. He’d never dared to imagine how much he must have hurt him when he’d told them all that he hated them. “I mean, Temple kinda kept it a secret on purpose,” Grif said while trying to sit up straight. Nothing hurt when they kept giving him the good pills. “S’not your fault.”

Somehow even Simmons’ cyborg eye managed to look sad as he came closer to the bed. “We should have found you,” he muttered, staring at the chair for a long time before finally deciding to sit down.

“I quit.” It felt horrible, saying it out loud. But that was the truth: he’d made the decision and he’d caused all this. “You didn’t have to do anything.”

Simmons opened his mouth to argue – an expression that Grif knew very well – but then he suddenly bit down on his lip.

“I’m sorry about your eye,” Grif said after a moment of thick silence. It didn’t hurt – Grey made sure of that. And he could live with his restricted vision for now. He slept most of the day anyway. But the fact that Temple had taken the part of him that had belonged to Simmons-

It felt wrong. Dirty. It made him feel more angry than afraid. He thought that counted as progress even though the feeling still sucked.

Simmons’ mouth fell open as he looked at him in shock. “My- Grif, that’s not- You shouldn’t apologize.” His eyes turned watery again when he nodded towards his eye-patch. “It must have been terrible.”

“Caboose called me a pirate yesterday. Eye, eye, Captain. Get that?”

“Yeah. It’s just not funny.” Simmons wrung his hands so tightly that Grif could hear his bones crack. “Grif, I-“

When he struggled to find the word, he reached out to touch Grif’s hand.

Instinctively, Grif pulled his hand away.

He first realized what he’d done when he watched Simmons’ expression crumble with an emotion he couldn’t quite tell. Disappointment, maybe? Some sort of pain? All because Grif was too stupid to see the difference between torturers and (former) teammates.

“I’m sorry,” they both said in unplanned unison.

When they stared at each other afterwards, he watched how Simmons’ cheeks turned a slight shade of pink, lips pulling upwards.

He cleared his throat before talking to Grif again, being sure to keep his hands away from the bed this time. “I know I’m probably not the person you want to see- and I get that, really. But if you- if you want to talk about- well, anything, really. About what happened or- or your new eye, I-“

“I’m going to look like you,” Grif pointed out. The cyborg eye moved to stare at him, somehow gleaming with a soft emotion. Grif wondered how he would look like with that mechanism in his face.

But it wasn’t like they could mess up his looks more than Temple had done.

It would take years before his hair would grow out, but Donut had told him over and over that while he did look “stunning” blond, they would already see the black color in the roots of his hair.

Simmons returned his small smile. “Again. In a different way, I suppose.” He blushed again, but in the horrible way where it was clear that he was feeling bad about himself, keeping his head low. “I’m sorry about that-“

“I like your cybernetics. It’s- It’s you.” He couldn’t find the words to properly describe it. But Gene had misused his color and his voice. He’d stolen those part of Simmons. But the cyborg parts of him was something that Gene had never managed to steal. It was Simmons. In its core. Simmons’ strong metal hand, Simmons’ weird glowing eye. It was safe. But obviously Simmons couldn’t read his thoughts, and he frowned. Grif tried to explain, “I- Your voice- I’m…”

He trailed off, unsure of what to say.

But Simmons seemed to have understood him somehow. Simmons was great at figuring out things.

“We- I mean, myself and the others we- we talked about how we don’t have to wear armor, you know?” He gestured towards his own bare arms. “We’re home now. On Chorus. And- it’s very nice. They’ve been rebuilding. A lot. We don’t need to wear armor here. So we won’t. We hope that would… make it easier for you.”

The word ‘home’ was nice. But it didn’t change the guilt. The dirty feeling. The others didn’t know but Grif remembered. Temple’s lips on his neck, the way he had embraced him.

But that wasn’t even the worst part.

“He wanted Biff.”

Simmons looked at him, raising an eyebrow in confusion.

“Temple,” Grif said again. “He wanted Biff.”

Nodding sadly, Simmons moved his chair a bit closer as he told him, “You’re not Biff.” For a moment, anger flashed across Simmons’ expression. His fists were clenched as he looked out of the window. “And what he did – that wasn’t your fault.”

The worst part was how he had given up. Stopped resisting. Eaten Temple’s food, watched movies with him. Crawled in Temple’s bed at night for comfort. He’d made those choices to- to comfort himself. But now he just felt disgusted by the actions. “I joined them,” he admitted, unable to stop his voice from becoming thick. “You should know that.”

“So did Sarge,” Simmons said, shrugging. “And you- you were forced. It wasn’t like you became the new villain or anything.  And- and even if you did, we forgave Wash for that, so you’d be in the clear!” He tried to send him a smile again, weak and strained but oddly pure. “Look, whatever happened – it’s okay. Well, it’s not okay – as in Temple is a dickhead and he is gonna pay for what he did.”

Grif didn’t like the fury in Simmons’ eyes.

But on the other hand, he did like the thought of Temple suffering.

“If I could, I’d totally stab and shove him into lava,” Simmons said, keeping his voice very grave, very serious, like when they were discussing math or sci-fi movies or other sort of stupid shit.

It occurred to Grif that Simmons was way more than his maroon color.

That thought was nice.

But he had to ask: “We’re still friends, right?”

“Of course.” Simmons’ frown grew deeper, worried. “I mean, why wouldn’t we be?”

“’cause I quit?” Grif tore gently at the needle in the back of his hand, needing to keep his fingers busy while he admitted all his faults. “And… stuff happened. I haven’t exactly been myself lately…”

He could still hear the interviews being played over and over.

But Simmons had sounded different in the video. Cold. Hurt.

Not soft like now.

“Neither was I,” Simmons told him. “I mean, when you just left. I was… pretty mad. At myself. I should have stayed. With you.”

“Nah. Temple would have just killed you.” He froze, pressing his remaining eye shut as he remembered how many times he’d grieved for them. “He said you were dead.”

“I thought you were dead,” Simmons admitted, sounding like he was going to cry again.

But there was no reason to cry, really.

They were both alive, despite what they’d been forced to believe.

“When I… get an eye and stop being… weird and I’m over all that trauma shit… Do you think I can un-quit the team?” Grif asked him, holding his breath. “I’m not really sure if I belong but-“

“Of course you belong here!” Simmons exclaimed, sending him the softest, purest smile as he explained why: “You’re Grif.”

And that was the one thing Grif needed to hear.