"I hate her."
"No, you don't. You don't even know her."
Rodney grunted and flipped a page of the glossy program with such violence that it ripped.
"You have to actually let other people perform your music," John said. "It's sort of how the whole thing works. You write it, and ideally, people want to play it."
"I hate it when you try to reason with me. Do I look like I want to hear logic? Do you think I just need a good dose of facts to cheer me up?"
"Fine," John snapped, and turned away in his seat, opening his own program. The picture of Teyla Emmagan looked a lot better than the usual headshots conductors had taken. No artful posing with her baton, no dramatic motion shot of her conducting. Just a simple photo that emphasized her beauty.
The orchestra began tuning, and the house lights went down. John hoped Rodney wasn't scowling too vehemently; tenth row was plenty close enough for the players to see them, and it wouldn't look good to have the composer looking incredibly grumpy before the performance even began.
Even after all the time he'd spent with Rodney, John didn't consider himself an expert in orchestral music, but from where he was sitting, Emmagan did a pretty good job. The piece wasn't his favorite of Rodney's, and they'd paired it with Brahms, who John had never liked. But she conducted well, and the orchestra seemed to follow her, which wasn't the case with every conductor.
"You know we have to go out to dinner with her," he reminded Rodney at intermission.
Rodney grunted and otherwise continued to ignore John. John decided that next time, Rodney could come to the orchestra on his own, and to hell with his professional obligations as Rodney's manager. And that he was ordering a very large drink at dinner.
After two hours spent with Teyla, though, John was almost ready to forgive him. She was smart, with a sly sense of humor that totally slipped past the orchestra's pompous artistic director, who spent half of dinner conducting with his breadstick. John knew that if Rodney had been in a better mood, he'd have liked her too. Instead, John had to suffer through Rodney's version of icy silence, which involved a lot less silence than John would have liked.
"She took the tempo too fast."
"I didn't think so," John said, pulling into their driveway and hitting the button to open the garage.
"I didn't ask what you thought. And she massacred the adagio."
"I liked it."
John maneuvered into the garage next to Rodney's Prius. They didn't speak again until they were inside the house.
"You really liked it?" Rodney asked. He fiddled with something at the kitchen sink, refusing to face John, which was usually the first sign that Rodney was relenting.
John leaned against the counter next to the sink. "She's good."
Rodney sighed and bent his head, rubbing at the back of his neck. "Disgustingly good. Even on that stupid Brahms."
"Yeah," John said.
"Do you think she might want to do the benefit concert?"
"You sure you don't want to conduct it?" John asked.
"With the two commissions, and that article I promised to write for ArtsJournal? Sure, if you want me to work myself into an early grave," Rodney said, shaking his head.
"What are the chances she's booked two months out?"
Rodney shrugged. "She might be, but she still might be unknown enough that we'll get lucky. That won't last long, though, especially not once the review of tonight's concert hits the paper."
"I'll call her on Monday."
"She still took the adagio too slow."
John threw a kitchen towel at him.
They slept late and had lazy Sunday morning sex, sunlight slipping in between the blinds to paint their skin with stripes of warmth. John clenched his hands on Rodney's shoulders as Rodney sucked him, slow and deep.
"Jesus, Rodney," he gasped, and Rodney pulled off to lick the head of his cock. One hand kneaded John's thigh; John held the other one and squeezed tight when Rodney took him in again. Rodney's mouth was merciless, heat and suction and the breathy little noises that escaped him as he moved up and down John's cock.
John's hips bucked as he came, and Rodney's hand on his thigh tightened in protest. "Sorry," John gasped, still riding the high.
"It's fine, just don't give me a black eye that I'd have to explain."
"What do you want?" John asked.
Rodney pulled himself up to lie next to John. "Give me your hand." He licked John's hand and drew it down to the base of his cock, and John let Rodney push against him while Rodney encircled the head and jerked himself off.
After he came, Rodney collapsed against John's shoulder. "Go make me some pancakes," he demanded sleepily. John ignored him and pulled the sheet up over both of them.
As Rodney had predicted, the Sunday arts section had a glowing review of the previous night's concert. Rodney sat at the table and read it, alternating hmphs with bites of pancake.
He shoved the last bite of pancake into his mouth, and the fork clattered on the plate. "You'd think she was the second coming of Leonard Bernstein."
"Hey, no being petty after you got a handjob."
"I didn't get a handjob from her," Rodney said, but subsided when John glared at him.
"What is it with you?" John asked. "Are you just jealous because she's good?"
"No, my ego is not threatened, thank you very much."
"Are you irritated because she's that good and she's a beautiful woman?"
Rodney opened his mouth to snap out a reply, but then paused. "Is there an answer to that question that won't get me in trouble?"
"Teyla, it's John Sheppard."
"Hello, John. How are you?"
"I'm good. Great review in the paper."
Teyla laughed. "I'm very pleased. I thought the concert went well, but it's always nice to have it confirmed."
"Good," John said. "I'm actually calling to see if you'd be interested in conducting a benefit concert coming up in a couple of months."
"A benefit for what?"
"The director of the local food bank guilted Rodney into helping set it up, not that it took much. Rodney's horrified at the thought of people not having food. Anyway, it's the usual fancy thing, selling tickets to people with too much money so they can dress up and have a night at the symphony."
"It sounds wonderful," Teyla said. "Is Rodney writing a new piece for it?"
"No, he's kind of swamped right now, but they're going to play his first symphony and stuff from other contemporary American composers. As long as they have a captive audience, they might as well play something other than Beethoven and Mozart."
"Send me the dates, and I'll check my schedule."
"Great," John said. "And hey, while you're in town, we should make plans to hang out. Work out together or something, and you can show off these crazy martial-arts skills you claim to have."
"Is that a challenge?"
"Probably one I'm going to regret, yeah."
Though it was often difficult to tell with Rodney, it seemed like he was grumpier in the weeks following Teyla's concert. He snapped at people more often, including John, and he spent more time in front of his piano, humming and muttering to himself, and scribbling indecipherable chords on staff paper. After the third time he got yelled at, John stopped asking what he was working on.
"Stupid, stupid," Rodney mumbled, and furiously erased something on the paper. John ignored him and kept poking around on the internet. Of course, he'd told Rodney he was working, but what Rodney wasn't paying attention to wouldn't hurt him.
Idly, he pulled up Google and searched for Teyla. She had a website, and when John clicked on the link, it started blasting music.
"What is that? Is that site playing sound?" Rodney sounded horrified, as if embedded sound was the worst crime he could imagine.
John turned the volume down and improvised. "It's Teyla's site. I was checking to see if her bio's available."
Rodney turned around on the bench and leveled a glare at him. "Don't you have anything better to do?"
"Not really," John said. “I could log into the bank account and pay the bills.”
"I told you I would do that. Maybe you should find something to entertain yourself in another part of the house."
That stung, as if John didn't spend plenty of his time doing stuff for Rodney. "Maybe my free time is my free time, and you should shut up."
Rodney didn't answer, but turned back to the piano and started pounding out chords loud enough to make John's head hurt. After stoically enduring the dissonance for a few minutes, John gave up, put the computer to sleep, and walked out of the room, making sure to bump into Rodney as he went.
"Hey!" Rodney snapped.
"Sorry," John said with mock sincerity.
John stopped and turned around, finally really angry. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Nothing!" Infuriatingly, Rodney kept playing, forcing both of them to shout over the sound of the piano.
"You've just decided to be a complete asshole for the fun of it?"
"Oh, I'm so sorry if I'm interfering with your burgeoning Teyla obsession."
"What? You know that's ridiculous."
"Forget it," Rodney said, sighing. "Just go."
John stood there in frustration, but he didn't even really know what they were fighting about, so he walked out and shut the door behind him.
John hit the workout mat a little harder than he would have liked. When he opened his eyes, Teyla was standing above him. She wasn't laughing, at least, but John was pretty sure it was only because she was too polite to gloat.
She offered a hand to pull him up. "Sorry."
"No, you're not," John replied. "And you better not go easy on me."
Teyla smirked. "I promise."
They sparred for half an hour, and then Teyla broke out a set of fighting sticks she called bantos rods. As badly as John had done at hand-to-hand, he was seriously outmatched with the sticks. It was fun, though. He'd tried to talk Rodney into working out with him a few times, but Rodney hadn't even bothered to scoff at the idea, just stared at John with an expression that spoke volumes. John made himself go to the gym a few times a week, and he went for a run most mornings, but he'd forgotten what it was like to work out with someone else. Someone good.
He braced his hands on his knees and bent over, trying to catch his breath. "I'm going to get better at this," he panted.
"Of course," Teyla said. "You just need more practice."
"Yeah, yeah," John said. "Looking forward to it. Showers, and then you're buying me coffee."
"Enjoy your afternoon with Teyla?"
John peered suspiciously at Rodney, but it didn't seem like the prelude to an argument. "She's cool," he said. "She's into martial arts, and she kicked my ass around the gym for a while."
"That's good," Rodney said. "I mean, that you had fun or whatever. Barbara Jimenez called while you were out. I think she's got a list of donors ready to send so it can go in the program."
"Okay," John said. "I'll check in with her. Anything else?"
"Nope," Rodney said. "A quiet day at home."
"Uh-huh." John straightened some papers on his desk. "Should be a good concert."
Rodney didn't look away from the computer screen. "Yep."
"You know this is creepy, right?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Rodney snapped.
"Thank god," John said. "Some signs of life. Can we just fight about whatever's pissing you off?"
Rodney deflated, his shoulders hunching over and his head drooping. "I don't want to fight."
"There's nothing to fight about."
"You've been sulking for days, and when you're not sulking, you're taking my head off."
"I know." Rodney took a deep breath, then let it out in a huge sigh. "I know I've been in a bad mood, and I know it's stupid, and it's not fair to you, and I don't want to talk about it."
John moved behind Rodney's chair and put a hand on his shoulder. "Can I help?"
Rodney shook his head, but he leaned back into John's touch. The fine ends of his hair brushed the side of John's hand.
"Can you at least stop yelling at me?"
Rodney craned around to look at him skeptically.
"Stop yelling at me all the time?" John clarified.
John kissed him on the cheek and left him to his work.
"I probably shouldn't say this," Teyla said, "but dinner with the two of you is much more enjoyable without the restraining presence of orchestra personnel." She took a sip of her red wine and smiled over the rim of the glass at Rodney.
Rodney, who'd received plenty of congratulations at the concert, speared another meatball with his fork. "You know, you show a real affinity for conducting my compositions."
Teyla raised her eyebrows at John, but seemed to accept the compliment at face value. "Thank you."
Full of good food and good wine, John stifled a yawn and stretched out his arm to rest on Rodney's shoulders. Rodney pressed his leg against John's but kept eating.
"Can I ask how you two met?"
"I hired him as my assistant."
"And then he realized that his life was a disaster without me." John drained his wine glass and shook his head when Teyla moved to offer him more.
He'd expected Rodney to protest, but Rodney said, "Yeah, that's fair."
The waiter appeared at the table. "Another bottle of wine? Dessert?"
John was about to plead fatigue, but Rodney beat him to it. "No, I don't think so. Teyla?"
She shook her head. "I am quite full."
"Good. John and I actually have to, uh -- we have something to do."
This was news to John, who'd been looking forward to heading home and crashing. He fought down the prickle of irritation and grabbed the check before Teyla could pick it up.
"John -- "
"Nah, we got it." He fished a credit card out of his wallet and noted idly that the leather was getting worn.
Teyla surrendered with good grace. "I'll get it next time I'm in town."
"You bet," John said. "I'm even looking forward to getting my ass kicked again."
"Where are we going?" John reached for the radio, but Rodney swatted his hand away, then turned on the interstate in the wrong direction. "And why isn't it home?
"Will you stop repeating yourself and just tell me where we're going?"
Rodney ignored him instead, which John didn't find any less irritating. Exits and billboards flashed by as John stared out of the window, feeling his confusion and exhaustion simmer and build into a snarling bad mood.
"Look. This is stupid. Tell me what's going on." Rodney took the next exit, and they still weren't anywhere John recognized.
"John, if you'd just wait--"
John smacked the car door with the side of his hand. "I'm tired. I worked hard on this concert, and I want to go home. You've been in a shitty mood for weeks, bitching at me all the time, you won't tell me what's wrong, and now you won't even tell me where we're going. So no, I won't just wait!"
"Fine," Rodney snapped, bringing the car to a sudden halt. "We're here. There you go."
It took a second for comprehension to set in, and then John took a look around. They were parked outside one of the smaller airfields in town. A couple of hangars to his left cast shadows over the field, on which several planes were parked.
Disbelieving, John fumbled for the door handle and stepped out of the car. He took a few steps up to the fence and heard Rodney come up behind him.
"That one," Rodney said, and his pointing finger appeared in front of John's face. “Yes, I know it doesn’t involve hitting anything with sticks, but it, um... it seats two people.”
“And I’ll have to break my usual rule of not traveling in anything that doesn’t have six redundant safety systems, but I figure I can trust you not to do anything stupid, since you’ll be in it too.”
"Jesus," John breathed. "You...you bought me a plane?" He was almost too overwhelmed to look at Rodney, but he turned his head, and Rodney was smiling. Not a big stupid grin, but a sweet and secret smile just for John, without a trace of smugness in it.
John wrapped his arms around Rodney and buried his face in his shoulder. "Thank you," he mumbled against Rodney's neck.
"You're still an asshole," John said, feeling a knot of tension between his shoulders relax at the thought of him and Rodney, surrounded by nothing but sky.
Rodney's arms tightened around him, warm and strong. "You too."