Winter comes to Atlantis in stages, like frost spreading over a glass window; white fractals slowly covering up the view until there is nothing left to see but the impossible complexity of nature. Radek starts waiting for it as soon as the summer fades and wind turns cooler, the waves crashing against the City walls like angry fists. He takes assignments on the mainland just to see the trees, drinking in the autumn glory of alien foliage, the smell of evergreens preparing for snow the same no matter the galaxy.
The Athosians give him a coat of thick fur and soft leather, from some animal the name of which he probably doesn't even know how to pronounce. He huddles into it as the leaves fall and the ground becomes too hard to dig, hiding his cold red hands inside the sleeves as he instructs the engineering team in securing the build for the winter.
Soon travel between Atlantis and the Athosian settlement becomes difficult. The puddle jumpers will of course endure harsh weather and the Ancient technology means that a blizzard is no obstacle for navigation, but even so it's not a trip to be taken unless absolutely necessary. Coming over just to see the first snow land and settle, rather than melt away into the ocean, is not an option.
Radek makes do with an unused lab and its large windows which frame a view of the towers and the snow swirling around them. It's like a cover of a storybook; beautiful and otherworldly, inviting yet scary too. ‘Here be monsters', he thinks, shivering slightly as he watches the first snowstorm of the winter whip at the City as if trying to make up for thousands of years of denied opportunity. And unlike in a fairy-tale, it is no longer easy to tell who the monsters are and who the heroes.
That's where Rodney finds him; leaning on the window pane and having an existential crisis. There's a part of Radek that is annoyed at the interruption but it's small compared to the way the rest of him comes to a quiet attention, mind and – there's no denying it – body lighting up, like they always do when Rodney walks into a room.
"Radek?" Rodney says, clearly surprised. "What are you doing here?"
Radek hesitates, not because he doesn't want to tell but because he doesn't know how to. "First snow," he says finally, nodding at the window, hoping it's enough of an explanation even though it isn't a full one.
It seems so. Rodney walks closer, coming to stand next to Radek and taking in the increasingly blurry scenery. "The meteorologists say it's going to be a long one," he remarks, shoving his hands into the pockets of his fleece. "Looks freezing. I'm glad to be inside."
"I'm not," Radek says, the confession tumbling off his lips before he has a chance to think about it.
Rodney looks at him sharply. His eyes are the colour of Vltava in December when the river runs slow and deep, weighted down by the gathering ice. Radek thinks about touching him, about pressing the tips of his calloused fingers against the soft skin under Rodney's eyes. It would be warm, he's sure.
"I just…" Radek shrugs helplessly, dragging his gaze from Rodney back to the storm. "Winter makes me think of home. I miss…" He presses his palms against the window, which is cool to the touch but not as cold as he expected, Ancient technology ensuring that the temperature remains carefully controlled inside regardless of the weather. Still, it's something to keep his hands safely preoccupied.
"I miss being able to go outside whenever I wanted, without having to fear for my life. Well, mostly." he adds, thinking back to the days before the Velvet Revolution, when a peaceful outcome had been expected but not certain. "I miss the smell of forest in the winter, the way the firs bow down, heavy with snow, how everything is so quiet you can hear your own breathing, the air searing your throat and lungs with every inhale. I…" He trails off, embarrassed to have waxed poetic, caught up in old memories and the stillness of the night.
And the company too. Because deep down he wants Rodney to know these things about him, things that make him more than a scientist, more than Rodney's second-in-command, more than a good mind and a steady pair of hands. "Promiòte," he says anyway, "Sorry," because he is, just not for the obvious reasons.
"No, no, it's fine." Rodney's hands are out of his pockets and talking, blunt fingers grasping at Radek's sleeve briefly before the arch of the sentence takes them away. "I was never much for outdoors as a kid." That Radek can believe. "But Jeannie used to drag me to make snowmen. Or snow fortresses. There were some neighbourhood bullies who thought twice about coming over to yard. Let's just say that the defences we designed were… Advanced." He grins with the memory, like sharing it is nothing remarkable when Radek aches from it; a bittersweet winter pain of wanting more than he can have making his breath hitch.
"Nothing's changed then," Radek says, the smile on his face genuine despite everything.
"Some things have." Rodney's answer is almost solemn, the tone of the conversation turning serious. "I… I have." His gaze returns to the window, though Radek is pretty sure he isn't actually seeing anything beyond it right now. "Only sometimes I don't know if it's for the better or for worse."
It's Radek's earlier thoughts reflected back at him; the fairy-tale City of impossible decisions and people caught up in them. Around them the room is suffused with the hazy still light of the falling snow and through it he watches his hands reach out to grab Rodney's shoulders, turning the other man toward him.
"Things we do," he says, emphasising the ‘we' because there are no sides here, no moral high ground to habit, "sometimes we cannot know if they are good or bad until after they are done. Maybe not until long after. But I know you," he says, "and you are a good man, Rodney." He shakes him a little for emphasis, frowning.
"I, well, of course, that's…" Rodney blusters a little, before slumping. "You think so?"
"I know so."
"Then why have you been avoiding me?"
The question shouldn't be a surprise – after all, Rodney is neither stupid, nor unobservant – but somehow it still knocks Radek breathless with the implications. His hands let go, suddenly nerveless, arms hanging uselessly by his side.
Before he has a chance even to begin to formulate a response Rodney continues: "Come on, Radek. Something's clearly bothering you. All autumn you've been taking assignments on the mainland or with the away teams, more than necessary. We've had barely more than three days to work on any of our background projects because whenever there's a lull between crises you're somewhere else." There's something very much like hurt, thinly disguised as annoyance, in Rodney's voice.
"This isn't like you," he says. "You're not usually shy about telling me if I've done something to anger you, or if you think I'm wrong. For god's sake, that's what makes us work!" He throws his hands in the air, frustration spilling over into flesh and bone, every urgent syllable vibrating with kinetic energy.
Radek is entranced. And that right there is part of the problem.
"If it's something I've done…" Rodney has gone stiff and unmoving next to him, face shadowed by the approaching night. "If you… I never intended to make you uncomfortable."
Radek blinks, puzzled. "Rodney, what…?"
"I realise that my reputation is not the best when it comes to… Workplace relationships. But despite what happened with Carter I'm capable of behaving in a professional manner in the conduct of my duties."
It sounds like Rodney is quoting from the SGC Employee Manual and it takes Radek a few seconds to shift though the formality to arrive at some kind of meaning. Except what it seems like can't be right.
Rodney, oblivious to Radek's confusion, largely because he's very carefully keeping his eyes trained to the far wall, continues: "So, will you please just… Come back to the labs full-time? The team misses you, I… Well, you're much better at handling the interpersonal stuff and when I tried to get Simpson and Blomqvist to resolve their differences over the hydro-reactors it didn't go too well."
"What happened?" Radek asks, on reflex, even though there is a far more pressing matter at hand. The question makes Rodney's shoulders relax minutely though, which is a plus.
"They broke the prototype," he says and then, in response to Radek's raises eyebrows huffs: "Okay, so I broke the prototype. It was wrong anyway. But the point is that things run much smoother when you're there to, well, smooth them."
"And you think that the reason I haven't been is because I've been avoiding you?" Radek asks.
"Well yes, that much is obvious."
Fair enough, Radek can't exactly deny that. It's the second point that he needs to clarify. "And you think I've been doing that because…?"
Rodney's gaze drops to Radek's face finally, though it remains guarded. "You're going to make me say it?" His face flushes with humiliation and Radek wants nothing more than to make it better but he can't until he has all the facts.
"I'm not going to stand here and embarrass myself any further," Rodney says stiffly. "I just wanted to assure you that I learned my lesson regarding unrequited feelings with Sam and don't much care to repeat the same mistakes. So please, you don't have to keep avoiding—"
And there it is. "Dr Carter is not an appropriate example to use in the current context," Radek interrupts. A smile is breaking free, his heart suddenly so light with joy he fears it may simply float out of his chest.
"You have miscalculated a variable," he adds, almost gleefully, except this is so much better than correcting Rodney's equations because this time he gets to step closer, gets to gather Rodney's agitated hands in his and hold them still, hold Rodney and him still and together too while the first snow of the season marks another inevitable change. "These feelings… They are not unrequited."
The realisation, when it comes, is beautiful to watch. It crashes over Rodney like a wave, his expression going from perplexed to surprise to sheer wonder, his whole body relaxing until he's curved toward Radek's smaller frame like a closing parentheses, making them two parts of the same clause. "That's why…?"
"Ano. Yes." Radek nods. "That is why." He is prepared for a longer explanation, of having to convince Rodney they are on the same page here but it turns out to be unnecessary.Like every other time when it really matters, when something truly important hangs in the balance, Rodney's thoughts align with his perfectly, or perhaps the other way around, and they move forward in synch, pushing each other further and faster than they could on their own.
In this case the momentum ends with Radek's back colliding with the window, the coolness of the night pressing against him from behind while Rodney's hands slide to his hips, keeping him anchored. His mouth is bright and warm like a spring sun, waking up Radek's body, his heart, from the long winter sleep of loneliness. He groans, kissing back with all the fervour of a man granted pardon, the happiness unfolding in every cell, nerve-endings sparking to life.
Outside the City, the snow keeps falling, the air turning brittle with ice. It goes unnoticed though by the two men inside it, sheltered as they are by the ancient walls of Atlantis and the slow, lasting heat of lives shared, of unexpected joy found in the midst of even the harshest winter, in the heart of the darkest storm.