Rating: PG-13, for language
Category: First time
Summary: Rodney McKay learns the meaning of "Go with The Flow" when he hatches a scheme to transform a diamond in the rough.
Written for the reel_sga challenge.
"How's it going with Aiden?" Liz asked one afternoon three weeks later when Rodney wandered into her office.
"He's a handful," Rodney said, falling into a chair. "Every session with him is an ordeal."
"What do you mean? Peter said the fitting went well."
"Oh, the fitting was fine. I relented and let Peter take him shopping. Do you have any idea how much that hideous green shirt cost? I just got the bill. They ought to pay Aiden to wear that thing!"
"Peter said he looked great in it."
"I'm sure he would have looked even better in almost anything else, but I let him have his way and he got the stupid thing. Then the little ingrate proceeded to fight me on everything else. I only have a month to prepare him for our meeting with the first foundation and with a week left he's still pulling the diva act."
"Do tell," Liz said eagerly.
"Well, the homework idea didn't go over very well. He took the books home but came back not having read them. They were boring, he said. How the hell is he supposed to learn without reading?"
"You could give him lessons orally," Liz replied.
"I gave him audiotapes!" Rodney cried.
"Rodney, are you sure--?"
"Don't ask! Of course I'm right. I'm always right," he said.
"Which of us are you trying convince?" Liz asked perceptively. "All I'm saying is--."
"Save it, Liz. This will work." He bent over the desk and kissed her cheek. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Where are you going?"
"Why? It's only two in the afternoon."
"I know. I've invited Aiden over to my place," Rodney said with feigned insouciance.
"I thought I'd change the venue. Maybe it'll get him to ease up a bit. He's very uptight."
"You mean he's very defensive. I can't say I blame him. How would you feel if--."
"I've got to go. Radek's downstairs and if he gets another ticket they may deport him. Bye, Liz!" Rodney strode to the elevator and saw Carson emerging. "That was a long lunch. I was about to leave without you. Come on." Carson followed him back into the elevator.
"I was only gone--. Wait; where are we going?"
"To my place. Aiden is coming over and I want you there."
"Whatever for? You haven't let me anywhere near him before now."
"I've changed my mind. I need you as a distraction. Maybe if he focuses his attention on you, he'll be too busy to realize he's learning something."
"That makes no sense at all," Carson said.
"Do I pay you to argue with me?" Rodney said as they reached the car. Radek held the door and he got in. Carson got into the front of the limousine with Radek. "What are you doing up there?"
"I prefer to ride shotgun," Carson said, rolling his eyes.
"I can still see you, you know."
"I know," Carson sighed.
"Here's what's on tap today. I--." Rodney's phone rang and he paused to answer it. "Rodney McKay."
"Hello, Mr. M. This is Bobby, the doorman. Sorry to bother you, sir, but there's a young black kid here who says he's got an appointment with you."
"Is his name Aiden Ford?"
"I'll find out... He says you know his name."
"That's Aiden," Rodney said with a sigh. "Do me a favor; have the concierge let him into the apartment. We're about three minutes away."
"Are you sure, Mr. M? He could--."
"I'm sure. Trust me; the young man probably makes more money than I do, despite appearances."
"If you say so, Mr. M."
Rodney rolled his eyes and shut the phone.
"Step on it. Aiden's already there."
They arrived at the apartment a few minutes later and rode up to the penthouse. Rodney stepped out and looked around. There was no sign of Aiden. He started to call him, but thought better of it and followed his instincts. He found Aiden in the media room sprawled on a sofa, flipping through the channels.
"Having fun?" Rodney said. Aiden looked up and smiled.
"Hey man, this place is cool. You must score a lot of action here," he said as Rodney entered the room and sat down on the other couch. Aiden looked very comfortable, though he couldn't have been there for more than a few minutes.
"Oh, this video is off the chain. She has such a sweet ass!" Aiden said. He smiled as Rodney's head spun toward the screen. "You want it? I'm sure she'd put out for you. I hear she's into older white guys with money."
"Thank you," Rodney replied, knowing that Aiden was testing him. "I prefer male companionship these days."
"These days," Rodney replied, refusing to engage him. "Now if you're done watching my TV..."
"Your sound system is wicked, man! Look at all this shit!"
Aiden rose and walked over to the sound system. He appeared to be admiring the burled wood cabinetry, but he suddenly smiled and pushed a button, even as Rodney cried out for him not to touch it. He smiled triumphantly when he heard his own voice coming through the speakers. He pressed a few more buttons, ignoring Rodney's protests, and scanned the list of CDs in the changer.
"You only got one of my CDs," Aiden said. "If you're good, I'll give you the other one. You know, since you bought me that shirt and all." Rodney gave him a stony look and he laughed. "Why you got to be all serious every minute of the day? Chill out, man! That's why you guys die so young. You burn yourselves out, frettin' over nuthin'."
"Right now I'm frettin' over the fact that we've got a meeting coming up next week and you won't be ready," Rodney replied.
"I'm ready. I'm ready now!" Aiden said, flopping back onto the sofa.
"Show me how you're going to behave at the meeting," Rodney said.
"Imani!" Aiden said to the television. "Now that is a beautiful female! She's my girl!" Rodney rose and hit the touch pad on the table. The television and CD changer both went dead. "Hey, man! I was watching that!"
"You won't be watching 'your girl' at the meeting," Rodney said.
"Look, why are you so worried? I know how to talk. I know how to dress. I listened to your lame-ass tapes and I read your stupid book on how to be a black man in a white man's world. I can't believe a brother wrote that shit!"
"He wrote that book for people like you! He doesn't want you to walk into that meeting and make an ass of yourself. Look, don't you care at all how people perceive you? Don't you want to pull this off?"
"Not as much as you do. I told you I could get you the money. I don't need your dried up corporate big wigs. I can just call up my people and ask for it."
"Your people," Rodney said dryly.
"Yeah, I got people," Aiden replied. "You think only you got people?"
"Oh my god!" Radek said from the doorway. "Is gorgeous!"
"Here's one of 'my people' now," Rodney said dryly. "Radek, what do you want?"
"I want to breathe same air as young pretty boy," he said as he entered the room, staring at Aiden, who was highly amused.
"Radek? What kind of name is Radek?" he said.
"It's Czech for 'unemployed,'" Rodney said before Radek could reply. "What do you want, Radek?"
"I bring drinks for you and handsome stranger, as you asked."
"Thank you," Rodney said, taking the tray from his hands. "Go away."
"I go." Radek sighed dramatically and reluctantly backed out of the room.
"He's a funny little dude." Aiden smiled enigmatically.
"Yeah, he's funny. What does he do around here?"
"He's Rodney's body slave," Carson said as he entered the room. "I've got that information you wanted faxed over. The meeting is on--."
"Thank you, Carson," Rodney said. "I can read, you know." He snatched the paper from Carson's hand. "Now sit down and don't say another word."
"Why not?" Aiden asked.
"Because I said so."
"That's no reason. Why do you always--?"
"Can we get back to work?"
"Man, you treat everyone like dirt, don't you?"
"Not your problem," Rodney said. "Your only concern is what you have to do, which is to walk into that meeting next week and convince those people in that room that you are an intelligent young man with ideas and a vision for changing the future for a bunch of at-risk kids. You need to convince them that you can--."
"You're such a hypocrite, you know that? You want me to go in there and pretend to be 'an intelligent young man with ideas and vision.' You know what? I am 'an intelligent young man with ideas and vision.' But you can't see that, can you? You don't want to see that. You want to mold me and shape me into something I'm not because you don't think I can handle it on my own. You know what? I can deal!"
"Well, why don't you go ahead and prove it?" Rodney spat back.
"I am proving it! You just aren't listening to me! You see what you want to see, hear what you want to hear. You're so caught up in trying to change me, you don't even see me!"
"Don't give me that--."
"Forget it, dog! I don't need this shit. If you thought I was the perfect person to represent the kids served by Positive Youth, why do you want to pass me off as someone who doesn't need their program?"
"You represent what a kid in Positive Youth can become."
"Not in your mind! In your mind I'm just a handsome fool. You want to make me look like something I'm not. You want me to be something you think I can't be without your magic touch. Why don't you get that Oreo who wrote that book? He'd be perfect for your little campaign. He's already got his shit down. You don't need me. And I don't need you!"
"You wanted to do this, remember," Rodney replied angrily. "You're the one who said that you wanted to--."
"I said forget it," Aiden said,walking to the door. Rodney threw up his hands and shook his head, but Carson followed Aiden out of the room.
"Aiden," he said gently. Aiden stopped so suddenly that Carson nearly ran into his back. "Listen, I know that Rodney can be a pompous ass--."
"Can be? You mean there are times when he isn't?"
"He has his moments," Carson said with a smile. "He's not exactly a people person." Aiden laughed out loud.
"You've got quite a gift for understatement."
"Well, I've been working with him for five years. I've developed a strong sense of irony," Carson said. "Look, you have every reason to be angry. I've felt like walking out on the little shit myself, more times than I can count."
"Why haven't you? Or are you his slave, too?"
"I actually like working for him when he's not being a bastard. Look, I just wanted to ask you not to abandon the project. This is a really important cause. I was so impressed by the program after I visited the director that I've made a sizable donation myself. It's a very worthy cause and I know you believe in it as much as I do."
"Yeah, it's an important cause," Aiden admitted. Carson knew he had his interest and pressed on.
"The publicity is about to go out. Your name is all over it and the event is a guaranteed hit. One of the things Liz and I came up with to raise funds is a program at local area high schools so that a few kids who raise $100 will get tickets to the concert. You'd be disappointing a lot of people if you walk away."
"I can't work with him."
"Sure you can," Carson assured him. "You're almost halfway there. Rodney's not so hard to deal with. I'll even tell you how to do it if you agree to come back. It'd just be for another few weeks. Do it for all the kids who will benefit." Aiden smiled, impressed by the man's simple appeal.
"Aye," he said. Aiden extended a hand.
"All right, I'll stay. But you've got to help me or that guy's going to make me crazy."
"Agreed." They shook hands and Carson gestured with his head toward the media room. "Go on in. You'll find him in there sulking. Oh, and make sure and tell him why you came back. Don't let him think you caved in."
Aiden nodded and returned to the media room. As Carson predicted, Rodney was sitting on the sofa staring at the blank television screen, his face set in a scowl. He looked up when Aiden walked in, surprise evident on his face.
"Yeah, I came back. Carson talked me into staying. Do you only hire people with accents or something?"
"Too bad. I think accents are kinda hot."
"I've never thought about it," Rodney said, with a confused look. "So, you came back."
"Yeah, like I said, Carson talked me into it. I just want you to know that I'm only back because of the cause. I still got issues with you."
"Fine," Rodney said. "Do your part and you and I will never have to see each other again after the event." Aiden winced slightly at the statement, but he sat down next to Rodney and took a few moments to gather his thoughts before he spoke.
"About this event; exactly who you got comin'?"
"I'm still working on the talent, but I've got a few irons in the fire."
"I can get you some talent. I can get you mad talent."
"Can you?" Rodney said doubtfully.
"I told you before. I got people," Aiden said as he looked at the tray Radek had brought in.
"Oh, the iced tea is yours," Rodney said.
"Is that iced coffee?" Aiden said as Rodney picked up the second glass.
"You like iced coffee?" Rodney didn't wait for an answer. "Here, take it."
"No, I'm cool."
"Nonsense." Rodney reached for a panel behind the sofa and pushed a button.
"You rang?" Radek said from elsewhere in the apartment.
"Very droll. Bring us another iced coffee." Rodney hit the button again and turned back around.
"You've got a bad habit of ordering people around like they exist to serve you, man. He's a human being. Be nice."
"Radek, a human being?"
"Yeah, a human being. What's the matter with you?"
"Can we get back to business?"
"You know I'm surprised you even got a business with your poor attitude. Why did you go into public relations if you hate everybody?"
"I'm not in public re--I don't hate everybody," Rodney said defensively.
"You sure act like you do. You treat everyone like they're your doormat."
"I do not."
"I seen you, man! You treat me like shit and I don't even work for you!"
"Look, I--." Rodney paused when Radek appeared.
"Here is iced coffee. You should not guzzle. Too much caffeine," Radek said as he placed the glass on the tray.
"It's for him," Rodney said.
"You drink iced coffee?" Radek said, smiling at Aiden.
"Yeah, I like it. It's the only way I drink the stuff."
"Amateur," Rodney sneered. Aiden shot him a look. "We've got the drink, Radek. Go away."
"See, man? There you go again," Aiden said. "Why you got to dog him like that? He wasn't doin' nuthin' wrong!"
"He was annoying me."
"He was just breathing! Damn!"
"Look, we can discuss my domestic situation another time--."
"Your domestic situation? He's your partner?"
"God forbid, no! He's my housekeeper and chauffeur."
"Oh! I was gonna say. If he was your man and you was treatin' him like that..."
"You had an idea about the event?" Rodney interjected loudly.
"There you go again--."
"What did I do?"
"You trampled over me. I got something to say and you ain't even listenin'."
"You want to talk about my private life. I want to talk business."
"I want to talk, period! You ain't interested in what I got to say. You're only interested in what I can do for you."
"All right," Rodney said, smugly. He folded his arms and sat back. "Get it off your chest."
"If I have to go into a meeting with a buncha people like you, I'm gonna quit right now, you know what I'm sayin', 'cause I can't deal with people who only wanna do one half of the communication thing."
"I said I'm listening," Rodney replied.
"Okay, then. Let's make a deal. I'll do what you want. I'll go to your meetings, I'll do the publicity shoots and the concert; hell, I'll even go to your party afterwards and rub elbows with them rich dudes if that's what you want. But you've got to do something for me."
"You need to learn some manners. You have to--."
"You have to learn not to interrupt people. You need to listen to them and show some respect. And that includes Radek and Carson and anybody else who works for you."
"Deal or no deal," Aiden said. Rodney looked him in the eye and knew that Aiden was serious.
"I mean it. If you don't hold up your end of the deal, I'll walk out for good next time."
"I said we had a deal." Rodney stuck out his hand for Aiden to shake.
"I'll be watching you," Aiden warned. He picked up his iced coffee and smiled. "Carson!" he called.
"What do you want him for?" Rodney asked suspiciously.
"Wasn't he supposed to be in here?"
"Then he should be in here," Aiden said reasonably. "Hey, is he your man?"
"No, he's not--. Have a seat, Carson. Please," Rodney said belatedly with a self-conscious glance at Aiden. Carson sat down and Aiden rubbed his hands.
"Now, I have a few ideas," Aiden began. "Carson here told me that you had a special deal with high school kids who raise funds for Positive Youth."
"Oh he did, did he?" Rodney replied. "This is news to me."
"Liz and I drew it up a week ago," Carson said. "I thought she ran it by you."
"Well, she did nothing of the sort, so--."
"Chill out, man. Let the dude explain," Aiden said. Carson gave Aiden a grateful look.
"Well, we have contacts within the city's department of education," Carson said. "Liz called on a few of her friends who thought that our idea was fantastic and--."
"What idea?" Rodney snapped.
"You got somewhere else to be?" Aiden quipped. Rodney fumed inwardly but shut his mouth.
"The idea was to give high school students a chance to participate in the Positive Youth fundraising campaign," Carson said. "We figured that--."
"Why would we involve them? The program is for them," Rodney reasoned.
"Ever hear of the expression 'God helps those who help themselves'?" Aiden asked. "Now, let the man speak!"
"All right," Rodney sighed petulantly. He was already regretting having agreed to Aiden's scheme.
"Liz and I figured that we'd hold onto a batch of tickets and offer them to the first fifty students to raise $100."
"And how are these poor kids going to do that?"
"They hold fundraisers at their schools. What's wrong with you?" Aiden said.
"I'm just saying--."
"Anyway," Aiden interrupted Rodney, "I was thinking that we take Carson's idea and run with it."
"I haven't even approved it," Rodney protested.
"It's already in the works, right Carson?"
"Right," Carson said hesitantly. Aiden smiled.
"But there's no time to conduct a proper fundraising campaign," Rodney argued.
"I agree," Aiden said.
"You agree?" Rodney was stunned.
"Yeah; that's why I'm proposing something better." Aiden turned to Carson. "That school stuff hasn't gone out yet, has it?"
"No. Nothing's gone out yet except for the sponsorship proposals."
"Good. Here's the deal. Let's wait for the end of the school year to give the kids something special. I'll host a block party and we can have a lot more than fifty kids come and rock out with me."
"And I suppose you want me to pay for that, too?"
"You could afford it, dog," Aiden said. "But no; I'll pay. You can help me with the details, can't you, Carson?"
"I'd be delighted," Carson replied. Rodney gave him a sour look.
"He's my employee," he said.
"So?" Aiden replied. "Ain't you the one in charge of the fundraising drive?"
"Yes and as such, you should be asking for my assistance."
"You said you and I would never have to see each other again after the concert."
"And you just offered to extend our relationship beyond that date," Rodney replied smugly.
"What relationship?" Aiden shot back.
"My point is, you want to use my employee, you have to go through me," Rodney replied mildly.
"Whatever; let's just do this. The more kids we can bring into this, the better. We need to mobilize our youth, you know what I'm sayin'? We need to have them out there advocating for themselves, ya dig?"
"I dig," Rodney replied. "Now let's see if you dig what I'm saying. We have a meeting with potential funders and I need to know you're ready to do your part."
"All right, all right; I see what you want. You want to hold me hostage for Carson's help."
"Okay. I'll play your game."
"I'm not playing games," Rodney said. "I just want to--."
"You want a sneak peek," Aiden said.
"Yes, I'd like to hear what you're going to say."
"Well, sorry; I don't know exactly what I'm going to say a week from now!"
"Could you just give me a clue?" Rodney persisted. "You insisted that you were ready."
"I am ready, just like you are. I don't have no script or nuthin'."
"Great," Rodney said. "Just great!"
"I can write something up for you, if you'd like," Carson volunteered.
"That'd be cool, thanks," Aiden replied with a smile. "See? You got good people, like Carson here, and that little dude. You should appreciate them."
"I do appreciate my people," Rodney said defensively. "I pay them very well."
"And you think that just 'cause you give them lots of green they have to take your abuse?"
"I gotta book. I have an interview this afternoon for a magazine. I don't even know which one. Miss T set it up." Aiden rose to his feet. "Call me, Carson," he said with an impish smile and a hand gesture. "We'll do things."
"We haven't--." Rodney let him go and turned to Carson, who was smiling. "Well, that was a waste of time."
"Why? Because other than stroking your ego he didn't do a damned thing! He wasn't even here a half hour!"
"Would you like me to call and schedule another meeting?" Carson said, rising.
"Oh, I bet you can't wait to call him, can you?" Rodney said. "Did he give you his personal number?"
"I was going to call Teyla, actually. She's the one who makes his schedule," Carson said, pulling out his ever-present phone. He punched a few buttons and waited for an answer as Rodney paced the room.
He was totally thrown by Aiden's behavior. In their previous sessions, Aiden had challenged him on nearly every point, but Rodney suspected that Aiden was just yanking his chain. He'd throw a fit and threaten to leave, but he eventually settled down and did as he was bidden. He read what Rodney gave him with perfect ease, his diction flawless. He walked properly and sat without slouching or fidgeting. Aiden was coming along nicely and Rodney believed he would do fine at their presentation. So what was going on with him? Why had he chosen this day to rebel? Why did he cut today's meeting short? Rodney's reverie was interrupted by Radek's appearance at the door.
"What do you want, Radek?"
"I have cookies for beautiful boy. Where is he?"
"That 'boy' is a twenty-five year old man and he's gone," Rodney said, grabbing a cookie off the plate.
"Oh," Radek said sadly.
"Suck it up, Radek. He was here to see me on business, not to give you an excuse to show off your domestic talents."
"He did have another appointment," Carson said. "Teyla didn't even know he'd gone to see you. She's been looking for him for the past hour. He slipped out of her office without telling anyone."
"Not even that gorilla he travels with?"
"Apparently not," Carson said. "I wonder why."
Rodney also wondered what was going on. He sat down with his cookie and thought about Aiden for the next hour while Carson composed notes on his laptop.
"Why are you sulking?"
"I am not sulking, Radek," Rodney said stonily.
"You are sulking. You looked happier before hot young guy left."
"You're wrong. I was not happier before hot young--Aiden left and I am not sulking now."
"If you say so."
"Want me to cancel date and sulk with you?"
"I don't mind. Lida is making stuffed cabbage. I would rather stay home."
"Your imaginary girlfriend?"
"Is not imaginary. I have hickey to prove it."
"I can get hickeys without having a girlfriend, too, Radek. And if you really have a girlfriend, how come no one's ever seen her?"
"I see her," Radek replied defensively. "She is my girlfriend."
"My point exactly. And if you're seeing this Lida, why are you always lusting after the men I bring here?"
"Is good question," Radek said after a few seconds' thought. "Do you think you are rubbing off on me?"
"Perish the thought," Rodney said mockingly.
"I stay home with you. She will not mind."
"I've been told you're a human being, Radek. Stop acting like a puppet," Rodney said with a weary sigh. "Why do you want to stay home?"
"She is boring. I cannot convince her that I would rather go out for sushi."
"How does one actually convince an imaginary girlfriend to eat sushi?" Rodney said bemusedly. Radek huffed and started to leave the room. "You'd actually do that? Stay home with me, I mean..."
"If you want company. One should not sulk alone."
"Go ahead and go on your date," Rodney said.
"You are sure? Is your last chance."
"Why are you being nice to me?" Rodney asked frowning.
"You are human being. I should be nice to you."
"Who told you that?" Rodney asked suspiciously.
"Mama Zelenka! Why?"
"Never mind. Go ahead and go on your date. I'll be fine."
"You are sure..."
"Yes." Rodney squirmed uncomfortably for a second as Radek headed for the door. "Radek? Thank you."
Radek stared at him as though he'd grown a third eye. After a second, he nodded sheepishly and smiled.
"You are welcome. Don't drink yourself sick."
Rodney waited until he was alone before he turned on the television. He flipped through the offerings on several dozen channels till he gave up trying to distract himself and clicked on the DVD player. He brought up a video Teyla had given him of Aiden's performances. Rodney skipped over some of the livelier numbers and settled back to watch Aiden sing the ballad he'd first seen in Carson's office.
He was mesmerized by the performance. It wasn't just the music; it was everything about it--Aiden's voice, the words he sang, the expression on his face--Rodney found all of it deeply moving. He rose and went to the bar for a drink. He poured two fingers of vodka into a glass, dropped a twist of lemon into it before returning to the sofa, where he watched the video a second time and then a third.
"You should not sulk alone," Radek said as he returned to the media room.
"I thought you were gone."
"I called Lida. She does not want sushi; I do not want stuffed cabbage. We canceled date."
"I see," Rodney said. He stared at his hands, hoping Radek would leave him to his thoughts.
"I make pudding. You always smile for pudding." Radek left the room and Rodney laughed for a few seconds and then hit the play button.
A few days later, Rodney arrived at the office late, after a series of meetings off site. He stopped at the front desk to collect his messages from Katie. As she gave him a rundown of the calls he'd missed that morning, Rodney was distracted by the sound of laughter coming from Carson's office. He walked over to Carson's door and peered in, ignoring Katie's recitation.
"The foundation is very receptive to our proposal. However, you will have to sell them on the idea of giving you money to build the program. Only part of the--. Oh, hello, Rodney," Carson said, looking up.
"What are you doing?" he asked, frowning.
"I'm discussing your upcoming meeting with the board of the Darcy Foundation with--," Carson replied.
"I can see that, Carson. I want to know why."
"I volunteered, remember?"
"Volunteered," Rodney said, frowning. "No."
"It was just yesterday," Aiden said with a wry grin as he rose from his seat and turned to face Rodney. He was wearing the green shirt Rodney despised--partially buttoned and exposing a good bit of skin--along with a pair of jeans that caressed every plane and curve of his legs. Rodney let his eyes travel down to Aiden's feet and up to his waist again.
"Like what you see?" Aiden said, resting his hands on his hips.
"What's that?" Rodney said, pointing. Aiden looked down and then back up at him with the wickedest look Rodney had seen in some time. "I mean the belt, you idiot!"
"Oh," Aiden said ingenuously. "It's something Peter picked out."
"I should have guessed. What's it doing?" Rodney asked, exasperatedly.
"It's flashing his name, I think," Carson said. "Peter programmed it."
"I hate it. Get rid of it," Rodney said.
"Why?" Aiden asked.
"Your accessories should be tasteful and not distracting. A flashing belt is--." He looked down again and sighed. "...Not good." Aiden giggled and Rodney rolled his eyes.
"I kind of like it," Aiden said, sitting down again.
"So do I," Carson concurred.
"I don't recall asking anyone's opinion," Rodney said. "And what are you doing here, anyway? Our appointment isn't until two."
"Well, our appointment was for 12:30," Aiden said smugly.
"Aiden's invited me to lunch," Carson said brightly. "...To discuss his presentation," he added when Rodney glared at him.
"Well, I'm happy for you, Carson," Rodney said sarcastically. "You two go ahead and enjoy yourselves. Should you happen to have an accident along the way, Aiden can function as a human road flare till the police and ambulance arrive."
"Very funny," Aiden said as Rodney turned and walked out. He carefully composed his expression and returned to the reception desk as he heard laughter emanating from Carson's office. A moment later, Aiden and Carson emerged. Aiden pulled on a leather jacket as he walked toward Rodney. "I bought this myself, okay?" he said, passing close enough for Rodney to catch of whiff of his scent. It was something musky and intoxicating and it haunted Rodney's senses long after Aiden disappeared into the elevator with Carson. He went into his office and busied himself with returning calls, one of which had come from Gene. Rodney saved it for last.
"Good afternoon," the lawyer said. "Thanks for getting back to me so promptly."
"Well, frankly, I was surprised to hear from you," Rodney confessed. "Is there a problem with the contract?"
"No, no," Gene assured him. "In fact, I've called with a heads up. I was with some old law school buddies of mine last night and mentioned your project. They're all interested in the cause. Some of these guys came from some pretty humble backgrounds. They all wanted to make a contribution and after a couple of them made a few calls, we've come up with $20,000 for you."
"Twenty thousand? That's quite a generous contribution," Rodney said.
"Well, a couple of them work at firms that will match charitable contributions made by their employees. The rest were personal donations. And they each agreed to pass along the good word, so you can probably look forward to more."
"That's terrific, Gene! Let me know how many tickets to reserve for your friends and I'll have them set aside."
"I'll do that. So how's my boy doing?" Gene said, getting to the real point of his call.
"Your boy?" Rodney said suspiciously. "I didn't--."
"Well, technically, he's my nephew, but I guess I've been the authority figure in his life since my sister and her husband died."
"I thought he lived with his grandmother."
"With his paternal grandparents, yeah," Gene said. "But not all the time. Occasionally, he became a handful and then he got shipped off to spend a few weeks with me. And I became more of a father figure after his grandfather died and left a void in his life at a time when he needed some stability. So he's doing with the preparations?"
"Well, he took to the clothing easily enough," Rodney said with a sigh. "But he seems to think that the clothes make the man. He hasn't taken the rest of it too seriously."
"Is he still fighting you on everything?"
"Everything, more or less," Rodney said with another sigh. Gene's laughter offered no reassurance.
"That seems to be his modus operandi, But don't worry about Aiden; when the time comes, he will come through."
"Well, forgive me for saying so, but I'll believe it when I see it."
"Oh, you'll see it," Gene said confidently. "Aiden's--. Well, let's just say he'll stand and deliver when the time comes."
"I'll look forward to it," Rodney said. He jotted down the information Gene passed on about the contributions and ended the call. He was musing over what Gene had said when Carson appeared at his door.
"We're back," he announced.
"You're late," Rodney said as he sat up straighter in his seat.
"And you're in a mood," Aiden said as he strolled in and sat down. Rodney didn't miss the significant change in the way he moved. He'd noticed it earlier, in the way Aiden stood and in the way he strode out of the office, but he'd been too distracted to give it any thought. Now, as Aiden took a seat and neatly crossed his legs at the ankle, Rodney was impressed.
"Did you and your new best friend have a nice time?" he asked. Aiden smiled.
"You are jealous!"
"I am not jealous! I--."
"Don't worry, Rodney," Aiden said slyly, "Carson's not my type."
"Oh, yes, you have a stated preference for nubile young things who like to wiggle and writhe in scanty clothing as they achieve high notes that scare dogs."
"Actually, I don't really have a preference. I like to think of myself as an equal opportunity kind of guy, you know what I'm saying? I'm a man of appetites; I follow my cravings," Aiden replied, shifting slightly in his seat so that his legs swung to one side. He gazed back at Rodney, who appeared to have been rendered speechless. "So what's on tap for today?" he asked calmly. Rodney forced his mouth shut and sat back.
"We're supposed to practice your speech today," Rodney managed, reaching for the textbook sitting on the corner of his desk. Aiden rolled his eyes.
"What does reciting vowels over and over have to do with anything?"
"You know, you've been asking that for three weeks now."
"And you still haven't given me a decent answer."
"Aiden, you need to practice your enunciation."
"Look! No, listen! Do I sound like I need to practice my vowels?"
"All right, all right. I'll practice my speech," he said, taking the book from Rodney's hand, he tossed it on the table. He stood up, took a deep breath and recited:
I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
I've information vegetable, animal and mineral;
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical,
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;
I'm very well acquainted too with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o'news --
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.
I'm very good at integral and differential calculus,
I know the scientific names of beings animalculous;
In short, in matters vegetable, animal and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.
Aiden smiled smugly and sat down. Rodney blinked.
"Well?" Aiden asked after a few moments.
"Excuse me," Rodney said puckishly. "I was mesmerized by the flashing lights." Aiden sneered. "What the hell was that?" Rodney demanded.
"It's from 'The Pirates of Penzance.' We used to recite that in speech class back in the day."
"What day?" Rodney asked. Still blinking.
"You've never heard of Gilbert and Sullivan? They wrote all kinds of cool shit."
"I am familiar with Gilbert and Sullivan," Rodney said dryly. "And if you could do that from memory, why the hell didn't you say so earlier?"
"How was I supposed to know you wanted to hear me recite Gilbert and Sullivan? I've been telling you all along I could speak. You're the one who's been insisting on all this practice."
"Really," Rodney said archly. "Is there anything else about you I should know?"
"I can recite lots of things; a good memory is necessary in my line of work. If I'm going to be on stage for an hour I have to remember a pretty long playlist. Now, I've told you plenty about me," Aiden said, sitting back and crossing his legs. "Why don't we talk about you for a change?"
"We're not here to talk about me," Rodney said uncomfortably. "We've got a concert to plan and--."
"Oh, about that; I've been in touch with some people," he said, leaning across the chair for his jacket. Rodney rolled his eyes. The last thing he wanted to see at that moment was denim stretched over Aiden's sculpted rear end. He kept his eyes averted while Aiden retrieved the jacket and pulled a sheet of paper out of his pocket. "Here are a few of my friends who have agreed to appear with me at the concert." Rodney took the paper and read the list out loud.
"I see you convinced 'your girl' Imani to sign on."
"Jealous of her, too?" Aiden teased. "You really have it bad for me, don't you?"
"You don't have much of an ego, do you?"
"Hey, man, I've seen you checking me out."
"I have a deep appreciation of beautiful things," Rodney said, suddenly feeling awkward, "That doesn't make me jealous. And it doesn't mean you can walk all over me, either."
"Hey, I don't want to walk all over you," Aiden said seriously. "I just want to turn this thing out."
"Then we're on the same page," Rodney said, taking his cue and turning the discussion back to business. "I've got to give it to you; you've got some impressive people."
"So have you," Aiden said. "Carson's really cool. And the dude really knows his stuff." Rodney ignored the blatant provocation and reached for a piece of paper.
"Here," he said as he handed it to Aiden. "I've already cleared it with Teyla. This is the date and time for your photo shoot. Don't wear that belt."
"Do I get to wear my own clothes? After all, you're going to want people to recognize me as The Flow, right?"
"Bring a few things," Rodney conceded. "Peter will be there with a few wardrobe options." Aiden rolled his eyes. "So did you and Carson manage to come up with something for you to say?"
"Yeah," Aiden replied cryptically. He neatly folded the piece of paper, reached for his jacket and slipped it into the pocket.
"Are you going to tell me about it?"
"I don't think so," Aiden replied.
"Are we done here? Or would you like me to try to remember some of 'The Mikado' for you?"
"We're done here," Rodney said, checking his watch.
"What's the matter; didn't I spend enough time with you?" Aiden teased. "I can stay a little while longer. I got nowhere to be for another half hour."
"Don't stay on my account," Rodney said bitterly. Aiden rose, laughing and to Rodney's surprise, he extended his hand. "What?"
"You told me to shake hands at the end of a meeting," Aiden said. Rodney rolled his eyes and took his hand. "Is that what you're going to do at the meeting?" Aiden teased. He made a gun with his fingers and fired it at Rodney. "Seeya." He winked and strolled out, smiling to himself. Rodney sat there for a few minutes, then launched himself out of his seat. He stormed into Carson's office bellowing.
"Carson! I demand to know exactly what you and Aiden got up to before I arrived and where the hell do you get off making--?" Rodney froze when Aiden and Carson looked up at him. "Ah... I didn't realize you had company," he said sheepishly.
"So you thought it would be okay to just walk in here and wail on Carson," Aiden replied. "I thought you took our agreement seriously. You haven't been keeping your end of the bargain at all, have you?"
"Yes, I have," Rodney said defensively. "I just--." Knowing that any argument was pointless, he turned around and walked away. Aiden followed him.
"I thought you were an honorable man," he said. Rodney turned back.
"I am an honorable man. I--. I just have a temper."
"Well, you ought to do something about it before something bad happens."
"Are you threatening me?" Rodney said, drawing himself up and striding back over to confront Aiden nose to nose.
"No, it's not a threat. I'm just saying that if you don't do something about yourself you're going to lose every employee in this place. You're going to lose your friends--if you actually have any. You seem to think that you can just walk all over everybody and they'll take it just because you pay them. I got news for you; money doesn't buy loyalty. It buys dependence. Treating people decently--that gets you a lot farther than money. Showing people respect, that pays off in spades. You'd better think about that or one day you'll walk in here and find yourself all alone." Aiden walked past Rodney to the door. "Well, maybe not. I'd come back just to say I told you so." He slipped on a pair of sunglasses, gave a nod to Carson and left.
Rodney stood there for a few seconds feeling utterly humiliated. Every one of his employees had heard Aiden's remarks and was staring at him. Rodney shifted and they began to scatter, except for Carson and Liz, who walked over and leaned in close to speak in his ear.
"So would I," she said before turning and heading back to her office. She paused and turned around. "You know, he's a hell of a lot smarter than you give him credit for. I hope you--." Rodney turned to look at her and when she saw the expression on his face, she fell silent and just shook her head. Rodney fumed for another minute and then went into his office and shut the door.
"So where's our boy?" the photographer asked. "Time is money, meaning my time is your money."
"I know, I know," Carson said, checking his watch. "He said he'd be--." The doors opened behind him and Carson turned around as Aiden strode in with Teyla and Dex. "Finally."
"Sorry we're late," Teyla said, extending her hand to Carson. "We got stuck in traffic."
"Not a problem," Carson said. "Hello, Aiden."
"Hey," he said as he removed his shades and nodded at the large man behind him.
"Oh, forgive my manners. This is our photographer. CJ, I'd like you to meet Teyla Emmagen and Aiden Ford. Teyla, Aiden, this is CJ." They each shook hands with the photographer as he eyed the third arrival.
"Better known as The Flow. Hey, man, I'm a fan! And who is this?" he asked, looking over at the bodyguard.
"Dex," the bodyguard said simply.
"Well, Dex, you and Teyla will have to go. I do my work on a closed set."
"Teyla's Aiden's manager," Carson said. "She and I have a few things to discuss. Would you mind if we waited for Aiden in your office?"
"Be my guest," CJ said. "Take your friend with you."
"I'm his bodyguard," Dex said evenly. Aiden watched the two men face off.
"I'll look after him while you go cool your heels somewhere," CJ said just as calmly. His tone brooked no argument. Dex glared at him as CJ gestured for Aiden to follow. He led him into the studio, where Peter was waiting. "Boy, what the hell do you need a bodyguard for?" he laughed as soon as Dex was out of earshot.
"Hey, a bodyguard is an essential part of any musician's entourage," Aiden said with a smile. "I gotta look the part, right?" CJ looked at him appraisingly.
"I take it back," he said warmly. "Maybe you should travel with protection." Aiden rolled his eyes.
"Aiden, I've got the most beautiful shirt for you," Peter gushed as he came bustling over. "It's a rich, warm chocolate silk that will be perfect with your coloring." He pulled off Aiden's ever-present baseball cap and tossed it away.
"Hey! I told you about that," Aiden snapped, forcing his attention away from CJ to focus on the stylist, who started pulling off his jacket. "And I thought Rodney said I should wear my own clothes."
"Oh, didn't he tell you? We're killing two birds with one stone," Peter said. "You're going to be on the cover of Teen Persona so we need pictures for that as well as for the interview you did. And then we'll do the publicity shots for the concert."
"Whatever," Aiden said. "But since I'm already in my own clothes why don't we start with them?"
"The man has a point," CJ said. He ignored Peter's protests and directed Aiden to sit on a stool. He hit a button on his boom box and started adjusting the lighting while Aiden observed him.
"Radek, pack your bags," Rodney declared as soon as the other man took a seat in his office.
"I am going somewhere?" Radek asked suspiciously.
"Yes," Rodney replied smugly. "You are going home."
"Yes. Home; you know, Czech Republic, the mother land? Mama Zelenka? Prague?"
"Home is not Prague. Home is Brno. And Mama Zelenka has been dead for twenty years."
"Your mother is dead?" Rodney said, horrified.
"No, mother is alive and well. Mama Zelenka is dead."
"I'm not going to pretend to understand that. Just go pack your bags." Rodney opened a folder and started to read.
"Why what?" Rodney asked, looking up.
"You fire me every week. You never tell me to pack before," Radek explained.
"I never sent you on a vacation before," Rodney said, again brimming with satisfaction.
"Vacation? You are sending me on vacation?"
"Yes, Radek," Rodney sighed. "I'm sending you on a vacation. You can take your imaginary girlfriend, too. I reserved two tickets." He picked up an envelope and handed it to Radek, who opened it and peered inside as though he was expecting it to blow up in his face.
"You are sending me on vacation."
"Yes, Radek. I'll say it again, slowly. You are going on vacation to the Czech Republic. You're flying to Prague. I have no idea where or what Brno is, but I suspect you can figure out how to get there once you land. There's a check in the envelope that ought to cover your expenses."
"You want me to come back?" Radek asked.
"Of course I want you to come back! The return ticket is for ten days from now."
Radek beamed at him. Rodney returned the smile somewhat awkwardly. But Radek's smile suddenly faded.
"I am dying?"
"Don't put ideas in my head, Radek," he said. "No, you're not dying. You'll probably outlive me, if only to have the last laugh. Which reminds me, I should invest in some silver bullets while you're out of town. Never know when they'll come in handy, but I assume the sight of you well-rested and happy will probably push me to the brink." Radek just blinked at him.
"I am not dying."
Rodney rolled his eyes and rose to his feet. He marched over to the door and opened it.
"Radek, go home and pack. Your flight leaves at 10:00 tonight. I trust all your papers are in order."
"Good. Now go; enjoy yourself. Bring me back something nice. Spend your own money for that; the check is for you to spend on yourself and Lida."
"Do I have to take her?" Radek asked as he rose and walked over to the door.
"It's your fantasy," Rodney shrugged. "Suit yourself." Radek suddenly hugged him tightly and squeezed half the air out of Rodney's lungs. "All right, all right. Go. For God's sake, Radek; go! And don't even think about not returning!"
Radek pulled away but didn't release Rodney till he'd kissed both his cheeks. Rodney rolled his eyes and slammed the door, but when he returned to his desk to answer his phone he was smiling.
"Rodney McKay," he said lightly.
"Rodney, it's me," Carson said. "Just checking in. I'm at the photo shoot and they've just gotten started."
"Good," Rodney said. "Is Aiden behaving himself?"
"I don't know. He's in the studio with CJ and Peter--."
"You left him alone with CJ and Peter? They'll eat him alive!" Rodney cried.
"Oh, I doubt that. They're just taking a few--."
"What do you know? You're just as bad as the other two," Rodney said as he hung up and flipped open his cell phone. "Radek, where are you? I need a ride to--. Oh no. Wait."
"I'm on my way home," Radek replied. Rodney sighed. "Shall I come back?"
"No, no! You've got a lot to do and I wouldn't want you to miss your flight," Rodney said glumly. "Have a great trip, Radek."
"Thank you, Rodney. I will call the service to look after things in my absence."
"Yes. Uh, thank you, Radek," Rodney said. He closed the phone and for a moment was completely at loose ends. He pulled himself together and grabbed his briefcase. He left the building and went down to the street level where he hailed a cab to the studio.
"I don't do ruffles," Aiden said. He pushed the shirt back at Peter, who pushed it back at him.
"Just put it on. You don't have to wear it anywhere."
"No, you're just going to have him take pictures of me wearing it and splash them all over every magazine stand in the country. You think I'm a fool, don't you?" He nonetheless pulled on the shirt and CJ and Peter stood back to admire the effect.
"Don't button it," CJ said, peering at Aiden through the camera lens. "That is so hot." Aiden rolled his eyes and CJ caught a few shots when his eyes were skyward. "That is such a good look for you."
"Yes, but those jeans are dreadful," Peter opined. "Can't I change them?"
"Hey, yo, I can change my own jeans, okay?" Aiden said. "And there's nothing wrong with these."
"I agree. I like the soft, faded look," CJ said. "And the way they hug your--."
There was a knock on the door and before CJ or Peter could react, it opened to admit Rodney. He strode into the room and gaped at Aiden, who was sitting on a stool in front of a deep blue scrim, his chin propped on his fist.
"Great; this day just keeps getting better," he said.
"What's going on here?" Rodney demanded.
"I'm trying to do a photo shoot, that's what's going on here," CJ said.
"Why is he dressed in that hideous shirt? Peter, I told you that I wanted him looking tasteful and--."
"This is for the magazine, not the publicity stills," Peter said.
"What magazine?" Rodney asked warily. "I wasn't told anything about any magazine!" Aiden sat up straight and looked from one man to the other.
"Carson told me that you--."
"Carson!" Rodney didn't wait for the rest of Peter's sentence. He stormed out of the studio and into CJ's office, where Carson, Teyla and reps from Persona magazine were talking. "Carson! What the hell is going on?"
"What are you doing here?" Carson asked.
"Don't ask me questions when I'm yelling at you! What the hell are these people doing here? What's this about a magazine shoot?"
"Well, I tried to explain on the phone--."
"Explain to me now!" Rodney bellowed.
"We needed to book time with CJ to do our publicity shots and CJ was also hired to shoot him for the cover of Teen Persona. Since we were having trouble getting Aiden in here twice, I decided--."
"You decided? You decided? Since when are you authorized to make decisions? I pay you to take orders. If I thought you had a half a brain I'd--. Where are you going?" Rodney demanded when Carson simply walked out of the room. He turned and tried to follow him, but Dex rose from his seat and blocked the door. He glared at the larger man, but Dex didn't budge and he heard the door of the elevator shut beyond the tall bodyguard shielding Carson's exit.
"I think he got the point," Teyla said. Rodney spun around. She'd spoken calmly, but her face registered her disgust, as did the faces of the three others in the room. Rodney looked past them and noticed for the first time that there was a window that opened into the studio. Aiden, along with CJ and Peter, were staring back at him, open-mouthed. Rodney turned and walked out. He took the stairs down to ground level. Once again, he was forced to rely on a cab. He took it to his neighborhood bar and settled into his favorite booth with every intention of getting shit-faced drunk. Liz found him there two hours later.
"Is this the cure for your stupidity or the means of it?" she asked, lifting his glass and taking a sip.
"Hey, I need that," Rodney said, taking the glass from her and downing its contents. "Why are you here?"
"Radek called me. He said you were sending him home to the Czech Republic." Liz ordered a drink from a passing waiter and settled into the booth next to Rodney to wait for it.
"So he was worried about you. He said you weren't acting normally. Based on what happened this afternoon, I'm inclined to agree."
"You've spoken to Carson."
"Briefly; what the hell were you--?"
"Don't start, Liz," Rodney said painfully. Liz couldn't tell whether it was from a surfeit of alcohol or guilt over his behavior.
"He's gone, Rodney," Liz said as the waiter placed a drink in front of her. He took Rodney's glass and asked if he wanted another round. "How many of those have you had?"
"Not enough. What do you mean he's gone?" Rodney asked, nodding at the waiter.
"He's handed in his resignation, effective immediately."
"What? Over that?"
"Rodney, I've been warning you--."
"This is Aiden's doing. He's been filling Carson's head with nonsense about--."
"...Being treated with respect? Yeah, I can see how you would think that was nonsense," Liz said. The waiter returned with Rodney's drink and the pair sat in silence for several minutes.
"I was completely out of line."
"I should never have spoken to him like that, Liz!" Rodney said miserably. "I just barged in there without any regard for what he was doing or who else was in the room and totally humiliated the man and myself by acting like a complete jackass. I hung up on him earlier when he might have explained himself. Oh lord, Aiden's right. I'm my own worst enemy. I'm a stupid, selfish bastard without one iota of decency."
"You are a selfish bastard," Liz said bluntly. "I came down here to beat you senseless and you won't even let me get my licks in." Rodney looked up at her and down at his glass again. "Look, for what it's worth, you had every right to demand an explanation from Carson. But you just don't think."
"I know. I'm awful," Rodney said. He rested his head on her shoulder and she wrapped an arm around him.
"You wouldn't be nearly so bad if you read your email--or let Carson finish a sentence every now and again."
"It's too late. He's gone," Rodney sighed.
"Yes, he's gone. But you'll sucker someone else into working for you sooner or later. You'd better learn from this experience," Liz warned. Rodney nodded. A second later he lifted his head.
"What was that about email?"
"Carson emailed you and text messaged you this morning," Liz said. "Where the hell were you?"
"I was arranging Radek's vacation."
"What on Earth possessed you? Never mind. The point is that Carson was trying to get a hold of you. Teyla asked if we minded doubling up on the photo shoot. Aiden is going to be on the cover of some teen magazine and she's been trying to schedule a shoot. But we've already taken up a lot of his free time these last few weeks. And he's going to be in the studio starting tomorrow recording his new album. Teyla spoke to the magazine editor and arranged for CJ to do the pictures so that Aiden could do both shoots at one sitting. The editor even offered to promote Positive Youth in the article. That's free publicity, Rodney. Free."
"Why is this the first I've heard of this?" Rodney asked.
"You didn't answer any of his messages," Liz said pointedly. "Carson thought we should accommodate Teyla's request. After all, we've taken up a good chunk of Aiden's time without compensating him. That means she's not being paid, either. So what if CJ takes a few extra pictures? Carson tried to contact you to get your okay, but you were inaccessible. So he made a judgment call."
"He had no right to make that decision."
"Technically, no. But tell me, Rodney; if he had reached you, what would you have said?"
"You know I would have okayed the arrangement," Rodney sighed.
"So you blew up at Carson, why?"
"I'm a worthless bastard."
"I'm going to miss Carson," Liz said. She raised her drink and touched it to Rodney's.
"He'll be back. He's threatened to resign before."
"He didn't threaten, Rodney. He did it," Liz said soberly.
"Maybe if I apologize..."
"I think it's past that point. You'll just have to live with the fallout."
"Shit." Rodney sulked into his untouched drink, until Liz suddenly started to move. She signaled for the waiter and gave him her credit card.
"Come on," she said as she slid out of the booth. She took the drink out of Rodney's hands and pulled him to his feet. Rodney grabbed the drink and threw it back while Liz signed the bill. She escorted Rodney to the curb and hailed a cab. "I'm seeing you home. Radek won't be there to look after you so I guess I'll have to do it."
"I can manage on my own, Liz. I'm not that drunk."
"I know how you manage when you're drunk, Rodney," Liz said as a cab pulled up. She held the door, placing a hand on Rodney's head so he didn't hit it getting into the car. She got in and gave the driver Rodney's address.
"You won't try to take advantage of me, will you?" Rodney said drowsily a short time later as Liz tucked him in.
"Sorry, no. I gave up trying to arouse you a long time ago, honey," Liz said patiently. "Want me to stay?"
"No, I'll be fine," Rodney said. Liz bent and gave him a kiss. She turned out the lights and let herself out. Rodney heard her leave and then sat up in bed, replaying the ugly scene in his head. But as upset as he was about his mistreatment of Carson, the one thing that kept coming back to haunt him was the look of disappointment and resignation on Aiden's face.
On to Part 3