Actions

Work Header

Cold In The Air, But Not Of Heart

Work Text:

The question caught Theo off-guard.

“How is Popchyk?”

Theo blinked at Boris blankly, his eyes gently squinting behind his glasses. But Boris went on undeterred.

“How is Popchyk?” He asked again. Boris’ accented voice didn’t carry any sense of the sarcasm or mockery Theo knew it could, instead it was genuine curiosity and maybe even a hint of exuberance.

He had clearly been wondering this for a while. Theo had noticed Boris had had something on the tip of his tongue, but was hesitant to speak it out loud, clearly waiting for the right time to bring it up.

And of course he chose when they were casually walking down a snowy Amsterdam street that neither of them could pronounce the name of, just on their way back from one of Boris’ fairly successful efforts to get Theo to eat dinner at a Netherlandish restaurant.

“Uh.” Was all Theo said.

“Is Hobie taking care of him? I did not know how quiet Vegas was until you took Popchyk to New York.” Boris smiled, “Such a good dog.”

“It’s been a long time since Vegas.” Theo managed finally. Popper wasn’t even a puppy when Theo first met him, (well as much as you can meet a dog) but more than five years later and… well… Theo did miss Popper.

His death had been hard.

Popper was one of the good things from Theo’s time with his dad that Theo hadn’t hated.

Boris was one of those few things too.

But Theo had already lost his best friend.

Losing Popper had been losing Boris all over again. Losing the only happy memories, making thoughts of Vegas unbearably painful, to the point where it was sometimes easier to just ignore them.

“It has been long time, and I miss Popchyk, I would much like to scratch him.” Boris’ gaze shifted into something more nostalgic. “Right behind ears, as he likes.”

Damn.

Theo’s subtle implications had gone right over his friend’s head.

“Have you ever had a dog?” He asked gently. If Theo didn’t have to say straight-up ‘Popper’s dead’ then he would have been happy.

Unfortunately ‘Theo’ and ‘happy’ didn’t often line up, and the universe didn’t care to make exceptions.

“No time. I thought about it, but I always had business and things to attend. I could now. We could bring Popchyk out here. You think he likes snow?” The excitement Boris had started radiating was almost childlike. And Theo knew Boris as a kid. He knew that Boris was never this excited about almost anything else, lots of people softened around dogs, Boris was one of them.

“Boris-” Theo took a deep breath.

If he didn’t tell Boris the truth, then guilt would build up inside of him like a volcano. Theo had lied to many people before, but barely ever to Boris, he had been the only person Theo had trusted, even the thing he’d kept secret from him he had actually told him without even remembering, vino veritas, right?

But he still was the designated secret keeper, even after years of separation. All the words would spill out eventually, and Boris would hate Theo for lying, and he would leave Theo all alone in a foreign country, and Theo would be on his own again for the rest of his life because the only people he ever cared about were gone-

Another deep breath.

Okay.

“Poppe- Popchyk ,” Theo could let himself slip back into that old habit of Boris’ stupid nickname, Hobie had always raised an eyebrow at Theo’s gentle Ukrainian mutterings to the dog, words he had picked without even really knowing what they’d meant, but saying them had soothed him. Just like using ‘Popchyk’ because that’s what the dog had always been to him. Boris had impacted his life in so many ways without even knowing it, and that stupid dog was one of them. “He passed away.”

“Oh.” Boris whispered. Looking down and pausing, his black boots stationary in the thin layer of fresh snow covering the sidewalk.

Theo came to a stop a couple feet ahead, having not noticed that Boris had halted.

He muttered something softly in Russian, or maybe it was Polish? Either way, it was so quiet that he might not have said anything at all.

That was how Theo had always seen Boris cope with things, substances aside. Privately cursing to himself in his native tongue. It wasn’t for anyone but himself, that was the most Theo had ever seen him mourn.

The sound of a muffled sniffle was new for Theo.

He turned his head to focus on Boris.

A careful tear fell from Boris’ downturned face into the snow at his feet, melting a small ring through the delicately piled flakes upon impact.

Boris crying was like… well, Theo didn’t know what it was like, it wasn’t something that was supposed to happen, ever

It was like how Boris always wore black, that was something certain, and set in stone, that’s how it was. Just like how Boris didn’t cry.

Theo hadn’t even thought that Boris, the boy who hadn’t shed a tear when his mother died, or when his father took to violence, was even capable of crying.

Yet the disproving evidence was standing directly in front of him.

Theo took a step closer to Boris, he half expected him to turn away or hide it, but he just stood there.

Theo put his hand on Boris’ shoulder.

“Do you want to sit down?” He asked, at a loss for anything else to say.

Boris gave a slow nod.

Theo quickly searched his surroundings, and found a bench.

Before Theo had the opportunity to clear off the snow, Boris sat down, so Theo did too. The snow didn’t hesitate to start to melt beneath them, Theo could see the edge of Boris’ coat gain a darker black as the water soaked into the fabric.

It was odd, Boris didn’t look warm. He looked cold, all sharp and dark, like the snow shouldn’t melt at his touch.

Boris’ pale hands were folded in his lap, stark against the colour of his outfit. Theo reached out to take the hand closest to him gently. Surprising himself with the initiative.

Boris’ palm was surprisingly hot compared to the lengths of his bony fingers, Theo intertwined their hands between them. If he could warm Boris’ hands, maybe he could do the same for his heart.

Boris didn’t protest the affection like Theo had half expected him to. He just wiped his face off with his free hand.

Theo remembered the handkerchief nestled in his pocket, some random habit he hadn’t shaken that he’d picked up off of Hobie, who had probably gotten it from Welty to begin with.

He handed the pristine cloth to Boris, who muttered a ‘thanks’ with a bit of a pained smile.

Theo, who had only ever been on the receiving end of comfort (always from Boris) was still unsure of what to do.

“Are you okay?” Theo said. He really did hope it didn’t come off rude, or wrong or anything.

Boris nodded. Sniffling again. “Yeah, it’s…” He trailed off. He didn’t need to explain, because Theo knew exactly what he meant.

‘It’s…’ is everything, it’s overwhelming, it’s unexpected, it’s scary, even. All were things Theo could understand feeling in that moment.

Theo watched another rogue tear make its way down the side of Boris’ face.

‘Did he ever cry for me?’ The thought kicked a deep pang of guilt in Theo’s chest. It had been easy to block out back then. When Boris didn’t cry, but now… it could have been the truth.

A few snowflakes landed in Boris’ curls, Theo looked up to see that the sky was filled with the tiny specks, like stars against the grey of the clouds.

“He did love the snow.” Theo said.

Boris met his eyes delicately, noticing the new snow fall picking up.

“In New York it snows all the time. I remember the first time Popchyk ran out, he barked at all the snowflakes. It was hard to walk him, he was barely tall enough to keep his head above in some spots it stacked so high, but he wouldn’t let me carry him everywhere. He would jump every so often to get further, like a fox.”

“Fox is not how I describe Popchyk.” Boris smiled, his eyes still rimmed red, but his demeanor had shifted. “You took care of him?”

“Yes.” You asked me to, and how could I have argued with that?

“Popchyk was…” Boris exhaled, his breath forming a cloud in the cold, like a parallel to his younger, chain smoking, self. “Was childhood. Seeing you again was like, things could be like they were before you went away. I know they would not be, but-.” Boris groaned, “That is not what I am trying to say, I mean that… We could be who we are now, but close like we were then.”

“I wanted that too.” Theo smiled hesitantly. “But we can make it a new start.”

It felt weird saying that to Boris. Boris, the boy who had talked him through so much when they were just teenagers, but that’s what Theo was thinking, they needed to start again, make it equal between the two of them, no secrets, support on both sides from both of them, and to both of them.

They’d had symbiosis far greater than Theo had ever experienced in his life, but there was room for improvement. Theo knew that from his time with Pippa, when he’d tried to win her heart, they had an understanding but it wasn’t strong enough to be anything else. He and Boris could do better with their relationship too.

Did Theo want them to be anything else?

His feelings were a muddled ball inside of his chest regarding his friend. There was the sense that he should be angry, or at least mad at Boris, but also the dedication that hadn’t gone away since the first time they’d met.

But at that moment, what mattered was his friend . His friend who was mourning something Theo had nearly gotten over.

“He loved you, you know.” Theo said. “I called him Pophcyk sometimes, his little ears always perked up, more than they ever did at Popper.”

Boris was still smiling gently, another tear rolling down his cheek, which had taken on a red hue from the cold.

“I loved you too, you know?” Theo found himself saying, with a steadier voice than he’d ever imagined in any of the Boris dreams that he totally never had.

Boris’ smile slipped off slowly, and Theo felt the urge to slap himself.

He hadn’t meant to say that. He only had this one chance with Boris again and he’d blown it. People don’t tell people they’ve barely seen that they love them.

“I-” Boris dropped his eyes away from Theo. “I am so sorry.”

What?

Theo blinked, he felt his brow furrow, but Theo couldn't make out the expression on Boris’ face, the man had hung his head shamefully, causing his curls to fall into his eyes. His bangs caught snowflakes, and Theo found himself with the urge to brush his hair off of his forehead.

He wouldn’t do that, though. He couldn’t .

“I understand this chance you have given me. And I thank you so very much. And I know that it can never be perfect. I am trying so, so hard to make it better for you Theo.” Boris said, his accent slurred together some of the words, but Theo’s ears had become so accustomed to it that he understood with crystal-clarity.

He did blink at Boris though. He honestly had no idea what was going on.

“I have done things that are unforgivable, trust me, I know this. And I wish so much that I had not.”

“Boris-”

“No, Theo, I have done so many bad things, things I have no remorse for. But with you, I regret it so much because you say that you loved me, and I betrayed you. No one had ever loved me, and the only person to ever do so, I stabbed in the back.”

“Boris.” Theo said again, this time with more force. It startled Boris out of his spiel, probably more out of fear than understanding, but that was the last thing Theo had wanted. “Look- I’m not mad, not anymore. Yes, you broke my trust, but I lied to you too, okay? And you came all the way across the world to get my friendship back, that means more than something impulsive you did as a sixteen year old.”

“I’m sorry.” Boris looked up at Theo again.

Theo smiled, as caringly as he could physically muster. “So am I.” He felt weird, but it was okay, because he was with Boris, Boris always made him feel like he could say what he needed to, what he wanted.

“And you know that I loved you?” Boris asked.

Even though he had known, it still made Theo’s heart soar. An actual confirmation was… a confession. Not exactly the same as the one that Theo’s heart wanted, deep down, but still a confession.

Theo nodded. If only they hadn’t been so emotionally constipated as kids. If only he had said it once, or twice. If only he’d actually realised how he felt about Boris on that last night. If only… if only Theo focused on the now.

“I could probably do it again.” Once again, a strong confidence took hold of his words.

“Love?” Boris asked. It was a genuine question, like he really didn’t know how much he still meant to Theo.
“Love you.”

Boris smiled, showing his bright Americanised teeth. “I could too.”

Maybe Theo already did love Boris again. Maybe Boris already knew that. Maybe neither of them would ever stop.

Boris was so close that Theo could see the tiny snowflakes dissolving in his eyelashes. When Boris kissed him, Theo hesitated, but only for a second.

The feeling was familiar, but so distantly so, it was something that Theo had occasionally thought about during their years apart. Like when you replay a song over, and over, and it stops having that novelty feeling as you hit the chorus.

Except this kiss was so much different, he could taste the ‘Poffertjes’ that Boris had had that night with dinner, instead of wine and whatever else Boris had taken that last night in Vegas. It was so much sweeter. And he could tell that Boris noticed that too the moment Theo reciprocated the kiss.

It was the second time they had ever done this under a streetlamp. But instead of a goodbye, this was a welcoming, welcoming what they could be if they accepted it.

When they broke apart, Boris laid his head gently on Theo’s shoulder, he could feel Boris’ cold cheeks still tight with a smile through his coat. Theo’s mouth felt soft, even though Boris’ lips had been chapped.

The whole world felt softer, like he finally knew what he was looking for. Everything with Boris had always been better, and now they were together again, and they wouldn’t leave, because they would be leaving too much of themselves behind.

So as they sat there in winter, they weren’t reminiscing about an old summer, but dreaming of what they could accomplish together by the time spring rolled around.