Chapter 6: Emile's Epic Fail
Carter looked up at the huge tree, resisting the urge to gape, while Kat chuckled and squeezed his hand. "See, we are capable of decorating without using alien blood and guts," she teased. "You can thank Jorge for the tree and Jun for the decorations. And Gunnery Sergeant Stacker's men for hanging all the ornaments."
"Always a pleasure to help out, ma'am," Stacker said coolly, from where he and his squad were resting. One of them was hopelessly tangled in string threaded with popcorn while two others were picking off the popcorn and eating it, seemingly oblivious to their comrade's discomfort.
"Man, you guys went all-out
it brings back memories," Carter said, and Kat squeezed his hand again, reminding him of what she'd said earlier. "But what say you we spend tonight making some good ones, right?"
"I couldn't agree more," Kat said with a sly smile.
Jun trudged in, sniffling. He looked like he was having an allergy attack or something. "Ah, Commander, you're alive," the sniper snarked, looking from Carter to the tree. "Wow. That makes nearly freezing to death almost worth it."
"Quit exaggerating, it was a refreshing walk in the woods," Kat said dismissively.
"Are you sick, Jun?" Carter asked, concerned for his teammate, who despite his pressed uniform looked slightly miserable.
"I don't think soit's just, you see, Emile and Jorge abandoned me in the middle of the mall, and then this psychotic woman attacked me with a bottle of cologne, and it got up my nose and in my eyes
" Jun sniffled again and sighed. "It was worse than tear gas, I swear."
"Poor baby," Emile sneered, walking up behind Jun and thumping him on the back of the head, which made the sniper wince. "Hey, anybody seen Rosenda? Or Jorge and Six for that matter? Time's gettin' close."
"I think I saw Jorge and Six outside," Jun piped up, then sneezed. "Crazy Hungarian polar bear hybrid. He's going to bring her back and we'll have to chisel her out of an iceblock"
"I'm right here," a sultry voice chimed, and Emile turned to see Rosenda standing in the doorway. She had her hair up in a ponytail and wore her standard uniform, but had the front partially unzipped and was wearing what looked like a necklace of brass .22 shell cartridges. It looked like actual jewelry, the way she had it made, and the fact that it was made of spent shells both amazed and intrigued Emile. It was like Rosenda had morphed into a completely different person.
"What are you staring at, skullface?" Rosenda snapped, noticing his stare.
"What's it look like I'm starin' at, little girl?" Emile retorted.
"Your mom's face."
"Can it, you two," Carter sighed, like a weary parent trying to placate a stubborn teenager. "At least for tonight. I'm already amazed you and Jorge haven't found something to squabble about," he remarked, glancing at Emile.
Emile shrugged. "Hey, we played that game last week. I'm still plotting for next week."
"You stop that. Find someone to torture other than Jorge, for gosh sakes," Rosenda sighed, rolling her eyes.
Emile leaned in close and smiled demonically. "Oh, I think I just did," he breathed, and Rosenda shoved him, disgusted.
"Hey, uh, I just thought of something," Jun said awkwardly, stifling a cough. "Um
aren't we supposed to get each other gifts for Christmas, y'know, something like that?"
There was a long and very awkward silence after that, and Kat sighed. "I thought about that, but really, what could we possibly give to each other that wouldn't get lost or destroyed in a fight? And besides, I doubt Colonel Holland would appreciate it. It might be against regulations."
"I doubt it's against regulations, but you're right, Kat. We're Spartans. Giving gifts might seem like a nice idea, but really, when it comes down to it, we have no use for things like that," Carter admitted. "But it was good of you to suggest it, Jun."
The sniper hung his head, looking depressed. "But
I like boxes and wrapping paper and bows
and what's inside
Rosenda patted Jun on the shoulder, while Emile glowered and crossed his arms, pouting. "It's okay, Jun. I'm sure everything will be fine." Deep down she had a mental image of a bald Asian-looking toddler ripping open a Christmas present and squealing. It was kind of cute but also kind of disturbing.
Outside, at least fifty meters from Noble Base
and then my mom and dad would watch me open my presents, and it would always be exactly what I wanted. We'd load up in the car and go the park and make snowmen and snow angels. My dad would always tease me about how I slipped on the ice and my mom would scold him," Six recounted, a smile ghosting her lips. "Then we'd go to a huge church and sing, and after that, we'd go to my grandparents' and have dinner."
She and Jorge were sitting on a fallen log, looking at Noble Base from the treeline. The snow had all but died down and the wind was actually being gentle. Six rubbed her hands together because they were cold and sighed. "I guess that's what being 'a kid on Christmas morning' means. You wake up and suddenly it's like the happiness will last forever, and the snow will never melt. But the snow always melts." She looked down at the snowy ground, where bits of leaf and grass poked up from the whiteness. "And the happiness does too."
Jorge was silent for a moment. He hadn't expected Six to tell him all that, though he actually liked hearing about it, but after making small talk she's burst like a bubble and started talking about her past. The smaller, blonde Spartan's shoulders slumped and she looked up at the sky as if seeking elusive answers.
"Don't go saying stuff like that. It'll mess with your head. In our business, you gotta keep your chin up," Jorge said, watching as she rubbed her hands more furiously. "Here, allow me." He trapped both of her hands between his and nearly winced at how icy they felt.
Six, despite the fact that her face was losing feeling, felt her cheeks flush and hoped it wasn't visible. "What about you? What was Christmas like for you
before, you know."
"Eh, that's a tough one." Jorge sighed, and for a moment he looked tired. "See, I don'tcan'tremember. Anything." He smiled fondly at Six. "Guess it slipped past me during training."
"Anything?" Six echoed. Her memories of home and family were strong, because she'd held onto them as her reason for existing during training on Onyx. She couldn't imagine not being able to remember her parents' faces or how it felt to hug them. Thinking about that made her feel sad and she cocked her head. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be, it's not your fault. Besides, what did I say about keeping your chin up?" Jorge sighed. "Quit being stubborn!" Despite his nonchalant attitude, there was sadness in his eyes.
Six leaned over on Jorge's shoulder and let her head rest there. They were both silent for a few minutes, listening as the wind moved through the trees.
"I think it's about time we headed back, Six. You're going to be solidified before long," Jorge remarked, releasing the Spartan-III's hands. "Guess you really do have ice in your veins, huh?" It wasn't sarcasm, it was a joke, and she took it as such, grinning slightly.
"I guess we should be getting back," Six remarked, standing up. She inhaled deeply, feeling the frozen air enter her lungs. "I feel better now."
"Good." Jorge's shadow hung over her and she looked up at him, still unused to looking up at a teammate. It was almost eerie how different the Spartan-IIs were from the IIIs. But yet, they were all the same: they were all human. Not alien, not machine. Human. With human needs and hurts.
"WHAT ARE YOU MORONS DOING?"
Emile practically screamed at them from the doorway, his voice carrying across the airway. "Do you people actually enjoy freezing half to death or something? 'Cause it ain't normal!"
"Your point?" Jorge called.
"We just got word from Holland. He'll be arriving within the hour, along with company." Emile paused, then continued. "Come on inside, 'cause Kat needs somebody to help with last-minute details. Six, you've been summoned."
"Great," Six yelled back. It was not a happy statement.
In a random hallway inside Noble Base
"Get your hands off me!"
Rosenda slapped away Emile's hand, and the assault specialist frowned. "Look, I was just tryin' to be, y'know, friendly
" he protested.
"And I'm a leprechaun. What is with you today? Normally you're threatening to kill me in my sleep if I take your place on the next Innie op," Rosenda spat. "Surely you're not intoxicated
I thought our augmentations made that impossible
"Of course I'm not," Emile snorted. "I dunno, I just
feel a bit more tolerant today," the haughty Spartan added.
"Tolerant. Ri-i-ight," Rosenda said, in mock understanding. "So what's the catch? You gonna put me in a headlock, then what, Mister Tolerant?"
"Gah, you're hopeless," Emile grumbled, pushing past.
Rosenda followed him, unsure whether to run or to laugh. "Me, hopeless? Funny, normally that's what I'm saying about you."
"Look, if you don't wanna see me, then go away!" Emile snapped. "Otherwise, at least let me talk to you."
"I am letting you talk"
"No you're not, you're being sassy like you always are."
"Did you just call me sassy...?"
"Yeah, I did!"
"Fine then! Just
go away!" Rosenda spat, wondering why this conversation was getting her all in a huff. They'd sparred verbally before, but today was different.
"Fine. But first, let me do somethin'." Emile grabbed Rosenda by both arms, over her biceps, and before she could strike back, he leaned in and kissed her squarely on the mouth. It was rough, unpracticed, but something made him do it, and once it was done, they both looked at each other in half-awe, half-horror.
" Rosenda tried to speak, but couldn't. "You!" With that, she stomped angrily down the hall, ponytail bobbing on the back of her head.
Emile had a sudden urge to go dunk his head in a toilet. And flush it. Maybe that would shock him to his senses.