A/N: Please help. I've been kidnapped and replaced with someone who likes to write Halo fluff.
Anyway, half this story is indebted to jameson9101322 of deviantArt, who came up with the helmet-stealing scenario. It is a prequel to "Elegies".
The fall of the Spire left Noble Team feeling like the battle had been taken to a new level. It wasn't really a battle now; it was an invasion, and the new goal was to stop their planet's transformation.
Noble Six watched Carter's silhouette as the commander stood at the mouth of the cave, perhaps feeling through the movements in the air the attitude of his squad. Six sat beside Kat on a stub of rock, hearing the occasional ting sound as Kat cleaned her rifle with a rag held in her mechanical hand.
Carter turned around with his helmet under his arm. "All right, Noble Team. Set up camp. This might be the last time we get some sleep for a while."
Emile, sitting on the floor and flipping his knife, turned his skull-mask toward the commander. "You want us to sleep now when we could be working on getting that slipspace drive? I'm ready to keep going."
"Then you can take the first watch." Carter assigned the other watches and started unpacking bedrolls, crouching on the other side of Kat while Emile headed for the darkening mouth of the cave.
Six worked her helmet off, blinking to clear the afterimages of the HUD. It was the first time the others had seen her without the mask, and she thought she saw Emile's head turn.
Talking quietly among themselves, Kat, Carter, and Jun headed toward the back of the cave to find arms of it for themselves. Six followed at a distance.
Jorge had already found a place by the wall in a small offshoot cavern and set his helmet down beside him. Six vividly remembered Emile's words after Jorge had showed his face to comfort a frightened civilian: He forgets what he is sometimes.
Six wasn't sure whether it was Jorge who forgot that he was a Spartan or Emile who forgot that they were human. Jorge had saved her at the Spire. Anyone could have leaned out and grabbed her hand, but she wanted to thank him.
"Hey, Six. It's good to see you have a face."
She smiled and approached his little camp. "I've heard most of us threes do. I just wanted to thank you for saving me back there."
"We're a team. Keep close and I'm not going to let you die."
Six crossed the cavern and set down her own supplies. "I'll do that then."
She sat down with her back to him. There was some silence; after checking to see that Emile was watching the outside world and that there were no sounds of Covenant trying to sneak up, she began to take apart her armor plating. It parted from the underlay over her chest and arms gradually, like shed skin. Although it was healthy for the human body to get out of a controlled environment, she felt more comfortable in the armor's body-temperature gel than in the cool cave air.
She had been built for this armor, just like all the Spartan-IIIs had. (They'd all gone through the little fear before the augmentations, and the growing pains and last gasps of mood swings afterward.)
But it was nice and comfortable to lay down, with the armor still protecting her hips and legs, and pillow her head in her arms.
No matter how comfortable the pallet felt, she could only afford a moment's rest for now. It would be impossible to sleep without knowing she was ready to fight tomorrow, so she sat up again and turned over her assault rifle to start getting the dirt and alien blood off.
Jorge was doing the same across the cavern. He had shucked half of his armor too, and his wide shoulders and height made him obviously different from the Spartan-IIIs even then. (Different from us, Six thought. It was nice that Noble Team had become an "us".) The Spartan-IIs were expensive and fallible, but one look at Jorge's arms explained why they could go head-to-head with Covenant that the rest dodged around, or how he could easily lift the dead weight of Six and her armor out of the sky. Sometimes, Jorge could seem alien.
But then, of course, he would speak. He looked over at her with an even gaze. "So you've got a face. Have you got a name?"
It wasn't unusual for Spartans in the same company to use their given names. It boosted morale, but nobody on Noble had asked Six yet.
He forgets what he is, sometimes.
"Aislinn. I don't like it."
"It's the part about the "ice" I don't like. You're not chilly like that. We'll get you a nickname like Kat's got. She's too quick for Catherine." His smile and the shine in his eyes wasn't handsome like Carter's, but it was protective and kind.
Six put her gun down and sat closer to him, invading the no-man's-land of the bare rock floor. "They tried to give me a nickname in Beta Company, but I fought it off."
"Stay Six then. That's who you are to us."
"But now you know." She spied his helmet set on the ground and hooked it with one hand. Some Spartans might have flinched, feeling affronted. Jorge didn't. Six picked up the helmet and said, "If you know my name and don't use it, that's like taking something away."
"You're making me work, lieutenant."
Six stiffened up and let the helmet go, but Jorge gave a short laugh.
So she took the helmet and stood up. She heard him huff as he followed, like an angry bear.
"You take my name, I'll take your mask."
He grabbed for it, slow; this wasn't Spartan fighting, but just something to relax and keep their blood moving. She retreated. He rushed her; she dodged under his arm. (It was like fighting a Hunter with open hands.)
He turned and she remembered how he had put a hand on her shoulder during one of their first missions together, although she had barely felt it through the armor plating of her shoulder, and hadn't given it much thought.
Emile shifted, meters away at the cave entrance, and Six looked that way for a moment, keeping Jorge's helmet away at arm's length.
Jorge stopped too. Six turned and her shoulder bumped against his arm, and he reached for the helmet again. If she just turned—
So she did, and then he had one hand on hers reaching for the helmet and the other arm around her. She smirked and got a hand around his, and he pulled them both back, out of Emile's sight. She let him have the helmet and curved up to look at him, his thumb pressing against her chin under her palm.
They stood and looked at each other for a little while, and then he sat down with his arms around her and let the helmet tip onto the ground.
They sat like that, giving back the body heat the cave had taken. For all the times she had been the hero, the Sierra, Six thought it felt nice just to lean against someone who was stronger than her.
No one on Noble would have to warn her about "lone wolf stuff" again. When her watch came, Jorge said against her hair, "I'm gonna be here on my own, Aislinn. Make it quick, wouldja?" He released her, and she got to her feet slowly.
She looked over her shoulder to see him pick up his helmet and go back to his bedroll.
"Call me Six."
She sat with a sniper rifle beside her and scanned the valley until her watch ended on that long night of solace.