"But I don't see why we have to get a real tree," Jun said for the fifth time, dragging his feet in the snow. A normal human would have been bogged down by the eighteen inches of packed white flakes, but the Spartan-III moved easily, albeit reluctantly. "I mean, the folks back at Delta Base use their heads and go buy one from Uni-Mart. Where it's warm." He pulled the thick fur lining his white and gray park closer to his face to block the frigid wind. "And why are we walking when we could have just stolen a snowmobile?"
"Whiny sniper is whiny," Kat sighed. She had on a parka similar to Jun's, but hers had much more fur tacked on, and she wore a white balaclava over her face, with blue sunglasses to shield her eyes. Her boots were horrifyingly un-military, with little poofy furballs hanging on strings from the tops, just below her knees (they'll be much warmer than combat boots, she'd insisted to Carter when she picked them out at the mall in New Alexandria, while Emile tried hard not to barf). "It's only ten degrees below freezing, Jun."
"Only ten degrees," Jun muttered, shaking his head. "Well excuse me for not wanting to get frostbite and have my extremities fall off!"
"Winter really brings out the worst in you," Kat remarked.
"My therapist said it's seasonal affective disorder. Don't judge me," Jun snapped back.
"What's the holdup?" Jorge called from nearly thirty feet ahead. He seemed at home in the harsh atmosphere, having ditched his parka's hood for a black toboggan. Strapped across his back was an axe and a coil of thick rope.
"It's cold. I'm cold. My face is numb. This chill-resistant fabric is a lie," Jun said, teeth chattering.
"Oh come on, it's just some flurries and a bit of wind, that's all. Shouldn't take that long to find a decent tree anyway."
"There are trees over there!" Jun hissed, pointing at the fir trees that surrounded them in large numbers. "So can we just cut one down and drag it back to base already?"
"Nah, they just don't look right, y'know?" Jorge admitted, turning toward the deeper part of the woods, where the trees got taller and thicker. "It has to be the tree. You'll see what I'm talking about when we find it."
"Oh I see. The tree. Great. Wonderful," Jun grumbled. "I'm going to freeze to death and no one will find my body till spring."
"It's not that cold!" Jorge insisted. "I actually like this weather. Reminds me of several memorable training missions, one involving an avalanche. Ah, good times…"
"Kat?" Jun asked, getting close to his female superior.
"I finally figured it out. ONI didn't augment Jorge. They combined his DNA with a polar bear's," the sniper whispered, and Kat almost giggled, but instead shook her head and smacked Jun lightly on the back of the head.
Twenty minutes and minus five degrees later…
At last the trio of searchers had found a tree. Not just a tree. The tree. It was tall and majestic and its spreading green boughs were covered with fresh snow. To top off its perfection, an opening appeared in the cloud cover overhead and a beam of sunlight shone down upon the tree. Jun swore he heard angels singing on the gusty wind.
The sniper sat down in the snow and pinched his nose, frowning when he couldn't feel his nose or his fingertips. Meanwhile Kat inspected the tree for animal nests, and Jorge tested his axe, scything through a small tree with ease. "All clear," Kat announced, climbing down from a low-hanging branch. She jerked a gloved thumb at the tree. "Cut it down."
Jorge gave a curt nod, and once Kat moved out of the way, took aim and swung the axe with all his strength. It embedded itself deeply into the wood, then the Spartan yanked it out and swung again, making another deep cut in the same spot.
Kat and Jun watched his display of destruction from a safe distance. Jun flopped onto his back and spread his arms in the snow, then moved them up and down. "Ha, it's a snow angel," the sniper smirked, sitting back up. "I haven't made one of those since… well, since I was very small," he admitted.
Kat cocked her head. "My family observed Hanukkah, not Christmas," she said, removing her shades. A far-off look was in her green eyes. "My sister and I would play with our dreidel, and our relatives would give us money. That's all I remember."
The massive tree came down suddenly, helped along in its descent by Jorge, who pushed it in one direction. After the snow had settled, he dusted off his gloves, strapped the axe back on, and turned to his younger companions. "I'm not dragging it back by myself, if that's what you were thinking," he said dryly, and Jun sighed wearily.
Back at Noble Base…
"DON'T TOUCH THAT!"
Emile blanched as Rosenda snatched the can of cranberry sauce from him, her eyes flashing. "Jeez, woman, calm down," he protested, holding up both hands.
"Ha! You think I haven't seen your little misdeeds? That I haven't noticed the steadily declining supply of this stuff over the last week? I have surveillance set up in here, you know," Rosenda admonished, flouncing over to the pathetic little military kitchen and setting the cranberries down on the dull gray, grease-stained counter.
Emile said nothing, only folded his arms and huffed. Ever since the team had been assigned to this place, Rosenda had taken over the kitchen, forbidding the use of MRE's and insisting that the food be prepared "the old-fashioned way." Now that Christmas was approaching, her reign of terror had steadily gotten worse. She was stocking up on everything she thought was necessary—yams, dressing ingredients, a frozen turkey, vegetables, pumpkin pie mix—and to his delight, she had an entire cabinet stuffed full of his secret love, which was cranberry sauce.
So he stared wistfully at the can while Rosenda drummed her fingers on the counter, looking over her book of almighty recipes. "If you want to be useful, go torture Carter into finding some decorations. And no, I don't mean last year's leftovers that someone threw into a dumpster. For the love of pete, spend that paycheck on something other than cutlery!"
"The Commander said he wanted no part in this," Emile reminded her. "You know how he feels about Christmas."
Rosenda froze up for a moment, biting her lip, then her shoulders sagged. "Yeah, I know," she muttered. "Well then. You go find some decent decorations, all on your onesy. Try Uni-Mart, they're having discount sales this week!"
"You want me to go to Uni-Mart?" Emile hissed. He gestured at himself, indicating his intimidating black uniform, the kukri he kept strapped on his hip, and his serious, almost sour expression. "Wait til Jorge gets back, he loves interacting with the natives."
"Fine then, if you're going to be that much of a baby about it," Rosenda sighed. "Be useful and come help me peel potatoes!" She tossed a potato at him.
"Uh, knife?" Emile gestured.
"You already have one, genius."
"I AM NOT PEELING A FRICKIN' POTATO WITH MY PRECIOUS!"
One mile away from Noble Base…
"I vote we take a break," Jun panted, his grip on the huge tree trunk slackening.
Kat and Jorge glanced at each other, then Jorge shrugged and eased the tree down. Jun let go and tottered over to a snow-covered stump, where he sat down and rubbed his hands together woefully. "So… this was fun," he confessed. "Let's never do it again."
"What did your family do for Christmas, Jun?" Kat asked out of the blue.
Jun frowned, pondering. "Um, my family was Buddhist," he admitted. "We didn't really do anything at all, just kinda played in the snow like all the other kids."
"What about you?" Kat asked, glancing at Jorge.
The Spartan-II scowled, thinking deeply for a minute or so, then shifted his weight uneasily. "Um… I don't exactly remember, see…"
"Well regardless, we're going to have a good one this year," Kat said hurriedly, to smooth things over. "All right, break's over. Chop chop!" She pushed Jun off his stump and strode briskly toward the tree, the poofballs on her boots swinging as she went.
Jun noticed that Jorge was still deep in thought and elbowed the big man to snap him out of it. "Don't worry about it," the sniper said reassuringly. "Let's just focus on today, mmm?"
"Yeah," Jorge replied, brightening a bit. "Let's get this thing moving!"
The three Spartans resumed their epic quest to drag the tree all the way back to base. The wind had actually died down and there were light snowflakes coming down, making everything seem peaceful. Kat bit her lip underneath her balaclava and inwardly regretted asking Jorge about his childhood. From what she and the other Spartan-IIIs had gathered, the Spartan-IIs had been forced to forget their old lives. It had been different for the IIIs. Memory of their old lives was what drove them to fight the Covenant, to get revenge.
But Kat was crafty, and had a woman's wiles to boot. She would make sure this Christmas was the best any of Noble Team's Spartans had ever had. There was just one obstacle to this… one she wasn't sure how to tackle, even with her superior strategy skills…
The Commander hated Christmas.
Oh my! The Commander hates Christmas? How will the rest of Noble convince him to partake in the festivities, and will they find out why he feels that way? Stay tuned to find out!
(Oh, and whiny Jun sort of belongs to fonteAQUA, aka the Queen of Halo Crackfics, amen and hallelujah. I just love this version of him to death)