Title: The Bar
Author: Audrey Lynne
Pairing: Rodney/Radek (later on, mostly in part 2). Mild, first-time (before the first date actually...I'll rectify that in future tales ;))
Summary: Sure, the place was a dive, but that was part of its charm. If it had been classier, it wouldn't have been as much fun.
AU in which Rodney plays piano, John tends bar, Teyla and Ronon run the joint, and they've got some seriously cool regulars, from diplomats to doctors to cute, scruffy engineering professors. :)
Warnings: Mention of a past het relationship, but beyond that its an AU, nothing else.
Disclaimer: Not mine, all hail MGM.
Notes: Inspired by listening to Billy Joel way too damned much. This is slash-lite...no kissing, yet. (Unfortunately. :)) But it's my first slash story for Rodney/Radek, so I'm pretty proud of it. I may have to rectify the lack of kissing in future stories, but it just didn't fit this one.
Rodney had often wondered at the bar's name, until the current owners had explained to him that the previous owner had a fondness for Greek mythology. When he had decided to sell the place, two of his employees had conspired to buy it. They had never changed the name, and for the past five years, Teyla Emmagan and Ronon Dex had been owning and running the bar; she kept her old position as a barmaid and he kept up with the stock and helped out on the floor. They were an interesting pair, Teyla and Ronon...while they might not have actually been married, they certainly acted like it. But it lent the place a fun atmosphere, and Rodney was all about fun atmospheres.
The bar didn't open until eight, and it never took long to get set up, so between seven-thirty and eight, Rodney usually hung out with his co-workers, catching up on each others' lives, as if they didn't see each other six nights a week. But the bar was one of Manhattan's best-kept secrets--perhaps not so different then from its mythological counterpart--and its clientele was small enough to keep Teyla and Ronon from needing any more than one extra bartender...and a piano player. Which was where Rodney came in. There was a jukebox in the corner, and it got some use, but Teyla had always appreciated live music, and Rodney had always appreciated having a job. The pay wasn't great, but the tips made up for it, and he had gotten to know the regular clientele. Others wandered in and out each night the bar was open, either curious travelers from the hotel across the street or people just wandering in for a drink, and they kept the financial situation afloat, but the handful of regulars Atlantis' atmosphere and staff had managed to cultivate were a lot of fun.
Rodney let himself in through the back door, as always, then shrugged off his coat and headed into the stockroom to hang it up. John Sheppard was waiting there for him, smirking in anticipation.
"What?" Rodney demanded. "It's not like I'm late. Have you been waiting here for me long?"
"Waiting for you?" John echoed. "Oh, hell, no. I'm waiting 'til its safe to go back out there." He gestured at the short hallway that led to the main bar. "No way am I gonna get called upon to mediate any disputes."
"Ah." Rodney smiled. "They arguing about the renovations again?" Ronon had been insisting for the past year that they really should renovate, maybe try to attract a larger crowd, but Teyla insisted that as long as they were keeping their heads above water financially, she liked things just the way they were. While Rodney and John knew it was to their benefit to remain neutral on the issue, Rodney secretly agreed with Teyla. Sure, it was a dive, but that was all part of its charm. If it had any more class, it wouldn't have been half as fun. Rodney had been working there for nearly two years, and it beat the hell out of some of the other gigs he'd had.
"Oh, yeah," John confirmed, sitting down on top of two large cases of beer. "They'll get it out of their systems in a couple of minutes and they'll settle down."
"They always do." Rodney settled in beside John, a stack of beer cases over. "So whatever happened with that chick you picked up Sunday night at the movie theater? Renee, I think you said her name was?"
"The one in
Rodney groaned. "I can't believe you're even trying to channel Billy Joel like that. Leave the musical references to me, will you? Aye yi yi...I think my head hurts now."
John chuckled unashamedly. "Nothing but class around here, Rodney. You know that." After a second, he looked contemplative. "I'm thinking of starting one of those blog things. I know we're not really busy, but if we changed everyone's names, we could share some of the things that go on here. I've been poking around online and apparently, they call them 'service blogs.' They seem to be pretty popular--waiters, waitresses, customer service people, barmaids and bartenders...."
"Actors, actresses, parents, kids, bored geeks with too much time on their hands," Rodney finished. "Everyone and their mother has a blog these days, John. If you want one go for it. But I warn you--those readers can be pretty picky, especially with the so-called service blogs. If it gets too good, people will accuse you of only using it as a vehicle to get a book deal."
John gave him a skeptical look. "And you know this how?"
"Because I have one," Rodney admitted, "and through the clever use of a handful of bored geeks with too much time on their hands, I've managed to get enough word out to get a small readership. And, no, I don't want a book deal." He frowned, lost in thought for a moment. "Wait a minute. I've already talked about you a couple of times--don't worry, they think your name is Jack. If you start a blog, I'll link it to mine, and we can build on that, make it one of the features."
John jumped on it almost immediately. "That sounds pretty cool. Jack, huh? Not much of a leap, there, but no one's ever called me Jack, so I guess it works. What do they call you?"
Rodney paused. He hadn't thought that far ahead when creating his online persona--it had never occurred to him anyone he actually worked with would be interested in it. "Um...Mer. It's something my sister used to call me."
John laughed. "Because your first name is really Meredith?"
Rodney sputtered. "How the hell did you find that out?!"
"It's on your paycheck," John reminded him, "which I had to you every two weeks, remember?" He looked way too smug.
"Whatever," Rodney growled. "If you must know, it's an old Welsh name that once was used exclusively for males. It means 'sea lord,' and since we work at a bar called Atlantis, it seemed appropriate to use it online." The rest of the time, he hated his first name, but no one online had to know that.
"Fair enough." Either John was smart enough not to tease Rodney over his name any further, or he was waiting for an occasion when he could do the most with whatever smartassed comments were floating around in his head. Somehow, Rodney suspected the latter. "So what do you call Atlantis, then?"
Rodney shrugged. "The Bar, like most of the other bar-blogs I've seen out there. If any of our regulars found the blog, they'd recognize it, but there's no need for anyone else to." Especially since some of their regulars worked in high-profile positions in their fields. What they did on their off-time was their business, but Rodney figured it was better safe than sorry.
"The Bar...original," John joked. "I think you're really onto something there."
Rodney gave him a look. "Hey, like I said, that part wasn't important. Besides, might I remind you that we're currently sitting atop two stacks of beer cases in the storeroom of a dive named Atlantis while we wait for the power couple out there to finish arguing about whether or not to renovate said dive?"
"True," John allowed. He was quiet for another second. "I don't hear them anymore--I think they're done. He hopped down to the floor and headed out into the hallway, glancing behind him as if to see if Rodney was going to follow. "What'd you call them?"
"Um, Leilani and Keanu," Rodney admitted.
"Keanu?" John echoed. "Like Keanu Reeves?"
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Yes, I know, but they're Hawaiian and I was looking for a couple of Hawaiian names, okay? Those two simply happened to be at the top of the list I found in my web search."
John chuckled. "Well, I guess Ronon is built like an action hero...."
Somehow, Rodney doubted John was going to let this go anytime soon. But he didn't have too much longer to worry about it, because they had to get set up for the evening. It was Friday, most of their regulars would be in--and while they were never terribly busy, there were always good times to be had around Atlantis.
The hour was typically slow, even by Atlantis' standards, but things picked up after nine. The jukebox was there if anyone wanted to use it, but when it wasn't active, Rodney was playing, and the clientele turned out to be more interested in Rodney that particular evening--which he never argued with. The more he played, the more he got in tips. None of the regulars had come in yet, but it was early in the evening for that. Most of them actually did go home and have dinner before wandering in, especially since Atlantis didn't have a kitchen. There were pretzels sitting out on the bar if someone wanted a snack, and that was just the way things were. The only people who ever complained about the lack of a menu were the business travelers who wandered in from the hotel across the street, and there had never been enough complaints from any of them to get Teyla or Ronon seriously thinking about it. Good thing, too, because the ongoing debate of "to renovate or not to renovate" was enough to keep them busy.
Rodney didn't sing, and he was sure no one wanted him to, but sometimes if the song was popular, the small crowd in the bar would begin to sing along themselves--or if Teyla had a free couple of minutes, sometimes she wandered over to the piano for a song or two. She was actually a really good singer, and Rodney was happy to provide her accompaniment, but she had found life as a barmaid--and eventually bar owner--had been a lot better about getting her bills paid than working as a lounge singer. At least Atlantis afforded her the opportunity to exercise her vocal talents now and then.
Ever since John's "Uptown Girl" crack earlier, Rodney had been resisting the urge to play "Piano Man." He knew no one would complain if he did, but he and John had long ago tweaked the lyrics to fit Atlantis better, and once Teyla had figured them out, they had always reserved that particular song for much later in the evening, when most of the customers either knew Atlantis well or were too drunk to care, because the new version of the song had become their own. Maybe later. It was Friday, after all--the weekend crowd was always a little livelier. In the meantime, Rodney settled for "Always a Woman." He didn't have any particular woman in mind, but someone in the bar might well have, because every time he played it, Rodney always noticed someone looking a little wistful.
Just as Rodney was wrapping up on "Always a Woman"--and this time Mr. Wistful was the guy in the expensive-looking suit who said he was in town from Detroit for a conference--the bell over the door jangled to announce another customer. The noise level was actually low enough for Rodney to be able to hear it, and he waved as he saw the woman who had just walked in. "Hey, Liz," he greeted her as she passed him on her way to the bar. "How's it going?"
Elizabeth Weir smiled wearily. "Don't ask, Rodney. I swear, some days, I'm ready to just throw up my hands and let some of these people blow themselves up."
Rodney grinned. "And that's exactly why I never went into politics. I would have let them."
"You would've taught them how," John called from the bar, grinning evilly.
"Probably," Rodney admitted cheerfully, taking a sip of his beer before he started on the next song. Simply because he had tired of the academic world and returned to his first love, music, didn't mean he had abandoned the skills his time in science had imparted to him. Hell, he had built a working model of an atomic bomb at twelve. He didn't need constant accolades from the scientific community to know he was a genius. It was all the other people who weren't geniuses who thought they were that had pissed him off. John understood. He had been a hotshot pilot until some incident in Afghanistan had gotten him in a lot of trouble. Apparently, he had been offered a way out, one that would have let him keep his career, but he had turned it down, saying he didn't want anything to do with an establishment that wanted to punish him for trying to save a buddy. Rodney didn't know all of the details, but he suspected it was a lot like Liz's work at the UN--even if he had the clearance to know everything, he was probably a lot better off because he didn't.
Liz sank down onto one of the barstools with a sigh. "It's been a long week, boys--give me something good."
"Bacardi and Coke?" John suggested, reaching for a glass. "Heavy on the Bacardi?"
That got a smile out of her. "You know me too well, John."
"I make it a point to know my people," John replied, flipping the glass onto the counter with practiced ease. He waved Liz off as she reached for her purse. "Forget it. This one's on the house."
"You don't have to do that," Liz protested.
"Of course I don't," John drawled, laying on the charm as he filled her glass, "but I want to. And as Teyla is so fond of telling me, a free drink now and then helps to keep the good customers coming back--and you are one of the best."
Liz chuckled. "Well, thank you. I really do appreciate it--and flattery will get you everywhere."
"Oh, be as charming as you like," Rodney shouted to John, giving him a cheeky grin. "She's still not going to go out with you." Not that John had honestly been trying to pick up their favorite diplomat--or at least the only one who showed up at Atlantis with any regularity--but it was the principle of the matter. Working there wouldn't have been as much fun if they didn't tease each other as much as they did.
John gave as good as he got, and that was why he was so great to play with. "At least I've actually had a date in the past couple of months."
Rodney's expression was the epitome of smugness--he'd had a lot of practice--as he came back with, "Inflatable women don't count, John."
Liz laughed as she wrapped her hands around her glass. "Now, play nice, boys. It's still early."
She was right--it was only nine-thirty. If Rodney wasted his best snarkiness too soon, he wouldn't have anything left by the time rolled around. "Yes, Mom."
"So after eleven, I can kill him?" John asked, the perfect picture of innocence.
"Only if you want to do my job, too," Rodney countered.
Liz shook her head affectionately as she raised her glass to her lips and took a sip. She was a second too slow to hide her smile.
It was just after ten, and Rodney was taking a short break to finish his beer when he heard a familiar voice behind him. "I don't suppose you know how to play 'It's Raining Men' on that thing, do you?"
Rodney rolled his eyes, shaking his head slowly. He glanced over his shoulder. "You know, the fact that you even asked that question...that just tells me way too much about your personal life, Beckett."
Carson Beckett shrugged gamely and walked around to the front of the piano. "Oh, come on, Rodney." Rodney wasn't sure what Carson was talking about until Carson's gaze wandered to the drink in Rodney's hand. "Still drinking that Canadian beer?"
Rodney had known Carson since before he'd come to Atlantis, and in fact, he was the one who had convinced Carson to come on down and check out the joint sometimes. Sometimes, it was a blast having a friend who was one of the regulars. Carson lived close enough that sometimes he showed up if he had nothing better to do than to make Rodney's night more interesting--as if Rodney needed any help in that regard. "In case you haven't noticed, I'm Canadian. I never did develop a taste for American beer."
"Aye, the stuff's like water," Carson agreed.
Rodney could see where this was going--the same place it always did. "And I'm not going to take up drinking Scotch, either, so you can forget that right now. Some of us actually have to work for a--until ." He'd been about to say "work for a living," but Carson actually did work days in the ER at St. Luke's, so Rodney wasn't about to win any argument about their chosen occupations. Not that winning was ever the point when it came to their banter.
Apparently realizing that he wasn't going to get the rise out of Rodney he wanted, at least not at that exact moment, Carson waved cheerily and wandered off to greet the others. He'd be back by, Rodney knew, and he'd probably be up to something. That was why he was Rodney's friend. Rodney had always been suspicious of people who were too nice, too sweet, too anything, no doubt because his father had been that way in public. Everyone back home had always wondered how Dr. McKay managed to be such a perpetual ray of sunshine to everyone he came in contact with--Rodney had always privately wished all those people could see what happened when his kid screwed up behind closed doors, when the parental arguments started, everything. Thus, Rodney had always been leery of facades. Be who you were going to be, he said, and if anyone didn't like it, screw 'em.
There were times Rodney wondered where he was going with his life. Sure, the piano had always been his first love, and he was lucky to have the job he did, but did he want to spend the rest of his life playing in a dive--or any bar? Did he want to try to pick up the classical music again and play concert halls? His ego did, but his ego also occasionally wanted him to go back to his physics background and get his doctorate--though he probably knew more than most people who had one. Sure, he was capable of Nobel-level work, but did he really want to deal with the same idiots who had convinced him to leave in the first place? No, and that was what had kept him where he was thus far--but it was nice to have options. The only scientist Rodney had spent any reasonable amount of time socializing with since he'd left the academic world was Radek Zelenka, the Czech professor from NYU who frequented Atlantis. He was okay, because he didn't like dealing with the idiots either--he had just learned to put up with it a bit better than Rodney ever had. More power to him, Rodney thought. Rodney always liked hearing the stories Radek arrived with, especially since he got a little thrill out of knowing exactly what the man was talking about.
Speaking of Radek, it was Friday, so he would probably be arriving soon. He always came latest, usually because he had been in his office working on something or other, forgotten the time, dashed home to change and actually eat something, and then come by Atlantis. Rodney understood--he'd been the same way, once. When he had been working on a project, it had been hard to pay attention to things like the clock. Sometimes it still was--he kept a few small projects around the house, just to keep his hand in, nothing big but maybe he could make something of them someday. Of all the regulars, from all their walks of life, Rodney had to admit he was most fascinated by Radek, but Rodney attributed that to their similar backgrounds. He hadn't told Radek of his history--no need to, really--but Radek seemed to sense that Rodney understood what he was talking about, because Radek's tales usually involved more technical detail when he chatted with Rodney. Or, hell, maybe he didn't sense anything, but he just appreciated having someone to talk to who didn't stop him for an explanation every couple of sentences. It was hard to tell sometimes.
Speak of the devil, Rodney thought with a smile as the door jangled again and, to his pleasant surprise, he saw that the incoming customer was Radek and not another of the business crowd from the hotel. They were generally well-mannered enough and they tipped well, but Rodney found them boring. Rodney glanced around. Carson and Liz were chatting over their respective drinks, with John playing the part of the sympathetic bartender, as usual. Ronon had disappeared to the back to restock, judging by the light in the storeroom, and Teyla was busy cleaning a recently-vacated table. Around the bar, a couple people sat here and there with their drinks, mostly the business crowd, and Rodney couldn't help but shake his head at the bizarre hominess of it all as he waved at Radek. "My God," he sighed to himself, "it's like a freakin' twenty-first century Cheers in here."
Radek had been close enough to hear him. "You know, that was the first American television show I saw--it was always on in reruns at the time I came home."
"Interesting," Rodney murmured.
Radek shrugged. "Not really."
Rodney inclined his head, conceding the point. "No, you're right. So how's NYU treating you?"
Radek rolled his eyes, accompanying the gesture with a heavy sigh, and Rodney perked up. That had been the right question to ask. "The university has been very good to me--if only they could find students who were not complete...oh, how do you say...?"
"Morons?" Rodney suggested.
"Not exactly the word I was looking for, but it will work," Radek replied. He gave Rodney a look of sheer frustration, his accent thickening slightly to accompany his mood. "Never again will I agree to teach a section of Basic Engineering. Graduate students, I said--at least they know the basics and want to be there. But these introductory sessions? Never again. Half of them do not even know their prime numbers!"
Rodney sensed a challenge. "Try me."
Radek looked surprised, then suspicious. "What?"
"Give me a number, any number. I'll tell you if its prime or not." He was feeling playful, and he still had a couple of minutes left on his break--more if the drunk idiot who had started "Stairway to Heaven" playing in its full seven-minute glory on the jukebox had set it to play more than once. It had happened before.
Radek's suspicion faded to amusement. "All right...say, four thousand twenty-one." A smirk crossed his lips as he waited for Rodney to answer.
Rodney laughed. "Oh, please, that's easy." He did the mental calculations again just to be sure--it had been awhile. Yes, just as he'd thought. "Not prime."
Radek jumped a little, blinking in surprise. His smirk melted into a pleased, if mildly astonished grin. "A guess?"
"Oh, hell, no. I did the math." Rodney crossed his arms over his chest, grinning triumphantly.
Radek looked even more impressed. "Then you are smarter than most of my students. You should get an engineering degree."
John laughed, leaning across the bar. "Don't let him fool you, Doc," he warned Radek. "The guy's got a master's in theoretical physics. He's taken people to the cleaners' in trivia games before."
Rodney hadn't thought it was possible for Radek to look any more surprised, but he managed to. "Truly?"
Well, after he'd been exposed, Rodney had to admit it--and, besides, he was damned proud of that degree, even if he didn't use it much. "Yeah."
"No offense, but then why are you working here?" Radek asked.
An expected question--and one Rodney had heard many times before. "Got tired of dealing with the fuckwads--the idiots who thought they knew everything, the jealous assholes who wanted to show me up, the professors who hated me because I didn't do things their way...you know the type."
"Yes, yes." Radek nodded sympathetically. "And so you learned to play piano, of all things?"
"No, I already knew how to play piano," Rodney explained. "Gave that up to chase science. Guess you could say I'm a man of many talents."
"I could," Radek allowed, "but I suspect it would not be good to feed your ego that way."
John snickered. "On behalf of everyone here, thank you."