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~~~

60 days left

A knock on his hotel door at nine am sharp wakes Rodney out of a sound sleep.

"Go away!" Rodney yells, and pulls a pillow over his head.

The knock comes again – a strong knock, three short raps. Rodney throws his pillow the direction of the door and it lands in the middle of the suite.

"I don't want room service right now!" Rodney shouts, hoping the intractable knocker will leave him alone.

No such luck. Three more knocks. Rodney gets out of bed, grumbling about blunt instrument evisceration and crosses the suite to the door.

"What?" Rodney says in his most exasperated voice as he whips the door open. In front of the door stands an impeccably dressed young man with a Bluetooth in his ear and an extremely aromatic coffee in his hand.

"Mr. McKay?" the young man says, sizing Rodney up with a single glance and smiling brightly. "I'm Aiden Ford, your new assistant."

Rodney takes the coffee suspiciously, but it's from a local coffee shop and smells impressively good. One sip tells him that someone has informed Aiden Ford exactly how he takes his coffee.

"Did Jeannie send you?" he asks, and Ford's questioning look tells him that's a bad guess.

"Manpower sent me, sir."

"Manpower?" Rodney asks, wasting precious coffee by choking on it when he can't help laughing. "Who hired you? Because it sure as hell wasn't me."

"I don't know, sir," Ford says, and the kid's overbearing politeness is already getting on Rodney's nerves. He takes another sip of the coffee and sucks it up. Decent coffee counts for a lot.

"You can travel?" Rodney says. "We'll be in a different city every week to ten days, sometimes less than that."

"Yes, sir," Ford answers.

"Violin concerto number two," Rodney says, waving Ford in and closing the door behind him.

"Excuse me?" Ford says, and remembers himself after a moment. "Sir."

"Violin concerto number two," Rodney reiterates, and Ford looks even more confused. "Who wrote it," Rodney explains, though the look of confusion on Ford's face looks permanent. "Take a guess."

"Beethoven?"

"Oh god," Rodney says. "You don't know anything about classical music, do you?"

"Is that a requirement?" Ford asks, frowning.

"No," Rodney says, "but it would have made things easier. Keep bringing me coffee like that, and I'll even get over the fact that you're ridiculously well dressed and cheery for this hour of the morning."

Rodney motions for Ford to sit. "Can you entertain yourself for half an hour while I get ready?"

"Of course, sir." Ford takes a seat on the sofa and pulls a kindle out of his briefcase.

Rodney sighs and goes into the bathroom to get ready to face the day. It hits him while he's in the shower. Sheppard.

"Seriously, who sent you?" he asks Ford as soon as he's out of the shower, standing in the doorway of the bathroom, sopping wet in just a towel. "Call the person who gave you instructions on how to get here and how to fix my coffee, and tell them I want to know where they're sending the bill."

Turns out, they're sending the bill to him. It has to be Jeannie, Rodney thinks, no one else knows his bank account number and how he takes his coffee. Still, there's something suspicious about the whole situation, and Rodney vows to interrogate Jeannie until she cracks.

~~~

"What the hell, Jeannie?" Rodney shouts, not even waiting for her greeting. "Why are you hiring my assistants now?"

"This is what makes you call?" Jeannie asks. "Seriously, not my birthday or to talk to your niece or–"

"Jeannie," Rodney whines, because it's the one thing he knows will make her stop talking. She hates his whining. "Thank you for the assistant, even if he's a little scary."

"I didn't get you an assistant, Rodney," Jeannie answers. "Though it's a brilliant idea for a present. Wish I had thought of it."

"They're billing me," Rodney says. "I don't think it's that thoughtful."

"Hey, if he sticks around, then he's worth his weight in gold. You do realize you can be an abrasive jerk, right?"

"Whatever," Rodney answers. "Did you give my banking information to anyone? Because you're the only person that has access to that information."

"Not true," Jeannie counters. "Carson's got access to your accounts."

Shit, Rodney thinks, she's right. "Thanks. I have to call him."

Before he can click off the phone, he can hear Jeannie yell, "Don't forget Mads' birthday is coming up!"

Like he'd forget. He snorts at the phone and dials Carson.

~~~

58 days left

Sam Carter calls him in the middle of a practice session. Rodney spends so long staring down at the phone while it plays It's the End of the World as We Know It, he misses the call and has to call her back.

"Rodney," Sam answers smoothly, all the brightness of her smile in her voice. "Glad you called back."

Rodney's never learned these pleasantries. He knows Sam doesn't want to talk to him any more than he wants to talk to her, but you'd never be able to tell from her voice. "Sorry I missed your call. I thought I was hallucinating."

Sam laughs pleasantly. It sets Rodney's teeth on edge. "I need to talk to you about the Rachmaninoff."

Great. He thought Carson had hammered this out for him. "What about it? I thought we had this all hammered out."

"That's the problem. We can't afford it."

"What?" Rodney asks. Orpheus isn't a business machine, but they're well-liked, he assumed they were operating in the black. "What do you mean?"

"We can't afford all the extra musicians for the recording – they're on a per gig basis, which means between the rehearsals, concerts and recording sessions, we're looking at fifty thousand, minimum. More, if the recording takes more than one session, or either of you need more than two rehearsals – which, I might add," she says over his protest, "is extremely likely, considering the size of the orchestra and the nature of Orpheus's music directorship."

"Why do you need scale musicians?" Rodney asks. "Do it during spring break and get the grad students. They don't work for scale, and it'd be an honor to play with Orpheus." Rodney manages to keep the sneer out of his voice on the last part, but only because this whole gig is about to fall apart on him, and he can't let that happen.

"Students all work for scale these days – the smart ones, anyway, and you know damn well we don't want the ones who aren't smart enough to join the union."

"Speaking of which, I want a say in the extra musicians," Rodney adds. He's not going to let some weird part assignments ruin this for him.

"Rodney," Sam says, and her cheerfulness has finally given way to exasperation. "We don't have the budget. We could do it next year, maybe, but we're touring, and I don't see Daniel going for Russian music."

"What if I paid the extra musicians out of pocket?"

The silence on the other end of the line is supremely gratifying. "Fifty thousand minimum, Rodney. Probably twice that. That's crazy."

"It's not," Rodney answers, knowing he's giving Sam more than he should, but hoping it gets her on his side for once. "He deserves the chance, you know he does, and you guys are the only place I have enough pull to get him the opportunity. I'll pay. But I want a say in every single hire, then. I'm coming to auditions."

Sam chuckles. "All right. I'll figure it out."

~~~

Not half an hour after he hangs up with Sam, Scotland the Brave interrupts his practice of the Glazunov.

It can't be good news, not this quickly, so Rodney decides to go on the offensive. "What, Carson?"

"Are you a bloody idiot?" That's pretty uncalled for, Rodney thinks, but before he can say so, Carson is ranting at him like he hasn't since Rodney was nineteen and trying to program the same concerto for every concert that year. "You're going to pay Orpheus to record with Sheppard? It's outrageous, Rodney, I don't know why you think I'd let you agree to it. You can't afford it, anyway."

"What do you mean, I can't afford it?" Rodney's not oblivious about his finances, he signs the contracts, know what he's making per performance, what his royalties are.

"I mean, you can't afford it, Rodney. You're not the financial genius your father was. You're making enough to support the way you live, and that's it. You don't have a cushion – and certainly not a hundred thousand dollar cushion." Carson tuts into the phone, takes a deep breath and continues in a calmer vein. "Maybe if you'd buy a house, stop living in hotels… you're getting a little old for the vagabond lifestyle."

"I think you're getting off-topic, Carson." Carson is a good agent, but he's Rodney's friend, too, and between them, it's Rodney who sets the boundaries. "I assume you didn't cancel the performance outright?"

"Of course not. I told Carter to get a grant. MacArthur loves her, she can milk them for a hundred thousand. Wait before you hang up, Rodney," Carson adds, and Rodney frowns at the phone. Has he become so predictable that Carson can tell when he's going to hang up unannounced? "Please stop agreeing to ridiculous terms. Let's have a conference call. We can sort this out with all parties on the phone. I'll even set it up."

"Fine," Rodney agrees. He should have thought of that himself. Carson is surprisingly good at cutting through red tape and making things actually happen. "Next week sometime, after I'm done in Atlanta."

~~~

55 days left

This day is in the running for the strangest day of Rodney's life – and that includes a couple of doozies with his mom and dad working through their divorce and a senile conductor that tried to stab Rodney with his baton when he was fourteen.

Ford shows up at his hotel room after lunch, with Carson in tow. Rodney blinks as they come through the door and set up camp on the king-sized bed. They get out an iPhone and bend their heads over it like they're trying to defuse a bomb. Finally, Carson dials someone and puts the phone down on the bed.

"Hello?" Daniel's voice answers.

"Hello, Dr. Jackson," Carson says, and Rodney continues to stare at the two of them, Carson cross-legged at the head of his bed and Ford looking as professional as ever, sitting on the bed with his legs crossed, suit jacket still buttoned impeccably, Bluetooth in his ear. "Is Dr. Carter there?"

"I'm here, Mr. Beckett," Sam answers. "As well as Mr. Hammond, our general counsel. Do we need to dial Rodney in?"

"No, no, he's right here," Carson answers, waving Rodney over to the bed. "Say hi, Rodney."

"Hi," Rodney says weakly, collapsing onto the bed.

"Also, his assistant, Aiden Ford." There are a few more muttered greetings as Rodney stares at Ford. He's really too freshly pressed for Rodney's tastes, but he's better than any three assistants Rodney's had so far, so he sucks up his unease and deals with it, even if he can't get Carson to tell him who sent Ford to his door.

"So, we're thinking about pushing this back to the year after next," Daniel starts, and Rodney's attention is immediately centered back on the phone.

"No," Rodney says, and Carson gapes at him, but isn't quick enough on the draw to tell him to stop talking. "It needs to be before then so he can have a real season in '19-'20."

"I'm working on writing the grant," Sam says, "and that takes some time – as does negotiating with the foundation, hiring musicians, getting a venue… and you know our '18-'19 season is set already."

"Who's playing?" Carson asks.

"Lindsay Novak, Teal'c, Malcolm Tunney, and Anne Teldy," Sam answers.

Rodney barks out a laugh. "Tunney? He's a hack. You know he couldn't come up with his own interpretation if his life depended on it. Didn't he steal one of your Mozart cadenzas?"

Rodney glances at Carson, and Carson nods his head slowly before picking up Rodney's argument.

"Ditch Tunney. You know Rodney will sell out the house and get higher ticket prices."

"We've got a contract out to Tunney," Hammond says, disapproval clear in his voice.

"But he hasn't signed it yet," Carter says eagerly. It'd be weird to have her on his side in this, except he knows she hates Tunney as much as he does.

"Probably still writing in his clauses for dancing girls and sushi," Rodney says, and the whole group busts out laughing.

"All right," Daniel concedes. "And that's enough extra time to get the grant support for the extra personnel."

"The Glazunov is a little overmatched, don't you think?" Sam asks. "I wouldn't want to play it after Sheppard's Rachmaninoff."

"What would you suggest?"

"What about Tchaikovsky?" Sam asks, and Carson looks up sharply at Rodney.

"It would help the sell," Daniel adds. "You've never performed it – that would guarantee a full house, and probably secure the grant."

Rodney walks away from the phone and the bed and Carson and stares out the window at the parking lot. Memories of playing the Tchaikovsky for Dmitri's grandfather bubble to the surface, playing with the family clustered at the kitchen table and Dmitri's mother baking pie for dessert. He can still smell it as he hears the strains of the nocturne in his mind.

Carson's hand on his shoulder brings him back, and he's about to say no, he can't do it, when Carson leans in and says softly, "Remember this is for John."

It's a dirty trick, effortlessly superseding Rodney's mental soundtrack with Sheppard's quiet opening chords from the second Rachmaninoff concerto. He closes his eyes and listens to the music in his head for a moment before he nods. Carson slaps him on the back and returns to the bed.

"That's a yes," Carson says, rubbing his hands together, and moving to the next issue. "There will have to be a clause that you wait until next year to put the recording out. We don't want it competing with Rodney's recording with Boston."

"If you can get your recording out by the end of August, we won't be competing for Grammys. I know it's tight, but Boston doesn't usually require a lot of touching up, right?"

Rodney nods, picking up his phone and dialing Ronon. At this point, he'll take any distraction he can get. Unfortunately, he doesn't get through and has to leave a voicemail, which should probably be kept for posterity because he never knows what to say and ends up rambling way too long.

When he finally gets back to the conversation, Hammond and Carson are hashing out something about the royalties, and Rodney coughs. "Can you discuss the boring stuff later? Because it's about time I get something out of this deal, and I have a list of things I want in the contract."

Sam laughs, and Daniel says, "I was wondering about that."

"I want a say in every musician playing on the concerts. I want to hear their auditions."

"What about current Orpheus musicians? They don't have to audition, right?" Sam asks, and Rodney supposes that's fair enough, though he would give a lot to have Sam audition for him.

"There may be Orpheus regulars that want to bow out on such a large orchestration," Daniel points out, and Rodney shakes his head, laughing.

"You mean that might want to opt out of playing with me."

Carson snickers, and Ford and Sam follow suit.

"I mean that two concerti is not the most attractive concert for professional orchestral musicians," Daniel says with dogged tactfulness.

"Whatever," Rodney says. It's not like idiots not liking to work with him has ever bothered him. "I want a say in every new musician on the roster."

"I was planning on going to some of my contacts, Rodney, not just holding open auditions."

Rodney can't read Sam's tone. It's not amused, but it's not as annoyed as he expected, either. "Then email a list of those you plan on asking sans audition and I'll send you my verdict."

"This is highly unusual," Hammond chips in. "Orpheus is an independent organization; we've never had someone outside the organization have any say in our hiring practices."

"Then you can just pay Rodney a consultancy fee," Carson says. Rodney waves the idea off, but Carson puts up a hand to keep Rodney out of the bargaining. "Or make him an honorary member of Orpheus."

Rodney shakes his head vigorously, but Carson signals him to wait, and sure enough, Daniel balks.

"We don't have honorary members. Either he plays with us or he doesn't, and you've made it perfectly clear that playing with us as part of the orchestra is unacceptable."

"Not to mention," Sam says with a laugh, "Rodney's sound is a little too distinctive for our orchestra. He'd stick out like a sore thumb."

"Hey," Rodney says. "I can blend."

Sam snorts, and Daniel outright guffaws. Carson does a commendable job of keeping his smile hidden behind his hand, but Rodney punches him on the arm anyway.

"I want to be in on Sheppard's rehearsals," Rodney says for his next demand.

Sam, Daniel, and Hammond all start talking at once, and Carson raises an eyebrow at him.

"I didn't say I wanted to have any say, just that I wanted to sit in."

"You know it's not possible for you to keep your mouth shut, McKay," Sam says with some venom, and it's been a while since he's heard that in her voice. They've been getting along so well.

He leans over and puts his mouth next to Carson's ear. "I don't trust Sheppard not to let them walk all over him."

Carson nods and puts a finger up. He looks at Ford and waits for Ford to nod before he says anything. "It can't hurt to have Rodney in rehearsal," Carson says, and over Sam and Daniel's vehement protest, he says, "and I'm afraid it's a sticking point. We'll walk away from this if it's not in the contract."

Rodney blinks. He hadn't expected Carson to go straight for the big bluff. The silence unnerves Rodney, and he fidgets nervously while he waits for them to decide.

"All right," Daniel says finally. "But you've got to be on your best behavior, Rodney."

"I am always on my best behavior," Rodney says, smiling at Carson's chuckle and Sam's exasperated sigh. He nods at Carson, and stretches his arms before standing up. He hates sitting on beds. There's no comfortable position unless you're an invertebrate or a cat. He grabs his coat and raises a questioning okay sign to Carson.

"All right then, I think it's time to talk about fees."

Rodney smiles gratefully at Carson and slips out the door, glad to be out of the torture chamber.

~~~

54 days eft

Rodney waits a day to call Sheppard, partially to make sure Carson really did iron out the logistics and partially because fifty-four is a lucky number, and he's glad he stopped pretending not to be counting down the days, because it's a lot easier to just admit it to himself and get the embarrassment out of the way before the phone call.

"Hey, Rodney," Sheppard says, and Rodney can hear the TV on really loud in the background.

Rodney picks up the remote automatically. He stops before he turns on the TV, knowing he'd be a coward if he didn't tell Sheppard about the concert and recording before they settled into their Friday night ritual. "Wait." He takes a deep breath. "I need to tell you something."

Sheppard laughs, the bastard. "That sounds ominous."

"No," Rodney says, though it did have the ringing sound of doom to his ears. He hopes whatever lines he's crossed, Sheppard will see them for the goodwill gestures they're meant to be. "It is a big deal, though."

"Spit it out, Rodney."

"I've gotten you a gig."

"O... kay," Sheppard says.

"A solo gig. With Orpheus." Sheppard remains silent, and Rodney can barely tell how Sheppard's feeling with him standing right in front of him; trying to read his silence is impossible. "Oh, and a recording too."

"O... kay," Sheppard repeats, and Rodney can't believe he forgot the most important part.

"It's the Rach two."

Rodney waits, holding the phone away from his mouth because he's breathing too fast, and he doesn't want Sheppard to hear his nerves.

"Rachmaninoff. With Orpheus," Sheppard says. "They're not big enough."

"They're hiring personnel."

"They'd need a conductor."

Rodney bites his lip. This part is a little tricky, but Sheppard can do this, and he's not going to let him walk away from it. "Your body language is plenty easy to read."

"That's ridiculous."

"So you'll conduct a little – it's not like you don't do that already with your students and the imbeciles you accompany."

"Rodney, that's not the point. The Rachmaninoff would be bad enough with a normal orchestra – I'm not going to do it with one that's not big enough or experienced with large orchestrations."

"You'll have extra rehearsal time," Rodney says, trying to keep his voice down, sound reasonable. It's not really working.

"What's in it for you?" Sheppard's voice is soft, a signal Rodney recognizes, but can't place in his mental menagerie of Sheppard expressions.

"Nothing," Rodney says. If Sheppard even understood half of what Rodney is giving up to get him this gig –

"Bullshit," Sheppard accuses. "Daniel Jackson doesn't know me from a hole in the ground. He wouldn't go to such trouble for some unknown piano professor from the Boston Conservatory. What are you giving him?"

"I have to play with you on the live concert."

Sheppard laughs into the phone, his normal broken sort of laugh. "Okay, I can't do it. You do know that Carson is my agent too, right?"

It hadn't even occurred to Rodney that Carson was negotiating on behalf of John as well as himself. He's s complete idiot. "You're such an asshole, Sheppard."

Sheppard continues to laugh. "Yeah, but I totally had you worried."

"Asshole," Rodney says again, and flips on the TV to see what's playing. "Seriously, I'm never doing you another favor as long as I live."

"And I can't thank you enough for that." Before Rodney can squeeze in a crack about payment about favors, Sheppard says, "Hey, the Michael Keaton Batman is on TNT."

~~~

44 days left

Rodney meets Sheppard's dog, a half-Husky, half-German Shepherd named Max, on day forty-four. Sheppard sets the phone down to answer the door (undoubtedly to get the takeout he ordered for dinner) and Max knocks the phone over, licks it, and then hits several keys with his teeth while he transports the phone to some dark secret hiding place. The line disconnects before Sheppard can wrestle it back from Max, and a few minutes later Sheppard calls him back on his cell phone.

"I think I need a new phone," Sheppard says by way of a greeting.

"I don't even know why you even have a landline," Rodney answers. "Or a dog," he says, under his breath.

"I like dogs, Rodney. I suppose you're a cat person."

"Yes, so?" Rodney answers. "They're smarter and more independent."

"I think you mean spiteful and standoffish." Sheppard says, and Rodney's familiar enough with the nuances of Sheppard's voice to hear both the general teasing and the underlying honest dislike.

"Aw, was a kitty mean to you when you were little?" Rodney says in a singsong voice that's guaranteed to irritate Sheppard.

"My uncle had a little devil spawn he called a cat, yeah. I hate those things."

"Well, I would have one if I could. The touring life's too hard on pets."

"I think it's too hard on you," Sheppard says. "Don't you ever take a break from it?"

"I never really thought about it," Rodney answers glibly.

"You should. Everyone deserves a vacation. You could hole up in a rented house somewhere and watch all those movies you don't get to see in the theater. By my estimation, you're roughly twenty-three years behind the times."

"I've seen movies, Sheppard," Rodney says. "I go to the movies all the time. Or pay the fifteen bucks and watch them on the hotel TV."

"I wasn't talking about porn."

~~~

38 days left

They're close enough to New York on Mother's day that Rodney catches a train up the night before and stays with Teyla and Kate, getting up early to cook them brunch. He knows Kate's a late sleeper on the weekend, and they will stay in bed until Teyla finally drags Kate out of it – usually around noon.

He heads to the market down the street, picking up challah bread, cinnamon and eggs for the French toast, and then gets the idea to do three cheese-omelets and ends up with two stuffed-full bags of groceries that he can barely carry.

Rodney and Kate have an uneasy relationship; she's one of the few people in his life that has absolutely no understanding of what he does. She will go to Teyla's concerts when Teyla's in town, but she has no clue about the music, and Rodney's always gotten the impression that classical music bores her.

She's extremely circumspect about it, listening to Rodney's stories with a mildly interested smile, and then steering the conversation to her newest building project. She's a popular architect, and Rodney has to admit her designs do appeal to him.

One thing about Kate, though, she knows her coffee. He makes himself a cup with her French press while the French toast is in the oven and waits for the couple to make an appearance.

Three cups later, he debates barging into their room and dragging them out of bed. He settles for calling upstairs at eleven o'clock.

"Teyla! Kate! Get your lazy asses out of bed!"

He waits until he hears movement, and heads back to the kitchen to cook up the first omelet. He usually makes his own food first, as a test run, but the omelet turns out so beautifully he debates giving it to Teyla, provided the happy couple gets up before it gets cold. He makes another just like it for himself, then makes one for Kate with no tomatoes or bleu cheese.

As soon as Kate's is out of the skillet, he tromps upstairs to drag them out of bed, forcibly if need be. He stops halfway down the hallway, as he can hear Kate's breathy sighs and Teyla's voice, saying something he thankfully cannot make out.

He backs up and calls from the stairwell, "Hurry up, you two, your food is getting cold!" and scurries down the stairs as fast as he can.

He serves up his own plate of French toast and digs in, forcing his thoughts to cooking, digging into his omelet and deciding if he wants to change up the cheese.

Teyla and Kate come down a few minutes later, both looking tousled and gorgeous, and Rodney's annoyance fades as they moan loudly about the food. Kate's fond of the French toast (he's not surprised – she has a huge sweet tooth) and Teyla asks for a second omelet.

"Happy Mother's day," Rodney says, as he sets the plate in front of her. "You too, Kate. More French toast?"

Kate stuffs the last couple of bites in her mouth and hands her plate to Rodney. "Yes, please!"

"Any plans for tonight?" Rodney asks, arranging four slices on Kate's plate and drowning them in syrup.

"Mmmmm," Kate says, picking up half a slice with her fingers and putting it in her mouth before Rodney can even set her plate down.

"Yes," Teyla says, patting Kate's knee affectionately. "We're going to Kate's parents' this afternoon. Her father cooks dinner every Mother's day. What about you?"

Rodney shrugs. "No real plans. I was going to stay in, if that's okay with you two? Maybe bingewatch something."

"Rodney," Teyla says, and the pity in her voice is more than he can deal with. "You could come along with us."

He doesn't have to glance at Kate to know she's glaring daggers at Teyla right now.

"It's fine," Rodney says. "I could use a day to laze around by myself. Just don't be too late – we have an early train tomorrow."

~~~

16 days left

"Copland's third symphony is the great American symphony," John argues, and Rodney has to wonder what he ever found attractive about a guy who can't even tell a serious composer from a hack.

"No, the great American symphony is Hanson 2. Don't even play stupid. All Copland did was regurgitate his biggest hits into a symphony. You don't really buy into that populist crap, do you?"

"Rodney," Sheppard whines, and Rodney can't wait to hear the argument that follows that. "It's one of his most beloved pieces. It's a critical work in his repertoire. He is the name that people think of when they think of an American composer."

"He steals! From himself!" Rodney shouts at the phone, holding it in front of him so he can have a straight line from his mouth to Sheppard's ear. "He's not even smart enough to change it around. The opening of the fourth movement is Fanfare for the Common Man, note for note!"

"It's a culmination of all of his other works, it's the pinnacle–"

"Exactly!" Rodney interrupts. Sheppard is making his argument for him, how can he not see that? "Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid, the Clarinet Concerto, Fanfare for the Common Man… RE-CY-CLING!"

"Rodney, he's an American icon. The Third Symphony encompasses his entire output. He's like the Frank Lloyd Wright of music."

"I'm not saying he's not a crusty old piece of Americana. I even happen to like Appalachian Spring in its original version," Rodney admits. "But his Third Symphony is shit, and I'd expect you to at least acknowledge that the works he stole from are better than the derivative crap he made out of them. And seriously, the Hanson is by far a richer harmonic work."

"But I like Copland three," Sheppard says, and Rodney lets his head thunk back against the wall because there is simply no arguing with Sheppard's bad taste.

~~~

11 days left

"A mirror, Rodney, you know what that is, right?"

"Very funny, Radek, yes, I get it," Rodney says, kicking his shoes off. "The rhythm of the theme is retrograde. A bit of a stretch, don't you think?"

"Yes, because I didn't spend several months analyzing this piece in every detail." Radek clucks his tongue. "It is a mirror. Nimrod is Elgar himself, and I think if you consider the general shape of the movement, you–"

"Right, right," Rodney says, brushing Radek off. He won't be able to argue until he gets a score and Radek's article anyway, so there's no point in trying to debunk him now. "So have you heard anything from Simpson lately?"

"That was very subtle, Rodney, I almost didn't notice you were trying to change the subject."

"You know I need to do the analysis myself. It's going to take me a couple of weeks. Email me the proof of the article so I can check it myself."

"The Journal of Music Theory has people who do that already," Radek says, but Rodney knows he'll send it. "So how is Dr. Sheppard?"

"How the hell would I know?" Rodney asks, though it's less than two weeks before he's going to stay in Sheppard's house, and that makes him unaccountably nervous. "I haven't seen him in months."

"But you will be in Boston next week, yes? Radek presses. "Recording the Fratres with Ronon. Don't tell me you won't be seeing him."

"I suppose so," Rodney says, and he's still weirded out that he's not being completely honest with Radek about Sheppard. It doesn't bode well for him; secrets never seem to work out. Either he forgets they're supposed to be secrets, or he simply can't avoid messing them up, or he gives himself away. Radek has always guessed his secrets before he's said anything anyway, so maybe it doesn't matter.

~~~

4 days left

It takes three and a half months to plan, but on day four (also known as the day after their last chamber performance), Rodney throws Teyla a baby shower. No one shows up, but that's okay because Rodney had Ford hound people into sending gifts. They're stacked in a huge pile next to Teyla, who's sitting on the floor, ripping wrapping paper like it's Christmas morning.

He saves his gifts for last, the teddy bear made of home-spun clouds or some other ethereally soft material, which gets a warm smile, and the quarter size violin with scribbled IOU for lessons that makes Teyla tear up. She climbs over the toys and furniture and clothes (with amazing agility for a woman with a basketball in the front of her pants) and hugs him fiercely enough that he has to tap her to let go or pass out from hypoxia.

~~~

3 days left

"This is Rodney McKay. If I really wanted to talk to you, I would have answered the phone. Don't leave a message."

"Hey. Just wondering when your flight gets in. I can pick you up at the driveby, right? You don't need me to rent a uniform and hold up a sign?"

~~~

1 day left

Sheppard tells Rodney he needs a grocery list.

"No you don't. Do you even know what jicama is? Plantains? Do you know where to get sushi-grade tuna or the best steak? We'll go shopping when I get there."

"Why do I feel like I should cash out my 401k?"

"I suppose I could make mac and cheese. From a box."

Sheppard concedes and then babbles on about his kitchen and his bathroom, his cleaning lady and his laundry room (his laundry room?!) and Rodney shakes his head when he realizes Sheppard is nervous.

"I'm sure I'll like your house, Sheppard. Relax."

"Of course you'll like my house. I have a kitchen worth more than your second violin."

"I think you underestimate my second violin."

"I think you underestimate my kitchen."

"You understand the irony of a man who eats nothing but takeout having a fifty thousand dollar kitchen, right?"

"I expected to have someone to cook in it by now."

"Well," Rodney says with a little laugh, "You could always make an honest man of me."

~~~