He thinks about Sheppard, his weird insistence on playing the Barber backwards. Is it just to see if Rodney will do it? To see exactly how smitten Rodney is? Rodney knows he's pretty far gone. He even turned down the groupie who was waiting for him by his limo when he finally made his way around to the deserted front of Symphony Hall.
Rodney wishes he hadn't turned the kid away. He could use a distraction about now, and he hasn't had to jack off in ages. He flips onto his back and kicks his boxers off. He knows he shouldn't do this, even if Sheppard's okay with Rodney's attraction, it won't do anything but make working together harder. Still, it's only one concert, Rodney rationalizes. He'll probably never see Sheppard again.
For all his words, Rodney's always been a visual type of guy. He can picture how music flows together, its symmetry and lines, harmonics and overtones creating architecture in the space around him. He applies that to Sheppard too, how exactly his muscles look under that black t-shirt, how the line of his neck curves and runs down his shoulder, how the musculature of his bicep strains as his hand reaches out to grab Rodney's hip.
It's been too long since he's been with a real man; the young androgynous worshippers at the altar of McKay are all lithe and boneless, with barely enough strength to hold themselves upright. Sheppard's strong and angular, able to give as good as he gets. Rodney imagines Sheppard pinning him to the wall, something none of the young kids who come calling would think to do, even if they had the strength. Rodney hasn't been out of control for a long time, hasn't bottomed for even longer, hasn't done a lot of things lately that he might like to do with Sheppard.
Rodney comes, something desperate and pathetic underscoring his fantasies of Sheppard. He gentles into sleep almost immediately, letting his uneasiness dissolve into dreams about scheduling performances and buying strings and a thousand other details of his normal pre-Sheppard life.
He's got notes for Ronon too, but he keeps a mental list of those, going over them every few minutes so he doesn't forget his ideas about tempo changes, the cadenza, or the breaks between movements. He takes a long shower, fingering through the third movement over and over against his palm to make sure he can play it on its own instead of in the order he's used to. He'd hate to disappoint Sheppard after everything he's done to get the guy there.
Minutes before Rodney steps on stage, after hours of bored waiting, half an hour of rushed instructions to the orchestra, and another forty-five minutes of Dvořák, Sheppard saunters backstage, offering a hand for Maestro Dex to shake. Rodney's thankful his hands are full of violin and bow, because the urge to punch Sheppard is overwhelming.
"I hope you're happy," Rodney says with absolute loathing. "I'm going to blame this whole fiasco on you."
Sheppard grins and raises an eyebrow. "Just wait," he says, leaning in to pseudo-whisper, "It'll be worth it."
"We'll see," Rodney says. The thing is, it is worth it. He looks over at Sheppard and sees the long line of his torso and his mischievous eyes and Rodney's stomach suddenly feels like a rock tumbler. He sucks in a breath that makes Sheppard's expression of delight turn to concern.
Rodney's never had stage fright. He's had plenty of ordinary-place fright, in places like shopping malls the size of Belgium, but no stage fright. His earliest memories are of being on stage, and he's always been perfectly at home with large crowds watching him. Knowing Sheppard is going to be out there, he's caught between bursting with anticipation and throwing up all over Maestro Dex. He can't imagine performing if this was his reaction every time.
"Shouldn't you be taking your seat?" Rodney asks. "I think they flashed the lights." His voice wavers and Sheppard's look of concern turns to distress, but Ronon ushers him out forcibly before he can say anything.
Ronon comes back, puts a heavy hand on Rodney's shoulder and says, quietly, "Breathe."
Rodney does, and finds that the constriction in his chest eases a little and his pulse jumps a bit – why can I feel my pulse in my esophagus?! he thinks hysterically – but then slows down. Thank god Teyla suggested he stop drinking caffeine before performances, or his violin would shake right out of his hands.
The sound of applause for the first violinist – Rodney'll be damned if he'll call Chaya concertmaster – and subsequent tuning has a further calming effect, and Rodney can feel the oxygen returning to his brain as he takes deeper and deeper breaths.
Ronon adds his other hand to Rodney's shoulders, pressing down, grounding him, and then gives Rodney a shove onto the stage. Rodney only trips a little, backstage where almost none of the audience can see him. His irritation burns up most of his nerves, so he spares Ronon his death glare. He makes his way through the first violins to the front of the stage where Chaya hands him a microphone, tapping it first to make sure it's on.
Rodney transfers his bow to the hand that's holding the violin, thankful that he's never had sweaty hands. He takes the mike and looks around the darkened auditorium. It's a new experience – he's never tried to make out faces before. There are only a couple of silhouettes visible, and none of them have Sheppard's telltale hair.
He takes a deep breath and glances up at Ronon, who is whispering things to the orchestra, his hands clasped in front of him. He turns to Rodney and nods, and Rodney brings the mike up to his mouth.
"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming today, I know it's well below freezing out there." A murmur of assent, a couple of laughs, and Rodney takes a deep breath and continues. "I don't know how many of you are familiar with the Barber Violin Concerto, but it has a very interesting history, which hopefully you have read about in the program notes."
More murmurs, and now there's shuffling of pages. Rodney has an urge to berate the audience for being unprepared and then rude on top of it, and realizes that he feels almost totally back to normal.
"The short version is that the first two movements were finished for a commission and were well-liked by the commissionee, but the third… The third movement, while having an appropriate difficulty level, seemed to be at odds with the other two movements. Briselli, the violinist for whom it was written, requested that Barber expand or rewrite the third movement, but Barber refused, and paid back the money he had received for the commission."
The audience reacts in all the right places; Rodney's warming to his subject, though a glance at Ronon's tight smile makes him rethink expanding into the theoretical issues of the third movement.
"The Barber has always been both wildly popular and somewhat dissatisfying. Today, we propose to rectify the second issue by playing the movements in reverse order. Many people, myself included, like the first movement the best, and this will give all of us a chance to think of the piece in a new way – to turn it on its head."
There's a smattering of applause and Rodney hands the mike back to Chaya, who turns it off and sets it beneath her chair. Rodney takes a deep breath, closing his eyes and running down his mental list of notes before putting his violin up and nodding to Ronon.
The downbeat is soft and understated. It surprises Rodney for a moment before the muscle memory in his fingers kicks in, his bow arm keeping up with the scorching pace like careening around a curve, almost out of control.
It's going perfectly, the orchestra has plenty of enthusiasm. His musical impression of racing down a steep hill seems to have worked because the orchestra's rushing to the conclusion, and Rodney's glad he spent so many hours drilling the movement into the ground. His fingers move faster than his brain, but Rodney trusts them enough to follow along and not try to take control, something he learned the hard way when he was quite young.
The third movement rushes by in a few minutes, over before anyone can get their head around it. The orchestra needs time to move from the restless energy of the third movement and into the tender beauty of the second, so Rodney lets himself pause, remembering why he's going along with this crazy idea. One of the biggest issues for continuity in Rodney's mind is the frenetic pace of the third movement. The first two movements spool out slowly, taking advantage of the lyrical melodies, but the third movement starts in a rush and gathers speed, hurtling toward a finish that is somehow less satisfying for its failure to wrap up the piece as a whole.
Rodney looks up at Maestro Dex and nods. The second movement starts with the orchestra, and Rodney closes his eyes and listens subjectively for a change, letting the oboe solo color how he feels. The oboe is melancholy by nature, and if the cellos didn't rescue the melody after a few phrases, the movement would be much more sorrowful. The sad timbres don't continue though, so when Rodney starts his theme, it's bursting with hope and barely contained joy. It doesn't last long; the second movement shifts through emotions restlessly, like a ghost moving through a house it's lived in and loved. He sifts through them all, letting the ones that catch on his fingers have their moments, his sound thick and enveloping.
He's rarely emotionally connected to his music, but the Barber has always been a deep well of beauty and sorrow, pulling the feelings out of him unwillingly. He's more in tune with the orchestra than he's ever been; he can feel them with him, taking over the melody or adding harmony, supporting him with a web of sound and structure.
They follow him and Maestro Dex through the twists and turns, imbuing the music with shadows and contours. It lets Rodney float on top, riding the wave of alternating heartbreak and hope, the sound of someone learning to live with their grief. The metaphor stuns him and he can't shake it; suddenly the music is sharper in color – brighter and softer all at once. He can feel his eyes well up, and he closes them against the threat of crying on stage.
The movement closes gently, and Rodney would take a moment except he specifically told Ronon that the first movement should be attaca. At the time, he thought moving immediately from the frothing emotions of the second movement into the playful first movement would be a brilliant idea; he still thinks so, but he wishes he could have a second to collect his thoughts and wipe his face.
Ronon is standing still with his baton raised, and when Rodney turns to catch Lorne's eye for the downbeat, he can feel the entire orchestra expectantly watching the maestro. For all his stillness, Ronon has an energy that is straining to be released. Rodney looks at Ronon too, and at that moment, Ronon's baton moves, a smooth upbeat and solid downward swish for the start of the movement. This movement opens with the violin solo, and Rodney lets the melody go, rising upward with happiness tempered by the turbulence of the last movement. It's somehow even more beautiful in its new placement, layered with subtlety and meaning.
The clarinet outlines the bouncy B theme, and Rodney follows along, the violin line a foreshadowing – no, Rodney corrects himself, a remembrance – of the second movement. Sheppard is a genius.
Sheppard. Rodney's never really thought of the first movement as a love song before, but all it takes is one stray thought of Sheppard, and he can't shake the idea of the main theme as designed for no other purpose than to be the background to a couple of windswept lovers in some old-fashioned romantic movie. There's more to it, though, the first movement has its own sort of turmoil, and Rodney can imagine himself alongside Sheppard in an infinite variety of ways, fighting and laughing and kissing. This concerto is one of the few that have any real meaning for him, and suddenly the whole piece takes on a new level of significance.
Rodney alternates between closing his eyes to see John in his imagination and opening them to watch Ronon, lithe and beautiful in his own way. Rodney's grateful for Ronon's grace; he can't imagine there's a single soul watching him when Ronon's conducting is the perfect embodiment of the music.
Ronon notices Rodney watching him and winks. Rodney smiles, following Ronon's lead until it's time for him to take over again, a moment or two before his brief cadenza-like interlude. Ronon brings in the various parts of the orchestra expertly, following Rodney's whim to stretch the long notes, hold on to them like they might desert him. The maestro follows suit – taking time on the high points when the orchestra takes over the lush melody.
The cadenza sounds anguished, not something Rodney's ever put into it before. It can't hold, not when the orchestra comes in with the cheerful B theme, and in his mind's eye Rodney can see Sheppard's megawatt smile, pure amusement. The clarinet closes the movement, and Rodney glances back at her because either she's more talented than he originally thought, or she's reading his mind. The end of the movement is so wistful Rodney can almost feel Sheppard slipping away. He chokes in a breath and passes his sleeve over his face, hoping it looks like he's wiping the sweat off.
He can hear the deep rumble of Ronon's voice just outside his door, deflecting people away from him. He's thankful for the maestro's thoughtfulness, and waits for Ronon to come in for a glass of the scotch before the post-concert gathering. He takes the shoulder support off his violin and loosens his bow, tucking them away into the velvet lining of the case.
He hears the rattle of the doorknob a fraction of a second before the door opens and Sheppard slips in, sidling in through the tight space between Ronon and the door frame. Apparently Ronon's not quite as thoughtful as Rodney thought.
"Hi," Rodney says, and his voice sounds too high. It's probably because his heart is lodged in his throat somewhere near his vocal cords.
"Hey," Sheppard says, and moves in a straight line to Rodney, like Rodney's a supermagnet for fluffy-haired pianists. He gets too close and hesitates; it looks like he might have considered hugging but thought better of it at the last moment.
Rodney gets a grip on himself and tries to put something biting between them. "You're lucky they liked it," he says, but there's not even a shred of reprimand in his voice.
"Yeah," Sheppard says, "I'm one lucky guy." He leans back and puts his hands on his hips, taking himself out of the too-close space around Rodney and making himself look ultra-casual in the process. "You were…" Sheppard breathes, hesitating minutely before continuing, "it was gorgeous. I knew," he says as the beginnings of a smile light up his face. "I knew it'd be perfect – I knew you'd get it." He puts a hand on Rodney's arm, and the between the soft touch and the brilliant smile, Rodney's heart fucking aches.
"Thank you," he whispers, rotating his forearm upwards so he can grip Sheppard's arm as well. "For the idea. You deserve the credit."
Sheppard shakes his head, glancing down at their entwined arms and then up into Rodney's eyes. Rodney knows it's obvious he's been crying, he's never been able to hide that sort of thing. Jeannie's always teased him mercilessly about it. Sheppard puts his other hand on Rodney's shoulder, and now he's firmly within Rodney's personal space. Rodney's entire body leans toward Sheppard.
"Hey, buddy," Sheppard says, and Rodney can't help a soft huff of laughter at the 'buddy.' "You all right?"
Rodney nods and lets his head hang. He can't keep looking at Sheppard or he'll do something stupid. He can't make himself disengage from Sheppard's grasp either, can't let go of those warm points of contact. He tries to laugh, but it comes out as a gurgle in the back of his throat.
"Hey," Sheppard says, and takes his hand off Rodney's shoulder, chucking Rodney under his chin, forcing him to look up and meet Sheppard's eyes.
It's only six inches of space, Rodney thinks, his eyes dipping down to look at Sheppard's lips. "John," he whispers, swooping in to press his lips onto Sheppard's.
When he thinks about it later, he's almost certain it was the name 'John' that gave Sheppard pause, that allowed Rodney to get all the way to their mouths touching. There's a moment where John's arm tenses up in Rodney's grip before he puts a hand on Rodney's chest and pushes gently.
"Um…" Sheppard says, and takes a step back, his arms dropping down to his sides. "I don't… I'm not…"
Rodney takes a deep breath and gets some semblance of control over himself. "Yes, I know, I'm sorry." He wipes his hand brusquely over his eyes. "It's the Barber. I always… get caught up. I'm really sorry. I don't know –"
"No problem," Sheppard says, but he's backing away quickly. "I should…" he points over his shoulder to indicate the door, and Rodney nods.
"Sure," Rodney says, trying to make this as easy as possible. "See you later."
"Yeah," Sheppard says, and then, just before the door closes, "Congratulations."
Congratulations, Rodney thinks. You're in love with a straight guy.
"I'm Laura Cadman," she says, her hand extended in front of her as she plows forward to greet him. He shakes it, and she has enough strength in her grip that he disengages quickly.
"Yeah," Rodney says, forgetting her name as soon as it comes out of her mouth. "I'm sorry about the comment on your notes, I just – "
"No skin off my nose," she says. "Played it ahead of the beat, no problem."
"Good," Rodney says. "Excellent solos, by the way. Good sound. Yale?"
Cadman laughs. "That's pretty good, Mr. McKay."
"I like Shifrin," Rodney admits. "Amazing chamber player."
"Yeah," Cadman says. "Anyway, I just wanted to say that it was a stroke of genius, playing the Barber backwards."
"Thanks," Rodney says, "but it wasn't my idea. I'll tell the guy you liked it."
Cadman shrugs and congratulates him, shaking his hand again before taking off for the bar.
Rodney makes it through the rest of the post-concert party fueled mostly by scotch and self-loathing, not to mention worry about Sheppard burning a hole in his gut. He doesn't get drunk, even though he wants to. He does, however, take home the pretty young thing that's been hitting on him all night. He's an ethnomusicology graduate student at the New England Conservatory; Rodney's had enough scotch to make him pleasantly accepting, the words rolling off him as the kid talks about this thesis.
The boy is enthusiastic in bed, which is lucky because Rodney doesn't feel like putting a lot of effort into it. He's also getting too old for a round two, so he lies down and the kid finds him like a heat-seeking missile, curling around Rodney like he misses his teddy bear.
Rodney sighs and drifts off, Sheppard's quick exit still on his mind.
Virtuoso Turned Pedagogue Shares his Diverse Talents
Review by Elizabeth Weir
M. Rodney McKay, Violinist
Seully Hall, Boston
M. Rodney McKay, notorious among the academic crowd for his refusal to teach masterclasses, folded to outside pressure and shared his expertise with four students of the Boston Conservatory this last Saturday.
The students were dull to mediocre, but the highlight of the masterclass (beyond a shouted, "You're not worth my time!" at one of the students) was the impromptu reading of the Janáček Sonata for Violin and Piano by Mr. McKay and Dr. John Sheppard of the Boston Conservatory.
Dr. Sheppard was a pleasant surprise, with an agile technique and sense of humor (which must be a requirement to play with Mr. McKay). He was able to reign in Mr. McKay's natural tendency to play everything too fast, and produce a stately third movement that was the highlight of the piece.
I have often said that the only performances of Mr. McKay I find worthwhile are those of contemporary pieces, and this was no exception. He's the fashionista of music, only interested in what's new and fresh. The Janáček was bursting with color and freshness while the Barber fell flat.
One can't tell if it was the plodding students that tired him out or his newest plaything, but his lackluster performance of the Barber Violin Concerto on Saturday evening (despite the heroic efforts of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and their leader, Maestro Ronon Dex) was simply another in a long line of performances that show Mr. McKay has nothing left for music except disdain and boredom.