Summary: "Great. Consider yourself the Watson to my Sherlock Holmes. You know where the nearest Starbucks is, right?"
Notes: Beta by my heroes, shrift and gritkitty. Extra thanks to the mods for extending the deadline.
The house was two stories tall, three steps leading up to a porch. Quiet neighborhood, close enough to his place that he could walk or bike. And the job didn't sound too demanding, just the kind of thing John was looking for at the moment, spinning his wheels until he could find something -- anything -- that would let him get back in the air. He rang the doorbell.
After about a minute with no response, John lifted his hand to ring again, when the door opened. The man who had answered it was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt with a logo so faded that John couldn't read it. "Yes?" he said, with an impatient eyebrow twitch.
John fished a printout from his pocket. "I'm here about the ad you placed on Craigslist."
The man blinked. "Ah. Fine, come in."
The first couple rooms of the house were the sort of clean that came from regular maid service. The man's office, which he led John to, was not. A desk took up about half of the available floor space, with two huge monitors on either end of the desk like bookends. Scattered sheet music and books covered the baby grand piano in the corner. File cabinets were crammed into any remaining space.
"This is what I need," the man said, plopping down on the piano bench. "Someone to run errands for me, handle some of the more mundane tasks in my life, and occasionally lift heavy things. I'm in the middle of a very important project, and I don't have time deal with these things myself. If my genius was rewarded at a level commensurate with my value to the community, I could afford to pay you more. Although I probably wouldn't."
"Okay," John said, taken slightly aback. On the other hand, his new employer seemed to be a fan of blunt honesty, which had its advantages.
"Great. Consider yourself the Watson to my Sherlock Holmes. You know where the nearest Starbucks is, right?"
"Wait a minute," John said. "Don't you want to know anything about me?"
"My name? Any references?"
"What's your name, and do you have any references?" He punctuated these questions with a wave of his hand, as if dismissing them as useless pleasantries, and swung around on the bench to face the keys.
"John Sheppard. And no, I don't."
"Kind of pointless to offer them then, isn't it?"
John took a deep, calming breath and reminded himself that he'd faced down worse assholes. The room smelled woody, a combination of all the paper and the piano. "And you're Dr. McKay, right?"
McKay sighed and turned back. "Yes. Dr. Rodney McKay, Dean of Music at the local university. I teach musical theory and composition to students who will never amount to anything. I like long walks on the beach, and I'm a cat person. Anything else you feel like we should get out of the way?"
"Um," John said. "I'm a convicted felon."
"Yes, very funny," McKay snapped.
"Not a joke?" McKay's eyebrows rose. "Huh. I'm not sure I've ever worked with a criminal before, unless you count Dr. Abernathy's abuse of the twelve-tone scale. What did you do?"
"I got court-martialed." John swallowed. He kept hoping it would get easier to tell the story, but so far, it hadn't. "But I didn't actually do it."
McKay smirked at him. "Of course you didn't. I have a tazer. If you threaten me, I'll put 50,000 volts through you, fire you, and call the cops. Grande Frappuccino, extra shot of espresso. The top drawer in that desk should have some money."
He turned back to the piano and began working through a chord progression. John, who felt a little like he'd been run over by the world's most sarcastic truck, went over to the desk and pulled a twenty out from the jumble of bills and coins. Looked like he was going to Starbucks.
Working for McKay wasn't too bad, as long as John kept reminding himself that he was lucky to have a job at all, and that his bank account practically had cobwebs growing in it. McKay's needs were fairly simple; he seemed to run on coffee, terrible Chinese takeout, and Red Bull. He hated speaking to anyone on the telephone, reserving particular disdain for telemarketers. He soon had John sorting through his mail, paying his bills, and cleaning the spam out of his six different e-mail accounts.
John worried at first that asking any questions would get him fired, but after a few days, he'd realized that 'grumpy' was McKay's default setting, and it didn't actually mean he was in a bad mood.
"Isn't it a little dangerous to give me all of your passwords?" he asked.
"Right," McKay said, pushing his rolling chair from one monitor over to the keyboard. "Because I'm too stupid to change them when you're gone. If you really wanted money, you could hit me over the head and take my wallet."
John knew he was trustworthy, but his criminal record had meant that no other employer had wanted to look at him. His parole officer was fucking useless -- hadn't been any help in finding him a job and couldn't care less what John did with his time as long as he checked in when he was supposed to. If John had a choice, any choice at all, he'd have found a job as a pilot. But no company would hire a guy with a felony conviction, especially not one with John's record.
McKay hadn't pre-judged him, though. He'd approached him the same way he approached all other people -- idiots until proven otherwise. John had never thought he'd be grateful to meet someone who assumed he was an idiot.
He let his life fall into a routine, even though he knew it was dangerous. He was just trying to serve out the rest of his parole time and build up some savings, and then maybe he'd head down to Mexico and see if he could get a job flying tourists around. They hadn't discussed it, but he assumed that his job would be over when school started and Rodney had to get back to teaching.
"Hey, what exactly are you working on?" John asked, deleting the eight millionth copy of the Nigerian lottery scam that Rodney had received on his Gmail account.
Rodney, who was sitting at the piano, vigorously erasing notes off the sheet music in front of him, said, "A piano concerto. It's a commission for the Santa Fe Symphony."
"Really? Wow." Goodbye, underage girls, discount pain medication, and software at affordable prices. And really, even the spammers should have known better than to offer Rodney another degree. Four different framed diplomas already decorated the wall behind the piano.
The phone rang. John refused an offer for vinyl siding and hung up. "How am I supposed to identify myself on the phone?"
"What? Where the hell is my fall enrollment list?"
John walked over to one of the filing cabinets, pulled out a folder labeled "Fall Enrollment List 2005", and pointedly dropped it in McKay's lap. "When someone asks 'Am I speaking to Rodney McKay?', what do I say? 'No, this is his assistant? Housekeeper? Manservant?"
McKay rolled his eyes. "Fine, you're my assistant. Congratulations."
"Cool. Do I get a nameplate?"
"Do I get a raise?"
"No. You get to call for takeout."
"Yeah, okay." John headed back to the desk, where he'd left the phone. "Your usual?"
"Hey," Rodney said, hesitating, and John immediately got suspicious, because Rodney never took more than a few seconds to get a sentence out. "Why don't you stay for dinner?"
"Um," John said.
"Look, 'The Life of Brian' is on one of the cable channels tonight, and it's not any fun watching Python alone, and I didn't really get the impression you had any friends, considering you're an ex-convict--"
John held up a hand. "Please stop before you get to an actual insult."
"Sorry." Rodney had enough sense to look embarrassed. "Look, I bet I have a bigger TV than you do, and I know I've got a better sound system. And I have Fawlty Towers on DVD."
Maybe nervousness was McKay's usual reaction to any type of social situation. John had no idea. Staying for dinner would turn this into a social situation, and yeah, McKay could be kind of fun. They spent most of their days together, so they'd talked about everything from politics to movies to science to books. McKay was quick-witted and smart, and beneath the caustic layer of sarcasm, the kind of guy John could see himself being friends with. Problem was, the last thing John wanted was a friend. Friendship meant complication, and he didn't need any more complications in his life.
But prison was a good place for self-discovery, and he knew he wasn't man enough to resist the lure of Dolby Digital.
"You want to split an order of potstickers?" he said, thumbing the speed-dial for the Chinese restaurant. Rodney's face lit up like a sunrise.
"Get some wontons too."
It should have been simple enough, spending an evening with his employer-possibly-friend eating Chinese food out of the cartons and laughing themselves silly over John Cleese. Somewhere around 11 o'clock, when Rodney switched over to The Daily Show, his fingers brushed against John's thigh as he set the remote down between them. Warmth shot through John, and he found himself wanting to move closer. He looked down at the remote, at Rodney's fingers, still wrapped around it, and he couldn't help imagining those clever hands on him.
Rodney must have caught the motion out of the corner of his eye; he turned his head and looked at John. John didn't say anything, and neither did Rodney, and after a few seconds, Rodney looked back at the TV. In the dim light, John thought he could see Rodney's face flushing.
Shit, John thought. I don't need this.
McKay's method of composition involved equal parts piano and computer. He'd spent the past few weeks transcribing notes into the composition program, generating printouts, and carrying them back to the piano to play through. Judging from the cursing and the throwing of papers, John didn't think it was going well.
Since the night he'd stayed for dinner, he'd backed off a little, doing his work without much extraneous conversation, and McKay had let him. Maybe it meant McKay had felt whatever John had felt and considered it just as inconvenient. Maybe McKay had no clue at all. John figured he had about a fifty-fifty chance either way.
He started at a loud, dissonant crash from the piano.
"Stupid derivative crap!" Another sheaf of papers went flying and cascading to the ground.
"I thought it was nice," John said.
Rodney spun around as if he'd forgotten John was there. "Yes, I'm sure it makes a nice change from the insipid top-forty radio you usually listen to. Let me guess -- you liked the part where the piano went all tinkly."
John had been okay with letting Rodney patronize him when he was just the hired help, but if he was going to nurse a secret crush on Rodney, then Rodney could at least respect him. "Actually, I was going to say that it had the precision of Bach combined with the scope of Beethoven, plus a little dash of John Adams, for that modern feel."
The stunned look on McKay's face was incredibly gratifying. "You're not referring to John Adams the president? Or the beer?"
"The beer is Sam Adams. John Adams is a composer. Nixon in China." John stood up and started gathering the scattered pages from the floor.
McKay switched on the lamp above the piano. The light had faded over the past hour as the sun set, and John had very carefully not watched McKay playing, illuminated by the warm golden light coming in through the window. "I don't care how unlikely you are, there's no way you listen to opera."
"You don't have to have to have a music degree to like classical music, Doctor McKay."
He put the pages back on the piano's music stand. McKay narrowed his eyes and stared up at him. John stuck his tongue out at him. "Oh, yes, very adult," McKay said. He resumed playing, toying with the end of the phrase that had been giving him trouble.
"You know," John said, "you could try transposing the theme up a third right there."
The music paused for a second, then shifted upward. It definitely sounded better to John.
"Not bad, not bad," McKay said. "A criminal who listens to opera and gives music advice. Interesting."
"I'm not a criminal," John snapped, then shut his mouth. He didn't want to have this conversation, especially not with McKay, who hadn't seemed to care about his record. McKay actually kept his mouth shut and just kept playing, easing into something John recognized as Chopin. Maybe this was his opening, his chance to give his side of the story who might believe him.
The story was easier to tell with his eyes closed.
"I was a pilot in the Air Force. A few years ago, I refused direct orders in Afghanistan, trying to get a couple of my friends out of a bad situation. It didn't matter. By the time I got in there, they were dead, and one of the guys I'd brought with me took a bullet." Nothing had ever been as red as the blood on West's shirt. He could still see it, slowly spreading, staining everything it touched. "He died on the table."
"I'm sorry," McKay murmured.
He kept going, because it was easier than stopping there. "The colonel whose orders I'd disobeyed had a fit. We had a huge fight as soon as I landed. He threatened me with a court-martial, I told him I'd see him in hell. Two days later, he got wounded by friendly fire. They thought I did it, and I couldn't prove them wrong."
"How long were you in jail?"
"Three years. I just...it's funny, but you know what the worst thing is? I miss flying. Kind of stupid that it's worse than the dishonorable discharge and the prison time...but I just miss it." He couldn't bear to sit still any more, adrenaline thrumming through him. Even worse was the thought that Rodney might turn around, and John would see his face and know he didn't believe him. "I gotta go, okay? It's getting late."
"Okay," Rodney said, even as John stood up and headed out of the room. "See you tomorrow."
The sound of the piano followed him out the door, into the quiet night.
Rodney was at the computer almost full-time these days. John figured that meant he was almost done. Good thing, since the deadline was in a few days, and Rodney had gotten progressively snappier as it approached. He'd also gotten more inventive in finding new ways to procrastinate. He hadn't mentioned John's court-martial or his time in prison, but he'd made John help him reorganize the filing system, straighten the papers on the desk, and clean off his TiVo.
"Seriously, how did you get interested in classical music?" Rodney spoke above the hum of the computer's CD drive, churning through its evening backup. He was paranoid about the possibility of a crash wiping out his data. John stood at the filing cabinet nearest the piano, nursing a new paper cut and wishing Rodney wasn't such a pack rat.
"My mother made me take piano lessons, go to the symphony, that kind of thing. I pretended to hate it, but I thought it was pretty cool."
"Piano lessons? You?" Rodney snickered.
"Hey, I wasn't half bad."
Rodney wheeled his desk chair over to the piano bench and shifted onto it. "So play me something."
John shook his head. "It's been twenty years. I think I'll pass."
"Come on, John. Do you know 'Heart and Soul'?"
"I think everyone knows 'Heart and Soul.'"
"Great." Rodney scooted over and tilted his head toward the other side of the bench. "You take the melody."
It was silly, but actually kind of fun, humming under his breath as he tried to remember which keys to play. After a couple of repetitions, McKay started to get inventive with the accompaniment, adding trills and arpeggios. His hands crossed over John's once or twice, little shivery brushes along the back of John's hands. He slowed as he reached the end of the song, and John followed his lead, bringing the song to a close.
"The concerto's done, I think." Rodney's mouth twisted in a little grimace. "I actually e-mailed it to them a couple of days ago. I hope they like it, but if they don't, there's not much I can do about it now."
I should get up, John thought. If Rodney was done, the job would be over soon, and when the job was over, John would be heading to Mexico and not looking back. Instead, he said, "Play me some of it."
McKay was close enough for John to hear the nervous hitch in his breath. "It'll sound better with all of the instruments behind it. You won't really get the true sense --"
"Just play it, McKay."
It started slowly, solo piano establishing one of the themes John recognized from hearing McKay play it over the past couple of months. The melody swirled upward, higher, faster, until the orchestra joined in with a triumphant crash, resolving the tune from minor to major. John sat in stunned silence. It was glorious. It reminded John of trips to the symphony with his parents before his father had died, before he'd joined the military and tried to live up to his father's impossible legacy. It made him want to see Rodney playing it before a crowd of thousands, lips tight with concentration, swaying with the rhythm and swell of the music.
It sounded like flying.
"It's good," John said, swallowing. "It's really good."
"When I was in college, I was a performance major." Rodney's hands kept moving over the keys, playing the fugue's main theme. His thigh pressed against John's as he worked the pedals. "But every one of my teachers said the same thing. They said that my playing didn't have any passion in it. And eventually I knew that they were right. So I went back and got another bachelor's in theory and comp, and I started composing music that other people could play with passion."
He felt like nothing existed but the music, and the sound of Rodney's voice, and the few inches where their legs touched, each sensation blending into the next.
"The thing is," Rodney said, head down, "I'm starting to wonder if I just didn't have the right inspiration."
John took a breath and lifted his hands to the keyboard, following along with the theme in a higher octave. He made a few mistakes, quickly corrected them, and by the second time through, he had the melody down. He could almost hear it in his head, the piano leading the orchestra through the permutations of the fugue, strings and woodwinds playing counterpoint, brass supporting everything with solid, relentless whole notes.
"I really want to kiss you," Rodney whispered, still staring down at their hands, moving in unison.
John cleared his throat. "I think you should."
Rodney slipped an arm around his waist, and it was awkward, since they could only turn so far on the piano bench. John's neck started to hurt almost immediately, and he didn't care. Rodney sighed into his mouth at the first tentative touch, his fingers tightening and pulling John closer, until they were pressed together as closely as possible. John had spent hours coming up with reasons why something like this was a terrible idea, but the kiss made him forget every single one of them.
Rodney broke the kiss and rested his forehead against John's shoulder. "I didn't think you'd want this, but I couldn't help it."
"I want it." He could see a strip of pale skin where Rodney's collar ended. He wanted to lick it and make Rodney twist underneath him. "You. I want you."
Rodney exhaled, a tickle of warm breath through the fabric of John's t-shirt, then maneuvered him into another kiss. John's neck twinged again.
"Sorry," John said, rubbing his neck. "Bad angle."
Rodney's tongue flashed out to wet his lips; John thought about ignoring his stupid neck. "We could, um, move to another room."
"The kitchen? Oh, the living room. You know that big TV turns me on." John grinned at Rodney, who managed to look unamused until John leaned in and started sucking on the skin under his jaw. He swirled his tongue over the hollow of Rodney's throat, and Rodney moaned and let his head sag back.
"Oh, god, you can make all the stupid jokes you want as long as you keep doing that."
Rodney's skin tasted good, but John wanted to move to the part of the evening that involved a lot fewer clothes. He gave Rodney a last kiss, then stood up and held out his hand. "Bedroom sounds good. Come on."
John had been in Rodney's bedroom once before, when Rodney had sent him to fetch a book, but everything suddenly had new layers of intimacy. The glass of water on the nightstand. Books and journals spilling from shelves. The impression of Rodney's head on the pillow. The feel of the sheets bunching under him as Rodney pushed him down onto the bed.
Rodney wouldn't stop kissing him long enough for either of them to get their shirts off. John moved his hands down to Rodney's pants instead, planning to unbutton and unzip him, but he loved the feel of Rodney's erection through the heavy cloth and pressed his palm against the solid length of it. Rodney gasped and thrust his hips forward, so John did it again, outlining the shape of it with his fingers.
Finally, Rodney tried to pull off John's shirt and unbutton his jeans at the same time. John's shirt got stuck on his nose.
"You know, I'm starting to think you're not so good with details," John said, yanking his shirt over his head and tossing it on the floor.
"Oh, shut up." Rodney made up for it by shoving his hand inside John's jeans as soon as he got them open. It had been way too long since he'd had anyone else's hand on him, and Rodney, no surprise, was really good with his hands. He stroked John's dick, and with each drag of skin against skin, John whimpered and pushed into his grip. His whole body flushed with pleasure; he could feel sweat prickling on the back of his neck and in the bend of his knees.
Even kissing was a luxury. He'd forgotten how good it could feel. Rodney kissed like he talked, like he did everything, really, pushy and quick, but willing to let John get a word in here and there. He really liked it when John opened his mouth and let Rodney push his tongue deep inside, because he worked John's cock harder and rubbed himself against John's thigh.
John turned his head to the side and tried to think. "Rodney, we really need to -- god, yeah, that's good -- need to get you out of your pants, at least."
"Okay, fine, clothes off." Rodney sounded far too exasperated for a man with orgasm in his future, but he helped John take off his shoes and socks and pants. John got a little distracted by Rodney's chest and stopped to run his thumb over a nipple until Rodney swatted at him.
When they were both naked, Rodney settled himself on his side next to John and held his hand up to John's mouth. John stared for a second until Rodney waggled it at him expectantly, and then he caught on. He licked the palm and pushed his tongue in between the fingers, getting it good and wet. When Rodney put his hand back on John's cock, there was no drag, just a slow glide that wound John up and pushed him higher and higher. He tried to feel for Rodney's cock, do him at the same time, but Rodney shoved with his knee and trapped John's hand against his side, never letting up on the relentless, easy stroking.
"You are so gorgeous," he murmured into John's ear. "I couldn't believe it when I opened the door and saw you. I wanted to shove you against the wall and blow you right there."
"Jesus Christ." John fought for breath, closed his eyes and tried to make it last, but between Rodney's hand and his voice, he didn't have a chance. He tensed, muscles trembling, and shot into Rodney's hand. Rodney slowed and gentled him through the last spasms, pressing kisses to the side of his neck.
"God, that was good," he said, too blissed to care what it would do to Rodney's ego.
Rodney nudged him with his usual level of subtlety. "Feel free to return the favor."
"Gimme a second, would you?" John glared with as much energy as he could muster. "Look, turn over on your back."
"Rodney, in the middle of sex, you don't ask why."
Rodney grumbled even as he moved. "You could have some kind of weird fetish, for all I know. Maybe you're asking me to turn over so you can bite my toes or tie me up and shave my chest."
"Would you stop talking and let me suck you?"
"I can do both at the same time -- Jesus!" His teeth clicked together audibly when John slid his mouth down over his cock. He didn't stop talking, but coherent sentences quickly gave way to broken pleas, interspersed with moans and gasps. John took him as deep as he could and worked his cock with the flat of his tongue. Rodney threaded a hand into his hair and held on, tugging a little when John did something that made his hips thrust up.
John wanted to drive him out of his mind, to turn him on so much that he couldn't say anything at all, couldn't do anything but lie there and take whatever John did to him. He was getting hard again, just from the weight of Rodney's cock shoving past his lips.
"Oh, god, John, I...I..." He pushed up and up, further into John's mouth, and came, spurting across John's tongue in three slow pulses. John swallowed around his cock, and Rodney twitched again and said, "oh, yeah," quiet and heartfelt.
John flopped his way back up the bed and landed with his head on Rodney's shoulder. Rodney's hand came up to stroke his hair. John felt like he could start purring like a cat. Second round, as soon as Rodney recovered. What were the chances that he had condoms and lube in that nightstand?
Rodney yawned. "Wow, sex with a criminal. This is a new event in my life."
So much for the sense of well-being. Even as John started wondering how far away his pants were and how quickly he could get out of the house, Rodney said, "Oh, god, I'm sorry. It was a stupid joke," and tightened his arm around John's shoulders.
"I didn't do it," John whispered.
"Yeah, I know, I know, I believe you." Rodney rolled him over and mumbled the words against his lips, his cheeks, his eyelids, and John kissed him back and tried not to hope that it was true.
The next day, John showed up at Rodney's house, ready to collect his last paycheck and move on.
He'd snuck out of bed in the middle of the night, although he probably could have ransacked the house without waking Rodney up. The sex had been good. Really good. But the whole summer had been an interlude, and it was over, no use pretending otherwise. Rodney would go back to teaching school, and he'd have TAs to abuse instead of John. It would be a while before his parole was up and he could head south, but at least he'd gotten a decent start on rebuilding his life. No matter what had happened between them, he was sure Rodney would give him a decent reference, and that would make finding another job easier.
At least, he was pretty sure.
The door opened almost as soon as he rang the bell. "Hi," Rodney said.
"Hey." When Rodney didn't move, John gestured toward the door. "Can I come in?"
"You have a key."
"I kinda thought you'd want that back." John held it out to him, then dropped it in Rodney's outstretched hand.
"Right." Rodney looked down at the key in his hand for a second before shoving it into his pocket. "I owe you for last week, don't I? Come to the office. I'll write you a check."
The office was as messy as ever, and John admitted to himself that he'd miss it -- not just Rodney, but the house, and the experience. It had been one of the nicest summers he'd ever spent anywhere.
"You didn't have to leave last night." Rodney vehemently punched the buttons of his calculator with the cap of his pen.
"It just seemed like the best idea."
Rodney didn't say anything else as he scribbled a check and tore it out of the book. He offered it to John, but yanked it back when John reached for it.
"Look," Rodney said. "You could stay. With me. I don't have to teach forever, you know. The people in Santa Fe really seem to like the piece I wrote for them, and it'll probably mean more commissions. And I thought maybe I'd try to get back into performing, and..." He reached out to John and took his hand. "And I'll buy you a fucking plane, okay? I'll become a world-famous composer and pianist, and I'll buy a plane, and you can fly me all over the world."
John shook his head and tried to pull his hand free. "Rodney, come on."
"What do you mean, 'come on'?"
"There's no way this would work," he insisted, even though little blooms of hope were spreading through his chest.
"Of course it will. I was already brilliant, the commissions were just a matter of time, but now that I'll be getting performing gigs too? I'll need a business manager, or whatever you call that person who handles all of the stupid details."
"Rodney, I'm an ex-military ex-con."
"So I don't think I'm the best person to be your business manager, pilot, or lover," John insisted.
"Okay, first of all, you're innocent. Let's not forget that. You've been knee-deep in my files for months. You certainly know enough about music to be my business manager." Rodney punctuated each point with a squeeze of his hand. "And as for being my lover, I'd say you already made it through that audition."
It was crazy, crazy and impossible, but arguing seemed like more effort than it was worth, and arguing with Rodney never really got him anywhere. He met Rodney's eyes, smiling, and Rodney grabbed him and took John's face in his hands and kissed him.
"I'll make it happen, okay?" Rodney managed in between kisses. "Just trust me."
And after all, what was Mexico, when he weighed it against sex and laughter and music?
"Okay, okay, I believe you," John said, breathless with joy as Rodney backed him towards the piano. He bumped the keyboard with his hip, smashing keys into dissonant chords, but neither of them heard a thing.