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In which the Super Secret Candy Stash is robbed. Repeatedly.
1. It started only a few weeks after Summers joined them on their perpetual jungle-crawl. She said she had the metabolism of someone twice her size and she needed to eat, thanks a lot, or she’d get even skinnier. So she kept all kinds of candy around, because fattening up with sugar and food coloring was faster than getting a real meal and way, way, way better than looking like a skeleton with skin.
“Super Secret Candy Stash,” she informed the men, shaking a bag of M&Ms for emphasis. “Touch it and suffer my boot up your butt.”
2. They tried to respect the Stash. They really did, out of a healthy dose of fear, if nothing else. But the thing is, they were men. They were big men, with a lot of muscle and stomachs like black holes and MREs weren’t really all they were cracked up to be. And the stuff she had? It was good. Like, sinfully good, tasting of luxury and home and naughty things. Dark chocolate and Twizzlers.
So the Stash started shrinking faster than Summers was eating it and she noticed.
“Guys. Seriously. Final warning. Touch it again and die.”
3. Clay maintained, to this day, that it was the entire bar of Belgian chocolate Roque stole that made her flip her lid and start booby-trapping the Stash.
4. He also maintained that it took someone exceptionally evil to mix fakes into the Quality Street chocolates she knew he loved. He snagged one when she wasn’t looking, unwrapped it as quietly as humanly possible and stuffed it into his mouth, expecting rich, chocolate-y flavor.
What he got instead was a flavor charmingly called ‘rotten fish’.
She watched him spit it out, rinse his mouth twice, cursing like a drunken sailor the entire time, before patting him on the back and informing the room at large, “Hands off my candy, boys.”
5. Mars bars were her favorites. Getting her some was a surefire way to get back into her good graces.
6. Somehow, Snake never got any of the booby-trapped stuff. He had a system for avoiding the fakes she mixed into the real thing, and it worked one hundred percent.
Roque was panting like a dog from the super hot chilly-flavored chocolate, Texas was spitting garlic Twizzlers across the camp, Clay was having a staring contest with what he was pretty sure was handful of fake Jelly Beans. They probably tasted of rot, or snot, or something similarly disgusting. He had absolutely no idea where she got that shit from, but it had long since turned into a game beyond keeping them away.
He was pretty sure she enjoyed the expressions of abject disgust and defeat on their faces when they fell for her tricks again.
And all the while Snake watched them and laughed and never once ate any of the shit.
7. Sometimes, when someone got shot, or stabbed, or blown up, she shared. A bullet in the shoulder usually warranted at least a bag of Skittles.
8. Whenever they had a solid base of operations, she took to adding another layer of protection to the Stash. She hid it.
These are some, but not all, of the places where Mom hid the Stash over the years:
In the broken radiator in Clay’s bedroom in a safe house in Russia.
In the ventilation shaft of her hotel room in Brazil, which had the added advantage of keeping the chocolate from melting to shit.
In the guitar case Texas used to transport his rifle in crowded areas.
Under the loose floorboard in the kitchen of the safe house in Spain.
In the freezer.
In the ceiling.
In the toilet tank, wrapped safely in three layers of plastic bags and a shitload of duct tape.
In a metal box, buried under an oak tree in the garden of the B&B they stayed in for a week in Poland.
She was like a squirrel, hiding her goodies all over the place. Usually, they only found out where when they were packing and she retrieved the Stash to put it back in her pack.
9. When Pooch and Miller joined the unit, they decided not to warn them of the Stash. It was their very own version of hazing. Aside from the usual, that is.
Pooch got a mouthful of the, by then infamous, rotten fish flavor. It had him hacking over the toilet for five minutes. Once he was done, he walked up to Mom, apologized for not knowing the Stash was private and asked if he could have something to please get rid of the flavor.
She gave him a Twizzler, much to everyone’s amazement.
After that, Pooch, the loser, never played when they went Stash Hunting. But then they were after Jolene’s cookies almost as much as they were after the Stash, so maybe there was some kind of kinship there, between their driver and their slayer.
10. Miller fell for the fake Jelly Beans. Three times.
11. Once, when Clay almost got blown up by one of his crazy women, he woke to find his entire hospital bed covered in Quality Street in every color of the rainbow. It was Summers’ way of apologizing for letting him get hurt.
He ate half, shared the rest with the nurses and the team and kept a handful of the wrappers in his pack afterwards, carefully smoothed out and hidden.
Cougar was the only one who ever knew they were there and he never said a word.
12. The Stash saved their life once, when they were pinned down by the enemy and a blizzard and without food for almost two weeks.
None of them could look at a Snickers bar for months after that without feeling sick.
13. One year, for her birthday, they gave her a machine gun made of chocolate and an entire box of ammo, cut from blue Twizzlers.
She shared the bullets, but not the gun.
14. After she left, they kept buying candy when they came across it, almost out of reflex. They hadn’t even noticed how used they had gotten to just buying her stuff in hopes of occasionally getting some back.
It would have been smarter to simply buy their own candy, but that never even occurred to them. It would have ruined the game.
15. But with the grand-dame of the Stash gone, the shit just kept lying around their safe houses, scattered and free for all until Jensen came along and started hoarding the stuff like it was gold and he some demented dragon.
16. He was also the one who found one of Mom’s forgotten hiding places, abandoned when they had to abandon the safe house. He was messing around in one of the empty bedrooms and stumbled across it, hidden in an old suitcase under a broken down bed and wandered into the kitchen with the whole thing, slamming it on the table between them.
“Look what I found!” he announced, grinning, excited, like he could almost taste the sugar already. “Wonder who hid it there?”
They spent the evening telling about Stash adventures and eating what hadn’t gone off yet, laughing every time someone got a fake and ran to the sink to spit it out.
17. Later, after Bolivia, Clay thought of the Stash a lot, of the woman that started it, of the game it turned into, of all the laughter they got out of it. He thought about those things and, bitterly, wondered if Mom would have been able to save those kids.
If she’d been able to save them
Sometimes, during those ugly months of being dead but not dead, some brightly colored, sugary shit caught his eye from a street vendor’s table and he always bought it or stole it.
He never ate the candy, though, knowing with absolute certainty that it would all taste like rotten fish and burning flesh.
18. Elsewhere, a blonde woman and a geeky looking man were walking toward a shared lunch, talking about Council business and making small talk until, suddenly, they passed a candy store with a display bright enough to make you flinch and sugary enough to make your teeth rot from afar.
Automatically, both of them stopped and stared, transfixed.
“I miss them,” Snake said suddenly, quietly and surprised. He’d been so glad to get out of the unit, so happy to find a job with the Council instead. He hadn’t thought he’d ever miss those men, who hadn’t ever really been friends.
Beside him, a short, blonde woman curled into herself a bit, staring straight ahead. “Do you believe it?” she asked, out of the blue. “What they’re saying about them?”
Snake considered her question for a minute before carefully shaking his head. The Losers he knew, the men he’d worked with, were brutal and they were cold, but they wouldn’t do what they’d been accused to doing. They’d rather die first.
“No,” he admitted and his former team mate gifted him with a brilliant smile for it before grabbing the sleeve of his shirt and tugging on it.
“Come on,” she said, pushing all the sadness away, “Lunch can wait. Let’s see what they have.”
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