O'Neill goes to buy drinks, and Elizabeth wanders off to find them a table. Rodney and Sheppard get looks from the other patrons as they pass. Elizabeth's little black concert dress might fit in, but their tails and loosened bowties look ridiculous. Rodney almost wishes he hadn't had the hotel pick up his clothes from the hall. He doesn't know why Sheppard didn't change, he's got a duffel bag with him that Rodney can only assume contains a plethora of jeans and black t-shirts.
Jack brings over four pints of beer as Rodney tucks his violin under the table, using Sheppard's duffel bag to cushion it. He spends the next half an hour wishing he had a real drink as he nurses his beer. The conversation stays far away from the concert, thanks to O'Neill's remarkable ability to derail Elizabeth. She doesn't seem to mind, and Rodney's not completely sorry he came when Sheppard and O'Neill start to talk about old times at Julliard. Elizabeth's eyes go sharp, and Rodney kicks Sheppard under the table before he says too much.
The discussion turns to other musicians, and when Ronon's name is mentioned, Rodney mentions that he'll be recording Fratres with the BSO this summer.
"Fratres!" Sheppard exclaims, and his eyes light up. "I love Arvo Pärt. Can I come watch you record?" He looks at Rodney with puppy dog eyes that should look ridiculous on someone of his age. "Please?"
"Well," Rodney says hesitantly, "I don't think Ronon will like it."
Sheppard actually sticks his lip out. "C'mon, Rodney. I'll chauffeur you to Symphony Hall… please?"
Rodney laughs. "Fine, I'll ask him. That's the best I can do, all right?"
Elizabeth stands before Sheppard can answer, and O'Neill pushes his chair back and half-stands. O'Neill doesn't seem old enough to follow those etiquette rules, but it's obvious Elizabeth appreciates the gesture. "Excuse me," she says, and leaves the table to pick her way through the crowd toward the restrooms.
"Me too," Sheppard says, and Rodney frowns, watching him follow her to the far end of the bar. He groans and puts his head down on his arms, flip-flopping between voyeuristically turned on that Sheppard could be having sex with Elizabeth in the bathroom and sickened at how badly he wishes Sheppard was having sex with him in the bathroom.
"Got it bad," O'Neill says kindly, and Rodney snaps his head up.
"Excuse me?" Rodney asks, and promptly brings his beer up to his mouth to avoid any more unwanted words escaping.
"It's pretty obvious," O'Neill says, and Rodney's stomach feels like someone slipped a ten pound rock in it.
"I know," Rodney says, since there's no use denying it. He takes another drink of beer, wishing for all the world it was scotch. Or vodka. Or hydrochloric acid.
"Can't be easy," O'Neill says, and his fatherly tone makes Rodney want to drown himself in his disgusting beer.
Rodney doesn't bother to answer because he sees Sheppard making his way back to their table. Rodney's so relieved that Sheppard didn't screw Elizabeth that he gulps down half his beer to get rid of the stupid smile on his face.
Rodney's thankful for the noise of the bar as they wait for Elizabeth to return – he doesn't know what to say to Sheppard, and he really wouldn't mind never talking to O'Neill again. O'Neill and Sheppard both stare pointedly at sports on the TVs opposite them, and when Elizabeth comes back, she doesn't bother to sit.
"I should go," she says politely. "Thanks for the beer."
"Share a cab?" O'Neill asks, and gives her a half-grin that looks oddly familiar. They all shake hands again (Rodney hasn't touched Elizabeth this much in the twelve years he's known her), and O'Neill helps Elizabeth into her coat before ushering her outside.
"Damn," Sheppard says, watching Jack and Elizabeth exit the bar. "I was really hoping to get laid tonight."
Rodney scrubs the inside of his brain, trying to clear it of porn-quality images of John Sheppard, to no avail. "Me too," he says. "I really need to get Chris's number for occasions like this."
"That guy that was waiting for you?" Sheppard asks.
"Yeah," Rodney answers with a shrug. "He comes to most of my New York concerts. Nice kid."
"Mmm hmm," Sheppard says, and drinks the last swallow of beer in his glass.
"What?" Rodney asks, annoyed. "We're all grown-ups here, we can have consensual sex."
Sheppard raises his hands defensively. "Course you can," he says. "I just prefer my women with a little more experience."
"Ha," Rodney says. "I'd bet Chris's got plenty of experience on Elizabeth. You should see–"
"Life experience, Rodney," Sheppard interrupts, turning away to signal the waitress.
"Oh, just ask already," Rodney says, and Sheppard's mouth drops open in surprise, as the barmaid and her scantily clad breasts appear next to their table. "I can hear the questions in your brain loud and clear." The waitress glances at Rodney briefly, and then turns back to Sheppard, waiting for his order.
"I think I need something with a little more kick," Sheppard says, and Rodney rolls his eyes. "Tequila shots, please," he says, with a grin that's just shy of a leer. The girl smiles back at him and heads back to the bar.
"What do you want to know?" Rodney asks.
Sheppard thinks about that for a moment, letting his eyes roam the bar. "Who would you take home with you, assuming a yes on everybody's part?"
Rodney blinks. That's not at all what he expected Sheppard to ask. He stares at Sheppard for a full five seconds, thankfully Sheppard's a little dense, because while he he's not sure he could turn Sheppard down, he does think it would be a really bad idea. He forces himself to glance around the bar, weighing and measuring the men with a single glance.
"The guy in the corner booth," he says with a nod. His groupies are mostly kids, and while he doesn't say no, his tastes run toward older fare. The silver hair and broad shoulders intrigue him.
"The George Hamilton wannabe?"
"He's not that tan," Rodney says. "I like silver hair. It's distinguished." He doesn't mention the salt and pepper showing up on Sheppard's own temples. "Why, who would you have guessed?"
Sheppard scans the bar, and it amuses the hell out of Rodney that his eyes keep going back to the older gentleman who's currently escorting his wife (who also has a gorgeous head of silver hair) through the crowded aisle.
He settles on a group of thick-bodied men, muscular, but not ripped. Rodney guesses they're cops, or maybe firemen. Sheppard finally settles on one. "The guy in the NYU sweatshirt," he says, tipping his chin at the table. He's got huge arms, which is usually a turnoff for Rodney, and his whole presence screams 'conservative.' No gay man in their right mind would hit on that.
"Stop staring before he comes over and beats us up," Rodney says. "First of all," he starts, nearly knocking the tequila and accoutrements out of the waitress's hands as she walks up. She sets everything on their table, smiles at Sheppard, and glares at Rodney before leaving.
"Lemon?" Rodney says, his voice going too high too fast.
"I know," Sheppard says, "I prefer lime."
"Were you not listening at Jean Georges?" Rodney says, leaning away from the noxious stuff. Just smelling it makes it hard to breathe. "I'm allergic to citrus. Deathly allergic!"
"Sorry," Sheppard says, grabbing the lemons and putting them on the far side of the table, "I forgot."
"Never mind," Rodney says. Of course Sheppard hadn't been paying attention at dinner. He had been trying to keep himself from throwing up. "As I was saying," he says, waving his hands in front of him to clear the lemon smell out of the air, "you picked the straightest guy in the bar. Not to mention, he could probably snap me in half. I'm not really that interested in muscle."
Sheppard considers this for a second before shrugging and licking the back of his hand - the web between his thumb and forefinger. Rodney stares, watching Sheppard pour salt on it and lick it again. The broad expanse of his pink tongue short-circuits something in Rodney's brain that he's almost certain he's going to need later, and he's glad when Sheppard downs the shot and picks up a wedge of lemon, which snaps the rest of the bar into place, like Rodney's stepping out of a dark room only he and Sheppard had been in.
Rodney glances around the room, glad to see people involved in their own little gatherings and not paying any attention to them. He starts scouting the women, seeing if he can pick out Sheppard's dream date. It's not too tough, since there's obviously a high degree of objective attractiveness necessary and a brain to boot. There're a bunch of pretty young things giggling in a corner, but they look entirely too vapid for the job. There are several businesswomen around another table, but they look a little too ambitious for Sheppard. He probably has half a dozen female best friends just like them. It reminds Rodney that he'll have to introduce Sheppard to Teyla, they'll get on like gangbusters.
He sees her just as she's standing and putting her – perfect – leather bomber's jacket on. "There," he whispers, flicking his eyes to Sheppard and back to the woman. She's attractive, with her fall of wavy light brown hair and oval face. Pretty, but unusual. She's carrying a laptop case as well as a highly functional yet fashionable purse. The bomber jacket nails it as casual but comfortable in her own skin. He glances at Sheppard to see how right he is, but Sheppard's mouth is hanging open. The woman glances at their table and does a double take.
"Oh shit," Sheppard says, pouring salt on hand and downing a second shot of tequila.
The woman makes her way over to them, and Rodney hadn't really meant to be quite that good at picking out Sheppard's next fling.
"John," she says, and her voice is as sharp as a razorblade.
"Larrin," he says, standing up clumsily. "Rodney, this is Larrin. Larrin, Rodney McKay."
Rodney absolutely does not gloat at the fact that Sheppard offered his last name but not hers. "Pleased, I'm sure," he says, holding out his hand. She shakes it a little too firmly.
"Haven't heard from you in a while," Larrin says, and Sheppard rubs a hand over the back of his neck.
"I haven't been involved in Dad's business in years," Sheppard says, and before Rodney can even process that gem, she leans in to Sheppard close enough to kiss him, though she stops short of actually putting her lips on his.
"You know what they say about all work and no play," she says, her voice deep and sultry. Rodney shoves away from the table, which he meant to do quietly so he could slip away and let Sheppard score, if that was going to be the net result of this disturbing coincidence, but the chair scrapes noisily along the floor and they both turn to look at him.
"Sorry," Rodney mumbles as he scrambles out of his seat. His hands fidget at his sides and he points over his shoulder toward the back of the bar. "I just. Um. I'll..." He gives up and flees for the bathroom.
"I'm sorry," he said as he slides back into his seat. "You could have left with her."
"Ha," Sheppard says, licking his hand again. "She'd eat me alive. Besides, I couldn't leave your violin out here unsupervised." He tips up another shot and follows it with a lemon wedge. Rodney backs his chair up a little.
"Well, thanks," Rodney says, licking his hand and holding it out to Sheppard. Sheppard shakes salt on it and Rodney laps it up, following it immediately with the tequila that burns the hell out of his throat.
Sheppard grimaces in sympathy, and holds up the salt shaker. "Do a couple more, it won't be so bad. Besides," he tips his head toward his collection of three upside-down shot glasses, "you're a little behind."
Rodney holds out his hand again and repeats the process. Sheppard's right. The second shot isn't nearly as bad as the first.
There's one shot left in front of Sheppard, and Rodney figures it's his, since he's still down one. He holds his hand out one more time and Sheppard grins as he shakes salt on it. It goes down smoother than the first two, but he still wishes for the smoky warmth of a good scotch. He's going to have to train Sheppard on the subtlety of good liquor.
"Okay," Sheppard says, raising his hand to flag the waitress down. "Where were we?"
Rodney waits for a few seconds, until he can see the waitress coming up in his peripheral vision. "I believe you were going to ask me all about gay sex."
The waitress is smiling as she walks up to the table, but it's rather plastic-looking. "Sir?" she asks politely, and Sheppard rolls his eyes at Rodney.
"Two more, please," Sheppard says, and puts a twenty on her tray. He's been paying as he goes, which seems a little strange to Rodney, but it's been a while since he's done any serious drinking at a bar.
Sheppard leans in close, and Rodney knows he's got about ten minutes before the alcohol hits him hard, so he hopes he can get the dangerous questions out of the way early. He's not disappointed; Sheppard picks the biggest cliché right off the bat. "Have you always liked guys?"
"Yes." Rodney doesn't bother with the long-winded explanation about not having social circles because he's been performing since he was eight. It doesn't really matter anyway; he's had sex with women, but they don't count, except for Teyla, and he's definitely not going to tell Sheppard about that.
"When did you know?" Sheppard asks.
Rodney deflects with his normal hetero routine – "When did you know?" – hoping he can get Sheppard to the actual sex questions before he's too plastered to keep a muzzle on the overly-personal stuff.
Sheppard blinks. "What?" He sits back, arms crossed, and looks at the ceiling for a moment. "Huh, okay. I get it." He leans forward again and Rodney's crossing his fingers under the table. Please, anything but – "What does it feel like?"
Rodney puts his head down on crossed arms. "I thought you went to college. You never had this conversation with your gay friends?"
Sheppard doesn't answer, so he lifts his head to find out if he's overstepped some boundary he didn't know was there. He's used to tripping his way through social conversations, so it wouldn't surprise him, but Sheppard's just looking at him, thoughtfully.
"I'm asking all the typical, boring, everybody-asks-these-of-their-gay-friends questions."
Rodney nods. "Sort of, yeah." He normally likes this part, initiating non-gay folks into thinking about gay lifestyles openly, to let their curiosity guide them to a better understanding that gays are people too. It's frustrating him a little with Sheppard, though, because he's a little old to be this naive and the inherent possibility of moving on to experimentation feels downright dangerous.
The waitress drops off their next round and Sheppard's change, and they take time getting to their next shots. As he pitches forward from swallowing his shot, Rodney realizes he's starting to feel the first three something fierce.
"Sorry," Sheppard mumbles around a lemon wedge. He spits it out, making a pile of chewed-up lemon rinds next to the glass with the wedges in it. "I got married at nineteen. I didn't have many gay friends, and Nancy didn't think it was appropriate to talk about that stuff."
"Fine," Rodney sighs, giving in. "It feels good. I mean, sex is sex, right?"
"Not exactly, Rodney." Sheppard leans in a little closer. "I don't let people put things in me."
Rodney laughs and tips his chair back to rest on two legs. "You're missing out. Just because you're straight doesn't mean you can't let people 'put things in you.'" He punctuates with air quotes. "You know your anus is an erogenous zone, right?"
Sheppard glances at the tables next to them, but it's plenty loud enough for this conversation in here. Rodney's supposed dream date is chugging beer with his firemen buddies and between them and the screeching drunk women in the booth next to them, there's no way anything is going to be heard by anybody but their waitress when she drops off their drinks.
"I can't imagine..." Sheppard starts, his hands trying and failing to describe anal penetration without being crude. "I can't imagine wanting anything in there."
Rodney shrugs. "You don't have a very good imagination then."
Sheppard's eyes go comically wide, and Rodney shakes his head and tips his chair back down. He leans in close, careful to steer clear of the lemon. Sheppard leans in too, and Rodney grins. He loves this part.
"Close your eyes," he says huskily.
Sheppard glances at him, a frightened little look, and for a second Rodney's not sure he's going to follow the suggestion. He does, and his mouth opens slightly as his eyes close. He licks his lips, and Rodney imitates him, feeling the slick drag of his tongue over lips that are just starting to buzz.
"Now imagine you're at home, some pretty brunette on her knees in front of you, giving you the blowjob of your life."
Sheppard huffs out a breath and his forehead wrinkles for just a moment before it smoothes out and Sheppard smirks a little. Rodney wonders if he's imagining Larrin.
"Now imagine she has a hand on your balls, just lightly."
Sheppard's forehead scrunches up again, but he shifts in his seat, so Rodney knows he's on the right track. The smirk has disappeared, replaced by a look of determined concentration.
"Now she slips a finger behind to press on your perineum," Rodney says, and shifts too, because it's not a woman he's imagining doing this to Sheppard.
Sheppard's mouth falls open a little more, and Rodney leans in, a fraction closer. "Now imagine she looks up at you and takes her mouth off just long enough to put her finger in her mouth and pull it out slowly."
Sheppard shivers and he licks his lips again, much more obvious this time, and Rodney glances around to see if anyone's looking. A cursory glance doesn't turn up anything, and he goes in for the kill.
"Now imagine she puts her mouth back on your cock while she slides that slick finger right under your balls, over your perineum, and presses on your–"
"You two like another round?"
Sheppard's eyes fly open and he looks up sharply at the waitress. Rodney leans back, smirking, giving the waitress full marks for her timing. Sheppard looks wild, and Rodney would put a calming hand on his knee except that would probably make him fall over in his rush to stand up.
"Yeah," Rodney answers, since it's clear Sheppard's not up to answering. He pulls out his wallet and puts a twenty on her tray. "Keep the change."
She smiles at him, fake, but not menacing like the last half an hour, so he shrugs it off.
"Thanks," Sheppard says, and the bright pink spots on his cheeks make Rodney grin.
"You're welcome," Rodney says sincerely, raising an eyebrow even though he knows Sheppard meant the drinks.
Sheppard looks down at the table, fiddling around with the discarded lemons, and Rodney wonders if he'll get it together to ask another question. He has his doubts.
"Do you get laid a lot?" he asks, and that's not something Rodney's been asked before, at least not as part of the general gay sex talk.
"Sure," he answers. "I have groupies. I can get laid after almost any concert if I want to."
"Huh," Sheppard says, smirking a little. He stacks his shot glasses, a short little pyramid that's likely to fall over the next time either of them touches the table. "Have you ever been with a woman?" Sheppard asks, and Rodney really hopes this isn't going where he thinks it's going.
"Yes, and as a matter of fact, it was pretty good with one of them. But not the same, or what I really wanted." Rodney debates throwing the question back at Sheppard, but he already knows the answer. Of course Sheppard's never slept with a man; he's never even considered it.
The waitress comes back with their shots, and weariness settles on him like a heavy blanket. He's too old for late nights and flirting with danger like this. Sheppard goes through the motions like a pro and holds up the salt shaker.
"Come on, Rodney," Sheppard says, shaking it. "Lick."
"I think I'm done," Rodney says, determinedly not giving in to Sheppard's pout. "Seriously. You finish these off."
Sheppard pulls his lip back in and eyes the second shot critically. "Okay," he says with a shrug, and licks the salt off his hand before downing both shots. He mumbles something before sucking on his lemon, but Rodney doesn't catch it.
"We should get you home," Rodney says, preoccupied with how quickly Sheppard's gotten himself plastered. "We can walk to my hotel and grab a cab there."
"What hotel're you at?" Sheppard asks, already starting to slur a little.
"The Ritz-Carlton," Rodney answers, and Sheppard wags a finger at him.
Rodney frowns, thinking of his hotel bills. Clearly music professors make more than he thought.
"All right, we should probably walk while we can," Rodney says, grabbing his violin. Sheppard stands up on wobbly legs and picks up his duffel bag. It nearly overbalances him, and he grabs on to his chair to keep from falling on his ass.
"Oh, come on," Rodney says, and wraps an arm around Sheppard's rib cage. Sheppard throws his arm over Rodney's shoulders and leans heavily, which tips Rodney enough that he knocks his violin case into the table.
"Watch it," Rodney says, frowning severely at Sheppard. "That instrument's worth more than your house."
"You don't know what my house is worth," Sheppard says petulantly.
Rodney's surprised Sheppard even has a house. He expected Sheppard to be renting some crappy apartment meant for college students or McDonald's employees. "Unless you're independently wealthy," Rodney looks John up and down pointedly, "there is no way you could afford a house worth two million."
John's face goes slack, and Rodney curbs the urge to meddle with Sheppard's head even more – his second violin is probably worth more than Sheppard's car, but he keeps the information behind his teeth.
"Come on, you lush," Rodney says, maneuvering them the ten feet to the door and then the block and a half to his hotel. Once the fresh air hits him, Rodney feels a lot better. Still pleasantly buzzed, but not drunk.
When they get inside the Ritz, Rodney guides them to the elevator and presses the button for the twenty-first floor before he thinks to ask Sheppard where his room is. "What floor for you?" he asks, and Sheppard blinks at Rodney.
"I'm on floor twenty-one too!" Sheppard says, and laughs so high, it's almost a giggle.
Floor twenty-one is the first club floor; it's a steep rise in price from the rack-rate Ritz rooms, but Rodney's always felt that having a dedicated concierge is worth every penny, especially when he's between assistants. There's also the little bonus that Bill somehow manages to get him tickets to plays that have been standing room only for weeks.
Clearly, music professors earn a lot more than he thought if Sheppard can afford a suite on this level. The doors to the elevator open and Rodney manhandles Sheppard through them. "Well?" he asks, sounding pissier than he meant to.
"Which way is your room?" Sheppard asks, and Rodney could smack himself for not figuring this out sooner.
"You don't have a room," he says, stabbing Sheppard's duffel bag with his violin case. "How could I have been so gullible?"
"Hey," Sheppard says, almost maudlin. "I was going to get one. You're the one who headed straight to the elevator."
"Oh, for fuck's sake, you're completely gone." Rodney sighs melodramatically, as if he's immensely put out by the inconvenience of having Sheppard stay in his room. "Fine. You can stay with me. I'll probably have to make sure you don't die from choking on your own vomit anyway."
Sheppard's megawatt smile makes an appearance, and even it's slightly loose from too much alcohol, it makes Rodney's internal organs head for his feet.
"Come on," he says, and shoves Sheppard toward his suite.