Immortal Stars

 
and yanks immortal stars awry?
~ what if a much of a which of a wind, e.e. cummings

Radek steps out onto the balcony; the cold wind tug at his uniform jacket, at his hair. He slips his hands into his pockets and thinks that if it were just a bit colder, if there were just a little more bite to the air, it would almost feel like winter.

He's grown used to different climates; working in so many places on Earth that there is nothing startling about a December covered in snow or spent on the beaches in swim trunks. But here, in Atlantis, there is no 'December,' exactly. Winter comes, sneaking in slowly while no one is looking -- the year is so long, and the astronomers still arguing if there should be 14 months of exactly 35 days with one week left over, or 12 months, or if they should have a leap year or leap month, or...

Everyone else simply ignored the problem by counting the days from 1 to 497 then starting over, and they keep tabs on the Earth calendar so they'll know when it's time for R&R and debriefing.

It worked well enough for the first two years. This third winter found people starting to talk about settling, and naming months from all the combined Earth calendars. Radek has heard rumours of a contest, or random-drawing, and he is fairly sure Dr. Weir said something about it at the last meeting but Rodney had mentioned a calculation he wanted to double check for the city's internal engines and Radek missed most of everything after that, scribbling figures on his pc tablet and nudging Rodney for data.

He doesn't care much, one way or the other, about the Atlantian calendar. He doesn't much mind the winter here, either, despite the fact it never seems to get quite cold enough -- though nights like these promise more, throwing hints that this place knows what winter should be like and is only gearing up for something truly wonderful.

It snows on the mainland, of course. In the northern regions and far southern; the Athosian camps are well out of the range of harsh winter and for that, he is given to understand, the people are truly grateful.

Radek would like to find a reason to take a puddle jumper on a test flight to where there is snow. He misses the sound of the crunch under his boots when it is so early in the morning that only milkmen and and scientists who have worked too far into the night are out on the streets. Early morning when there is no sound in the air but the whistle of wind high above his head, and the crunch of footsteps, and the distant clank of a bell: then it is truly winter.

He brushes his hands together, imagining that they are cold enough to need warming. This would not be a good place for snow, anyhow. There is no place to build a fire, no racks upon which to hang sodden coats and gloves and socks. No cheery voice from the kitchen, calling out that hot drinks are on their way and he should bury himself in the blanket left out for him and be patient.

Perhaps it is not simply winter that he misses. Radek knows this, has understood this for years. Twelve years in fact, and it might even be this week because this is the year that the Atlantian winter and winter on Earth are almost in sync. But he has not checked the Earth calendar that Rodney keeps on his laptop. It feels close, and that's enough. Twelve years ago, perhaps almost exactly, when the winter was just spreading itself over everything and the snows were deep and the thought of summer was a distant dream...

The ground is too hard in winter, and burials all wait until spring. Radek had said goodbye that winter with a quick kiss to cold skin, and had not gone to the burial. Spring was for the memories of those first smiles and first kisses, just as summer was the nights of long, hot loving and fall was laughter 'til they'd fallen out of bed, choking on their delight until their faces were red.

Radek still loves the winter. Has loved it since he was a boy, running around with his mother shouting that he'd miss his supper if he didn't come in right now. He'd always take the longest way back to the
kitchen door, kicking his boots free of snow and bending down to scoop up the melting clumps, holding them in his hands until it was nothing more than water. His lover's death had not changed that love of winter, only gave him one more reason to think hard about the snow he missed and the cold night air he remembers.

He looks up at the sky, disoriented as always for a moment by the unfamiliar stars. The sky is so clear that he suspects he can see every single one -- constellations would be difficult to draw, here. Clusters of stars so thick that it's like soup, poured out from a bowl, rather than mere pinpricks of starlight.

The wind blows hard, for a moment, and Radek closes his eyes. It almost feels like the wind is going to go right through him -- strong and hard and winter. He hears a footstep, and a moment later a warm hand rests on his back.

He leans back, and Rodney wraps his arms around Radek's waist, chest to back and chin coming over Radek's shoulder.

"It... um... isn't quite Christmas, yet," Rodney says.

"Yes." Radek nods. The first day of Atlantis' winter is in two more weeks; the first year the expedition members decided they would celebrate *something*, and everyone could call it whatever they liked.

There is a moment of silence, nothing but the sound of the wind in his ears and the distant sound of the city. Then Rodney shifts, slightly, and says plainly, "I expect to get every one of the presents on my list."

Radek grins, then laughs at the tone of his lover's voice. "Yes, Rodney," he says, though he has only made one of them, and despite the efforts of all Rodney's friends, only three other items on the list are even possible. He turns around, not breaking free of Rodney's hold, and places his hand on Rodney's cheek.

"I mean it," Rodney says, with a stubborn glint in his eyes. "I'm not saving the universe anymore if I don't get everything I want."

With another laugh, Radek leans forward and gives him a kiss. He'd meant it to be light, but Rodney's mouth opened at his touch and Radek finds himself being pulled closer.

When he breaks the kiss, Rodney is looking at him, quiet and sorrow hiding in the back of his eyes. He knows what Rodney was thinking -- Radek has told him about the accident which had claimed his lover's life. He knows Rodney is thinking about the calendars, and the stories Radek has told of the winters he has loved.

Radek has not asked for anything for the holiday. There have been no recent trips to Earth -- there is a long list of books he would have demanded, otherwise. The Daedalus has promised to bring supplies in another month's time, too late for gift wrapping. But he is content with what he has, and the only thing he could possibly ask for is already his.

He gives Rodney another kiss, and slides one hand down to take Rodney's. Rodney is not quite smiling, but Radek knows that the grief is long since grown into his bones, where it cannot truly hurt him anymore. He steps away, smiling easily at Rodney's look of confusion, then the confusion is gone as Radek tugs him to follow and they walk back inside.

"It never gets properly cold," Rodney says, grousing at the night air with one look back over his shoulder.

"No," Radek agrees. "It is a shame. But there is still the excuse to get warm."

"We need an excuse?" Rodney raises one eyebrow, and Radek can literally see that he is actually thinking about it, thinking of ways to rationalise the need for warmth and shared body heat.

Radek shakes his head, and opens his mouth to share the two or three things that have occurred to him. He stops himself, because if they start talking then it will only delay the reason he brought them back inside in the first place. He puts his hand on Rodney's shirt and tugs it upwards, and says simply, "To be prepared. In case it ever does get cold."

Rodney grins and helps him pull his clothing off, then there is warmth, and there is warmth, and when Radek falls asleep in a bed wrapped in a single sheet and Rodney, he cannot help but think of bare feet on cold floors, and a pile of quilts and blankets, and a soft, gentle voice complaining of the hour even as he is pulled inside.


Three days later Rodney is untying the blindfold he'd insisted Radek wear, and Radek has no time to demand answers because he can see out the puddle jumper's front screen.

It is all snow as far as the eye can see, and Rodney is pulling coats and boots and gloves from a bag while Radek sits, unable or possibly just unwilling to move. Then the blast of cold air hits him from behind because the ramp is open and Radek grabs the coat Rodney is holding and he runs.

Rodney follows him, shouting something at him which doesn't matter, because the snow is still falling and when Radek reaches the edge of the ramp the wind hits him and he closes his eyes and feels his face already growing numb.

When they get back to Atlantis, there is hot cocoa waiting for them in the kitchen, and Rodney has scrounged extra blankets from somewhere, and the temperature has been lowered in their quarters until all they can do is leap into bed and burrow.