December 24th, Evening.

The Christmas spirit was felt all over Hereford base. Many decorations, from multi-color lights to small Santa Claus were distributed all over the building.

The mess hall was the most decorated, with a huge Christmas tree in the center. It had various ornaments, red, silver and gold balls, some brighter than others, and a huge golden star at the top. The gifts, which were many and of various sizes, were already underneath, and waiting to midnight to be opened.

Nearby, the five seniors of Rainbow Six were playing a friendly game of poker.

"How are you feeling, Kaid? It's your first Christmas here at Rainbow." said Gilles, with a confident voice, sure he was going to win this round.

"Besides having those two Germans complaining day and night about their ACOGs, and haven't won anything since I joined this game tonight, awesome, yes."

"First time you face Tachanka on a roll?" Vicente chuckled.

"All right, let's get this over with." Mike emptied his glass of whiskey. "I'm in." He added, pushing his coloured chips to the center of the table.

"I'm out." Vicente shook his head and left his cards on the table. It showed a single pair of twos.

Gilles, Kaid and Alexsandr looked at each other expectantly. Tension filled the air, as if all their fortune was in the bet. The old Englishman, on the other hand, was quietly waiting.

"Hey, Thatcher." A female voice was heard from behind of his seat.

"Oh!" Mike turned around. The korean attacker was there, wearing a Santa hat with the usual number on it, 707. "What's wrong, Grace?"

"Do you know where's...?"

"Look and weep, comrade!" Alexsandr laughed loudly, showing a trio of threes, plus a pair of fives

"Oh, come on! That's it, you're cheating." Mike protested. He was so close to get a full... and know he had to show his trio of Jacks.

The russian operator grinned and took all the chips to his side of the table. Gilles threw his cards on the table and took a sip from his glass of cognac.

"I know how you're winning." he said, after shaking softly his head, apparently an of his drink.

"Do tell, please." Kaid replied, shuffling the cards.

"That thing." the French shieldbearer pointed to the bottle of vodka that was next to Alexsandr.

"Oh, really? Didn't know real men's drinks were also a lucky charm." the russian offered the bottle to the others. "Want to play fairly?"

Kaid served himself as soon as Alexsandr finished speaking.

"Merde, I need some too." Gilles emptied his glass, and took the bottle from Kaid. The more they served, Alexsandr's grin grew bigger.

In the blink of an eye, each player had his glass full of vodka.

"To our camaraderie!" exclaimed the Russian defender, raising his glass.

"Uh, what?" Kaid raised an eyebrow.

"I think he's cheering in russian." Mike also raised his glass. "Cheers."

"Á votre s-santé" Gilles was already a bit tipsy.

Kaid and Vicente also joined the cheer and smiled.

"Thatcher!" Grace said loudly, almost yelling.

"Heeeeeeey, Grace! Whatcha looking for? Wanna join? I don't recommend it, Tachanka's cheating. " The last drink he had affected him almost immediately, making Grace curve a small smile.

"Thanks, but no. I just want to know where's..."

"Are you looking for my boys?" Mike looked away briefly to the other side of the room. "Sledge is over there."

He pointed to the sofa in front of the big TV. Seamus, who had a Santa hat on his bald head, was playing a race console game with Ela, Marius and Dominic. He was having fun.

"Not really, just let me..." She followed unconsciusly his gaze, and then noticed Tachanka sneakily serving Mike's glass again.

"Ooooh, you looking for Smoke? There he is." Mike interrupted her, again, making her frown.

He pointed this time to the other sofa that was facing the chimney. On the left side, James was flirting shamelessly with Elena, not having real success. On the other side, Timur was looking at them with disgust, but he'd rather say nothing as he had Taina resting on his lap.

"I only want to know where Mark is." the korean tried to whisper, but it went a little bit louder than she expected, making everyone in the table turn to look at her.

Unable to avoid it, her cheeks acquired a light tinge of pink.

"For the sweet young love!" Alexsandr yelled out of nowhere, raising his glass again.

"Ye...! Hey, mine is empty." Gilles growled at his own glass, a little bit annoyed.

"Well, well, little Marky is a little Grinch, you know?" Mike served another shot to himself and Gilles. "In all years we've been here, he's never celebrated Christmas. He must be in his room or something. Good luck, lassie. Hey, Kaid, done with the cards?"

"Thanks." Grace turned around, and went to the door.

Next to it was Yumiko, playing with her cell phone. As the Korean approached, she looked up and stopped her.

"Hey Grace." She made a finger gun "Wuu, I heard that. If you are looking for Mute, he's at the workshop."

"Oh, thanks, Yumi." she smiled at her, and left the room.

Just in that very moment, Masaru entered the mess hall, with a sandwich in his mouth and controlling Yokai with his wrist device.

"Masaru, where's my sandwich?" She crossed her arms and blocked his way, waiting for his response.

"Mmm..." the japanese defender came back the way he came. Looked like he completely forgot.

"Really? That's your Christmas present for me? Okay." Yumiko followed him, raising a fist. "Just you wait for mine."

"Mmm! Ow! What are you doing?" several hits and punches were heard.

"Merry Christmas, sweetie."

The workshop was almost completely dark. There was a only one light on in one of the tables, but it was enough for Mark, the only one there, to work normally. He wore his gas mask, as usual, and dressed as he usually did, plus a scarf for the cold weather. He didn't use to celebrate any holiday. He hardly just celebrated his own and his roommates' birthdays and that was it.

He preferred to avoid the noise, the people, and any time he had to be more sociable than necessary. So, instead of going with the others, he stayed in the workshop, with Moni, his jammer.

"But Grace will be at the party! You have to get out of here at least today!" He remembered what James said a few hours ago.

He didn't want to go. Nobody was going to force him to break his routine, not even the girl he liked. Habits were stronger than love itself.

He started the night working with Masaru's company, a few tables away. Each one focused on their own drone, and without making any noise. Mark was already getting used to his presence, when suddenly, Yumiko, the japanese's roommate, appeared, and almost literally, dragged him out the workshop.

"Hey, Mute." she waved at him before leaving. "Merry Christmas."

He waved back, and turned back to Moni. At one point, he turned off the lights and switched on the lamp on his table.

After a while, Yokai, which was still in the same place, lit up and began to float in the air. Mark looked up and saw the path of the drone, which went to the door, and gave it a couple of knocks.

The young brit chuckled softly inside his mask and went to open it. Yokai buzzed as thanks and floated down the corridor.

Returning to his table, Mark got back to work, hoping nothing would interrupt him again. Night was still young.

Grace's plan was simple enough: Finding Mark and give him the best christmas gift he could think of. She just hoped he realise the sweet and hidden meaning.

She was already outside the workshop, preparing a good pick-up line. She felt strange, as nothing on her mind was good enough. Google seemed to be the proper option, but her wifi signal was zero. Someone's jammer was working properly.

She opened the door slowly. Mark was working, under the light of a lamp. She wanted to be as stealthy as possible, in order to surprise him, so she went to turn off the lights in the corridor, but when she came back, the young brit was waiting for her at the door.

"Something wrong, Grace?" He tried to look firm but it was obvious that he was nervous. His mask could cover his face but not his feelings.

"No, I just wanted to know why you didn't answer my calls." she said, but regretted almost instantly, realizing it was not the best she could have said.

"You were calling me? Sorry, I think I left one of my jammers on. Was it something... important?"

"No, no, well, yes. I think so."

An uncomfortable silence came in, adding that they were almost completely in darkness.

"So...?" Mark asked, breaking the silence, even though he saw almost nothing. His visor wasn't helping him here.

"Would you invite me in? It feels weird being out here." Grace wasn't going to give her gift to him so carelessly. He made way for her and she entered, being careful to get to him as close as she could, and made it look casually.

His mask was always a immovable block to her.

Once inside, she chose the seat just beside Mark. It was a nice atmosphere with darkness and light, and they had the workshop all for themselves.

"What were you doing?" the Korean asked, approaching Mark's table.

"I was trying to improve Moni from normal to Mark II." He showed his gadget to her, but it seemed the same as the others she had seen.

"Mark II? Ooooh, a better one? Want to block internet from the entire base?" She let out a giggle.

"No! No? Well, can do, but I just wanted it to be more resistant, especially to electricity."

"Bandit bothers you a lot?"

"More than usual recently, and now I must add Kaid to the jam."

"Oh, nice." She started to examine Moni, and deliberately put one of her hands on top of one of Mark's.

The young brit couldn't take anymore. He was releasing steam from within. Despite being winter and snowing outside, a touch of Grace was enough for him to melt.

"Can it withstand many electric shocks?" she asked, without moving her hand.

"We-Well, I-it ca-can resist small shocks, but nothing really strong, like the EMP grenades of the old man... I mean Thatcher."

"Hm... so this is the thing that prevents me to call you, right?" Grace stared at Mark right in the eyes, breaking the few defenses he had left.

The young brit just shook his head. He'd rather not answer as his vocal cords had stopped working.

"You're so adorable..." she gave a little tap with her another hand's index finger into his mask's visor.

Mark chuckled, nervous, and removed his hand from Grace's without realizing it.

The korean had him on the ropes. She felt it was the time.

"The reason I came, was for this." Grace stood up and took off the Santa's hat she was wearing.

From her pocket, she took out a red present ribbon and put it on her hair, as an ornament.

"Merry Christmas, Mark Chandar." she murmured, crossing her legs and started fidgeting with one hers braids, nervously.

Mark unconsciously raised an eyebrow. For a moment he felt like Marius, unable to understand anything. After a few seconds, he caught the gist.

The truth was that he had no idea what to do, but the most appropriate seemed to give her something back. He had nothing on himself but Moni, his working tools, his own mask and his out of signal cell phone.

Discarding every bad choice, he chose the best he could think of.

"Here." He undid the clasps of his gas mask and gave it to her. "Hope you like it."

Grace's eyes lit up. She wasn't looking at the mask at all, but grabbed it anyway.

"Oh, my. You're really something." she whispered, with a genuine smile.

"Eh, ah..." he was speechless suddenly. He cursed his vocal cords.

Mark stood up, suppressing all his nerves, leaned and kissed Grace on the cheek.

He totally surprised her, making her move back a little. She burst out laughing, which lasted for a while.

Mark raised one eyebrow and sat again by his table, annoyed. He had the vague feeling that all of this had been one of her jokes.

Grace stopped laughing and, leaving the mask aside, jumped and caught Mark in a hug.

"I never thought I could like someone as much as I do now." she murmured in his ear, then rested her head on his shoulder.

He stood up as a reaction, dragging her in the process. The difference of ten centimeters was noticed more than ever, as she had to tiptoe to keep herself in place.

Again Mark was speechless, but he knew exactly what he had do. He broke the embrace gently, grabbed her by the shoulders, and kissed her on the forehead.

The tenderness in that expression was so much that it could give urticaria to Masaru.

"Merry Christmas, Grace Nam." Mark said after a while, his muscles trembling a little. He wasn't used to this, but tried to control his feelings burst.

The one that was melting now was her. She had underestimated him.

Suddenly, he let her go and sat down again.

"I suppose you are giving me yourself as a gift, hm...?" The young brit grinned maliciously.

His smile was so unusual and charming to see that she, astonished, nodded.

"What can I do with you?" He grabbed her hand sweetly, not breaking eye contact.

"Anything you want, Mark." Grace wasn't sure what she was saying.

"No limits?" He crossed his fingers with her, making Grace's face to raise temperature.

"None." She purred, narrowing her eyes mischievously.

"Well, get to work, today we must finish Moni Mark II." Mark suddenly let go of her hand and grabbed the screwdriver on his table.

"What? Oh, come on, can we do something more exciting?" All her feelings felt betrayed.

"You should have thought that before giving me my Christmas gift. Chop-chop, get to work."

"You're impossible."

"I cannot be impossible, I exist."

"And I love that existence." She tapped his nose, getting close to him in a blink of an eye.

They both started laughing. Almost sickly.

They were interrupted by the sound of fireworks, which were already beginning to decorate the sky.

Holding hands, they quickly made their way to the rooftop, where most of Rainbow operators were already on. Those who weren't in groups, were in pairs, enjoying the show. Erik and Jordan were the ones setting off the colourful light into the sky.

"Merry Christmas to all!" Alexsandr roared, with his bottle of endless vodka in his right hand.

"Oh, Marky! With no mask? And locked hands with Grace... Uh, I must quit this shite." Mike looked to his own bottle in his hand and shook his head.

He got close real quick, and had his eyes fixed on her. Instinctively, Mark put himself in the way, protecting Grace. He felt dumb as soon as he did that. She could protect herself, and Mike wasn't that bad.

"You, korean demon! If you break ma boy's heart, Imma kill you, you hear?"

"Don't worry, Thatcher." She embraced his arm, smiling. "And give me that" Grace stretched her free arm and snatched his bottle from his hand.

"I thought you were funny," the old brit snorted, and returned where the other oldies group were.

"I've never seen the old man drunk." whispered Mark, chuckling.

"Me neither. Maybe I should take a couple a photos." the Korean replied, and took her cell phone out of her pocket. "Prime blackmailing stuff!"

She took two photos of Mike and about twenty of Mark. Maybe the next day he came out with another gas mask, hiding his face again. She should take advantage of everything she could.

After half an hour, the fireworks rate was reduced. Most of the operators went down to the first floor for dinner, only the couples remained on the roof.

Mark and Grace were holding each other in a light embrace, still watching the sky. They were sharing a sweet warmth, in silence.

"Hey Grace." He turned to her from seeing upwards, whispered, getting closer to her face.

"Hmmmm?" She managed to get even closer, within an inch of touching his nose with her own.

"Would you be my girlfriend?" He said that straight up, not even thinking of the consequences.

"Ow. I thought I was already." She grimaced pain on her face, but giggled afterwards.

Not wasting any second, she tiptoed and clumsily tried to kiss him, but hit his nose. Mark curved his lips and closed the distance she had left.

All their thoughts instantly vanished. He could only see Grace, and feel the taste of chocolate in his mouth. She had closed her eyes, so he thought he should do it too. A warm feeling swarmed all over their muscles as the sky was still pretty coloured.

They caught each other in a deep embrace, trying to close the gap even further even when they knew it was impossible. His arms on her back and her arms on his neck.

After minutes that seemed like days, they separated.

They didn't say anything, they just smiled to each other, as both of their breaths were noticeable from the chilling air.

"Hey, Mark! About time, mate!" the voice of James were heard from afar.

The couple ignored him. They were locked in each other eyes.

"For Rainbow Six, my beloved friends!" James roared, and set off a last firework. "And Mike." he half-covered his mouth with his hand, but said it loud enough anyway.

Mark and Grace turned and watched amazed. It was beautiful. Pink, red, purple and blue, exploding in a thousands of yellow particles.

Maybe life could end in any moment. Maybe any mission they were into could be the last. But any second enjoying life would be the best. Merry Christmas to all.