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Digging Like You Can Bury

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Grif once dug twenty-seven graves on a dead planet.

The graves were shallow because the dirt was hard and Grif was exhausted and there were so many bodies.

A mass grave had been tempting but Grif knew they deserved better than that. He should do the hard work now because he had been sleeping when he should have been there, should have been on duty, should have used his hands to fight off the intruders.

His hands had become blistered from holding the shovel, one throw after another, and before he could shield himself from the sight by covering the still bodies with dirt, he had to pick up the dog tags, wipe them free from dust and blood. He had created a small pile of metal pieces inside the base, leaving them for the UNSC personnel to take care of.

But it took time before they arrived, and Grif was left alone on a silent planet.

When the ship finally landed, he was trying to nap in the least bloodstained room of the outpost; the locker room where he had leaning peacefully against the wall, eyes closed, body still, while the rest of the world became a bloodbath. He was lying on the floor, staring at the ceiling, when the backup finally arrived to declare him the only survivor.

It had been easier to sleep in Blood Gulch, despite the explosions and shouting and arguments and singing and threats and shooting practice too early in the morning.

At some point during their afternoon patrol, when Grif had declared a smoke break and Simmons had finally stopped bitching about it, the maroon soldier had confided that he had never seen a dead body before. He had said it like he was ashamed of the fact, like it made him any less a soldier. As if they could be any less a soldier.

He hesitated for a moment, inhaling the smoke, before telling him about the twenty-seven graves.

The narrowed eyes could be felt through the visor.

“You’re kidding.”

“You think?”

“I… Would you stop blowing smoke in my face?”

One day Grif woke up with an arm that did not belong to him and pale skin stretching across his body like a really strange sort of embrace. Simmons would now set off metal detectors, even without his armor.

Another day, years later, Grif would wake up with Simmons clutching his shoulder, tremors forcing his body to shake. Simmons dreamt of engulfing waves; no grave and no peace. Grif dreamt of digging again, the number of graves growing bigger despite him telling himself not to care. He had to pick up the dog tags as well, even Sarge’s stupid piece that did not even reveal a real name.

On Chorus they had been forced to dig graves too. The soldiers had survived for so long with bullets flying past their ears, and sometimes they could not dodge in times. Kids, basically, Grif thought bitterly as he removed dog tag from a girl in his squad that had been the first to fall in the ambush.

Simmons helped him dig. The work was faster done with two shovels.

Fuck.”

“…Yeah.”

One day after they had dug the final graves, when the war was over, Grif woke up in a closet. The irony was not lost on him when he found the door locked. Simmons was in the darkened corner, naked, and letting out some weirdly pleased sound. It stopped when he opened his eyes.

“I…”

“Let’s not.”

“Sure.”

It was perhaps unnerving how quickly explosions and dinosaur roars and Carolina’s singing voice could become the new normal, but the ten months seemed to pass in a blur, and one day Grif woke up alone.

It was by choice this time, at least, even though the silence was the same. Less eerie, perhaps, in the beginning. It gave him plenty of opportunities to nap. The lack of voices gave him time to think.

Maybe that had been the worst part of it all. The day he rested under a beach umbrella, watching the sun set, and that weird hole in his chest turned uncomfortable. It had been relieving in the beginning, like a weight being lifted off his chest. He had listened to the silence and enjoyed the lack of insults.

Then a… week? Or two? It was hard to keep track of time when most of it was spent on sleeping. But the hole seemed to become infected, raw around the edges. It hurt at times if he forgot to keep his thoughts under control.

When the silence became too familiar. Or when he stepped into the base and saw too much red…

A different red, of course. Sarge’s red army handbook (only read by Simmons, though the leader carried around everywhere like some sort of trophy), Simmons’ maroon t-shirt (still smelled like him; that faint odor of oil caused by the cyborg limbs), Donut’s towel hung up to dry (it was embroidered, for fuck’s sake). Even Lopez had abandoned some cans of oil, a red label on each of them to warn people from drinking them (mainly for Caboose’s sake. Everyone else was clever enough to not drink not-drinkable liquid, and just in general to stay away from the robot’s belongings).

All stuff left behind in the hurry. And among the red is a piece of orange. Grif was left behind, too.

By choice, yes, but it had been hard not to felt trapped ever since the day he realized he had no way of getting off the planet by himself.

But they’d probably come back for him. Once they were done.

But they didn’t.

And it became hard to avoid that fact that was he alone once again. On a moon that was not meant to be this quiet.

Grif realized that digging graves had at least kept him busy back then. Kept his thoughts somewhat calm. But of course it had been hard to think dark thoughts back then since it had been impossible to come up with a scenario worse than what had already happened.

Now he found himself pacing back at forth, staring at the cave wall, the sky, the sea, and one day he said quietly, “I… fuck.”

Not that it mattered that he never found the guts to say his regrets out loud. That he wanted to be with them, and that he never meant… But there was no one to hear his confessions and no one to pick him up, so perhaps it did not matter the slightest.

One day he woke up and understood they were not coming back for him. He understood. It hurt, of course, since Church had once insulted them way worse and they had still come to his rescue, even Grif… But that sort of shit was the thing he was tired of so he could not blame them for not caring. That was his life style, after all. Not caring.

He’d hope they’d come back.

But they didn’t.

And Grif told himself that was okay.

Until the morning where the hole in his chest seemed to explode, his ribs gave in and fell into the void. He opened his eyes and just knew.

He was lying on the roof of the base when ship landed.

A ship from Chorus.

And they apologized before they had even exited the aircraft, telling him over and over how sorry they were, but they had realized he had not known, that he had been stranded too far away to hear the news.

There were no graves for Grif to dig this time. They had already been dug, a ceremony and everything, and the mourning had lasted for days before they could finally reach him.

There had never been a grave for Kai.

And Grif should feel happy that this time he did not have to dig eight graves, did not have to pick up the dog tags, but in the end that meant absolutely nothing.

Grif threw his head back, throat convulsing with a mix between sobs and an exhausted laughter.

History had a funny habit of repeating itself, of making life miserable for Grif. It was a twisted way of teaching the consequences of choosing the chance to nap over his duties. And Grif had never been a fast learner.

The only survivor, once again, and Grif despised the word lucky with his entire being.