Atlantis City Limits

Nov. 3rd, 2007 06:56 pm

Fandom: SG: Atlantis

Characters: John/Rodney

Rating: R

Warnings: Slash, language

Disclaimer: Not mine!

Summary: Of course, John's personal favorite nights are the ones where Rodney gets into it, where he takes one song and drags it out for an hour or more. Just playing with the notes and rhythm, building patterns and shapes that John can almost see, making them something original and perfect.

Author's Note: Fic set towards the end of season one, so definitely no spoilers. Mad love for anyone who gets the title. And I don't care what Rodney's music tutor said to him. At all.


On P3R-242, John comes in second place in a raffle held by the natives, and Rodney hits him. He glares, and rubs at his shoulder, but doesn't say a word about it. He understands McKay's frustration, even if he doesn't appreciate it being taken out on him.

Because the first place prize had been a fully charged ZPM, and all second place got was a lousy almost-guitar. Well, John revises, as the natives set the instrument in his lap, not exactly lousy. It's a beautiful thing, a piece of art all on its own. All dark, almost black wood, a long neck, gentle curves, perfectly tuned already, if the notes that fall from it when he strums his fingers over the strings are anything to go by.

He'd like to see if he could make it sing, but gets distracted. Ends up preventing a diplomatic incident when the natives finally get down to the auction part of the festivities, and for some reason assume that McKay and Teyla are for sale. The next few hours are considerably more stressful than he'd anticipated, and he's not sure how he manages to hang onto the not-a-guitar all the way back to the 'gate, but he does.

Later, at the debriefing, McKay snaps, "At least someone got something out of that cluster fuck," sneering down at the instrument, and John realizes for the first time how incredibly upset the other man is. He can count on one hand the number of times McKay's lowered himself to base profanity to express his displeasure.

Then again, Rodney's still got the collar the natives had slapped on him around his neck, too tight metal that's turned all the skin on his throat angry, violent red. Teyla's hiding hers with her hair until they can figure out a way to remove them that doesn't involve sawing through metal dangerously close to arteries, but Rodney can't hide his, and his fingers drift up to it every few minutes.

John figures that, really, the mission couldn't have gone any worse for McKay. He's surprised by the way that sours his stomach. He's even more surprised when he breaks into McKay's room later, while the other man is in the Infirmary bitching at Carson, and leaves the not-a-guitar on Rodney's bed.

Still, he's got a warm feeling in his chest when he leaves, like he did the right thing even if he doesn't know why.


He didn't expect to be thanked, and so he therefore isn't disappointed when the not-a-guitar is never mentioned again. Weeks pass, and it sort of just slip slides out of his mind, crowded out by more important things like the Wraith threat and then the Genii and he will never forget the way those people had looked at Rodney, like he was a piece of meat, something they wanted to use up and consume.

When he thinks about the not-a-guitar at all, it's to assume that Rodney traded it for contraband chocolate or hooch or something.

And so he's not really surprised when he's prowling the halls one night, far out from the center of the city, trying to clear his head and exhaust his body, and hears the soft, rhythmic rise and fall of a guitar. Whoever is playing is good, and John recognizes the tune, though he couldn't name it. He gravitates towards it instinctively, curious and noisy and bored.

He finds the crowd gathered outside one of the balconies before he finds the player. Or, rather, he supposes he finds them at the same time.

It's a handful of women, and he spots familiar faces in their midst, Kate whatever-her-last-name-is and that Japanese woman that works with Rodney, and, most surprisingly, Teyla. They're all sitting or standing on either side of the door, quiet, and contemplative, obviously listening to the music. For a long moment John just stares at them, because there's a strange, almost private quality to the scene.

He shakes himself free of the feeling, but still tries to keep his footsteps quiet as he makes his way towards the door. He just wants to know whose playing, tell them they're doing a good job, and then tease Rodney about giving the not-a-guitar to someone that could actually use it.

Teyla catches his arm before he can step through the door, drags him away from it and puts herself bodily in front of him. There is a curiously serious look on her face, bordering on anger or possibly frustration. She hisses, her voice low and barely audible, "We do not disturb him, and you should not either."

He raises his hands in a placating gesture, tries for a charming grin, but her expression doesn't thaw. She continues, her voice dropping even lower as everyone else watches them with big eyes and grim looks on their faces, "He would stop, if he knew we were here, and so we are quiet and still and gone as soon as he finishes. Do you understand?"

This time he bobs his head, and makes a zipping motion across his mouth to show that he's serious. It's only then that she lets go of him, and he wonders if she left bruises in his skin. It's easy to forget how strong she is, right up until she wants to remind you.

Around them the other women relax back into their previous positions, and John leans against the wall beside Teyla and tries not to feel weird. He knows he could just leave, but the music is very soothing, and John's always liked live bands. Eventually he just closes his eyes and pretends that there's nothing odd about this at all.

He thinks it's been close to a half an hour when the last notes softly fade off, and just like that the women are on their feet and scrambling. He doesn't think he's ever seen some of them move that fast, and opens his mouth to express his awe when Teyla grabs him again and drags him down the hall.

He's breathing hard and she's even almost flushed by the time they throw themselves into one of the elevators, and he bends over to catch his breath, and waves a finger at her. "Okay. Okay. What the hell? Who are we running from, anyway?"

She looks down at him like he's stupid, which isn't exactly new or remarkable on its own. Even her voice is faintly disapproving, like a parent forced to explain something that their child should have been able to figure out on its own, "Dr. McKay, of course."


So, it takes a few times of ambushing Teyla in the halls and dragging her to somewhere private to talk before he gets the whole story. This is harder than it sounds, mostly because it's next to impossible to ambush Teyla, and he's half-sure that she's taking pity on him and just letting him think that he is.

Still, it's worth it to get some answers. To find out that Rodney's been playing the not-a-guitar since literally the day after John left it in his room, as far as Teyla is aware. That she caught him playing in his room that day, when she had come to retrieve him to tell him that Radek had discovered a way to remove the collars.

She tells him that Rodney had been highly agitated to be discovered with the instrument, that he'd been flustered and alternatively stammering and silent all the way to the labs. That he'd made her promise not to tell anyone what she'd seen, or even what she'd heard, which at the time she hadn't understood. Apparently, not many of her people were musically gifted, and she did not understand Rodney's reluctance to share his gift.

But she'd respected his wish, even if his subsequent relief had only puzzled her more.

She hadn't heard Rodney playing again until almost a week later, when she and one of her people had been exploring the outlying areas of the city where John had found them all earlier. They had stayed and listened, silent and unnoticed, and fled as soon as Rodney finished.

After that word had started slowly getting around. She blamed her companion for not being able to keep his mouth shut, and seemed genuinely upset that Rodney's wishes were being violated by so many people listening to him play. But, as she'd also pointed out, the need for recreation was great, and growing bigger everyday, and what Rodney didn't know wouldn't hurt him.

John thinks maybe he should put a stop to it, but instead just shows up the next night, sinks down beside Teyla and listens with the rest of them.


If you'd asked John a month ago what kind of music Rodney McKay would like he'd have said classical or opera or possibly techno. But most of the songs Rodney plays he recognizes. Guitar riffs from the rock geniuses, including a re-imagining of The Wall that is both bizarre and really, really cool. Eagles songs and Hendricks and the first time John hears the opening notes of Smoke on the Water he grins huge in spite of himself.

Rodney ends up out on the balcony almost every night, and his crowd of fans increases at an exponential rate. John starts thinking he should charge admittance when he counts twenty people and the next night there are twenty-six. He does take some small measure of relief at no longer being the only man in the audience, and is even more relieved when a handful of nervous Lieutenants show up one night, led by Ford.

It goes on like that, till there's an insane amount of people showing up every night. He wonders if half of them even know who they're listening to, if they even care. He doubts it. Because Teyla was right, they're all starved for entertainment, hungry for something to distract them from the impossible stress of their day to day life.

Probably, they would have come even if the music wasn't very good. Which it is. Rodney's either got pages of music out there or a better memory than John ever gave him credit for, because he hits all the right notes, has all the right timing.

Of course, John's personal favorite nights are the ones where Rodney gets into it, where he takes one song and drags it out for an hour or more. Just playing with the notes and rhythm, building patterns and shapes that John can almost see, making them something original and perfect.

Rodney's playing Freebird one night, been playing it for over forty minutes, when John realizes he's swaying slowly back and forth, rocking himself to the music. He startles out of the almost daze he'd been in, blinks and looks up to find Teyla smiling at him softly. Around them most of the others are moving as well, eyes closed, little smiles on their faces.

John wishes, absurdly, for a lighter.


It's some kid that messes it all up. John's vaguely sure she's from the botany department, completely sure that he's seen her at each and every one of Rodney's impromptu concerts. He's out of it, rocking back and forth to the music, eyes closed, and he only realizes that the entire thing is about to go all to shit when she accidentally kicks his leg on her way towards the balcony.

John has time to panic, and make a desperate grab for her, but by that time she's already through the door and John's scrambling to his feet. He rushes through after her, thinking about damage control and giving everyone else enough time to get away, and freezes in shock the instant he's on the balcony.

He'd thought, the first time that he found the crowd gathered here, that there was a sort of solemn privacy about them. But it's nothing compared to the atmosphere on the balcony.

Rodney's sitting, leaning against the wall, legs folded, instrument cradled in his lap. He's got his head bowed, his eyes closed, his bottom lip drawn into his mouth in concentration. John can see the other man's shoes and socks, kicked off, laying in a messy pile with his work jacket and his radio. Can hear, this close, that Rodney is mumbling under his breath, the song's lyrics, covered over by the music.

He's not sure why it makes his breath snag in his throat, why it makes his heart stutter, but it does. Suddenly he doesn't want anyone to see this, wants it to be his and his alone, and he wonders if that's how Teyla's felt all this time.

He's still caught up in this, frozen by the surprising swell of emotion, when the girl sighs wistfully and steps closer to Rodney, her footsteps startlingly loud.

And that's it. Rodney's fingers trip over the strings, turning Stairway to Heaven into a discordant mess. He jerks his head up, and in an instant John can see nothing but naked hurt and betrayal in Rodney's painfully wide, painfully blue eyes. It tightens his chest up even further, makes him want to rush forward and shield Rodney, makes him want to scream at everyone outside to leave, to just leave right now, wants to, briefly, push this girl over the side of the balcony.

She's saying, her voice low and naked with want, "Please, don't stop."

John watches Rodney's expression shut down, close off. All that open vulnerability is gone, is smothered beneath a cold, furious expression and the defiant tilt of his chin. He's shoving himself to his feet, snatching up his jacket and shoes, lips pressed thin and tight. Rodney snarls, "Well I hope you're amused. Get a good laugh in, did you? Is this, what, your first date? Is mocking me first on the agenda, or am I just the crowning gem? Huh? You can go to hell, both of you."

John tries to make his mouth work, but can't do anything but stare, mute as Rodney stalks towards him. At first he thinks McKay's going to hit him, that maybe he deserves it, but Rodney just shoves the not-a-guitar into his hands, spits up into his face, "I should have known better, I should have known that-"

And then he cuts himself off, tilts his jaw up even higher, and marches stiff backed out of the room. There's no screams, no sound at all from the hallway and so John figures that everyone else must have escaped.

The girl sags against the railing, sounds sick when she groans, "Oh my God." John leaves her there.


He expects Rodney to make his life hell, after that, but he doesn't. Rodney instead acts like nothing at all happened, he makes all the same jokes, acts like the same Rodney, but there's a coldness right under the surface that's somehow worse than an explosion would have been. So very much worse, because sometimes he hears Rodney humming, or catches him twisting his fingers against imaginary strings and feels the swell of lose choking his breath off in his throat.

He even walks in on the girl trying to apologize to Rodney one night. He tries to back out of the room before he's noticed, but Rodney spots him, focuses on him above the girl's head and says, "Oh, don't worry about it. I know it wasn't your fault. I'm sure Sheppard would have just found someone else to share his fun with if it wasn't you."

And Rodney's still looking at him, eyes narrowed to slits, arms crossed like a protective shield over his chest. John backs out of the room, sick and furious, though he doesn't know if it's at Rodney or himself, or that poor little besotted girl back there.

He keeps the not-a-guitar in the corner of his room, afraid to touch it. Watches it gather dust, and thinks about the way Rodney had been curled around it, the way his fingers had flowed over the strings, the way John had been able to see just the tip of his tongue in the corner of his mouth.

Sometimes he dreams about it, and in the dreams Rodney's always playing on his bed. He's always playing some song that's just slightly out of focus, always with that same look of open concentration on his face. And John always remembers locking the door, watching Rodney and ignoring the pleas outside the door, as everyone else begs to be let in.


A month later they're on M4R-298, and things are looking depressingly grim. He'd managed to put his foot in his mouth, with the Chief's daughter no less. And that, coupled with Rodney's characteristic people skills, had ended with them tied up and under very angry guard.

Teyla is fidgeting beside him, and John hisses out of the corner of his mouth, "Is there a reason you're doing the jitterbug over there?" This earns him a dirty look from a guard, and John tries a disarming smile that he feels doesn't exactly work.

Teyla hisses back between gritted teeth, "There is a reason I was reluctant to trade with these people. They have very...strict penalties for infractions. We must get out of here. Soon." And John feels the bottom plummet out of his stomach.

And on his other side Rodney snorts, says with no regard for volume, "This is just great. I'm going to be killed by the Clan of the Cavebear." John still winces when one of the guards steps forward and slams the butt of his staff into Rodney's mid section. He lunges forward, forgets completely about the fact that he's tied to a tree, snarling. The guard laughs.

John has a feeling that the beating would have continued, but at that moment the Chief saunters up. The man looks infernally smug, and John tugs harder against his bonds, feels Teyla increase her efforts beside him. The Chief stops in front of them, hands behind his back, and John has the feeling that he's trying very hard not to bounce up and down with glee. John drawls, "What's up, big guy?"

The Chief's expression momentarily sours, and then he smoothes it over again. "We have decided to give you a chance to redeem yourselves. We will let you go if you can complete the Ritual of Amsheeer." And John pauses for a moment over the pronunciation of the last word, because he hadn't realized it was possible to roll e's.

Then he rolls his head to look at Teyla for explanation. She looks vaguely amused, and shrugs when he arches an eyebrow at her. Then she shifts her gaze back to the Chief and says, "We will complete the Ritual, but I need to speak with our representative first, if that is acceptable to you."

And when the Chief shrugs and acquiesces to the request, John is not as surprised as he should be when she requests Rodney to be released and draws him off to the side. John can't hear the conversation, but he can see the way Rodney stiffens up, the way he literally almost flinches at her words. But in the end Rodney nods, almost tiredly, and the guards lead him and Teyla away.

Ford sighs, says, "Sir, I think we might be screwed."


An hour later they're untied and the guards drag them into the middle of the village. They're forced down in front of a fire, and John can feel the cold press of the spearhead against the back of his neck. He still almost surges to his feet when Rodney is pushed forward at spear point, only remembers himself when Ford elbows him hard in the side.

Rodney's staring hard at the ground, holding an instrument painfully similar to the not-a-guitar at arms length, like it's burning him. A second later Teyla gets shoved down beside John, and the guards finally get Rodney situated where, apparently, they want him. The Chief steps up behind him, waves a hand, says, "Your allotted time starts now."

There's a long moment where Rodney just stares blankly at the instrument in his hands, and then he's shifting his hold on it, cradling it to his chest. Rodney drags his fingers across the strings, and it makes a sound like a cat being strangled and he can hear Rodney's bitter curse from here. He opens his mouth, meaning to call something reassuring, and this time it's Teyla that elbows him.

Rodney tilts his face up to the sky, and John can almost feel the sudden spike of violence in the air, almost taste the blood thirst building around them. And then Rodney is sinking down to his knees, cradling the instrument closer, bending his head and John can see his shoulders rise and fall as he swallows a deep breath.

This time when Rodney moves his fingers it's painfully beautiful. And John looks away, because it's so nakedly private, so obviously something that no one is supposed to see that he can't bear it. He closes his eyes and listens and feels like even that might be a violation.

When the song winds down, when the last notes fade into silence, John dares look up, and finds the village deserted. He's still blinking, trying to figure out what's going on when Rodney hurls the not-a-guitar into the fire and then stumbles over to them, cuts them free.

He's surprised when the first thing Teyla does is throw her arms around Rodney, is pull him into a tight hug that he doesn't quiet respond to. She is murmuring into Rodney's shoulder, "I had no doubt that you would succeed, Rodney. It was exceedingly lovely."

Rodney's already shaking his head, pulling away from her, his hands fluttering around helplessly. It's the most agitated that John's seen him for a long time, the most obviously upset. Rodney snaps, bending over John to cut him free, "You said I had to make them cry, you didn't say they had to be tears of joy."

And John reaches out, aiming for Rodney's shoulder and missing when the other man moves, ends up with his palm pressed over Rodney's collar bone, his fingers dragging across his neck. He says, "Rodney, wait, listen-"

Rodney jerks away, face dark and stormy, moves on to Ford and then stomps away. John grits his teeth, punches the ground, and Teyla's hand is warm and comforting on his shoulders, her voice soft and gentle, "Now is not the time, Major. Give him time to put his pain away again, before you make him speak of it."


In the end, it's Rodney that finds him. McKay shows up in his doorway two nights later, pushing into the room before John has time to even say hello. He freezes two steps into the room, and John follows his gaze to the not-a-guitar, sitting sad and disused against the wall. "Rodney-" and then he forgets what he was going to say, because Rodney reaches out and gathers the instrument up, walks over to the bed like he's in a daze and sits down slowly.

And John locks the door, feeling like he's moving through molasses, and then turns and focuses all his attention on Rodney.

Rodney's using John's sheets to wipe the dust off the not-a-guitar, still moving slowly and carefully. John waits, watches, feeling something tighten in his chest, warmth low in his gut. Finally, after what feels like a small eternity, Rodney sets the instrument aside, looks up at John and the intensity of his gaze makes John suck in a quick, desperate breath.

"Teyla told me the truth. About what you-you voyeurs had been doing. She seems to think that I should be flattered or something but-" Rodney sighs, rubs a hand up over his face, "It doesn't matter. Anyway. I just wanted to tell you that I know you weren't intentionally being an ass, sometimes you just can't help yourself."

When Rodney stands he leaves the not-a-guitar behind, and it looks small and abandoned on the sheets. Hell, the bed looks small and abandoned without Rodney in it. Looks empty and John wants it to be full, so desperately it hurts. Says, "You could play for me." Because it's the first thing that pops into his head that might make Rodney stay a few minutes longer.

Rodney flinches, crossing and uncrossing his arms. When he speaks his voice is almost painfully tense, "I don't like being mocked."

"No one's mocking you, Rodney. You're good. That's all." Rodney snorts, but he's not leaving, not running out of the room like it's on fire. He lets the moment stretch, lets Rodney think it over and prays that he sits back down, prays that he gathers the not-a-guitar back up and strums.

And then Rodney looks at him, really looks at him, and John realizes too late that he's let all his emotions show on his face. Rodney blinks, jerks back like he's been slapped, and John tries to wipe his face clean, tries to push back the swell of emotion in his throat.

Rodney's still staring at him when he sinks back down onto the bed, and it takes every last bit of self control in John's head to stop from crossing the room to him. It gets impossibly harder when Rodney pulls the instrument into his lap, and draws his legs up, when he closes his eyes and starts playing.

And the shreds of the John's self control blow to the winds. Rodney startles, misses a few notes when John slides down beside him, when John walks on his knees till he's behind Rodney and then sits down, his legs on either side of Rodney's hips, chest pressed up against Rodney's back. He lets his chin rest on the other man's shoulder, can feel the faint shiver through the other man's body.

It's what he's wanted to do since that night on the balcony. What he's needed to do. Wrap himself around Rodney while he's like this, lock him here where he's safe, and let him play. He keeps his eyes open, on the door, just in case, and feels Rodney relax into him, feels it in his chest when Rodney starts humming, starts mumbling along with the music.

He's not sure how long they sit like that before Rodney's fingers still, before he raises his head and John turns instinctively towards the curve of his neck. Rodney's swallows, John can feel the motion across his lips, can feel the other man speaking, "Is that-are you-"

And John shifts his hips, grinds his erection against Rodney's spine in answer. John says, "Okay?" punctuates the question by tracing his tongue in a slow circle across Rodney's pulse point. And in answer Rodney just tilts his head further back, carefully sets the not-a-guitar aside, and it's natural for John to slide his hand forward, around the curve of Rodney's stomach and he grinds against Rodney again when he cups the other man's erection. "Christ, Rodney. Want you in the worst way."

"Standing in a hammock?" Rodney's voice is hoarse, but the fact that he can think of witty comebacks at all is kind of not what John was going for. He gets his other hand under Rodney's shirt, flattened against skin, wonderful warm skin, slides his hand up and feels Rodney's sharp intake of breath.

And then Rodney pushes back into him, and John groans, tries to muffle the sound against Rodney's neck. His fingers curl automatically, blunt fingernails dragging across Rodney's chest, and he wants to swallow down the sound Rodney makes. He's scrambling at Rodney's zipper with his other hand, needing, wanting, almost shaking with it.

Rodney reaches up, gets a hand around the back of his head, drags and pulls John down while twisting his own head back and to the side. The kiss is wet and open mouthed, is Rodney dragging John's bottom lip into his mouth and winding his fingers tighter into John's hair. His other hand is clenching and unclenching on John's thigh, sliding higher each second.

John's not sure if the tiny, needy sounds are coming from his throat or Rodney's. He's not sure it matters. Just knows he wants and he's so goddamn hard, and so is Rodney, waiting for him when he finally manages to get the other man's pants open.

The first stroke, just slow up and down and dragging his palm over the head of Rodney's cock, has Rodney's mouth falling open and slack against his, has Rodney straining up into his touch, digging his fingers into John's thigh. He grinds against Rodney's back again, gets a rhythm going finally, gets a leg hooked over Rodney's and tugs it sideways, tugs Rodney's legs apart and God.

He feels like a goddamn teenager, rutting like this. Especially when they're on a bed, when he could lean over and drag them down and do this right. But this is what he wants, what he needs, right now, and Rodney doesn't seem to mind.

He jacks Rodney, quick and dirty, thrusting up against him, dragging his hand across all the skin he can reach. Rodney's sucking on his tongue, biting and nipping at John's lips, grabbing at what's available from his limited position.

And then Rodney's jerking, bowing up, gasping into John's mouth, "God, oh God, oh Christ, oh John." And Rodney's rolling his head back even farther, and John kisses what he can reach, closes his teeth and lips over Rodney's pulse point and bites and sucks. Feels Rodney jerk again, body quaking with the aftershocks.

He pushes, shoves, grinds, his body one more time against Rodney, and tightens his hold desperately on Rodney when he comes.

And afterwards he lets them slide sideways, lets the softness of the mattress catch them. He's panting, can feel Rodney panting, wipes his hand on Rodney's pants and ignores the mumbled protest from the other man.

It's the work of a minute to get Rodney, loose and boneless, onto his back, to get Rodney's pants off and then his own, which, God, he can't even remember the last time he came in his pants. He's pretty sure it's been over twenty years. And that's about all he has energy for before he flops down across Rodney's chest, orders the lights to dim, and falls into a deep, dreamless sleep.


He wakes up to the familiar opening cords of Hotel California, and a warm weight against his side. Rodney's sitting cross legged beside him, the not-a-guitar in his lap. It's still dark outside, and John rubs at his face, mumbles, "Time is it?"

Rodney shrugs, the movement transfers itself directly into John's body and does interesting things to his gut. "Late. Early." And John thinks that it must be an improvement that Rodney says this while still absently strumming, that he's not tensing up against John now that he knows he's being listened to.

"You okay?"

Another shrug, and then Rodney is very carefully setting the not-a-guitar down. There's a moments silence before Rodney reaches back and places a hand in the center of John's chest. He says, "I want to have sex again." And then, "I mean, wait, hold on, I know you're tired, and I didn't mean right now. Unless you want to have sex right now. I just-" and Rodney pauses long enough to take a deep breath, "I would like to have sex again. With you. On a regular basis."

And there's that pressure in his chest again. He grins, rolls against Rodney, says, "Now is good."

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