by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: This is unbetaed and written in less than a day, so please forgive me if it kind of sucks. I just had a bunny and had to write it. Inspired by, but in no way shape or form connected to, Mice's "Moment Sacred and Profane #8"

Some day people would actually listen to what he said and not skip right to what they thought he meant. After all, if life on other planets really existed and something as (formerly) theoretically impossible as a practical wormhole was a reality, anything was possible, right?

Right, Rodney thought, unrolling the small black cylinder he'd stashed in an innocuous corner of his quarters, but given past evidence, it's sure not going to be any time soon. Laid flat, the black cylinder was revealed to be a portable keyboard. Finding the appropriate port, Rodney plugged a pair of speakers into it.

It was a synthesizer, not a piano, and the sound wasn't great, but it made music. He'd once told the lovely Samantha Carter that he'd been advised to quit playing piano, that he had no sense of the art. She'd gone ahead and assumed that the young Rodney had been devastated by the criticism and given up at once, that he'd replaced music with science.

He hadn't.

Oh, he'd taken the criticism at face value and found another career path, another dream to pursue, but music had never lost that perfect order. The fact that he wasn't really any good at it didn't mean he enjoyed it any less. At least when he was alone.

Which was why he'd checked the soundproofing on these quarters before claiming them for his own, and why he usually played in the middle of the night, when people were unlikely to drop by, and why he'd smuggled the keyboard through the gate and (officially) used his "personal item" to bring more lab equipment.

There'd been no space to bring musical scores, but he had a dozen memorized if he wanted them, and a hundred more on his computer. Data didn't take up any extra space and they'd brought plenty of empty storage devices, knowing how much data they were likely to generate during their stay in Atlantis. One extra file hadn't been noticed.

But tonight he didn't want to play some composition he'd heard done better by a dozen other people. Tonight he didn't want the music in the air to pale next to the music in his memory. Instead he cracked his knuckles--a melodramatic habit he'd developed early and never bothered to break--and played one of his own songs.

This composition had never been anything but clinical and Rodney rather thought it suited him. He'd started it when they came to Atlantis and added a few bars almost every day. Most of it was played in the bass end of the keyboard, but there were moments when it lightened up and became almost playful. There were no critics around to say otherwise, anyway.

The door chime broke his concentration, a misplaced note among the rest. Rodney froze and the music died. The door chime sounded again. Cursing under his breath, he shoved the keyboard to the floor, dropped some dirty clothes over it and leaped for the door before whoever was out there started wondering what the delay was.

"Carson," Rodney said a little breathlessly. "What are you doing here?"

"I couldn't sleep," the doctor said, "and since you're usually awake later than anyone else--Rodney, why are you so out of breath?"

"Oh," Rodney took a couple of deep breaths and brought it under control. "You startled me, that's all. I kind of leapt for the door."

Carson raised his eyebrows. "I rang twice. That's a slow leap."

"Well, you know better than anyone that I'm not in the best shape," Rodney laughed weakly and backed away from the door. It would look odd if he didn't let his friend in.

"Were you working?" Carson asked casting a casual eye over his quarters.

"No. Just...sitting up. You know. Contemplating...possibilities. Theories. Stuff."

Rodney was vibrantly aware he'd gone inarticulate, something that usually happened when he was facing certain death. Or was just really, really nervous. From the way Carson was looking at him, he was aware of it, too. "Then why have you got a pair of speakers sitting out in the middle of your desk?" The doctor's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "And why aren't they connected to anything?"

"Just clutter," Rodney protested.

"Come on, Rodney," Carson wheedled. "Almost no one on this team thought to bring along any real entertainment. We've even all but worn out Major Sheppard's football video. If you've got a film, an album, a single song, it'd be a humanitarian act to share."

For once, he didn't have to be nervous about this answer. "No," Rodney said firmly, "I haven't got anything like that."

But Carson's attention had already gone to the suspiciously concentrated pile of dirty clothes. "What's this?" he asked, a twinkle in his eye.

"Carson, don't--" Rodney lurched forward, a hand outstretched to stop his friend from shifting the pile, but it was too late. The keyboard lay there, surrounded by the sweat stained shirt and pants from his latest foray into the gym.

"I didn't know you could play," Carson said.

Rodney snatched the portable keyboard up off the floor and briskly started rolling it up again. "I can't," he snapped.

"Then why did you bring a piano with you to a completely different galaxy?"

"Oh, for God's sake, Carson," Rodney glared at the doctor. "It's not a piano, it's a rolling keyboard. Just a synthesizer...and a pretty pathetic one at that." He dropped his gaze suddenly, only becoming aware of his white knuckled grip on the device when he saw his hands clutching it.

"Rodney," Carson said gently, laying a hand on his arm. McKay flinched and pulled his arm back, but his friend just reached out again and took a firmer grip. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Rodney muttered. He'd trotted out this sob story once before with a total lack of success. The stimulus had failed to produce the desired response. It didn't need to be repeated. It would, in fact, be redundant to conduct that particular experiment again.

He expected the doctor to push, like he always did. But what Carson actually said was, "Alright then. If you don't want to talk about it, maybe you'd like to play it."

"No!" Rodney shouted, and immediately winced at his own reaction. It was a reflex, I couldn't help it, he told himself miserably.

"I've already seen it. In for a penny, in for a pound, right?" Carson was coaxing him. Like skittish horse.

Rodney slammed the keyboard down on the desktop and unrolled it almost violently. "Fine," he said tightly, sitting. "You want me to play? I'll play." He plugged the speakers back in, his movements shaky and abrupt. Fine. He'd play and then Carson would never bug him about it again. And if he was going to be in for a pound, then he'd really be in for it. He'd play his own work.

The first few bars of the piece were necessarily staccato and sour. Rodney wasn't exactly being precise. But his perfectionism soon overtook his anger and the melody evened out and started sounding more like it was supposed to. He was a little over halfway through the composition when Carson brought a hand to rest on his shoulder.

Bowing his head a little, concentrating on the keys, Rodney wondered if Carson wanted him to stop already. But he hadn't said anything, so the scientist kept playing. The longer the hand remained on his shoulder, the harder he found it to ignore. Carson's touch seemed to radiate warmth. Rodney thought he might actually break into a sweat.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the song wasn't that long. Rodney ran out of notes and let his hands fall from the keys.

"Is that all?" Carson whispered.

Rodney swallowed the knot in his throat. "Yes," he said crisply. "That's all I've got. That's all I can do. Will you stop pestering me now that you know I'm not any good?"

He expected Carson to take his hand off his shoulder and leave. Instead his friend used the grip to turn Rodney around. "Not any good?" Carson looked and sounded genuinely bewildered. "I'll grant you started out a little rough, but I'm not surprised, you were so upset. By the end I was really enjoying it. It just sounded...unfinished."

"Oh." Rodney blinked. What was he supposed to say to that? "It is unfinished," he said, feeling a little foolish. "I've been writing it since we got to Atlantis. I guess it won't be done until we leave."

Carson looked so surprised, it was comical. "You wrote that?" He firmly turned Rodney back to the keyboard. "Play it again. I want to hear the first part played properly."

"You're sure?" Rodney asked, looking down at the flat, unprepossessing keyboard.

Carson pulled up a chair next to him, sitting so close that their thighs pressed together. "I'm sure."

So Rodney started playing over again. Somehow, with his friend's leg pressed up against his, it didn't seem so hard to find the life his teacher had told him ought to be there, in the music. It wasn't just vibrations in the air, it was a story he was telling his friend.

When he got to the end, Rodney discovered there were a few new bars to the song.