A Bittersweet Reminder

It was a gorgeous day in the Last Free City, an early morning shower having left a sheen that the rising sun sparkled off of. The day that every child of the city waited eagerly for had arrived, excitement comparable to that of Christmas Day glee. The Tower was hosting it’s annual Guardian Appreciation day, when civilians of all ages and races were welcomed to meet those that protected them, to speak with the legends they so adored, and end the day with a massive feast in the Vanguard hangar.

Most families arrived just before noon, or around there, due to the extra time needed to herd the energetic younger ones. Others simply came and went as they pleased, the foot traffic of the Tower at an all time high. Laughter broke out here and there, most trying to keep the spirits high, conversations providing an atmosphere of ambient noise.

A weary Awoken clad in his usual Titan gear had kept off to the side, taking up the spot Eris used to occupy when she first arrived. The only thing missing from his loadout was his helmet having left it in his dorm to avoid scaring civilians, or children for that matter. With the rest of his squad milling among the visitors he simply watched from a distance, leaning back on the railing as his Ghost hovered there.

“I’m sure you have a fan in there somewhere,” the Ghost blinked at him, the voice feminine, “Why don’t you just take one walk around, Atul?”

“Don’t even try, Sylvia, I’m fine just where I’m at,” the Awoken waved his hand at her, rather irritated with her constant goading.

“It’s funny, you’re not scared of Wizards or Hydras, but you hide in fear of regular and harmless Earth children,” she prodded, knowing if she hit the right buttons she’d get him to move, “Traveler forbid that you die of hugs and giggles.”

“Five minutes, will that get you to shut up?” he looked up at her, none too pleased with her antics.

“Six minutes and I won’t bring it up for a year.”

“Deal.”

With a shove off the railing he lumbered towards the main area, the hallway to the Speaker’s office to his left. It was from there that shrieks erupted, quickened little footsteps following and growing louder as they reached him. In complete instinct he turned, starting to reach for the assault rifle on his back but he stopped himself at the sight of what just had startled him. A pair of Awoken children stared up at him, dancing in place with little hands flailing, an Exo couple quickly bringing up the rear.

“It’s you!” the little girl screamed, bubbling with so much excitement her feet barely staying in touch with the ground as she hopped.

“Mom! Dad! Look!” the boy was next to his twin sister, his actions just the same.

Atul himself just stood there, blinking in surprise, he hadn’t expected to be recognized at all much less be the highlight of a kid’s day. Now he had two doing the wiggle dance, Sylvia drifting down to them where they turned her over like a Rubik’s Cube to be solved.

“I apologize, sir, they’ve been trying to find you all day,” the mother gave a bow of her head, keeping a healthy eye on the children manhandling the Ghost, “They’ve just been so excited to see you since they heard of how you took down Phogoth.”

“Do you always tell war stories as bedtime lullabies?” Atul had to ask, finding the notion odd yet flattering at the same time, having half a mind to pull Sylvia out but she was quietly giggling so he left her to the whims of the twins.

“It’s not exactly easy to hide the existence of those trying to wipe us out, so it’s better to just tell them stories of Guardians to help them sleep,” the father answer, “Yours are some of their favorites because you’re an Awoken.”

“What’s the Moon like?”

“Did the Ogre thingy make scary sounds?”

“Can I hold your gun?”

“Can I have your Ghost?”

The bombardment of questions from the pair brought Atul to kneel in front of them, their innocent look on the war bringing a soft smile to his face. If things were only as simple as they saw them. “The Moon is beautiful, I can see you from all the way up there. You can’t play with my gun, it’s too dangerous, and you can’t have my Ghost because I need her. But, I do have something you can have.”

Sylvia had been released, resuming her place at Atul’s side while he sifted through the pouches on his belt. The Awoken twins looked like they were about to explode, quickly reaching happiness overload. The Titan offered one closed hand out to each, letting them pry at his fingers before he opened them up slowly with his palms facing upwards. “They’re called Motes of Light, they’re a part of the Traveler.”

It wasn’t the illumination from the Motes that lit up the faces of the twins, but rather that they receiving a gift from their personal hero. Both scooped up their present, alternating between holding it up and clutching it to their chest as if it could run away on it’s own.

“What do we say?” the mother prompted, taking the free hand of each to start to lead them off to see more Guardians.

“Thank you!” came the chorus, making Atul’s smile widen yet there was growing sadness in his eyes.

“Thank you for all you do, sir,” the father offered his hand out, the Titan shaking it rather firmly, “I haven’t seen them this happy since the day we adopted them. I can’t express how grateful my wife and I are that we have Guardians like you protecting us day in and day out.”

“Just part of the job,” it was the only reply Atul could muster, the father unknowingly leaving the Titan in a state of an existential crisis. He stepped back to where he had been hiding before, head hanging and hands picking at his gloves.

“Atul? What’s wrong?” Sylvia dipped low enough to look him in the face, the single blue eye blinking.

“Do you know anything about me from before you first brought me back to life, Sylvia?” he asked quietly, facing the city to hide his troubled expression from the crowd. “Did I have a family? Did I have children like those two who were made orphans?”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know. Alot of records were lost during The Collapse, even if we went digging we wouldn’t find much,” the Ghost drifted closer, pressing her shell into his hands, “Your family line could have already ended, or it could still be going. There’s no real way to tell other then DNA testing every Awoken in the city, which we don’t have the resources for.”

“So those kids, they could have be my great great grandchildren?” he held her against his chest plate in a hug, as if he was clutching a beloved plushie that he found comfort in.

“It’s in the realm of possibilities.”

Tears had started to stream down his face, never before having brought up the thought that he could have possibly been married and had children. And he had failed them by not coming home. Yet, that’s if he ever had the opportunity to love in the first place, something he would never know. The very thought of everything he had missed out on had him back up until his back met a wall, sliding down it as he held Sylvia close. All he could do in that moment was mourn for those long dead, the very same people who were equally distraught over his initial death all those centuries ago.

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