Pairing(s): Rodney McKay/Radek Zelenka, mention of John Sheppard/Elizabeth Weir
Summary: One week later, Rodney asks Radek for a favor. It's-- not one he expected, to be honest.
A/N: This is the sequel to my band!AU, The Rejects of McMurdo. Written for blue_raven, since she requested a "one week later" fic, and beta-checked by the marvelous duckduck.
Word Count: 3,200
The next time you listen to Borodin
remember he was just a chemist
who wrote music to relax
~ “The Life of Borodin” by Charles Bukowski
“You want me to look after your cat,” Radek says, flatly, and pulls the phone far enough away from his ear to shoot it a deeply suspicious look. He’s fairly certain that either he misheard the other man or he’s dreaming-- or maybe a mixture of both, because when he checks his clock, he realizes that it’s three in the morning, and who in their right mind would call at that indecent hour? Especially on a Friday morning.
“Er, well, yes,” Rodney says, and at least he has the decency to sound embarrassed. “It’s just that, that my neighbor who takes care of Salieri just found out her sister’s in the hospital, you see, and she’s going to be gone for a couple days, and I don’t really know any of the other neighbors, and I know you and Elizabeth live about, um, an hour or two from my apartment. I wouldn’t ask, but a certain someone couldn’t be a decent human being and go and take care of my cat for the weekend!”
The last bit seems to be loudly directed to someone near Rodney. Radek can just barely make out the muffled, cross response of, “For the last time, I’m allergic, Rodney. Not to mention I’m the manager of the band, not your bloody cat-sitter!”
“We pay you enough to be the manager and my damn cat-sitter,” Rodney snipes back.
There’s an indignant noise and the sound of a brief struggle, and after a moment, Laura says into the phone, voice a jumbled, breathless mixture of exasperation and desperation, “For the love of God, Radek, I’ll pay for the gas myself if you and Liz will take care of Rodney’s damn cat. He won’t shut up about how the thing’s going to starve since we have a performance tomorrow that we can’t get out of. You’d think the cat could survive with no food until Monday, but no, no apparently it can’t.”
Radek sighs and stares up at his ceiling, thinking about the honest anxiety coloring Rodney’s words and the irritation sharpening Laura’s, as though she is seriously considering throwing Rodney out of the hotel room or bus or wherever they are.
“I wouldn’t be able to get to his apartment until tonight. I cannot take off work, and the cat will surely be able to survive less than twenty-four hours without supervision,” he says at last and hears a sound suspiciously like a relieved sigh on the other end of the phone. He presses his palm against his itching eyes and adds a shade testily, “Also, please tell Rodney that calling at three o’clock in the morning does not make me particularly inclined to agree to whatever he wants.”
“I’ll let him know for next time,” Laura informs him, tone shifting to one of amusement, and she laughs at Radek’s half-indignant, half-resigned, “Next time? There will be no--”
“Thank you,” Rodney says, and the rest of the tirade dies on Radek’s lips at the sheer gratefulness in those two simple words. “He’ll be no trouble at all, I promise. Okay, okay, he’s a little shy, and will probably hide under the couch when you first show up, but once you feed him, he’ll adore you, I promise. Just let me, um, get the directions for you.”
After he has gotten the directions, detailed instructions on what Salieri is and isn’t allowed to eat (as though Radek would have tried to feed the cat onions even before he’d known that they destroyed feline red blood cells), and some more ramblings of gratitude and one or two more apologies along the lines of “I wouldn’t ask this if it weren’t important,” Radek hangs up the phone and goes back to staring at the whitewashed ceiling of his own apartment.
Has it really been a week since the concert? In that short span of time, he’s already left a message on Marije’s cell phone, asking her for two autographed photographs for Rodney and his sister, and he and Rodney have already exchanged four emails, most of which have involved debating the positive and negative aspects of symphonies by Berlioz and Verdi and discussing the impact that an actual recording of Liszt’s piano playing would have upon the music world, not to mention Rodney’s numerous laments over the fact that the rest of the band supposedly has horrific taste in music.
And now, apparently, Radek is the temporary caretaker of Rodney’s cat. Truth be told, this is not what he expected when he agreed to be dragged to a concert last Friday. After a moment, he rolls over, squints wearily at the smear of red on his clock until the red finally solidifies into 3:17. That leaves him a little over two hours to sleep.
Covering his face with an arm, he closes his eyes and tries not to think about the fact that ‘an hour or two’ away more than likely means three, and that means Radek has six extra hours of driving today to look forward to, all because of a cat.
“You are not allergic to cats, are you?” he asks Elizabeth as soon as she sits down in the cubicle next to him, and she shoots him a bewildered look.
“No,” she says slowly. “Why?”
“Rodney asked me to look after his cat for the weekend.” At her raised eyebrow, he sighs and spreads his hands in a gesture of helplessness. “Emergency. They have a concert and he cannot get back to his apartment until Monday.”
“And he asked you,” she says, with the same slowness.
Now it’s Radek’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “I apparently only live an hour or two away from his apartment,” he says, tone drier than the Sahara. “And he doesn’t know the neighbors very well, or else he would have asked one of them.”
Elizabeth looks torn between smiling and smirking. “Of course he would have,” she agrees, far too cheerfully, and Radek narrows his eyes at her. He knows that tone of voice, that half-smile, and they both spell trouble.
“Yes, he would have,” he repeats firmly and ignores the curve of her lips which is rapidly on its way to becoming a smirk as he returns his attention to the computer screen. “I was wondering if you wanted to come with me. You are much better with directions than I am. And you are actually a -- what is the term? -- cat person.”
“And you aren’t?” she says, amused.
Radek shrugs, still not looking over at her and keeping his gaze focused on the computer screen. “I have never really been around them,” he admits. “My brother always wanted a cat, but we couldn’t afford one.” Personally, Radek never understood Petr’s obsession with the cats. Who wanted that sort of responsibility when there were other much more important things to be concerned about?
He can feel Elizabeth’s smile press against the back of his neck like a ghostly touch, despite the fact that she’s actually sitting in her cubicle a few feet away. He ignores her, brings up his mailbox to see if he’s gotten any important emails, and bites back a sigh when he sees that Rodney has emailed him twice already with instructions that he forgot to tell Radek earlier.
Rodney’s house is-- well, Radek is not entirely certain what he was expecting, but he finds himself studying the single-story house with its pale blue paint and picket fence that needs whitewashing and wondering what made the other man choose this particular place to call his own.
“Well, at least it only took an hour and a half,” Elizabeth comments.
Radek narrows his eyes at her. She’s been far too cheerful about this entire thing, especially for someone who wears a Mona Lisa smile whenever asked about her private time with one John Sheppard. Turning off his car, he heads for the front door, where Salieri’s usual sitter had left the key under the mat. Unfortunately, it’s rained in the meantime, and Radek grimaces as he tugs away the damp welcome mat (which, he notes, doesn’t actually say welcome on it) and picks up the cold, slick key.
“Here, kitty, kitty,” he calls once he steps inside the house. There’s a noise from Elizabeth that sounds very much like a muffled snort. “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.” Only silence answers him, and Radek sighs. “Well, Rodney did say it would most likely hide from me at first. I need to bribe it -- him with food.”
The first room is a small living room, with a comfortable-looking couch (that Salieri is probably hiding under) and a TV and stereo taking up most of the space, with a hallway leading further into the house. It takes Radek only two attempts to find the kitchen, which is even more cluttered than the living room.
Radek wrinkles his nose at the food-encrusted dishes and cups -- not to mention several old music magazines -- that Rodney has left on every available surface and wonders if perhaps the dishwasher is broken. Somehow, he suspects that is not the case.
“Rodney needs a maid,” he mutters, and hears a sound that is obviously a muffled snicker behind him even as he goes to a cupboard in search of the dry food.
Salieri creeps into the room at the sound of the food being poured into a bowl on the floor -- Radek sees the cat out of the corner of his eye -- but just hovers in the doorway, staring with wide, suspicious eyes.
Radek stares back for a moment and then points to the now-full bowl. “There, kitty, food so you do not starve. Enjoy.” Salieri keeps staring, and Radek sighs. “Fine. Let me get you some water as well, and then we will leave.” The cat’s tail twitches as that, which Radek decides to take as approval.
He and Elizabeth are almost at the front door when Salieri suddenly howls, the sound raising the hair on the back of Radek’s neck. He swears, loud and fervent, wondering if perhaps he’s somehow managed to poison the cat, and dashes back into the kitchen, only to stare as Salieri blinks at him and slinks over to rub against his shins.
Radek shakes his head, both amused and exasperated. “Well, Rodney was right. It seems you will love me forever now that I have fed you.” Salieri keeps rubbing against his shins, with enough force for Radek to instinctively dig in his heels, just in case the cat makes him stumble.
The sound of running water makes him look up, and he sees Elizabeth at the sink, beginning to wash one of the disgusting dishes Rodney’s left on the counter. She looks a little defensive at his raised eyebrow and squares her shoulders. “If we’re going to be taking care of Salieri until Monday, I’m not going to just stare at Rodney’s lack of cleaning skills. Besides, I’m not dealing with his complaints if Salieri nibbles on some of the stuff on these plates and gets sick.” Ignoring Radek’s raised eyebrow, she turns back to the sink and grimly begins to clean.
After a moment, Radek shrugs and grabs the cleanest towel he can find. “You wash, I dry,” he says, and tries not to trip over Salieri as he goes to stand next to Elizabeth.
“Just one day more,” Radek mutters to himself as he nearly trips over Salieri for the second time in what has to be three minutes. Even after spending much of Friday evening and most of Saturday at Rodney’s house, Radek still keeps stumbling over the purring feline. He wonders how long it took for Rodney to get used to having the cat constantly underfoot.
The house feels strangely empty, especially since this time he drove himself, due to Elizabeth’s mother showing up unexpectedly on her doorstep earlier that afternoon for a surprise visit (or, as Elizabeth had dryly put it, to ‘check up on her one and only daughter’). It seems eerily hushed as well, since Radek cannot imagine a house owned by Rodney as a quiet, serene place.
On a whim, he turns on the stereo. The slow, enchanting strains of music fill the air even as a startled but amused laugh escapes his lips; Radek would recognize Marije’s playing anywhere. Giving the stereo an almost fond pat and smiling crookedly at Rodney’s taste in music, he sits down on the couch, closes his eyes, and listens.
Even as Salieri leaps up and drapes across Radek’s lap, the music envelops Radek and he finds himself relaxing, half-sinking into the couch. He pictures Marije’s bow leaping across the viola, remembers the furrow between her eyes she gets whenever she concentrates and how she bites her lower lip whenever she reaches a part of a piece she’s not confident about. He’d teased her about getting wrinkles on her forehead when they’d been younger (all right, true, he still did occasionally, but someone had to keep Marije from taking herself too seriously).
How long has it been since he’s seen her in concert? Far too long, he thinks, and makes a mental note to get her schedule and see if she’s coming anywhere near him in the upcoming months. Maybe he’ll even get a ticket for Rodney.
Somewhere between one high, quavering note on the viola and the next, though, Radek must have fallen asleep, because the next thing he knows, he’s opening his eyes to the sound of the front door opening and a loud voice calling, “Salieri!”
He’s still blinking sleep out of his eyes when the same voice says in an entirely different tone, “Radek?” and Radek squints blearily at Rodney’s startled face.
“You are not supposed to be here until Sunday afternoon,” Radek says, and takes off his glasses to rub at his eyes. His head feels full of cobwebs, catching at his thoughts and making them slow and sluggish.
“It’s four in the morning,” Rodney says, giving him a weird look. “The concert was over at midnight and--”
“And he bitched and moaned until we took him straight home,” someone says dryly. Radek blinks at the unfamiliar man leaning in the doorway, who grins at him and introduces himself as Evan Lorne, the driver of the tour bus. “Look, McKay, your cat’s not dead. How about I get everyone else home now?”
“Yes, yes, fine,” Rodney says dismissively, still looking at Radek, and the intensity of his gaze is making Radek want to fidget a little, because he cannot quite name the look in Rodney’s eyes.
“It was, ah, nice to meet you,” Radek calls after Evan as the man smiles and waves before he ducks back out into the dark night. Then he raises an eyebrow at Rodney, hiding his vague sense of discomfort behind a puzzled look. “Is there a reason you are staring?”
In the faint light cast by a lamp next to the front door casts Rodney’s face in shadow and makes it impossible to read his expression, but Radek thinks he sees a flush appear on the other man’s face. “Well, I didn’t expect you to, uh, be here.”
“I fell asleep,” Radek explains, and only then realizes that the stereo is still on but silent. He sits up, nudges Salieri off his lap, and rolls his eyes at all the orange cat hair now covering his pants. “Besides, your cat is bully. Meows whenever I try to leave as though I am abandoning him.”
“Oh yeah, he does that,” Rodney says, almost absently, and then rubs at the back of his neck. “So you and Salieri got along all right?”
Radek shrugs. “He did not claw me, if that is what you mean, and I did not starve him, so, yes, we got along fine.” He stands, stretching while trying to remember where he put his car keys. Had he left them in the kitchen? “How was your concert?”
“The concert? We did, uh, great, though this girl, she, uh, John was on stage and she, well,” Rodney begins, and falters for a moment, earning another raised eyebrow from Radek before he finally shakes his head. “Never mind. You don’t want to hear about the crazy girl. Besides, I’m sure Sheppard will tell Elizabeth and she’ll tell you all about it.”
Radek opens his mouth, curious now, planning to ask what exactly this crazy girl did (and perhaps if Sheppard had kissed and told, since Elizabeth’s Mona Lisa smile is beginning to exasperate him), but Rodney continues. “So, uh, what do you think of it?” He gestures vaguely at the air, which Radek takes to mean the house.
“Your fence needs whitewashing,” Radek says, and smiles at Rodney’s indignant look. “It is a nice place, Rodney. Though I thought you would have a large, flashy house.”
Rodney smirks a little at that. “Can’t afford one yet,” he says and then crouches to rub at a spot behind Salieri’s ears that apparently makes Salieri purr at a higher decibel. Busying himself with Salieri and not looking up, he adds in an offhand tone, “It’s after four, you know. Would be, well, pretty pointless for you to drive home now.”
One of Radek’s eyebrows rises at Rodney’s words, because while it is true that they had kissed (kissed half the night, he recalls, his lips half-tingling with remembered kisses and the memories of the warmth and surety of Rodney’s mouth), there is a difference between that and spending the night.
He opens his mouth to say something -- he’s not sure what, exactly, but words are on the tip of his tongue -- when Rodney cuts him off with a hasty, “Not that you have to. It was just a suggestion, since I know I hate driving in the dark, so I thought you, uh--”
“All right,” Radek says, which he suspects hadn’t been the words about to initially escape his lips, and smiles at Rodney’s puzzled look. It is amusing, really, how a different setting can make Rodney so much less sure of himself. “I do not like to drive in the dark either.”
“Oh,” Rodney says after a moment. The same smug, half-surprised look that had been on his face before their first kiss is back, curving his lips and making his voice steadier as he adds, “Well, I haven’t slept since last night, actually. I was just going to crawl into bed.”
An unspoken invitation hangs in the air and Radek smiles before he crouches down next to Rodney. Scratching under Salieri’s chin, he says in a voice that rivals Rodney’s for casualness, “I am quite tired myself.”
Their hands ‘somehow’ manage to touch, and after a moment, Rodney’s stroking the back of Radek’s hand rather than Salieri’s fur. The touch is almost feather-soft, but with an intent that makes Radek’s smile widen even as something hot and hungry coils in his belly.
Really, he must thank Elizabeth for dragging him to that concert.