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Rodney hates the cross–country flight to Seattle – it takes almost as long as going to Europe, but it spits you out with the whole day ahead of you. He usually brings a book to read, or plays Sudoku on his phone, but he can't concentrate. He keeps finding himself staring out the window at the clouds, snatches of Brahms ringing in his ears. To distract himself, he figures out how many days it will be until he sees Sheppard again. Seven days in January, plus February, March, April, and May, and twenty days in June. One hundred forty-seven days.


147 days left

After a surprisingly productive morning meeting with Maestro Morlot, he checks into his hotel, throws his luggage on his bed and considers a nap. He doesn't get past a longing glance at the bed, knowing it messes with his already-sensitive sleep cycle. He looks over the pamphlets for local attractions before deciding to waste his day at the movies. The Oscars are coming up; he wants to see Call Me By Your Name at least, and maybe that fish monster one by del Toro.

He wanders out of the multiplex just before ten, starving, realizing the tub of popcorn he had during the movie really isn't cutting it. He wanders back toward the hotel, finally deciding to give a restaurant called Bateau a try and hoping it lives up to its reviews.

By the time he gets back to his room, he's full to bursting, dead on his feet, and curiously content. He has an urge to call Sheppard, but he'd probably fall asleep on the phone, so he just gets into his pajamas and climbs into bed. He wakes up the next morning to find the light on – he fell asleep before he even reached for it.


146 days left


"Lo?" Rodney asks. "Lo what? Lo and behold, I've answered my phone?"

Sheppard laughs into the receiver, brushing it against something, making Rodney pull his ear away. "Hel–lo," he says, and snuffles a little more. "As in, hello, Rodney, how are you this fine evening?"

"Lousy," Rodney says, "but luckily it's nothing murdering half the Seattle Symphony won't fix. You're a music educator. What kind of preparation are these kids getting before they go out and get professional jobs, anyway? It's like they've never heard the Shymko Violin Concerto before."

"They probably haven't," Sheppard says. He's not laughing any more but there's still amusement in his voice. "It's only five years old, Rodney, hardly as commonplace as the Barber."

That doesn't mean Rodney can't bitch about it. "All right, it might not be an integral part of the repertoire yet, but wouldn't you make an effort to listen to it before you had to play it? Zovgorodnii recorded it with the Ukraine symphony. It's on YouTube, for crying out loud! Granted, it's not me, but you can't have everything."

"I take it things aren't going so well?"

"They never go well," Rodney says, picking at the ugly bedspread. "The only orchestras I can tolerate anymore are the Concertgebouw, Montréal, and Boston. And Boston only because of Ronon."

"What about Orpheus?" Sheppard asks, and Rodney looks at his cell to make sure he didn't dial the wrong number and he's actually talking to some snot-faced conservatory hipster.

"You're kidding, right? Leaving out the idea of not using a conductor... no wait. Let's not leave that out. Because it's a terrible idea. And then there's the concept of switching the music director with each concert. Whose stupid idea was that?" Rodney talks right over Sheppard's answer of 'Daniel Jackson.' "How do you develop a group sound if you keep switching up the person in charge of musical ideas?"

"I think it's a great system," Sheppard says and Rodney closes his eyes before he rolls them so hard he strains something. He takes a deep breath and tells himself it's only a hundred and forty-six days before he can slap Sheppard upside the head.

"Orchestras are not made to be democracies. If you want to share musical ideas, do chamber music."

"They do," Sheppard argues. "They generally stick to chamber orchestra pieces, it works for them. Besides, sometimes it's good to get a fresh perspective. I mean, weren't you even a little bit glad when Barenboim stepped down from Chicago?"

Sheppard has a point, but Rodney's having too much fun arguing to concede it. "Solti was my conductor. Barenboim couldn't even come close to filling his shoes, and Muti? He's a joke."

"I suppose you have all of Reiner's recordings too."

"Not all," Rodney says, which is only the truth because he hasn't had the chance to get all his Beethoven onto his iPod yet. Sheppard laughs like he knows exactly what Rodney's not saying, and Rodney feels himself smiling and relaxing back against the pillows as he puts the Food Channel on mute.

Three hours later, Rodney's changed into his pajamas and is standing with his toothbrush in hand – which he's been doing for twenty minutes, trying to figure out how to brush his teeth without hanging up or Sheppard hearing him – and he figures it might be time to end the conversation. Sheppard's just baited him about the Oscars, and he's having a hard time not arguing about Nolan being up for best director. He notices that his toothpaste has melted down into the bristles of his toothbrush – it's definitely time to call it a night. "Listen, I'll argue directing chops with you some other time. I have to get to bed before my eyes go on strike and march right out of my head."

"Sure thing," Sheppard says breezily, and his lazy charm is practically oozing over the phone. "Listen, I hate to bug you, but could you–"

"Not yet," Rodney answers, cutting Sheppard off. "I want you to prepare some stuff over the weekend – at least one Brahms and handful of other stuff too – and then I'll call Carson. Sometimes he'll get on a plane with no provocation at all, and I'd hate for you to have to perform for him without brushing up."

Sheppard's quiet for a moment and Rodney hopes that he hasn't said something rude. He doesn't think so, but he's been oh-so-wrong before. He'll never forget the time he told Teyla that he was impressed with her reach because she had tiny hands. Apparently it was a sore spot, and she punched him hard enough to give him a sore spot on his arm to match.

Finally, Sheppard asks, "Any suggestions?"

Rodney shrugs. "Not really. Stuff you like, that you'd want to play. And seriously, at least one Brahms."

"Okay," Sheppard says genially. "I'll call you sometime next week."

"All right. Good night, Sheppard."

"Good night, Rodney."


144 days left

"So are you going to the festivities?" Rodney asks. He hasn't been invited to the Grammys in a few years – the Pärt better turn out brilliantly. "You're a shoe-in for instrumental solo. I mean, who else are they going to give it to, Frank Zimmerman?"

"Jealous, Rodney?" Teyla laughs. "Perhaps you should do a recording of the Shostakovich concerti."

"Shostakovich is boring," Rodney says, and sniffs. "Have you got your dress? Are you taking Kate?"

"Yes, and yes. Emerald green, and Kate's going in a cream pantsuit. You know how she is about dresses."

"Mmm, okay," Rodney says. "I want pictures. Ronon's going to be there – the BSO is up for the recording of Mahler five."

"Who is Ronon taking?" Teyla asks.

"I don't know," Rodney answers. "I don't call him on nominations anymore, only when he wins."

"He hasn't taken anyone since Melena died. I bet he'd take you if you swallowed your pride and asked him."

Rodney considers it; he could probably catch a last minute flight, and it would be nice to be there if Teyla wins, but it would be excruciating if Zimmerman did. Not to mention he's very protective of his friends, and showing up as Ronon's date would not be in Ronon's best interests. Too bad Radek never records; Rodney wouldn't have anything against being his +1.

"The last thing Ronon needs is me sullying his reputation. We can go next year for Fratres; then going together won't seem so much like a death sentence."

"You're too hard on yourself," Teyla says, and Rodney shakes his head.

"No, I'm only looking out for Ronon. Gossip is a nasty thing, and a dead wife only protects you for so long." He can hear Teyla's intake of breath and cuts her off at the pass. "Don't bother to yell at me. I know my reputation better than anyone." Before Teyla can answer, he changes the subject. "Dr. Sheppard is auditioning for Carson."

There's silence for a beat, but Teyla recovers quickly. "You think he's that good?"

"Yeah," Rodney says simply. "There are issues, but he's really good."

"Mmm," Teyla says noncommittally.

There's a little voice niggling at Rodney to let the subject drop, especially since John is technically Teyla's competition, but he can't help pushing it. "So, what should he play for Carson?"

"Rodney," Teyla says, in a tone of voice that might be considered a whine, if it came from anyone but her.

"I know, Teyla, I just want him to do well. Besides you don't even play the same things – he likes the Romantics."

"Then he should play the Romantics. And the Neo-Romantics, if he wants to look like he has range." Teyla's definitely annoyed now, and he decides it's time to drop the subject.

"Right, of course. Well, I suppose I should let you go. You've probably got a day at the spa scheduled so you can look stunning in your emerald green gown."

"I'm sorry," Teyla says, and damn, she's so much better than he is at apologies. "That was unkind."

"Drop it. Really. You know he'll never replace you in my heart." That gets a laugh from Teyla, and Rodney remembers he has an apology of his own to give. "And I'm sorry I was such an idiot about your announcement. I'm really happy for you and Kate. I didn't even know you were trying to have a baby."

"Thank you," Teyla says softly, and Rodney moves on before she gets all mushy on him.

"You're welcome. And get off the phone already. I know Kate is giving you the 'wrap it up' signal."

"I will call you after the party," Teyla says.

"Call me after you win," Rodney counters, imagining Zimmerman's disappointed face. "I want to gloat with you."


143 days left

Mondays are rest days in Rodney's book. He practices in the morning, then he takes the rest of the day off. He likes to see movies sometimes, or trawl bookstores and pick up things to read for the week. He's just debating where he wants to go (Seattle is a nice city, but he always feels a little overwhelmed at finding things to do) when the phone rings. He listens to the ring for a while, not at all certain why he thought Are You Gonna Be My Girl was an appropriate ring tone for Sheppard.

"Yeah?" he answers.

"Yeah?" Sheppard asks, and laughs. "Yeah what? Yeah, I'm here? Yeah–" The poor imitation devolves into chuckles, and Rodney can't help but smile.

"Yeah, what, Sheppard?" Rodney says. "I know you didn't call me because you missed the pleasure of my company."

"You told me to call."

"I did?" Rodney asks. He only half remembers their conversation on Friday, and as he fast-forwards through three hours of jokes and banter and guess-the-composer to Sheppard's audition material. "Right, yes. Have you decided what to play?"

He can almost hear Sheppard's lazy shrug. "A little of this, a little of that."


"Yes, Rodney, I've got some Brahms. I've got four or five pieces I think I've got a good enough handle–"

"No." Before Sheppard can start talking again, he goes on the offensive, talking fast as he paces the short distance from his bed to the bathroom. "'Good enough' isn't good enough. It's my reputation on the line here too, you know. I've never recommended anyone to Carson before, and I'm not going to let you half-ass your way through this."

Sheppard is silent for the moment; Rodney can't tell if he's pouting or just considering Rodney's ultimatum. "What would you suggest?"

"I wouldn't presume to suggest repertoire," Rodney answers. "I would only presume to say that a weekend of brushing up four or five concerti is not enough. Unless you'd like to prove me wrong? I'll happily listen to the entire Brahms concerto. Let me guess – you prepared the D minor."

Sheppard doesn't answer right away and Rodney forces himself to wait. It takes a good thirty seconds, but Sheppard eventually answers him. "Yeah, the D minor. Played it in college."

That doesn't surprise Rodney one bit. "All right, that's a good start. If Ronon asked you to play it with the BSO today, would you be ready?"

"Yes," Sheppard answers, and Rodney has to stop himself from saying 'aha!'

"Yes?" Rodney says incredulously. "Memorized?"


Rodney blinks. "Oh." It shouldn't be that much of a surprise, really, considering Sheppard's obvious love of Brahms. "What about the other pieces?"

"Not memorized," Sheppard says, and Rodney latches onto that like a drowning man onto a life preserver.

"Ha! I knew you couldn't prepare five concerti over a weekend."

"That's not fair," Sheppard says. "You couldn't prepare five concertos over a weekend."

"I could play ten concerti from memory right now," Rodney answers, and it's not fair, he knows, but all he has to do is get Sheppard to agree to practice for another couple of weeks – he's not planning on playing fair. "With a weekend it could be twenty to twenty-five, easy."

Sheppard sulks so loud Rodney can hear it over the phone. "That's because it's what you do for a living. I'm a teacher."

"You're a retired performer." Sheppard laughs at this; a sharp, sarcastic laugh that Rodney doesn't like very much. "You are," Rodney insists, "and you're just a little rusty, is all. How long will it take you to memorize all five? A month?"

"A week," Sheppard answers.

"Right," Rodney says, utterly unconvinced. "Well, you better get going. I wouldn't want to waste any of your practice time. You're going to need it."

"Oh, that's it," Sheppard says. "It's on."


139 days left

Rodney keeps himself from calling Sheppard every day by calling other people. He calls Ronon to congratulate him on his Grammy and ask him about the woman Teyla said he brought. He calls Radek to poke him about the article he's writing. He calls Teyla to gossip about Ronon and his date and suggest names for her baby. That gets him to Friday.

On Friday, he calls Sheppard over dinner.

"Hey, Rodney," Sheppard answers, sounding like he's in a good mood. "What's up?"

"Why aren't you practicing?" Rodney asks, annoyed at himself for noticing Sheppard's in a good mood.

"I was practicing," Sheppard says. "Same thing I've been doing every free minute of every day since we talked last."


"Yeah, oh. And I've got four pieces memorized already, so I hope you're ready to eat your words."

"We'll see about that when you actually play them all."

"How are you going to know if I've got them all memorized?" Sheppard asks. "I'll play them for you over the phone, but I'm pretty sure not even you could hear whether or not I was using music."

Rodney picks up his calendar and flips to next week. "I could fly out there," he says, though he knows he won't do it. Cross-country flights are the worst, and three in two weeks would kill him. "I don't have to be in San Francisco until Thursday."

He expects Sheppard to laugh, but he doesn't. "You'd do that?"

"Well, no," he says honestly. "Besides, I'll be able to hear pages rustling over the phone. Don't think you can pull one over on me."

"Wouldn't dream of it."


135 days left

On Tuesday, Sheppard calls Rodney in the mid-afternoon while he's out walking off his lunch, and even though it seems an odd time to call, Rodney doesn't hesitate to pick up.


The opening mini-cadenza of Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto greets him. He laughs, holding the phone to his ear as he turns around mid-stride, heading back to his hotel. He doesn't put it past Sheppard to play all five concerti in a row just to prove something.

When he breaks between the opening solos for the orchestra, he asks, "I don't have to count all the rests or sing the orchestra parts, do I?"

"No, no," Rodney says magnanimously, waving the hand not holding the cell phone to his ear, "Please, just skip ahead to your solo parts."

The Beethoven sparkles, Sheppard's sarcasm showing through in unlikely places. One of the things Rodney likes most about Sheppard's musicianship is the ability to switch gears from smart aleck to earnest-to-the-point-of-cheesy at the drop of a hat. He's gone from teasing, amusing opening mini-cadenzas to outlining the main theme of the Beethoven like it's a treatise on how to save the world.

The sarcasm doesn't return in the first movement, though there is a subtle humor in the semplice sections. This concerto is Rodney's least favorite of the popular piano repertoire. It's terribly pompous and overwrought and yet not interesting enough to hold his attention, at least until Sheppard's subtle stretching of the chromatic harmonies brings out some of the subtler craziness that Beethoven's creeping deafness brought on in his middle and later years.

The first movement is note-perfect, and better than Rodney would have guessed; he wouldn't have thought Sheppard was a Beethoven fan, or that he would be interested in something as popular as the "Emperor," but the jumps in mood from calm to bombastic and back are reflected as clear as day, as though Sheppard knows them intimately, as though he understands raging mood swings brought on by deafness and despair.

"You're not going to play all five in a row, are you?"

"I was thinking about it," Sheppard answers, and the flowing melody of the second movement comes over the line.

"Skip ahead to the next piece," Rodney says as he tries to open the door to his hotel room with the phone pressed between his shoulder and ear. "I don't like the Emperor." He slides the key card in and out a few times in frustration. When it finally catches, he breathes a sigh of relief and puts Sheppard on speaker.

He hears the piano bench creak, like Sheppard's stretching or repositioning, and a few seconds later, he hears the delicate opening strains of one of Mozart's late piano concertos, something in the twenties. Rodney can hear Vienna all over the simple scales and thirds.

As always, Sheppard is playing with his tongue set firmly in cheek. The only reason he can get away with it is his incredibly light touch – something Rodney wouldn't have guessed from his love of the Romantics. It sounds almost childlike, this concerto, light and simple, and suddenly Rodney knows, without a doubt, that this is the first concerto Sheppard ever played. He can picture a ten-year-old Sheppard, practicing his trills with his football resting on top of his stack of practice books.

He can't shake the image through the rest of the movement, this feeling that Sheppard's been playing this since the piano was taller than he was. The light touch comes from experience and practice, but the innocence comes from knowing something so deep it's in your bones, etched over the years with love and diligence.

"Skip to the third movement," Rodney says. Mozart bores him, and the slow movements more than the rest.

The third movement starts as if on cue, and Rodney's back to imagining Sheppard practicing his staccato and mordents when he was little, fingers flying over the keyboard, staring at them like he couldn't believe they could move that fast.

The movement flies by, the lines so simple, Rodney can almost picture the keys as they're pressed and released, tiny fingers whipping through arpeggios and scales and octaves. It's short too, maybe four minutes of actual solo, though if Rodney remembers correctly, there's a fair sized introduction before the piano even comes in. Rodney's almost holding his breath at the cadenza; he's disappointed that Sheppard's stolen one of the pre-written ones. He'll have to give Sheppard a hard time about that later.

The end is one run after another, and Rodney's clapping and hollering like he's at a rock concert. He puts his fingers in mouth and whistles, and he can hear Sheppard laugh. He doesn't pick up the phone, just launches into his next piece, which, to Rodney's utter surprise, is Lutosławsk. It's one of his favorite pieces, bar none.

The minimalist opening – just a few repeated notes, a motive here or there, almost thrown away – makes the hair on the back of Rodney's neck stand up. His brain fills in the snippets of orchestra over the sections Sheppard's skipping, creating a cascading, layered-over version of the concerto in his mind, lending the piece an even more fractured sound. Sheppard's precise, rhythmic motives fall away into the romantic development. Sheppard's part could almost be Tchaikovsky if Rodney couldn't hear the discordant flute solo in his head.

Sheppard waits before he starts the second movement, possibly waiting to see if Rodney will interrupt, but more probably listening to the cacophony of the orchestra in his head. The low notes of the opening to the second movement lay out the theme like the distant rumble of thunder from a storm that's passed. The line moves all over from there, up and down the keyboard like birds flitting from one perch to the next, stopping only long enough to glance around before finding a better spot.

The soft repetition of the opening thunder of the movement is so quiet, Rodney's not sure whether or not Sheppard actually played the notes, or if his imagination filled them in.

The third movement's opening cadenza shifts restlessly from playful to melancholy, through moody moments of temper and enthusiasm, rippling scales into quartal harmonies and repeated intervals. Sheppard moves between them effortlessly, a ghost, shifting in and out as the mood strikes him.

The rich orchestration plays in Rodney's memory, between the simple movement of the solo, rounding out the lean lines of the piano with rich strings or bright brass or throaty winds. The piece unravels to its conclusion, like a wind-up toy jerkily coming to rest. Rodney waits, letting the piece settle in the quiet of his room. After a minute he picks up the phone.


He hears the piano bench creak and it takes a moment for Sheppard to pick up the phone. "Yeah?"

"That was..." Rodney can't come up with an adjective that doesn't sound ridiculous. Beautiful, perfect, gorgeous. "That was good."

Sheppard chuckles.

"Really good," Rodney clarifies.

"Thanks. I'm starving though, do you think we could take a break before I play the other two?"

Rodney glances at the clock on the bedside table. Sheppard's been playing for almost an hour, and he's starting to get peckish himself. "Sure," he says, picking up the room service menu. "I have to order, though, so I'll call you back in a few, okay?"

"Yeah, okay," Sheppard answers, and Rodney hangs up on him, calling room service and ordering some kind of pasta dish and salad. He orders a bottle of wine too. He has a feeling he'll need it by the time Sheppard gets to the Brahms.

He putters around his room a little, letting the music in his brain settle. Snatches of the Mozart bleed into the Beethoven, and then the Lutoslawski will come crashing in, making him close his eyes and hum along to the end of the line. He's tempted to pull out his violin, but he calls Sheppard back instead.

"What, did you order the entire menu?"

"No, I was giving you time to cook something." Rodney sighs, leaving the idiot off the end.

"I ordered curry," Sheppard said. "I'm not much of a cook."

That doesn't surprise Rodney.

"So what do you think so far?"

Rodney hmms and thinks about it for a moment. "Conservative."


Rodney glad Sheppard's angry and not maudlin. "It is. Mozart and Beethoven? And yes, the Lutoslawski is avante garde, but he's a neo-romantic. It's not like you're playing Rachmaninoff." Sheppard sputters for a minute and Rodney takes pity on him. "Don't worry about it right now," he says. "Wait until I've heard all of them. It's not fair to have to rate a recital halfway through."

"Fine," Sheppard mumbles. His voice is falsely bright when he speaks again. "So how about them Sox?"

They talk about sports and the Oscars and other things Rodney doesn't have much interest in, and then spend ten minutes eating together after Sheppard's food is delivered, saying nothing at all.

"All right," Sheppard says, and Rodney can hear the click of Sheppard setting the phone on the piano after putting him on speakerphone. "Next piece."

Sheppard's humming, but it's too far away from the phone for Rodney to be able to get a sense of what it is. There's a long opening, and Rodney's mentally listing concerti that have long orchestral introductions when Sheppard plays the first motives of Rhapsody in Blue. Rodney laughs out loud, and can hear Sheppard chuckle as he plays the second phrase.

Sheppard has the right attitude to play Gershwin, brash and cheeky, his rhythm spiky and confident. Rodney sits back and enjoys Sheppard's thoroughly entertaining licks, humming along the solo clarinet parts, the solo trumpet parts, and sometimes making percussion sounds too.

When Sheppard gets to the cadenza before the slow theme, the piece takes on a simplicity that Rodney's never heard in any performance except Gershwin himself. He's dying to know if Sheppard likes the old recording that much or if he's just that intuitive about what the composer's intentions are. Probably both, if he knows Sheppard even a little bit.

They sing the broad orchestral theme together, Sheppard singing the melody in falsetto and Rodney taking the lower accompanying figures. He's going to have to talk Ronon into letting Sheppard play this with the BSO – Cadman on the opening clarinet solo would be the perfect counterpart to Sheppard's whimsical interpretation.

They get through the orchestral interlude and Sheppard plays the rubato theme, a nicely slow rendition that makes it surprisingly majestic. Rodney's starting to get some sense of Sheppard's interpretational kinks. He has a thing for the dramatic gesture, which makes Rodney ache when he thinks that Sheppard could have been performing for the last twenty years. Audiences eat that up. Rodney's been known to go for the drama in his day, though the repertoire he's been playing lately is more subtle than that. He has an urge to play the Tchaikovsky again. He hasn't touched it in years, not since Dmitri.

All thought stops as Sheppard shines in the technique-busting solo just before the end - it's perfect, light and frothy and leading right into the big orchestral flourish before the final pronouncement of the theme – and Rodney will never forgive American Airlines for using it in their commercials – and then the majesty returns for the final iteration of the melody.

Rodney puts his fingers in his mouth and whistles as loudly as he can muster before yelling, "Bravo!" in the general direction of the phone.

That's four concerti, and Sheppard promised to do Brahms, so Rodney knows what's coming next. He can feel his heart beating too fast, and he knows Sheppard is nervous from the cracked knuckles and creaking of the piano bench.

There's no humming before this piece, just a heavy sort of silence. Rodney knows when to start the orchestral introduction by the complete lack of sound from Sheppard. He hears it clearly in his head – slightly slower than Sheppard, as Sheppard's opening phrase steps on the very end of Rodney's mental symphony. The semplice opening is perfect, and for the first time in years, Rodney lies back, closes his eyes, and does nothing but listen.

One of the worst things about being a musician is that it's almost impossible to turn off the intellectual filters telling you everything from the overall form to every wrong note and articulation to a chordal analysis, complete with little Roman numerals marching along beside the music as it sweeps by.

He can keep his brain at bay, keep away the notes of the score in front of his eyes and the motive recognition and everything else, but only by picturing Sheppard at his piano, head dropped and hands and arms moving smoothly over the keyboard, each touch precise and gentle.

The first movement unravels slowly, Sheppard's own romantic streak pushing the limits on interpretation, even for Brahms. Rodney's not a romantic, nor does he have a particular affinity for the great Romantics, but listening to Sheppard makes the music more appealing than it has been since he played his first Brahms and learned the beauty of pushing tonality to its limits and still being able to come home at the end.

The primary Brahms theme is subtle, the piano treated more like an extra color to the orchestra rather than a featured instrument, so it tests Rodney's memory of the score, which is admittedly fuzzy in some of the slower sections of the first movement.

Rodney lets his mental symphony rest, giving up on trying to remember every interlude. Instead, he concentrates on Sheppard's silence, full of tension, like he would play the entire orchestra if he could. Rodney wishes he could too – an entire orchestra following Sheppard's lead on a Brahms concerto would be something to see.

The technique on the end of the first movement is the first challenge for Sheppard and he handles it perfectly, every note precisely in place. Rodney smiles; he hadn't expected anything less.

Sheppard blows a noisy breath out and Rodney hears the bench creak as he shifts. He starts in with his solo in the second movement – a surprise, since there's a long orchestra opening to this movement too. Rodney wonders if Sheppard's wrung out from the first movement, or if he doesn't have the patience to wait for the simple string opening to play out in his brain before he gets to his own iteration of the chorale-like theme.

There are hints of Chopin and Bach and Beethoven in this concerto, and Rodney can hear every reference in Sheppard's performance – a nod to the source even as he draws everything out in a luminous ribbon of Romantic intensity. It all adds up to a knot in Rodney's throat, a chest-tightening understanding of Sheppard's interpretation that makes him feel like he's having an allergic reaction, struggling to breathe.

The movement closes and Rodney takes a deep breath and thanks whatever powers there may or may not be in the universe that the last movement opens with some Bach-like counterpoint and gets more harmonically and technically complex from there. Emotionally resonant movements are all well and good, but they really shouldn't be wasted on such an unimportant performance.

Sheppard's final movement has an agile, light touch and yet is surprisingly purposeful and not overly-dramatic. Rodney shakes his head. Just when he thinks he has a bead on him, Sheppard does something surprising and makes Rodney reconsider the strange jigsaw puzzle that is his ever-changing take on John Sheppard.

The cadenza is original – and much better than his Mozart – and Rodney hangs on every note as the concerto flies to the end, waiting for the final runs and Sheppard busts out, singing the last few measures of orchestral accompaniment and Rodney joins him, since the piece doesn't quite feel complete without it.

Sheppard laughs, a pleased horse-like chortle. "I love Brahms," he says.

"I never would have guessed," Rodney says, picking up the phone and switching it off speaker.

"So, you're going to call Beckett tonight?"

"Tomorrow," Rodney says. "But Sheppard, I really think you ought to consider playing the Rachmaninoff again."

"What?" Sheppard asks softly.

"O'Neill played me the recording, I–"

Sheppard hangs up on him.

Rodney stares at his phone for a second, then looks through his contacts, and dials Daniel Jackson.

"Rodney McKay," Daniel says brightly. "To what do I owe this honor?"

"I have a proposition for you," Rodney says. "But I need to meet you in person."

There's a pause while Daniel shifts something (likely lots of somethings, Rodney's seen his desk) and presumably opens his date book. "When are you in town next?"

"I'm in Baltimore the third week of March," Rodney answers. "I can catch a train up. The fifteenth work for you?"

"I've got time in the afternoon, but that's it. Lessons in the morning and a premiere that night."

"Great," Rodney says. "I'll be up there by two." His phone beeps and he sees that Sheppard's on the other line. "Oh, I have to take this. I'll see you in a few weeks." He doesn't wait for Jackson's goodbye and flips over to the other line. "Yeah?"

"Sorry," Sheppard says, and Rodney laughs at him. "Though no one will ever play it with me," Sheppard says, and Rodney's not sure if it's disappointment or relief he hears in Sheppard's voice.

"Why don't you let me worry about that," Rodney answers, and settles back against the headboard of the bed, remote in hand. "Hey, look, Deadpool is on USA."