A/N: Valentine's Day.


A Common Voice

Aislinn-B312 became Noble Team's sixth member on July 24, 2552. Two days later, she was sneaking through the same Covenant-infested forest as the rest of the team, their armor dulled by the same mud, hunting the same bad guys.

Clods of dirt stubbled with grass gave way slightly beneath her hands and knees. She crouched lower as she reached the crest of the hill, like a turtle hiding under the shell of her armor. The rest of the Nobles were spread out on the rim of this valley, at increments she could clearly see on her HUD. It didn't display the names, but she knew each of them by behaviors:

Emile, waiting to flush out any Covenant he hadn't already killed.

Jun on the hillside far behind them, always watching—"You've got them on the run. Just a few left in the valley."

Carter, to the left, almost on the opposite side of the drop. "Take 'em out. This place is a natural fort."

Kat, to the right, in the trees and farther back.

Six bellied to the edge of the cliff and looked down fifty feet to the forested bowl that might once have been a volcano crater. Jorge was behind and to the left of her, crouching in the thicker cover. He'd bring the turret gun to bear if the Covvies figured out they were here.

Two shots cracked the air. Six turned, the orange curve of her helmet rubbing against the ground and getting even muddier, to track the fading contrails to Jun's position on the cliff. A third shot followed, and Emile's yellow dot accelerated into enthusiastic action, breaking off down into the valley proper.

Seconds later, the hostile signals disappeared. Carter's six-note all clear whistled in Six's ear. Ollyollyoxenfreee… She pushed off the ground and stood, walking parallel to the cliff side to get back under the trees and join the nearest Spartans—Jorge and Carter.

Jun said, "That a wrap, commander?"

Six didn't quite have visual on Carter yet, but she could see Jorge now, moving through the trees with his heavy gun and pack. Noble One said, "Don't get settled, Jun. We need to scout out this valley and see if it's good to stay the night."

"Camping. My favourite." The sniper sounded less than pleased. Then all the sarcasm went out of his voice, replaced with a serious-sounding yelp. "Whaa-"

Six raised her rifle, hearing Jorge's footsteps come closer as he also adopted a defensive posture. Carter's voice crackled through the comm. "Jun? What's going on up there?"

There were a couple more diminishing yelps , and then Jun's composure returned. "No problem. Stupid Moa."

A few seconds later, Six heard the grass rustling as two of the large birds ran by on their wide, flat feet, wings spread in agitation. She smiled under her helmet.

"A bit on edge, Jun?" said Kat.

"I'm just alert to my surroundings, ma'am."

Six started walking further along through the forest toward the twitchy sniper and her commander, Jorge following. He drew level with her and swiped two fingers diagonally along the jaw of his helmet—a smile for people who couldn't see each other's faces. Six raised her hand to imitate the gesture, and then paused, struck by a thought.

She hadn't spoken this language in a long time. The Spartan smile, the easy camaraderie and complementary skills of the team, the all-clear…

Jorge looked down at her. "Something on your mind, Six?"

"Yeah. Just my previous assignment. I didn't see many Spartans."

She remembered the signals as if she had learned them on Onyx yesterday, but really it had been years since she'd had another Spartan to talk to. The marines who passed through the halls of the Sabre Project's ONI-run headquarters worked with her in battle, but they never saw her face, and she tended to think they all looked alike—small and lethal and useful, but alien due to their very humanity. They hadn't been trained under Spartan-IIs. They didn't know the language.

"The commander said you were a lone wolf."

"And not by choice. The corporal stationed there was Evan Stern; he didn't like Spartans. Something about us…Kurt came to visit once, to oversee the Sabres, and I wasn't allowed to speak. Just had to stand there by the office door and wait until I was called in and given a mission. He treated me like a fragging machine." She hadn't realized how angry she was. She had gotten used to it, standing at the featureless door and giving her featureless face to skittish marines who walked by and didn't see her move. Being on a team where she could direct her own actions and where the Spartans talked to one another like old friends was…very strange.

"And you did not report it?"

"He wasn't doing anything wrong, really. Just wasn't doing anything right either. The marines complained all the time, but we did our jobs. I didn't talk much."

Jorge said, "I joined this group as heavy weapons, not as a leader like many of the Spartan IIs were. Carter really held us together. The threes, though, had developed signals I didn't know." He shrugged, then ran through some of the more basic signals—wait, go ahead, friendly – with practiced ease. "I was briefed quickly and effectively, but it took time to get used to." Another massive shrug. "We can all talk to each other well enough."

Six nodded. "I thought I forgot the signs. But I guess…" She reached out and mimicked the smile sign, barely touching his faceplate. "It's not really something you forget."

Six thought of the long hallway where she had stood for hours at a time in front of the colonel's office, shifting her weight and waiting to be called. When she was called, the orders were as concise as if they'd come from a computer. Travel here. Kill this many. She wouldn't see another Spartan for months, and although she knew that wasn't unusual for the rare Twos, she missed the gregarious Threes of Beta Company. It was their faces that she had pictured while staring down the white hallway.

The six Noble Team Spartans reconvened efficiently, getting just close enough to note one another visually before heading down into the valley. The comms stayed silent, but Six noticed the other signs of familiarity; Jun waved at Carter, Carter nodded at Kat, Kat approached Six close enough to knock their shoulder armor together before she strode off again.

Jorge moved ahead of her, his mottled green-yellow armor almost blending into the forest. Six resettled her fingers around her rifle and continued on .