“Boss, how do you feel about Christmas?”
Venom Snake stands at the landing zone, his eye searching the skies for the chopper. He looks at Stone Mastodon, who has the usual grim expression on his face – a serious question, then.
“I haven’t thought much about it”, he answers honestly. It’s barely November and his mind has been elsewhere, too caught up running missions for Diamond Dogs to consider the season. Now that it’s brought to his attention, he wonders if they should celebrate it at all – considering the myriad of the recruits’ backgrounds, chances are most of them wouldn’t under normal circumstances. “Where is this coming from?”
“I was, uh, just wondering, Boss.” Still, Mastodon is looking at him with pleading eyes. If it’s that important to him... Venom clears his throat.
His mental state has improved over the last few months, but he needs a moment to dig out the memories. “In South America there’s a Christmas tradition: Family and friends meet up to cook a dish called ‘hallacas’. It’s hard to explain, a kind of filled bread that’s a pain in the ass to make.” Venom smiles, remembering that he used to eat the raw dough with sticky fingers.
“I never understood the point of it to be honest. The taste is peculiar at best... But it’s tradition.” He shrugs. The memory fades into the recesses of his mind. “Does that answer your question, soldier?”
Mastodon salutes. “Yes, Boss! Thank you!”
“Approaching the LZ”, says Pequod’s tinny voice in his ear. Venom nods at the recruit, patting his shoulder amicably. “Take care of Mother Base while I’m gone, okay?”
The responding “Yes, sir!” is drowned out by the beating of the chopper’s rotors.
“Boss? What’s going on? Are you–“
“I’m collecting medicinal plants, Kaz. Calm down. Listen, I wanna ask you something...”
“Can we not do this over the radio? Please?”
“Shut up, Ocelot. What is it, Snake?”
“I was wondering... Should we celebrate Christmas? It could be a good team building exercise and some of the recruits seemed interested.”
“Oh. Yeah, I can’t see why not. If we reschedule the security roster, every soldier should be able to attend, too.”
“It’ll be a good opportunity to test their training under the influence of alcohol. You never know when that could come in handy–“
“If it makes you happy, Ocelot, go ahead. Alright, then it’s settled. I’ll be heading home soon. See you there.”
“Take care, Boss.”
Venom is convinced something is wrong.
It started with the recruits falling silent when he approached their position, although they used to talk freely about all kinds of things – from Big Boss’s past to which “Team” they were on. He could feel their eyes following him until he was out of sight every time he walked past. When asked, Ocelot reported that the staff morale was good and increasing, so he didn’t think too much about it.
Then, there were parts of Outer Heaven’s expenses censored in the reports – the amount wasn’t all too alarming, but the occurrence was odd enough that he told Kaz to double-check it. His X.O. told him he found nothing suspicious and Snake let the subject drop, wondering if he was being paranoid.
Finally, the commanders themselves started acting weirdly:
Ocelot suddenly had a lot of time, accompanying Venom on an inspection of Mother Base’s facilities only to talk for close to an hour about his favorite westerns – which action scenes were accurate and which were just sloppy in Dirty Harry, how the German translation of Once Upon a Time in the West changed the meaning of the whole movie... Instead of checking up on the new mess hall, they ended up in Ocelot’s quarters, watching said films on a small television until Venom fell asleep half-way through.
In contrast, Kaz was constantly busy – nothing unusual in itself – and couldn’t find the time for him even if he told him explicitly he missed him. Their relationship was too fresh for Venom to push it, though, and thus he backed off, confused by the mixed signals.
It bothers him so much that he barely sleeps, waking up alone on the 25th feeling groggy and disoriented. After a quick shower that manages to refresh him a little, he puts on some casual clothes. There is no mission today, a rare day off, so goes for a run around Mother Base, listening to music on his Walkman to tune out his thoughts.
For the Diamond Dogs soldiers, Christmas Day is scheduled as an all day holiday with shorter shifts in all duties. By the time Venom steps into the mess hall hours later, it's been prepared for the occasion; he stops in his tracks, his eye widening at the sight: Golden stars and red lametta decorate the walls and tables, giving the room a decidedly festive atmosphere dominated by the huge Christmas tree in the middle of the room. A part of the recruits is miling about, the others standing in loose groups talking and drinking what looks suspiciously like mulled wine and other alcoholic drinks normally forbidden on Mother Base.
Some are already half-drunk, considering the loud shouts of “Merry Christmas, Boss!” greeting him. Venom shakes his head with a small smile, the cheery mood of the usually serious men and women contagious despite his troubled thoughts.
“There you are.” He turns his head to see Ocelot stroll towards him, two steaming cups in hand. The Russian’s cheeks are rosy. “I was fearing you wouldn’t show. Would’ve been a shame, really. Here, drink.”
Reflexively taking the offered drink, Venom cocks an eyebrow at his seemingly tipsy commander. “Looks like I missed a lot. Anything I should know?” He sips at the cup, tastes spices and alcohol. Yep, mulled wine it is.
“Relax, Snake. It’s Christmas! Time to get drunk, exchange presents and do things we will regret afterwards, in exactly that order.” Ocelot chuckles, drinking to prove the point.
Venom suppresses the urge to roll his eye, making his way to the tree instead after toasting the spy in thanks. He takes out the presents he wrapped the day before and places them on the pile, noticing with a sigh that they look ill-shaped compared to some of the others. As delicate as he could be with weapons of all kind, the art of giftwrapping eludes him.
He looks for Kaz, scanning the familiar faces around him without success. Trying not to worry, Venom decides to mix with the men and women of Diamond Dogs. It’s an opportunity he doesn’t get often, as he is rarely on Mother Base for anything other than to eat and sleep in-between operations. He even meets Stone Mastodon, who thanks him happily for the party with a drunken smile. Feeling half-way there himself, Venom grins in response - before he’s whisked away by Ocelot, who unceremoniously dumps him at one of the chairs near the Christmas tree.
Standing on the table with admirable grace for the amount of alcohol he has imbibed, the spy demands for the audience to quiet down, which happens surprisingly fast. Looking proud at the feat, Ocelot announces: “It’s time for the presents, Diamond Dogs!” The recruits clap and cheer.
“Big Boss first”, suggests the Russian with a mischievous smile, winking at Venom before he jumps down the table with clicking spurs. Again, the crowd applauds, more so when their Boss makes his way to the tree. Spotting his presents, he sits down on the table with them, clearly visible above the mass of seated soldiers.
Venom is acutely aware of the intense attention of his subordinates on him. “First, I have to apologize: I couldn’t get all of you individual presents. Regardless, you will surely appreciate that, to commemorate this day, I decided to upgrade the common rooms – they will now feature a fully functional arcade each.” Only their respect for him keeps the soldiers on their seats, the resulting cheers loud enough to shake the walls. “Yeah, yeah, I know. Merry Christmas.”
Venom waits for them to calm down again before picking up the first present, calling for Quiet to come forth. The mood dims considerably, but the need to know what the present is outweighs their doubts about the presence of the sniper in their midst. Quiet, who was leaning with crossed arms against the wall, steps forward, looking mildly surprised. The present is heavy and quite bulky – she unwraps it without further ado, a rare smile lighting up her face when she uncovers a jet-black AWM rifle. Quiet inspects the high-precision weapon with experienced fingers, nodding at Venom in gratitude before exiting the mess hall, presumably to try it out... somewhere. He tries not to dwell on it for too long.
Next on the list is Ocelot. Venom waves him over with a grin on his face, knowing for a fact that his friend will absolutely love the gift he hands to him. The spy seems suspicious, scanning his smug smirk with narrowed eyes before he rips the colored paper carefully to reveal soft red leather. He holds the present up in both hands and watches it unfold–
“Assless chaps. Really, Snake?” The Russian throws him an exasperated look. Venom laughs – as does a large part of the recruits –, enjoying his blushing face for a moment before he points at the back of the chaps, where he provisionally taped a gun holster. With a furrowed brow, Ocelot draws the revolver, blue eyes tracing the silver barrel of the gun before they widen. A gasp is heard in the sudden silence.
“What is so special about it?” whispers someone behind Venom, trying to be discreet but failing terribly.
Ocelot looks up with absolute awe at his Boss, answering the question in a stunned voice: “It’s a Colt Single Action Army revolver, 7.5 inch barrel, custom-made for Henry Fonda in the movie Once Upon a Time in the West. Where did you get this?!”
“I have my ways. I’m glad you like it.” Venom straightens up, then, his eye leaving the dazed Russian to look for his still-missing second-in-command. He tries to hide his disappointment, putting the last of his gifts – a simple card with a snowy landscape on the front – in his pocket before standing to address the people around him.
“As some of you know, Christmas is more than just an over-commercialized holiday. It’s about spending time with those you care about... I’m proud to share it with you this year. Here’s to you, Diamond Dogs!” He raises his glass, the soldiers following suit – they drink together before they break into excited chatter amongst themselves, discussing their Boss’s gifts and exchanging their own.
With a sigh, Venom leaps to the ground. Ocelot has more or less recovered from the initial shock, spinning his new gun with experienced hands while he stands beside Snake. “Don’t worry, he’ll come”, he drawls, finally putting away his present with utmost care. Venom notes that this counts for the chaps, too. “No reason to look like a kicked puppy, Boss.”
“I do not look like a kicked puppy”, he denies, although he sure feels like one.
It takes about an hour for Ocelot’s statement to prove true. Venom is talking to one of the female recruits about the treatment of Quiet as a fellow woman, agreeing that they made a lot of mistakes concerning the sniper and promising to do better, so he doesn’t realize the sudden hush in the room. The first thing he notices is the smell in his nose – deeply familiar yet so far-off in his memories that he can’t place it at first. He turns around slowly, taking in the countless faces in front of him before he focuses on one in particular.
Kaz is smiling softly, a deep fondness in his white eyes, blonde hair gelled back instead of being covered by his usual beret. “Merry Christmas, V”, he mouths, the actual sound of his voice carried away by the entirety of Diamond Dogs cheering loudly for their leader. In his hand, he holds a plate with a yellow-ish pastry on a banana leaf–
“Niños – hallacas!“ His mother calls from downstairs. Vincente groans, putting aside his book before making his way downstairs grumpily. He hates hallacas. His little sister isn’t faring much better, looking exactly as unamused as he feels.
„No me vean asi... Si no comen esto, no va haber postre.“ Mother fixes them both with a stern look before turning around to finish with the last preparations. „O no quieren dulce de leche?“
Their sour faces lighten up instantly, the prospect of their favorite dessert making the pain of eating hallacas worth it.
“Todo bien, V?” Kaz’s worried voice sounds in his ears. Suddenly, Venom is back in the present, blinking the memory away. He nods at him, feeling a smile he wouldn’t stop even if he could tugging at his scarred lips. The flashback took a few seconds, only the people nearest to him noticing it happened at all.
“You made this for me?” he asks, accepting the offered plate with eager hands. His fingers brush Kaz’s, the touch sending a pleasant tingling through his body after not having seen hide nor hair of the man for days on end.
“They all did.” His X.O. nods in the general direction of the kitchens. “I just helped coordinate.”
“C’mon, try it out, Boss!” shouts one of the soldiers in the back, a murmur going through the room in agreement. Venom chuckles before he takes the fork offered to him by Ocelot, piercing the crust of the hallaca before popping a generous amount into his mouth. Flavor explodes on his tongue, the filling made of meat, raisins and olives tasting just like he remembers it – like it doesn’t belong in an oversized dumpling wrapped in banana leaves. He grimaces, a laugh bubbling up at the ridiculousness of the dish.
Kaz’s expression is puzzled, clearly confused by the contradictory information he is receiving. Venom swallows, his blue eye aglow with mirth when he announces: “Perfect. Exactly how it’s supposed to be. Is there more?”
Ocelot takes this as his sign to order the rest of the food to be served, the soldiers standing in line quickly to get their share. With everyone else distracted, Kaz steps closer, his arm wrapping around Venom’s waist as he presses a kiss against his cheek. “I missed you”, he whispers into his ear, before stepping back to maintain their public distance. Venom feels his heart beat faster, but he keeps his face neutral for any curious onlookers.
They sit down beside each other, talking in hushed voices just loud enough to be heard over the commotion around them. They are only interrupted once by a brave soul who serves Kaz his food, saluting awkwardly before he leaves them to it again. Finally, Kaz admits what had been going on behind Venom’s back: For the surprise to work, he wasn’t allowed to see the massive amounts of cornmeal and other ingredients they were ordering or the preparations going on in the mess hall kitchens. Realizing he would find it out rather sooner than later without a distraction, Ocelot was tasked with making sure Venom stayed occupied.
Kaz looks immensely guilty about the whole thing. Deciding he can suffer a little longer for the worry he caused him, Venom complains with a serious voice: “Kaz, I had to sit through Ocelot’s favorite westerns. How could you?” He can’t keep from smiling for long, though, genuinely impressed by the scale of the Christmas present his subordinates managed to pull off.
He suddenly realizes that he’s truly content for the first time in... well, ever; Venom is surrounded by people he trusts, eating food he’s fond of and still feeling slightly drunk from the mulled wine he had earlier. He relaxes back into his seat, resting his hand on Kaz’s thigh under the table, wanting to feel as close as possible to him now that he has him back. He’s turns to his lover to say how much he appreciates what he did for him; that he didn’t just give him food but also precious memories of a time before he became first the Medic and then Big Boss–
He’s interrupted by Kaz slapping his hand over his mouth after the first bite of the hallaca, exclaiming: “Christ, V! This stuff tastes horrible!”
Venom laughs instead.
Much later, they walk back to their quarters side by side. Ocelot bids them a good night in a too-loud voice, waving enthusiastically before disappearing back into the mess hall. To the delight of the equally drunk soldiers welcoming him with exuberant applause, he's wearing his new chaps. Venom and Kaz are still snickering about it, looking forward to Ocelot’s hungover face in the morning.
They come to a stop in front of Venom’s room. Venom tells Kaz to wait for a moment, taking the card out of his pocket and kissing his lover lightly on the lips before he gives him his Christmas present. The card is nothing special, really; it’s what it says that counts:
I found this in the field and had to think of you.
I love you.
Kaz reads the message quickly, a blush rising on his cheeks but his brow creased in confusion. “I don’t get it. What is it?”
With a smile, Venom opens the door behind him, a blur of beige rushing past his legs to crash against Kaz’s. The other man curses in surprise, hand clenching on Venom’s arm for balance before he looks down.
Big puppy eyes in a small puppy face return his gaze. The sand colored dog is almost as young as DD was when Venom found him, and exactly as excited to meet her new owner, wagging her tail furiously. Kaz gingerly sinks to his knees, releasing Venom’s arm to pet her.
“It’s– V, that’s a Shiba. How could you possibly have found a Japanese breed ‘in the field’?”
Venom crouches down beside them, shaking his head. “You wouldn’t believe me even if I tried to explain it, so let’s just leave it at that, shall we?” He takes the dog in one hand and helps Kaz up with the other. “C’mon, you can get to know her better inside.”
When they are seated on his bed – Venom propped against the wall, legs sprawled in front of him; his lover on the edge of the bed with the puppy in his lap – Kaz clears his throat, eyes distant. He says: “I used to have one of these. Before I, uh, left Japan. I had to abandon it...”
Venom lays a hand on his shoulder, kneading it gently. “Yeah, I know. I think you told me – back in Costa Rica. I’m... not quite sure if it’s Big Boss’s or my own memory”, he admits reluctantly, wanting to be honest with Kaz.
“It’s your own”, the other replies, a smile in his voice. “We were talking about where we came from and why we ended up being where we were. I think there was rum involved.” He's still petting the dog, letting the soft fur glide through his fingers.
Venom hums. He's too tired to think about the past, so he changes the subject: “She needs a name. Any suggestions? I don’t wanna keep calling her ‘dog’ all the time.”
Kaz ponders the question for a moment, tilting the dog’s face to inspect it before he says with finality: “Kinako.” She blinks at the word before she licks his fingers in agreement.
“Kinako it is”, Venom confirms, shifting closer to Kaz to wrap his arms around his waist.
“I’m glad to be where I am, Kaz.” He murmurs into his ear. “With you.” It’s not something Venom says lightly, thinking about everything he – they – went through to get to the present moment. He presses a kiss to his neck, resting his head on his shoulder to look at the animal curled up on Kaz’s legs.
A few seconds pass. Kaz turns his head, eyes flitting over Venom’s face until they settle on his mouth. They lean into the next kiss simultaneously, keeping it chaste but enjoying it all the same. They part, Kaz’s breathing the words against his lips:
“I am, too."