Summary: They were merely colleagues who dined together from time to time. Strangers on the cusp of becoming friends.
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Original story: More of the Stars and Sea by marag
Notes: Thanks to gritkitty for beta!
More of the Stars and Sea (The Three Meals Remix)
Mysterious power readings always meant trouble. Radek should have known this by now.
In truth, he did know; this was why he had not come alone to the top of this tower, two transporter hops away from the inhabited part of the city. But he had presumed that if they were to find anything strange, he could send Teyla back to the lab for assistance. Instead they were trapped in a room which blocked radio transmissions, with doors which refused to open again.
This was not the afternoon he had anticipated. How often Atlantis led him to that very thought.
"He can be difficult at times," Teyla said gently.
Radek blinked. Of course: she had been speaking of Rodney and his back-handed compliments. "There is nothing I can do about Rodney," he said, shrugging. "Let us make a deal. I will tell you of my life if you will tell me of yours."
Teyla's smile was warm and delighted. He wondered, suddenly, how few Terrans had thought to ask about life on Athos. Too overwhelmed with the challenges of life in a new galaxy to engage in simple polite inquiry.
"Gladly," she said.
"Do you miss living with your people?" The Pegasus galaxy and its predators were familiar to Teyla, but life among the Terrans was not.
She seemed to be considering the question. "Sometimes," she said, finally. "At festivals and solemn days of mourning. But at other times, I realize that I've been given opportunities my people could only dream of in times past -- to truly strike back at the Wraith."
He nodded. "Yes." Then, because offering something in response seemed only fair, he added, "I miss familiar things. Such as --"
"The food," they said, in unison.
Radek smiled. "That is universal, I believe," he said. "No matter where we are, we yearn for the food of our childhood." How many nights he had spent in Moscow, in Toronto, in Antarctica, pining for pickled cheese with slivers of onion over dark bread, for pork tenderloin with lemon and cream and cranberry!
"But we would not return, even if we could."
"No," he agreed thoughtfully.
In the silence he spared a thought for the cement apartment blocks of Brno, the ornate art deco wonders of Prague. So different from the angular sweep of Atlantis' towers and halls.
"It can be lonely, even in a city full of people," Teyla said after a time. "Especially when they only see your skills, not you."
There was no trace of pity in her voice, for herself or for him, but he still winced. "True."
"Perhaps when we are released, we could have dinner sometime, and talk more. About anything except work."
Surely this was Teyla's way of indicating that the conversation was at a close. "I would like that very much," Radek said, smiling, though he doubted sincerely that this would come to pass.
"May I join you?"
Teyla's voice surprised Radek; he'd been reading a book over breakfast, holding the pages flat with one hand, and he blinked up at her.
"Of course," he said, automatically, and dogeared the page.
She slid gracefully into the seat opposite his with her breakfast tray.
"So," he said, tilting his head slightly. "You have suffered no ill-effects from our accidental imprisonment?"
Teyla laughed. "Thankfully, no. I trust you feel similarly well."
Radek nodded, shrugging a little. "There are worse ways to spend an hour."
"Thank you," Teyla said, inclining her head slightly. Regal, he thought, and wondered again about her upbringing, her background.
There was a pause -- not awkward, exactly, but not comfortable either. They had agreed they missed the foods of home: maybe that was a place to begin?
"I will hazard a guess," he said, "that this is not a traditional Athosian breakfast."
"Some of these items are very unfamiliar," she admitted. "The little boxes of brightly-colored...cereal?" Teyla sounded dubious.
Radek grimaced. "'Froot Loops.' They are an American favorite." He gestured down to his muesli. "This is more like what I am used to."
"Is your country very different from the place where Major Sheppard comes from, or Dr. McKay?"
"Compared with Athos, I suspect our countries would seem very similar, but for us the differences are tremendous."
Teyla raised an eyebrow slightly, waiting.
How to explain Communism? What it was like to be born the year after the Soviets came, to grow up in the dreary cement suburbs, the nation's glorious history like a fairy tale hovering impossibly out of reach? And now the awareness that he had missed the Velvet Revolution and its aftermath, had left just before hope began to take root?
"The place I come from is now called the Czech Republic," he began, and shrugged. "Though that was not its name when I was a boy."
"What name would you use?"
'Czechoslovakia' no longer exists. "You could call the place I come from Moravia. The Czech lands reached their peak hundreds of years ago," he said, finally. "I grew up under the rule of a foreign power."
"Ah," Teyla said. Understanding.
"My father lost his job for supporting the wrong side," Radek said, staring into the distance now. "The work he found was far from home."
"Did you have siblings?"
"Two of them," Radek said, "a brother and a sister." He smiled, despite himself. "But I was the favorite; my grandparents doted on me."
How he used to visit them outside Karlovy Vary, their little house with woodsmoke rising. Bowls of creamy wild mushroom soup. His grandmother's wrinkled hands touching the side of his face.
"There was a song they used to sing to me," he said quietly. Červený šátečku kolem se toč...
"I would like to hear it sometime," Teyla said gently.
Radek blinked and took a deep breath. "I am boring you."
"Not at all," she protested.
"Did you know your grandparents?" The question was out before he realized it might be thoughtless.
"My grandfather was culled," she said. Simple. Matter-of-fact. Like the Russians he had known who had lost relatives to Stalin's gulag.
"I am sorry, I should not have asked." Stupid, he told himself, what is wrong with you?
"You need not be sorry. I never knew him; I miss him only as the idea of the man I might have known."
"But your grandmother," he offered, because she had mentioned only the one.
Teyla smiled. "I had many grandmothers, as is the way of my people."
"This is a good custom," Radek said approvingly.
"Indeed. I spent many full moons as a girl in the dwellings of my grandmothers, learning the stories and songs of our people."
"It is fortunate that the folklore is so valued."
"It is so among most cultures preyed-upon by the Wraith. We do not wish to forget."
They ate for a moment in companionable silence.
"Was it very hard to leave Moravia?"
"I was eager to go," he said. "I left as a young man, to attend university in Russia, and I never went back."
"So you were not able to say goodbye to your homeland before coming here."
"No; I had gone to Antarctica -- the southernmost point on our planet, a frozen wasteland of ice -- chasing knowledge of the Ancients," he said. "This --" he waved an arm, encompassing Atlantis in all her splendor, "is more than I ever imagined."
"Living in the city of the Ancients is remarkable," she agreed. "There is much in my current life of which I had never dreamed."
Sheppard approached and Radek nodded to him.
"Teyla, I'm heading for the locker room," Sheppard said. "You ready?"
"Thank you for dining with me," she said to Radek, standing up and collecting her materials. "Yes, Colonel. I will accompany you."
He didn't pick his book up again, but ate the rest of his cereal watching the sunlight move across the floor, thinking about how long it had been since he had even thought to miss Brno.
"We come from twelve countries," he explained.
"The soldiers are mostly American," Teyla hazarded.
"Yes, though the scientists come from across Europe, North America, Australia, South Africa, Japan. I knew at least half of them from the Ancient base in Antarctica."
She nodded. No one had brought a globe to Pegasus, but surely someone had shown her digital maps, old Mercator projections on the screen.
"We used to fight over who would get an extra hour with the Ancient artifacts," he said. It seemed laughable now that they inhabited a city filled with more Ancient technology than they would ever have time to uncover and explore.
"Whatever grudges were borne seem to have faded," Teyla said.
"For the most part," Radek agreed. "Dr. Weir chose expedition members wisely."
Teyla was nodding. "When the journey is long it is well to have colleagues who appreciate one another."
"We are mostly 'laid-back,'" Radek said. "With notable exceptions." Rodney defied all laws of expedition planning. No one chose to take prickly, difficult alpha males on long journeys such as this -- unless they really were as indispensable as Rodney claimed to be. Radek had to admit, grudgingly, that Rodney lived up to even his own opinion of himself. He hoped never to have cause to admit this to Rodney, however.
"Of course," Teyla said solemnly. Her eyes were laughing.
Radek gestured toward the self-serve dessert counter. "Would you like something?"
"Please," she said. "Choose what you like. I do not yet recognize all of the different sweets on offer here."
Radek made his way to the appropriate corner of the mess, scanning the various brownies and fruit bars.
The sub-communities of Atlantis tended to dine in packs. Scientists with scientists, military with military. Not all of the gate teams ate together, though Sheppard's team did so more often than not. Sometimes Radek and Rodney ate together, usually when they were embroiled in argument about some arcane detail of Ancient database structure and couldn't stop quarreling long enough to eat.
And now, from time to time, he sat with Teyla. They were foreigners together, in their different ways. No one here spoke the first tongue that had been native to either one of them. Perhaps that was at the root of their nascent friendship.
Of course, it was also true that she was beautiful, and that he was flattered by her interest. His years of studying Ancient technology had not afforded him many opportunities to converse with women like Teyla. In truth they had not afforded him many opportunities for romance at all.
Not that this was romance. That would have been a bold claim. They were merely colleagues who dined together from time to time. Strangers on the cusp of becoming friends.
"Tarka root stew," she said. It was dinnertime and they had chosen a far corner of the mess hall, and though there was room at their long table, no one else had joined them.
"Oh?" The name meant nothing to him, of course, so he waited.
"It is quite simple, and the ingredients are -- were," she corrected, "easy to find. What makes it wonderful is that it simmers all day. And I think my eldest grandmother used to add golden wine..." She roused herself from memory. "It is the taste of my childhood."
"'Comfort food,'" he suggested.
Teyla nodded. "If I knew the recipe, I would teach it to the cooks; it is the dish I most miss."
"For me it is roast goose and zely and knedliky," he said.
"Goose is a bird?"
"A large one," he said, sketching the size with his hands. "Very succulent. My mother prepared it the old way maybe once a year, at Christmas."
"Your midwinter festival," she said. "But I thought you said religion was forbidden under the Soviets?"
Radek shrugged. "Officially, yes. Unofficially, no one could prevent us from eating goose and carp and chocolates on the shortest day of the year."
"We also had a festival on the shortest day," she said. "It is customary to cut the largest tree one can find, and burn a bonfire all day and all night."
"This is done on Earth also," Radek mused.
"A natural response to darkness," Teyla agreed.
Miko walked by them, holding her tray, and for a moment Radek thought she would join them, but she did not. He wondered whether she imagined that he and Teyla were dating.
Teyla placed her silverware neatly on her tray. "After a meal such as this, I am too full for dessert," she said, "but I would like a cup of iteh. I have some in my quarters. Will you join me?"
"Gladly," Radek said. He wondered whether Teyla too thought they were dating.
The walk back to her quarters did not take long. They passed Sheppard and McKay, who were engrossed in talk about some kind of game -- a computer game, Radek guessed? "Hey," Sheppard said in greeting. McKay just kept talking: "I'm telling you, even if you do succeed in rendering a new continent there's no way you're going to get ahead of me..."
Once they had passed Radek rolled his eyes. Teyla laughed.
Her quarters were tidy and homey, her bed draped with Athosian homespun and piled with small square pillows. She withdrew a flagon of clear spirits from a drawer, along with two ceramic thimbles; he guessed the stuff was strong.
It smelled of fruit, something akin to apricots. "Na zdraví," he offered, and raised his thimble to clink with hers. She looked amused, but mirrored his gesture; following her lead, he sipped gently at the iteh.
"You did not choke," she noted approvingly, sitting crosslegged at the head of her bed and gesturing for him to join her. He perched at the foot of the bed and shook his head.
"To me this is not so strong. You have encountered vodka?" She shook her head. "A spirit distilled from potatoes, which I drank often in my university days. It is much more potent than this."
"Ah," she said, and sipped again.
"I should not ask, but I must know: who choked?"
"Lieutenant Ford," she said. "And Dr. McKay."
Of course; she had shared iteh with her team. He was chagrined to realize he had felt a pang of jealousy at the notion of other men sitting where he was sitting now. He was perhaps not as immune to her charms as he liked to imagine. "Ford is young," he said thoughtfully, "and McKay drinks too fast. But Colonel Sheppard?"
Teyla beamed. "Colonel Sheppard seemed to enjoy it. As, I think, do you."
"Very much," Radek said honestly. It reminded him of Armenian apricot brandy: the taste was like fire, but the aftertaste was fruit and honey as he tipped the last drops back.
Teyla finished hers too and reached for his cup. When their fingers brushed, he told himself the rush of heat he felt was from the spirits.
"It is late," he said. "I should go --"
"Thank you for the evening," she said, standing as he did. When she reached for him he couldn't help grinning, amazed at his luck -- but instead of the kiss he was suddenly, absurdly, expecting, she tilted her forehead to his and they stood for a moment in that Athosian embrace.
When they pulled back there was fondness in her eyes, and amusement. Could she guess that for a moment he had hoped for a kiss? Radek felt himself blush, but she did not look away.
"Dobrou noc," he said, aiming for gallant, and palmed the wall to open the door.
"Rest well," Teyla said lightly.
He didn't look back as he walked down the corridor, but he thought -- he couldn't be certain, but he thought! -- that she stood in her doorway and watched him go.