From the Zone with love

BY : deepsearuin
Category: +S through Z > S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadows of Chernobyl
Dragon prints: 419
Disclaimer: I do not own S.T.A.L.K.E.R., nor the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

Pairing: Vano x Strider (background Nitro x Hawaiian)

The atmosphere in Yanov station was unusually festive. It all began when Degtyarev had come back dragging a small tree behind him. He asked for volunteers to help him cut it to pieces and start a fire. Many stalkers perked up at this, it was freezing in the station. The snow filtered in every time the doors opened and everyone was cold and miserable all the time.

However, Hawaiian had protested the idea. He argued that it was Christmas season, and the station looked as dull as ever. They could always cut down more trees to get wood, but he was adamant that particular tree was perfect for decoration. It quickly turned into a heated debate, since some of the loners were still thinking about getting a fire going on, preferably without having to go outside to fetch more wood. The shouting got so bad that Colonel Shulga himself got out of his office to see what was happening. An expectant silence fell over them when Loki also appeared. Having both faction leaders in the same room was an unusual occurrence, it only happened once or twice before. One of those times being the day they agreed to hold a precarious truce on Yanov station.

To everyone's surprise, both Shulga and Loki agreed with Hawaiian. Maybe it was because morale was at an all time low, maybe because they knew Hawaiian would bitch and make passive aggressive comments about it forever if they didn't at least put a token effort in creating a festive atmosphere. The trader could be scary when he was set on accomplishing something. It was still fresh in everyone's memory how he strong-armed Snag, of all people, to share his supplies with everyone for Trapper's birthday. Snag was still bitter about it.

The tree was put up in a corner, mainly because it needed some help to sit upright without toppling to the side. Someone had decided to decorate the sad, crooked thing with ammo belts. Nitro had made some ornaments with pieces of scrap metal, painted them in gaudy colours and now was putting them on the tree. There was a small argument about the tree topper. Hawaiian wanted to use a Snowflake artefact as the star, Lieutenant Gavrilenko wanted to use a Night Star and Grizzly insisted on a Kolobok. The matter was settled when Nitro hoisted Hawaiian up so he could put the Snowflake on top of the tree, declaring that it was more in line with the winter theme.

Yar had come the next morning with an armful of a wilted plant, swearing it was mistletoe. Many had tried to disprove it, saying it was something else, but they couldn't agree what it was. In the end Loki had declared that yes, Yar was right, it was mistletoe, and of course he was sure no one had implied that one of his men was lying. Since then, the whole station had been garnished with mistletoe branches hanging from every doorway.

Someone had grumbled about the blasted mistletoe, and how awkward it would be to get caught under it. Since then began what Vano had dubbed as the Great Mistletoe Game. Everyone denied any implication, but everybody was loitering around until someone in particular was close by, pushing two persons together under it, or trying to trap Degtyarev with them.

On Christmas Day, after hours of vodka flying freely, everyone stepped up their game. Being the cheeky bastard he was, Yar had managed to get a kiss from every Freedomer, Degtyarev and even a couple of Duty officers as well. Mitay and Torba had trapped Grizzly between them in one of the archways, both of them kissing their friend on the cheek and making him blush a fierce red. Kremen kept trying to push Nitro towards Hawaiian, he claimed to see great potential there. He was finally proved right when Bonesetter, his accomplice, managed to get Hawaiian under the same doorway as the technician. Their kiss wasn't a simple peck like others did, no, theirs was steaming enough to make other stalkers catcall them.

Vano found himself next to Strider, the only ex-Monolith member who hadn't been trapped under the mistletoe by their pranking fellow freedomers. Their reactions usually were of indifference or mild surprise. However, Strider looked downright confused.

"I don't understand, what's the meaning of kissing people under a plant?"

Vano laughed and shrugged his shoulders, not sure how to explain a silly western tradition that everyone here treated as half a joke, half an excuse. Strider kept looking at him like he held all the answers, so Vano tried to sober up a bit and come up with at least a brief answer.

"It's mostly a joke, I think." He pondered for a second. "An excuse to have fun."

"Fun. Kissing someone is fun?"

"It's nice. And it can be fun too, yes." Vano was buzzed enough to carelessly put an arm around Strider's shoulders, sighing. "I can see the appeal. The last time I kissed someone was before coming to the Zone."

"I don't remember my last kiss. I think I'd like one to remember." Strider confessed. His intense gaze was doing strange things to Vano's composure.

"You can join the hunt for Degtyarev, or..." Vano coughed, tempted to suggest something really stupid. Strider seemed to know what he had been about to ask, and he complied with his unspoken request. Their lips met and all Vano could think about was how this was the best Christmas ever. He licked Strider's lips, and to his delight he deepened the kiss, grabbing him by the waist and letting him explore his mouth. They parted all flushed, lips reddened and tingling pleasantly.

"Yes, it is nice." Strider confirmed him.

"Ye – yes." Vano stammered. Strider gave him a small, lingering peck. "I think that the tradition is to kiss under the mistletoe?"

"It's alright. We can have more than one tradition."

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