Emile slunk into the kitchen, where a worked-up Rosenda-344 was desperately trying to clean up the mess that GYSGT Stacker and his crew of dimwits had left. He was wearing his all-black dress uniform, complete with all the medals he'd won fighting the Covenant and Insurrectionists. Rosenda turned to look at him and her eyebrows rose slightly. "Wow. Who knew, you actually look sane," she said, smirking. Her shoulder-length brown hair was sweaty and trailed into her face as she cleaned up stains and put things back where they belonged.
"Got somethin' for ya," Emile announced, one hand behind his back.
Rosenda's head snapped up and she cocked an eyebrow. "Uh-huh, really. Look, you and I both know we can't stand each other 'cause I'm your replacement."
"So? No reason to be all huffy about it," Emile said. "Besides, it is Christmas…"
He brought his hand out from behind his back, and to Rosenda's utter shock it was…
A can of cranberry sauce.
"Figured I might as well contribute, since I ate half your supply," Emile said matter-of-factly, tossing the can at her.
She caught it, looked it over, then sighed. "Uh… thanks," she said, feeling awkward. Normally she was the sassy one, but now she felt disappointed. What had she been expecting from him, a freaking diamond ring? They were Spartans. But still… she had been expecting something a little more, say, meaningful…
"Well, see ya. Better hurry on up, 'cause company's comin' fast," Emile reminded her, walking out of the kitchen. Rosenda just stood there, staring after him, then she sighed and shook her head. Emile would never learn, because Emile was only in love with his kukri knife.
- Noble Base, upper level #2
Jorge watched as the snow fell. It was a peaceful snowfall, not driven by the wind or peppered with ice. He would have been out in it, had he not wanted to get snowflakes all over his dress uniform just yet.
He had found Halsey's present, just before he, Emile and Jun left the mall. He hoped it would be good enough. He'd decided on this particular present by thinking hard and long about all the things Halsey had given him, right down to the very first thing. It was simple, but held a lot of meaning for him. He could only hope it would hold some sort of meaning for her. Finding out that she was actually coming tonight made him slightly nervous. It had been a while since they'd seen each other, years even.
What Kat had asked him hours earlier was bothering him now. Why couldn't he remember what Christmas had been like before the Spartan-II Program? Surely those memories were too precious for his mind to simply throw away. But most likely, they were gone… just like his last name was gone… and his parents' faces…
"Don't tell me you're depressed too."
Kat joined Jorge, looking out at the beautiful snowy landscape. She crossed her arms and sighed. "I finally got Carter to snap out of it. He'll be joining us shortly."
"Me, depressed? Nah." Jorge shook his head. "Just deep in thought, I suppose."
"If this is about what I said earlier—"
"No, no. It's fine. No harm done, right?"
"Men," Kat said ominously. "You're all alike, you and Carter and the other Y-chromosome-bearing idiots on this base. Why is it so hard to tell a woman exactly what's going on?"
"Because then you try to fix everything!" Emile grunted, strolling into the room. He had buzz-cut his hair shorter and was actually making an attempt at looking formal in his uniform. "No offense, Kat, but men have this pride-thing that never leaks information except under dire circumstances."
"Oh really," Kat remarked, cracking her knuckles. "Exactly what does dire circumstances entail?"
"Y'know what, forget I ever said that," Emile answered quickly, backing away with both hands raised in a placating gesture. "And I saw Carter gettin' all fixed up back in the locker room. How on earth did you manage that?"
"Let's just say he found himself under dire circumstances," Kat purred, and Emile found himself reconsidering what the definition of "dire circumstances" might be, and when his mind arrived at a suitable conclusion, he cracked a smile that was both envious and knowing.
- In the women's quarters…
"What… what is this?" Six panicked, turning around to look at herself in the mirror. "How did this happen?"
Rosenda shook her head, still drying her hair with a towel. She had just gotten out of the shower and no longer smelled like food. "Looks like somebody ignored the little tag that says 'dry clean,' chick. But hey, I'm sure the guys won't mind," she said slyly.
Six turned to look at her teammate with furious eyes. She indicated her uniform—which was now two or three sizes too small—and one of her eyelids twitched once. "This isn't cute, it's humiliating! I look like… like a… well, it just won't do," the hyper-lethal vector huffed. "Got anything in your trunk I could try to wear? All I got's camo and PT clothes."
"Hmmm, lemme see…" Rosenda hung her towel over her shoulders, hopped down, and opened the trunk at the foot of her bunk. She sorted through it, pulling out various items of clothing, then shook her head. "I got nothin' but my own uniform and what you have. Sorry," she sighed. "Ummm… hey, let's see what Kat has in her trunk! She's always stealing clothes from people she hates."
"Like Vice Admiral Parangosky?" Six chuckled. "Huh, I'm almost curious to see her 'collection.' If she's got anything else like that shirt she has on today, I'm very interested."
Rosenda fiddled with the lock on Kat's trunk. "Ah, crap. Should've known she'd make it impossible to pick. Well, guess that plan's toast." She looked up at Six. "There's only one option left now."
"Chips Dubbo. His mom always sends him sweaters that are too big, or so he complains. And they're knitted from real sheep's wool, too! From Australia!"
Six facepalmed, but grimly accepted Rosenda's suggestion, knowing that she had no other choice.
- In the mess hall…
"Be careful with those plates! Quit lagging! Eyes off the pie, Marine! Move!" Kat snapped, stalking like a velvet-clad taskmaster as Stacker's squad of Marines rushed to set the table properly and get everything ready.
Everything was flowing smoothly, taking shape in a timely manner. Kat, who prided herself on being an organized mastermind, had taken the reins and wielded her rank as a whip, reprimanding the slow and distracted. Noble Base was going to give Colonel Holland and his important guests a satisfactory Christmas dinner… or all the incompetents would suffer greatly for their failure, because Kat never accepted defeat. Even in a matter so "trivial" as this.
"You're so tense," Carter remarked, coming up behind the female Spartan. "I thought Christmas was a time to relax."
"Oh, so now you're begging me to adhere to tradition? Ha," Kat smirked. Then she turned and got a good look at the Commander, and both eyebrows rose. He was clean-shaven and looked dazzling in his black uniform, with his broad shoulders and many medals. Kat hadn't seen him this dressed up in ages.
Christmas was definitely going to become a tradition for Noble Team. Even if it was for the selfish reason that Kat enjoyed checking Carter out in all his groomed glory.
- In the rec room…
"It's so CUTE!" Rosenda declared, resisting the urge to hug Six, who looked ready to crawl under a rock and die.
Six raised her arms and looked down at the cream-colored sweater she had on. It was a thick and fluffy wool sweater, and it itched. Badly. Luckily, it was actually kind of baggy on her. Apparently Chips Dubbo's dear mum thought he was much larger than his actual size.
"I look like a schoolgirl," Six complained, while Rosenda fussed with her hair. "No, scratch that. I look like an idiot. I thought I would never be able to say this about clothing again, but it's too big!"
"Aw, get a hold of yourself. You look fine," Rosenda chided. "Now hold still so I can get this knot out of your hair!"
Six gnawed her lip while Rosenda fussed with the back of her head. Unlike Rosenda and Kat, Six was often quiet as a mouse, usually only saying what needed to be said. Her specialty was action, not words. The nagging feeling inside of her right now wanted to be expressed, but her training and pride held it back. It was the familiar old feeling of being alone, invisible. It was odd how the loneliness became more pressing among people and more bearable when she was out in some wilderness with just a gun and some ammo for company.
"I need some air," she declared, pulling away from Rosenda and making a beeline for the door. She didn't care that it would be cold outside. She needed an opportunity to clear her head and think.
She walked out onto the concrete landing pad, the heels of her plain black boots crunching in the layer of snow. Tiny flakes floated down and latched onto the sweater. Six exhaled and looked up at the cloudy sky. She was beginning to think like Carter had been thinking earlier that day… that Christmas was depressing and that she didn't really want to celebrate. Her parents were long dead and her homeworld was glass. Six shook her head, wondering why these thoughts were so damaging to her now. Perhaps it was the knowledge that she should be happy or at least in good spirits that was troubling her.
"You too, eh?"
A shadow loomed over Six and she turned and looked up to see Jorge standing there. He took off his overcoat and draped it on her, shaking his head. "It's too chilly for that, Six. We Spartans may be tough, but we still catch cold."
"Well what about you?" Six asked, resisting the urge to gawk at the literal collection of military decorations that formed a colorful array on one side of Jorge's uniform.
"I'm used to it," Jorge said, looking out at the vast expanse of snow. "This is Reach, you know. Half my training was bogged knee-deep in snow and ice."
"Right." Six smiled, but it quickly faded. "I guess I came out here just to feel the wind on my face. It's kind of stuffy inside," she said.
"It's lonesome out here," Jorge remarked. "You feeling down, Six?" He sounded concerned.
"No," she answered, then thought about it and sighed. "Maybe," she admitted, clasping her hands together. "I guess it's because I'm, well, you know. I haven't been on this team as long as everyone else. I guess I'm just uncomfortable for some reason."
"Bah, there's no reason to feel ill at ease with us. We don't bite, 'cept for Emile," Jorge joked. Then he became serious. "But really… you don't have to worry about feeling out of place. Stick with me, if you like. I've got your back."
Six blinked and smiled slightly. Perhaps she wasn't so alone as she thought.