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~~~

When Rodney wakes up the next morning, it's with the strangest feeling of displacement. He can't figure out why until he glances around the room and realizes Sheppard is gone. The bed is neatly made, the condom's off the floor, the room service tray is gone. There is no trace of Sheppard's presence anywhere.

Rodney would say it was a dream, if he didn't know there is no way his subconscious could have possibly dug up that level of humiliation on its own. He sits up and his ass gives him a potent reminder of the fact that Sheppard was most definitely present last night. He winces and treads slowly to the bathroom.

Rodney's in a cab on his way to see Teyla before it hits him that he'll probably never see Sheppard again. After last night, Sheppard's likely to forgo the Pärt and let things slip into a forgotten memory. It'll take quite a while before Rodney forgets it, if he ever does, and he spends most of the ride trying to figure out why it bothers him more that he'll never see Sheppard again than that they had absolutely awful sex last night.

"Rodney," Teyla says as she opens the door. The welcoming warmth of her voice loosens the death grip melancholy has on him. Being near Teyla is comforting, the same sort of natural comfort he felt with Sheppard, until last night.

"You look much better," Rodney says. Beyond being out of the ratty bathrobe he last saw her in, she's clearly got color in her cheeks and she looks happy.

"Thank you," she says with a smile. "Come in." She ushers him to the kitchen, where there's coffee – decaf, he notes miserably from the package sitting by the coffee machine – and muffins set up on a tea tray. He grabs a blueberry muffin and picks at the wrapper idly, staring down at the marble counters and wishing he had a space like this to cook in.

"Your performance was excellent, as always," Teyla says, and Rodney nearly drops his muffin.

"What?" he asks, narrowing his eyes. "How would you know?"

"Kate and I used my complimentary tickets," she answers, diplomatically lowering her eyes as she pours the coffee.

"But the food poisoning," Rodney says, and he's never been this angry with Teyla before, not even when she switched out his Stradivarius with an Amadeus as a joke. "You lied to me?"

"No, Rodney," she answers, calmly pushing his mug of coffee across the counter. "I thought I had food poisoning. But I didn't."

Rodney cannot believe how calm she is. "What, then? Why didn't you play? You made me play with that... that... amateur!"

"Rodney," Teyla says soothingly, which is enough to raise his hackles without the gentle hand she sets on his arm. "He was quite good, and you know it. Your combined interpretation of the Brahms was stunning."

"He's not you," Rodney says, and he swears he's been infected by Sheppard's habit of pouting when he's losing an argument. He crosses his arms and raises his chin. "You don't know what I went through for that son of a bitch. He made me play the Barber backwards!"

"Now Rodney," Teyla says, condescending but not quite insulting. "You like him. It's–"

"I think you're missing the point here," Rodney complains loudly, stepping over her last words. "You lied to me."

"I didn't lie," Teyla says, and her voice contains a threat Rodney can hear plainly. "I thought I had food poisoning, but the doctor said…"

Rodney looks at her expectantly, wondering what she could possibly come up with as an excuse.

"I'm pregnant," she says, and the words hit him with almost physical force, stunning him into silence. "I can play to the end of the season – mid-June, if all goes well."

Rodney shakes his head mildly from side to side, trying to clear it of the buzzing sound that's building inside his head. Pregnant? He vaguely remembers that this is cause for celebration, that he should be congratulating her. "That's… that's terrific, congratulations." It's the best he can do, complete with as much smile as he can muster. They're scheduled through June of next year; even if she comes back after the baby is born, that's six months of concerts they'll have to cancel, not to mention her solo performances.

Teyla reads his mind, as she often has since they started touring together. "Carolyn Lam is taking over my solo performances," Teyla says quietly, and squeezes his arm. "I was hoping Dr. Sheppard would be an acceptable substitute for the chamber concerts," she says, but Rodney must be wearing his distress on his face, because she quickly hedges her bets. "Unless– "

"Oh, Teyla," Rodney says, and the desperation that's been eating at him all day swallows him whole. He puts a hand over his face. "I can't."

Teyla shifts quietly, pulling her mug toward her and preparing her coffee. Two creams, two sugars, stirred eleven times. Her routine is soothing, and Rodney finds his sorrow slipping in the face of her interminable calm.

"I understand he is not... available to you. But considering your collaboration, I would expect you to be able to put that aside."

Rodney stares at Teyla's mug, counting her slow counter-clockwise stirs. Six, seven, eight. "We had sex last night."

She finishes stirring and taps the spoon gently on the rim of the mug. If his admission surprises her, she doesn't show it. "So?" she asks, and Rodney sighs.

"He's straight. He thought he'd try it out, but..." Rodney turns away from her slightly, letting his eyes slide along the appliances as he finishes in a mutter. "It wasn't that great."

When he finally looks back at Teyla, she's smiling as she takes a sip of her coffee, her mug in both hands. "So?"

"So," Rodney says, drawing the word out childishly, "he's going to regret it and never speak to me again because he can't forget about it if I'm around, playing Brahms and making cracks about his premature ejaculation."

Teyla wipes her mouth delicately, not quite hiding her amused smile. "Perhaps you should let Dr. Sheppard make that decision," she says.

"Spoken like a true optimist," Rodney says, and takes a bite of his muffin.

~~~

Personal Performances Outshine the Music
Review by Elizabeth Weir


M. Rodney McKay, violinist, Dr. John Sheppard, pianist
Alice Tully Hall, New York


     Mr. M. Rodney McKay and Dr. John Sheppard (in an impressive last-minute substitution for T. Emmagen) played an intriguing lineup Tuesday evening at Alice Tully Hall. Not known for cosseting his audience, Mr. McKay stretched the imagination with an introduction of Crumb's Four Nocturnes and the Hindemith Sonata for Solo Violin. Dr. Sheppard's Piano Sonata No. 1 in F sharp Minor by Enescu was slightly more accessible, and once Dr. Sheppard got over his nerves, the duets were mesmerizing, if only for the dynamic between these two powerhouse performers.
     The opening contemporary pieces fell flat (with the exception of the back half of the Enescu), partially because they are unfamiliar pieces that are hard to understand with one hearing, but also because Dr. Sheppard seemed to be stricken with stage fright. His pallor during the Crumb was more interesting than the music itself, and Mr. McKay played the Hindemith with tempos so much faster than indicated that one wonders if he wasn't afraid Dr. Sheppard would leave while he was onstage. This impression was further reinforced by Mr. McKay turning pages for Dr. Sheppard on the Enescu, one of the most unusual sights of my reviewing career.
     Roughly halfway through the Enescu, Dr. Sheppard's performance went from merely tolerable to simply incredible. The Enescu sparkled with wit and vivacity, and it appeared that Mr. McKay's presence onstage seemed to bring out some heretofore unseen talent in Dr. Sheppard. It's been said his ex-wife, Ms. Nancy Sheppard, oboist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, had a similar effect on him in their days together at Julliard.
     In the second half of the concert, Dr. Sheppard honored Ms. Emmagen's penchant for natural tuning, pitching the piano to more naturally respond to the violin's frequencies. For instrumentalists, this is supposed to be a relief on the ears, but this vocalist found the unequal temperament grating. While it certainly gave the Mozart an interesting and harmonious brightness, it was not particularly suited to the Brahms, where the harmonies often wander far away from the stated key of the piece.
     The performers came out to play the Mozart in effusive good humor, with bright smiles and a playful, if immature, interpretation. It was a short piece, only two movements, and a pleasant contrast to the nervous, incomprehensible first half of the concert, but not particularly fresh in style or character.
     Despite the tuning issue, the Brahms was clearly the highlight of the evening. Dr. Sheppard not only seemed to have an inherent understanding of the weight of the Brahms, but was able to pull a surprisingly willing M. Rodney McKay with him on the tumultuous journey of the Opus 100 Sonata for Violin and Piano. Faithful readers know that I'm quite fond of Ms. Emmagen and the incredible wherewithal she must possess to be able to collaborate with Mr. McKay. Watching them perform has always seemed like a fight for dominance, clashing interpretations and strong wills. Watching Dr. Sheppard with Mr. McKay, it was more like a whispered conversation between lovers.
     With the exception of the Brahms, the music provided last evening was mediocre at best, but the performance was well worth the price of admission. I doubt Dr. Sheppard will be making another appearance soon, but should you get a chance to see him, I would highly recommend it. As for Mr. McKay, I would only recommend a performance if you prefer soap opera-style drama to real musical talent.


~~~

Rodney sets the paper down on the desk and rubs his eyes. He didn't expect any less from Weir, though she went a little light on Sheppard. One crack about his ex-wife and a handful of innuendo that they're sleeping together? Sheppard could probably knock on doors with this review and get himself a decent lineup for next season.

Rodney pulls out his violin and rosins his bow. He's too wound up to do anything, and simple practice is the best way for him to move past this sort of inertia. He starts with his scales, all slurred, all three to four octaves. Major, then all three versions of the relative minor, arpeggios and thirds in each. He works on bowing exercises next, long smooth strokes, connecting a slow chromatic scale that starts with his open G string and moves up through the harmonics. He does double stops as well, first in fifths, then fourths, then thirds. Then, just to please his contrary soul, in seconds, major and minor.

When he finally looks up again, three and a half hours have passed, and he can smell his sweat so strongly that he opens the window to air out the suite. His stomach is ready for something heavy and he debates braving the New York cabbies to find a steak house. Before he can talk himself out of it, there's a knock on the door.

Trust Teyla to check up on him. He sets his violin down on the bed and takes his time getting to the door, thinking of the ways he can mock her for treating him like a child at the same time he's thinking of restaurants they can go to.

He swings the door wide, insult at the ready, and stops with his lips pursed, blinking stupidly. In his doorway stands Dr. John Sheppard, one hand casually on his hip and the other holding a case of Guinness.

Rodney's mind is utterly devoid of anything resembling human speech. Sheppard seems to catch on to that fact and invites himself in. He walks right through the door, grabbing it out of Rodney's hands and closing it.

Rodney may not be able to form words, but his sense memory is in full-on assault mode. He can taste Sheppard's skin on his tongue and feel Sheppard's stomach muscles trembling under his fingers. He clenches his eyes shut, forcing himself to recover some of the concentration he had while practicing only a moment ago, Say something. Anything. A grunt, even.

"What the hell are you doing here?" he asks, and he hadn't realized he had that many syllables available to him.

Sheppard grimaces, the smallest hint that he has any idea how painful last night was. "I came to apologize," Sheppard says, and something in Rodney breaks, scattering jagged glass in his muscles and bones. Sheppard eyes the paper on the desk and picks it up, frowning. "I know you said she was mean, but I didn't believe she could get such unprofessional bullshit published."

Rodney sputters, a light little 'huh' that breaks into small uncontrollable laughs, until he's laughing so hard he has to bend over and hold his stomach. "Oh god," he says, straightening. "That is not what you need to apologize for."

Sheppard's expression is carefully blank, and Rodney shakes his head. "You don't remember anything about last night, do you?"

"I do," Sheppard says warily, and backs two steps away from Rodney. He obviously hadn't thought that through particularly well, as he's now standing in the entryway to the bedroom. Rodney walks around him, picking his violin up and wiping the rosin off before gently packing it back into its case.

"And what?" Rodney says. "You remember propositioning me and then coming like an inexperienced teenager?"

"What?" Sheppard asks, incredulous. "That's not how I remember it."

"Oh really, Mr. Six-Tequila-Shots-And-I'm-Yours?"

"Hey!" Sheppard's surprise turns to annoyance, his face pinching in irritation.

"Hey, nothing," Rodney says, hitting his stride, and angry enough to ignore the warning in Sheppard's stance. "You conned your way into my hotel room and then conned your way into your first and likely last gay sex experience."

Sheppard points an accusing finger at Rodney. "I don't recall you putting up too much of a fight."

"Well, duh. I've been ogling you since we first met." Rodney doubts that anyone Sheppard sets his sights on turns him down. Certainly they'd have to be a better man than M. Rodney McKay. Or a better woman.

"You could have said no, Rodney," Sheppard says, low and angry.

"I should have. I know better than to play whipping boy for a one night sexual identity crisis."

Sheppard loses a little of his tension, and his shoulders round. "I didn't plan that," he says, and Rodney steps in closer so he can stare Sheppard down when he calls him on his blatant lie.

"Bullshit."

"I didn't!" Anger, near outrage is on Sheppard's face now, and Rodney steels himself for the punch that's coming. "I was drunk!"

"Are you that good at lying to yourself?" Rodney asks, and there it is, Sheppard's arm comes up. Rodney flinches, and Sheppard's mouth opens in surprise. He looks down at the fist he's got at chest level and deliberately lowers it.

Rodney's glad of that, at least. He softens his voice a little as he spells the obvious out to Sheppard. "You were proving something to yourself. You wouldn't touch me, you wouldn't kiss me. You hardly–"

"I didn't think about–"

"We were having sex," Rodney says, butting into Sheppard's repetitive denial. "I don't care who you're having sex with, you touch them, for fuck's sake."

"I touched you, I remember that part perfectly," Sheppard says, distaste clear on his face.

"That painful for you, was it?" Rodney asks, and anger comes back to him in a rush, bile rising in the back of his throat.

"It wasn't what I was expecting," Sheppard says gently, and the kindness in his voice is infuriating.

"That's because you're straight, you asshole, and you went into it hoping it would be awful, so you could prove it to yourself. Congratulations, let me get your god damn certificate."

"That's not–"

Rodney's not done, he's not going to let this go. He likes Sheppard, and he thought Sheppard liked him too. He's disappointed their friendship has to end over Sheppard's idiotic straight-man bullshit and his own lack of willpower to turn Sheppard down. "I wish you had done your experimenting with someone else," Rodney says, and the surprise on Sheppard's face would be priceless if Rodney wasn't so miserable.

"Why? I thought… I thought…" For once, Rodney lets Sheppard flounder, doesn't fill in the gaping hole in the conversation. Finally Sheppard looks at the floor and finishes his sentence. "I thought it would be good for you."

"You are one arrogant son of a bitch," Rodney says bitterly. "You think you're so good-looking I'd come at the sight of you? I couldn't kiss you, I couldn't even touch you."

"You touched me," Sheppard says quietly. "I remember that too."

Rodney viciously stomps on the hope that spikes in his chest at Sheppard's admission. "You ever been with a woman so gorgeous she thought she didn't have to do anything but lie there?" Rodney asks, knowing without a doubt that Sheppard has had many such experiences.

"Oh god," Sheppard groans, sitting down hard on the bed and putting his head in his hands. "I'm sorry," he says through his fingers.

"You should be," Rodney says, but the anger is draining and he can't put much heat into it. The way Sheppard practically collapsed with understanding makes him feel a spark of sympathy for the guy. He tries to smother it, but he can't help hoping that since Sheppard's still here, maybe they can salvage a friendship out of this after all. "That was probably the worst sexual experience of my entire life."

"Come on," Sheppard says, and Rodney shrugs, snapping his case shut.

"Three thrusts, Sheppard. I thought you had more stamina than that." Rodney makes the crack as sarcastic as he can manage, and the look of horror on Sheppard's face lets him know he remembers the truth of it.

"Oh shit," he says, and Rodney's unhappiness lifts in equal measure to Sheppard's enlightenment. The more Sheppard feels like crap, the more Rodney feels like he can cut the guy some slack, like it wasn't the end of the world, like it'll be something they'll laugh about this time next year.

"Yeah, oh shit," Rodney says, going for the beer. "And let's not forget the strip tease where you caught your face in your shirt."

Sheppard groans, but it sounds lighter, like he's figured out they haven't completely fucked this thing up. Rodney hands him a beer. "It's not so bad. At least you didn't pass out before your partner came. Oh wait," Rodney says, grinning wickedly at Sheppard's miserable whimper, "you did."

~~~

After Rodney takes a shower, they spend the evening watching sports on TV, eating room service steaks, and drinking beer, all while talking about everything from their favorite recordings to board games.

Somewhere near midnight, Sheppard stands and stretches, setting his half-full can of Guinness down. "Bedtime for me," he says, and Rodney stands up too, planning to move to the other bed, determinedly not thinking about the sex they had on it the night before.

Sheppard surprises him and heads toward the exit. "Good night," he says, and Rodney's torn between the burning desire to ask where the hell he's spending the night, and the icy cold wish to let sleeping dogs lie.

"Teyla's pregnant."

Sheppard stops moving, but he doesn't turn around right away. "That's… great," Sheppard says, still not turning around.

"It is," Rodney says, and he realizes he really needs to let Teyla know that. Sometimes he could kick himself for being so self-absorbed.

Rodney's never been particularly good at reading body language. Are Sheppard's shoulders tense? If they are, what does that mean? That he's confused? Angry? Fuck it, he thinks, and barrels on.

"We're scheduled through June of next year. She can't play after June of this one."

Sheppard's shoulders must have been tense, because they suddenly seem to drop as if the muscles holding them up snapped. "And?" he asks, not sounding casual, not at all.

"And I need someone to play with me. You might have noticed that there aren't scads of talented pianists around."

"Actually," Sheppard says, turning around and resting his hands on his hips, "there are a lot of talented pianists. Daniil Trifanov, Lang Lang, T. –"

"I can't help it if your standards are lower than mine," Rodney gripes. "Do you want these gigs or not?"

"No more natural tuning," Sheppard says, and oh, thank god, Rodney thinks.

"But–"

"No buts," Sheppard says. "It only works for the most basic of pieces, and neither of us likes Mozart that much."

Rodney's going to have to get used to playing in equal temperament again. It's not hard, but it is frustrating. "I suppose I can deal with the intonation issues," he says as snobbily as he can.

"I can't tune on the fly, Rodney," Sheppard says, "and if the intonation is set for the wrong chord it sounds awful. Equal temperament assures–"

"That everything is equally out of tune, I know," Rodney answers. The argument is one he's quite familiar with.

"That everything is equally in tune," Sheppard answers, and Rodney sighs. He understands the point, but it doesn't make it any less wrong.

"We're never going to agree," Rodney says, "so let's forget it. Equal temperament. Any other requests?"

"I want a say in the programming," Sheppard says, taking a step back toward Rodney.

"Okay," Rodney says. He and Teyla always choose their repertoire together, though he supposes he hadn't presented it that way to Sheppard. "Anything else?"

"She doesn't have any solo–"

"No," Rodney interrupts, quirking one corner of his mouth up. "Carolyn Lam is taking care of those."

"The flutist?" Sheppard asks in disbelief.

"I know," Rodney says. She is completely outclassed. "I have no idea how Teyla got the orchestras to agree to the switch, but… Actually," he says, grinning at the thought, "Carson probably charmed them all with his Scottish accent and fawning niceness."

"Carson Beckett?" Sheppard asks. "He manages Teyla?"

Rodney's surprised Sheppard knows of Carson. Active performers know the big agents, but most people that are locale-bound, like college professors, usually do their own booking or book through friends.

"Yeah," Rodney says. "Me, Teyla, and now Carolyn, I imagine. You need an agent? Carson doesn't take many new musicians, but he'll probably come in for a listen if I recommend you."

Sheppard's quiet for so long that Rodney's tempted to snap his fingers in front of his face to see if he's fallen asleep standing up. After an incredibly long moment, Sheppard says, "I'd appreciate that."

"Don't mention it," Rodney says, and makes shooing motions toward the door. "Now get out of here, I have an early flight."

~~~