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FIC: My Fair Liar - Part 3 - Hotitudinosity
fiction by jalabert
jalabert
jalabert
FIC: My Fair Liar - Part 3
Title: My Fair Liar
Author: Jalabert
Email: jalabert@hotitudinosity.com
Website: www.hotitudinosity.com
Rating: PG-13, for language
Pairings: Ford/McKay
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.


The following morning, Rodney arrived at the office a few minutes late. He'd decided to drive himself to the office and discovered just how much time he saved having Radek as his chauffeur. Rodney never had to worry about parking when Radek was around. He rode up to the office prepared to apologize to Carson. Perhaps there was still time to salvage their working relationship. He didn't dare hope that Carson would remain his friend.

He was relieved to find that Katie wasn't at her desk. Normally, that would have bothered him, but on this particular morning he was glad to avoid detection as he headed for Carson's office. He was completely unprepared for the sight that greeted him. The room had been stripped of every vestige of Carson's tenure in the company. Not a single thing remained. Even the wastebasket was empty. Rodney backed out of the office and went looking for Liz. She wasn't in, so Rodney retreated to his office and shut the door. The phone rang; he hesitated to answer it but, hoping it might be Carson, he reached for the receiver. At the very least, Rodney felt he owed the man an apology.

"What did you do?" John said before Rodney finished saying his name.

"What do you mean what did I do?"

"I just got through talking to Liz. She said Carson quit!"

"Then you already know what happened, John."

"What the hell were you--."

"If you don't mind, I've got a slight hangover and I spent most of the night asking myself the same thing."

"Come up with any answers?" John persisted.

"I'm an arrogant asshole. There, are you happy?"

"No," John admitted, his tone softening. "Are you okay?"

"No," Rodney confessed. "I blew it, John. I was warned and I did it, anyway."

"Yeah."

"Look; Carson will need a severance package. Will you take care of it for me?"

"Of course. The standard package?"

"Whatever," Rodney sighed.

"You don't sound so good."

"I'm not exactly proud of myself."

"I can understand that."

"What am I going to do, John?"

"You're going to suck it up and deal, Rodney. You did fine before you hired him. You'll survive this."

**

Rodney spent the entire day sequestered in his office. He worked on ongoing projects and avoided other people as much as possible. Liz was the only exception; she brought in lunch and ate with him at his desk. The phone rang late in the afternoon and Rodney flinched before reaching for it.

"Yes, Katie?" he said tentatively.

"Peter's on the phone for you," she said. "Shall I--?"

"Put him through. Hello, Peter."

"Rodney? What's happening? Is everything off?"

"What? What do you mean? No! I mean--." Rodney shut his eyes and swore inwardly. "Tell me exactly what happened after I left the studio yesterday."

"Well, Carson left, you left and then Aiden left. Teyla doesn't seem to have a clue as to whether he plans to come back to finish the shoot or what. She says she hasn't heard from him since he left yesterday."

"What?"

"Frankly, I find that hard to believe, but that's her story and she's sticking to it."

"What about Aiden's guard dog? Did he disappear, too?" Rodney asked.

"I haven't a clue."

"I'll take care of this," Rodney vowed. "I got us into this mess. I'll get us out of it. Sit tight. I'll call you when I know something." Rodney hung up the phone and closed his eyes again. He sat for a few minutes, gathering strength before he opened them and punched in a number. He waited, half hoping that Aiden wouldn't answer.

"Hello, Rodney," Aiden said just as Rodney was about to give up.

"Aiden," Rodney said evenly. "Have you spoken with Teyla recently?"

"Teyla? Why?"

"According to my sources, she's been trying to reach you since yesterday."

"And she asked you to contact me?"

"No, no; that's not why I called. I was calling because--."

"You reneged on our deal."

"I realize that," Rodney said. "And you have no idea how sorry I am about it."

"A day late and a dime short, don't you think?" Aiden said. "I did warn you."

"Yes you did, and I had no intention of--."

"Bye, Rodney." Aiden hung up and Rodney just stared at the phone for a full minute before he hung up. He took a deep breath and released it.

"I am so very, very screwed."

Rodney collected his things and left the office. He started to head home, but on a whim, turned off the highway a few exits earlier and headed to Carson's house. He rang the bell and got no answer. He went to the window and tried to peer inside, but he saw no sign that Carson was at home. After a few minutes he gave up and went home, where he called John and invited him over. But he was poor company; Rodney refused to talk about the concert, other than to assure John that he'd pull it off no matter what happened. They tried to watch a basketball game, but neither man was terribly interested in it. John went home early and Rodney went to bed, where he spent another sleepless night.

The following morning, he arrived at the office early. Once again, he sequestered himself in his office. His first order of business was to compose a note to Carson. He enclosed the severance package information that John had drawn up for him along with a check from personnel. He had Katie send it express and spent the rest of the morning on the phone.

Rodney started by calling CJ, who assured him that he had a suitable photograph for the magazine cover. Rodney then called the editor of Teen Persona. He apologized for his behavior and told her that he'd pay CJ for both photo shoots. He talked with her about Positive Youth and secured her promise to promote the cause in the upcoming issue. When Rodney finished that call, he had Katie get in touch with Gene's office. A few minutes later, Katie had him on the phone.

"Rodney, what's going on? We talked a few days ago and everything was fine. Now Teyla tells me that it's all off."

"Not exactly," Rodney said. "But I am releasing Aiden from his contract."

"What? Why?"

"Your client and I had an agreement and I reneged on the deal. He's therefore no longer obligated to perform at the benefit."

"Wait a minute; what agreement? There wasn't anything like that in the contract Aiden signed."

"It's not in the contract," Rodney confessed. "It was a gentleman's agreement." Rodney related the details about the events leading up to and resulting in Carson's resignation and concluded by saying that he was sending over a messenger with a release for Aiden to sign.

"Whoa, just hold on, now," Gene said. "Aiden talked you into this?"

"Well, I--."

"I warned you that he could be a handful. He played you, Rodney! You let Aiden shift the burden to you so he could evade his own responsibilities."

"No, no," Rodney insisted. "He was totally right about me. I paid the price for my behavior and he has every right to walk."

"Rodney, let me break this down for you," Gene said. "Aiden is a smooth-talking manipulator who saw a chance to--."

"It's a moot point, Gene. He wants out and I'm letting him go."

"What about the event?"

"I'll manage. I'll just have to push the date back and line up some other talent."

"Are you nuts?"

"Perhaps," Rodney said. "But I've learned a valuable lesson this week and I intend to become a better man for it. If Aiden played me, so be it. I'm willing to accept my penance."

"Look, let me speak with Aiden," Gene began, but Rodney cut him off.

"No, I'd prefer you didn't bother on my account."

"And what about all those kids whose future hangs in the balance?"

"Those kids are going to get everything they have coming to them. I'm not going to let the fact that I made a complete ass of myself deny them their opportunity to succeed. The concert will go forward and we're still pursuing program funding from a couple of foundations. You have my word on that." Rodney ended the call and dove into his work. Liz stopped in and volunteered to attend the upcoming meeting with the Darcy Foundation, but Rodney said he'd handle it himself.

At the end of the day, Rodney ordered take out and picked it up on the way home. He dropped his briefcase at the entrance to the penthouse and went into the kitchen. He unceremoniously opened one of the containers and grabbed a fork from a drawer. He'd just filled his mouth when he heard music coming from down the hall. Rodney looked around in confusion.

"Radek?" he called as he went looking for the housekeeper. But he found no sign of the little Czech. Rodney reached the media room and was surprised to find Aiden sitting cross-legged on the floor. He was looking through Rodney's music collection and singing along to a song playing in the background. He looked up when Rodney came in and scrambled to his feet.

"How did you get in here?" Rodney asked curiously. Aiden shrugged.

"The lady downstairs let me in," he said diffidently.

"The concierge? Don't tell me; she recognized you," Rodney said.

"Yeah; I told her I was waiting for you--."

"...And that I'd let you in when I wasn't home before..."

"Yeah."

"All right," Rodney said, peevishly. "Why are you here?"

"Gene told me I should apologize in person."

"Gene told you to apologize?" Rodney said. "To me?"

"Yeah; for jerking you around," Aiden said.

"Well, I ought to take the opportunity to apologize for being such a jerk."

"I'm not the one you should be apologizing to."

"I know," Rodney said. "I wrote an apology to Carson and sent it out with his severance check this morning."

"That's cool," Aiden said. "Look, I'm kind of sorry things didn't work out. You know, I thought that--. Well, never mind."

"What?" Rodney asked.

"Well, I thought that somewhere under all that snark and bluster, you were a decent guy. You wanted to do the right thing."

"Thank you," Rodney said, genuinely touched. "I'm...ahem...sorry things didn't work out, too."

"Well, good luck with everything. We would have made a good team, you know? But you're a smart guy. I know you'll pull it off."

"Thank you."

"I'm still going to match your funds, by the way," Aiden said as he slid a CD into the player. "That part of the deal stays. Well, I've got to go. I have to be up early tomorrow. Take care, Rodney." Aiden stuck out his hand and Rodney took it. Aiden just held it for a moment, staring at their joined hands and then let go. He turned and pressed the play button before heading toward the door. "I'll let myself out."

Rodney sat down, overwhelmed by the dull ache that followed his departure. Then he looked up and squinted at the CD player. He was hearing Aiden's voice but he didn't recognize the song. Rodney was familiar with every one of Aiden's recordings; Carson had taken to playing them constantly at the office. But this song was new. Rodney sat back and listened. It was a rough recording; perhaps a rehearsal for the new album. It was just Aiden and a piano--the words were simple and poignant. When it ended, Rodney leapt up and played it again. Aiden had offered his apology in song.

Rodney finished eating and turned in early, feeling lonely and sad. He recalled what Radek had said about sulking alone and suddenly wished he hadn't sent him away. He wondered if Radek was alone that night, or with Lida or even someone new in his hometown. He thought of calling Liz or John, but knew that they were both probably busy, so he spent the next few hours staring at the ceiling with Aiden's song playing in his head.

**

The following morning, Rodney rose early, worked out and then treated himself to a good breakfast. It was his standard ritual for days when he had important meetings. He was actually looking forward to meeting with the board of the Darcy Foundation. Rodney was confident that his proposal would be funded and once he had some solid funding he would be able to procure the talent needed to produce his event. He felt a pang of remorse at losing Aiden's participation but he was too focused to dwell on it. So it took him completely by surprise when he stepped off the elevator and heard a familiar voice.

"Here he is now," Aiden said. Rodney looked up and stared at the young man standing next to the foundation's chairman. He would probably have stood gaping indefinitely had Aiden not spoken. "Good morning, Rodney," he said smoothly. "I'd like you to meet Ned West, chairman of the board of the Darcy Foundation. Ned, this is Rodney McKay, the mastermind behind the project we're presenting this morning."

"Good morning," Ned said, pumping Rodney's hand. "I've been looking forward to this meeting. I was just telling Aiden that my daughter's a big fan of The Flow. She made me promise to ask for your autograph on penalty of death."

"I can do that," Aiden said, bending to pick up his briefcase. He opened it and pulled out an 8 x 10 glossy of himself. "What's her name?"

Rodney watched the scene like a man in a dream. He reached out and touched Aiden's shoulder as he signed the photograph. He wasn't dreaming. Aiden was there, two feet away, charming the head of the foundation as if he did such things every day. Ned led them into the conference room where the rest of the board was assembling. Aiden took a seat and Rodney sat down beside him, still slightly dumbfounded.

"Why?" was all he could say. Aiden shrugged.

"I believe in you," he said simply.

"Huh?"

"Can we discuss this later? I think they're about ready to start."

"Right. Later." Rodney pulled a folder out of his briefcase. "I only brought the one--. I had no--."

"It's okay," Aiden said, pulling out his own folder. "I have Carson's copy." Rodney's mouth fell open. "Guess I'll explain that later, too. You want to go first?"

"They look like Gilbert and Sullivan fans," Rodney said with a smile, suddenly brimming with confidence in his young companion. "Knock yourself out."

It was a moot point. Ned introduced Aiden and invited him to the front of the table. Rodney sat back and observed as Aiden rose to make his presentation.

"Good morning, ladies and gentleman," he began. He paused and smiled, his eyes sweeping the room and capturing the attention of all present. "You're probably wondering what a hip hop singer is doing in a fancy board room at 10 a.m. wearing a Dolce & Gabbana suit and a tie that cost more than a pair of Nikes. I admit that I'm kind of wondering that myself. You see, I chose to make my living making music. The hours are much kinder to me," he said disarmingly. "I'm sure that many of you never even heard of The Flow before this morning. Don't worry, I'm not insulted. I'd never heard of the Darcy Foundation until very recently," he said to a smattering of laughter. "But ask yourself this question: why? The answer is simple. You and I live in different worlds. Now, that's okay, as long as each of us has the ability to choose the sphere we wish to inhabit. But for a lot of kids--a lot of poor kids living in our inner cities--there is no choice. They're trapped in poverty, ignorance and an endless cycle of misery. If nothing is done about it, those kids will never be able to choose between a life in the corporate world and a life in the arts. They'll have no opportunity to become doctors, lawyers, or engineers. Those young people won't become tomorrow's entrepreneurs. They'll be today's victims; tomorrow's failures. They'll become a burden to society instead of the movers and shakers who could change the world. You and I can change that."

And just like that, Aiden had them eating out of his hand. He made a brief PowerPoint presentation but it was the persuasiveness of his words that enthralled the audience. When he was done, he turned things over to Rodney, but he had nothing left to contribute.

"I think you've painted the picture better than I ever could," he said earnestly.

"Why don't you tell them about the concert?" Aiden suggested. "I was drawn into this project because of Rodney's vision. He approached me with an irresistible idea. Come tell them about it," he insisted. Rodney looked at Aiden, who nodded reassuringly. Rodney stood and went to the podium and told the board about the benefit concert.

"Of course, Aiden--or should I say The Flow--will be the headliner," Rodney concluded with another glance at Aiden.

"If he sings as persuasively as he speaks, it ought to be one hell of a show," one of the board members said.

"Support our event and I'll serenade you," Aiden said charmingly. He walked over to the woman and took her hand.

Night and day, you are the one
Only you beneath the moon and under the sun
Whether near to me or far,
No matter darling where you are
I think of you, night and day


The woman blushed furiously as the group applauded. Aiden kissed her hand and took his seat. The meeting ended a few minutes later and Rodney and Aiden left the meeting buoyed by their success.

"They'll give their official decision by formal letter," Ned had told them, "but this was a total slam dunk. We've been on board since we read the initial proposal and your presentation today just knocked it out of the park." Rodney and Aiden rode down to the lobby with matching smiles on their faces.

"How about a celebratory lunch?" Rodney suggested. Aiden checked his watch and agreed to the scheme. Rodney hailed a cab and then grabbed Aiden's wrist. "Nice watch! Did I pay for that?"

"No," Aiden replied, snatching his hand away. "I bought my own Rolex." Rodney smiled and Aiden realized that he was being teased. "Say! Where's the little dude?" he asked when Rodney hailed a cab.

"Radek? He's on vacation," Rodney said. "Where's your gorilla?" Aiden laughed at the expression.

"I didn't think a bodyguard was appropriate for this setting," Aiden replied.

"True." An awkward silence fell over the pair. Rodney knew he had to make the first move so he fidgeted with his cuff as he sought the right words. They came to him easily and he smiled.

"You were brilliant back there."

"Thanks, but I can't take all the credit," Aiden said. Rodney smiled. "I couldn't have done it without Carson's help."

"Carson?" Rodney said uneasily. "That was the speech he wrote for you?"

"Not exactly. I knew what I wanted to say. I wrote it; he helped me polish it a little and rehearse it."

"You wouldn't rehearse with me," Rodney pouted as the cab pulled up in front of their destination.

"Still jealous," Aiden said as he reached for his wallet. He paid the fare before Rodney could stop him and exited the cab.

"Lunch is on me," Rodney said as he led Aiden into the restaurant. Rodney was a friend of the owner, so they were given a prime table.

"What do you recommend?" Aiden asked conversationally.

"I'm rather fond of the salmon, but everything here is very good," Rodney said. The waiter came and they ordered lunch. When they were alone again, Rodney struggled to find the right opening. "I wasn't expecting to see you at the meeting," he said when he couldn't think another way to begin.

"I wasn't expecting to attend the meeting, either,"Aiden said matter-of-factly. "Guess I surprised both of us."

"What changed your mind?"

"Well, I had the suit and the speech all ready..."

"Aiden," Rodney said warningly. Aiden cleared his throat.

"Look; I meant what I said earlier. I believe in you. In spite of everything we've put each other through--."

"Put each other through?" Rodney blurted out. Aiden glared at him. "Sorry, sorry; go on."

"All right, I've put you through the wringer. And I accused you of having questionable motives for taking me on. But through all of it, you stuck to your guns. You were determined to make this project a success for the sake of the kids we could help. Even when you were ready to let me walk away, you never lost sight of those kids. I did. And when I realized that I was pretty mad at myself. "

"Are you sure that wasn't Gene who made you realize that?" Rodney said perceptively.

"Oh, he's plenty mad at me, too, but no. I disappointed myself and I realized that I'd done the same thing to you that I was accusing you of doing to Carson and the little guy."

"Radek," Rodney said.

"Yeah, Radek. Is he really on vacation or--?"

"He's really on vacation," Rodney assured him. The waiter returned with the iced coffees they'd ordered. They touched glasses and Rodney watched Aiden take the first sip. "Aiden..."

"Yeah?"

"I want to thank you."

"Hey, no need. As I said before, I believe in you and I believe in the cause. It didn't take more than that to make me put my mouth where I was willing to put my money, you know."

"I'm not talking about--." Rodney sighed. "Well, I guess I'm thanking you for your excellent presentation, but I was thinking of something else. This is going to sound crazy, but I'm actually kind of glad things worked out the way they did. Losing Carson was a stunning blow, not just to--."

"You think I had something to do with that?"

"You're the one who made it impossible for him to stay," Rodney replied without anger. "He's had plenty of reasons to leave before, but you made him realize that he didn't have to take it--that he really deserved better."

"He's starting his own company."

"Really?" Rodney said, bemusedly. "Well, he's going to be very good on his own. He's got good instincts."

"I know," Aiden replied. "That's why I funded his start up."

"What?"

"I also hired him to do the promotion for my upcoming tour. He'll be pimping the new album, too," he added. Rodney just stared at Aiden, who smiled. "What? Were you expecting me to sign on with your company?"

"No, I--."

"What?"

"Nothing," Rodney sighed. "I'm glad he's moving on. You'll find him great to work with."

"I liked working with both of you," Aiden admitted, setting aside his glass. "Too bad that had to end."

"You liked working with me?" Rodney said doubtfully.

"Yeah; when you aren't being a pompous ass, you're kind of fun," Aiden said disarmingly.

"You just enjoy yanking my chain," Rodney said. Aiden reached out and playfully shook his shoulder.

"And you enjoyed making me recite the alphabet phonetically. If pictures of that ever show up on the net..."

"I'd never do that to you! Now the streaming video of you walking with a book on your head... That's gold!"

"That's blackmail!"

The waiter brought their meals and Rodney watched Aiden lay his napkin on his lap like a proud parent before a burger platter was placed in front of him.

"Don't get all misty-eyed. My grandmother taught me to do that."

"I wasn't--. All right, I was," Rodney admitted. "I can't get over the changes in your behavior."

"I'll let you in on a little secret," Aiden said, leaning forward. "I haven't really changed all that much."

"Let me enjoy my little illusion," Rodney said. He smiled at the seafood salad on his plate.

"Are you on a diet or something?" Aiden asked.

"No. Well, Radek is always after me to watch what I eat. The man was a fitness trainer back in his native land. By his standards I'm always three pounds away from being a fat slob."

"Where is he vacationing?"

"He's in the Czech Republic, presumably visiting family and friends."

"Presumably?"

"Hey, I only bought the tickets," Rodney said. "I didn't arrange his itinerary."

"You bought the tickets?" Aiden said, surprised.

"Yeah? Why?"

"Nothing," Aiden replied, shaking his head. "Hey, listen, starting tomorrow, I'll be spending most of my time in the studio. I won't be able to come in for our sessions anymore."

"I don't think you need any more training," Rodney said.

"But you'll miss me, right?" Aiden said with an infectious smile. Rodney returned it, but he didn't bother to reply. They changed the subject and began talking about Aiden's new album.

"That CD you left me last night," Rodney said after wiping his mouth. "That song is going to be the best thing on the new album."

"Oh, I didn't write that for the album," Aiden said. "It's just a little something I was playing with yesterday morning."

"That's what you came up with after a few hours of playing?" Rodney said incredulously. "Are you serious?"

"Yeah! Why?"

"Aiden that was an amazing song! I must have listened to it a dozen times last night. Where did you learn to play the piano like that?"

"Oh, it's just something I picked up," Aiden said modestly. "I have a natural ear."

"You're a very gifted young man," Rodney said.

"Thanks, Rodney."

"You really ought to include it on the album."

"It's not--. It's not really ready." Aiden averted his eyes. "Actually, I never intended to record that for--."

"You wrote that for me?"

Aiden looked up and smiled, but he couldn't quite meet Rodney's eyes.

"I woke up yesterday feeling bad about what happened. You and Carson had--you know. You two worked well together. You treated him like shit, but he really loved his job and like you said--my interference made it impossible for him to stay."

"I'm the one who abused him," Rodney cut in. "You did him a favor by opening his eyes. You certainly opened my eyes."

"Yeah, well, Gene opened mine. I had no right to do that to you. Anyway, I was feeling guilty so I put my thoughts into song. That's what I do when things weigh on my heart, you know? I have to write them down and set them to music."

"That beats my approach," Rodney said. "I drown my sorrows in vodka and tonic and try to forget."

"My way hurts less."

"Yeah, but your way... Your way the pain stays with you long after the hangover fades," Rodney said pensively. "Your way, a million people can feel your pain and use it to fuel their own." Aiden smiled.

"That's deep," he said. Rodney rolled his eyes. "You know, you're a pretty cool guy when--."

"...When I'm not being a pompous ass, I know."

Aiden laughed and Rodney signaled for the waiter. A few minutes later, the man returned with the check and a decadent little chocolate dessert.

"Do me a favor and eat that, will you?" Rodney said. "The chef is a personal friend and he knows I love his mousse but it's probably got a zillion calories. Radek would have my head if I ate it."

"The little dude's not around," Aiden said, reaching for his fork.

"I know," Rodney replied with a smile. "But I had one yesterday." Aiden returned the smile and began to eat. Rodney propped his chin and watched.

"Are you sure you don't want--?"

"No, no, I'm fine. You just enjoy yourself."

"And you're going to just sit there and watch."

"I'm going to pay the check and check in with my office," Rodney said, abruptly rising. He left the table and walked to the front of the restaurant. Aiden watched him go and noted that Rodney observed him as he made his call. He made a point of saving one last bite for when Rodney returned.

"Here, I saved you a taste," Aiden said impishly.

"Thanks, but I--."

"Radek never has to know."

"That's not the--."

"It's really good. You know it is."

"Aiden!"

"Grandma always told me I should share." Aiden gently shoved the fork into Rodney's mouth the moment he opened it to speak.

"You're incorrigible. You know that?"

"I have no idea what you mean," Aiden said innocently. They were about to leave when the chef came out to say hello. Rodney introduced Aiden, who took the opportunity to compliment him on his dessert.

"Had I known you were entertaining a guest I would have sent out a second one," the chef said. "You should have told me."

"That's okay," Aiden said puckishly. "Rodney shared it with me."

"Well, Rodney's friends are always more than welcome," the chef replied. "Next time you come, I'll make you something special." Rodney opened his mouth and closed it again. The two men left the restaurant and saw Dex standing outside.

"Can I drop you at your office?" Aiden asked.

"Yeah, thanks," Rodney said. "How did he know where to pick you up?"

"I called him, man! What do you think, he's got radar?"

Rodney rolled his eyes as Aiden got into the Escalade.

"Nice," Rodney said, taking in the well-appointed interior.

"Works for me," Aiden said coolly. "So...that guy thought I was your date, didn't he?"

"Wouldn't surprise me," Rodney admitted, not meeting his eyes. He caught sight of Dex's eyes in the rear view mirror and squirmed uncomfortably. "Did that bother you?"

"No," Aiden said easily. "So are you going to take me back there?" he asked teasingly. Rodney looked at him.

"Sure," he said, raising the stakes. "Anytime." He smiled and slid a bit lower into the commodious seat.

"So what's next? We get this letter from the foundation and then what?"

"Then we continue preparing for the concert. I've been in touch with a friend who's a brilliant producer. He's done events like this before. I'm turning the specifics of the show over to him."

"Just tell me what you need me to do."

"Well, for starters, we need you to finish your photo shoot."

"All right. I'll find time to get over there in the next few days; what else?" Aiden asked.

"Our second foundation meeting is coming up but that won't be for another two weeks. I understand you're going to be busy with the new album so--."

"Hey, you need anything, don't hesitate to call on me. I'll find the time," Aiden said as Dex pulled up in front of Rodney's office.

"Thanks. Thanks for everything," Rodney said. He got out of the vehicle and reached in to shake Aiden's hand. But instead, Aiden tapped his fist to Rodney's palm. Laughing at Rodney's expression, he signaled for Dex to drive on.

**

Over the next few days, Rodney worked hard to put together all the elements of the concert. Liz entered his office late one morning with a large envelope. Rodney looked up and frowned.

"What's that?"

"I believe it's something you've been waiting for," she replied. "It's from the Darcy Foundation." Rodney rose and took the envelope from her. He turned it over in his hands and examined it. "Are you planning to open it any time soon or just hoping the message will reach you by osmosis?"

"I already know what it says," Rodney replied. "I got a call from Ned West yesterday."

"And you didn't tell me?"

"I told you we got the money. We made a brilliant presentation. Well, Aiden did; I just closed for him."

"I would love to have seen that," Liz said, taking a seat.

"So you keep saying."

"Well, it's not often you're rendered speechless. My only experience with it was the day I asked you for a divorce."

"Don't forget the day I signed the settlement," Rodney said as he returned to his seat and reached for the phone.

"As I recall, you had plenty to say on that occasion. Who are you calling?"

"Aiden. He deserves to be in on this." Rodney drummed his fingers as he waited for the call to be picked up. "Hello, this is Rodney McKay and I--."

"Hello, Rodney," Carson said.

"Hello, Carson," Rodney said soberly. "How are you?"

"I'm well. Thank you for dealing with my severance so quickly. It was rather generous."

"It was what you deserved," Rodney said. "Anyway, Aiden told me you were striking out on your own. Good luck with that."

"Thank you, Rodney," Carson replied. "I suppose you'll be wanting to speak with him..."

"Please." Rodney slumped in his seat and sighed. Liz gave him a sympathetic look.

"Hey, Rodney? What's shakin'?"

"What's sha--."

"Hey, I'm in my world, now, man. Gotta talk that talk and walk that walk, you know what I'm saying?"

"You really are a chameleon, aren't you?"

"I gotta do what I gotta do. What's up, man?"

"I have some news," Rodney said, his humor returning. "A letter just arrived from the Darcy Foundation."

"Well, what does it say?"

"It says--. Do you really want me to do this over the phone?"

"Oh, now you're gonna yank my chain, man? All right, all right. I'll try to get over there this afternoon."

"I'll look forward to seeing you." Rodney said goodbye and hung up, grinning from ear to ear.

"You're going to make me wait," Liz sighed.

"You want me to deprive Aiden of--."

"Never mind," Liz said, rising. "Just let me know later, okay?" Rodney rose and ran around the desk to catch her before she left. He pulled her into his arms and gave her a hug. She giggled as she returned it.

"Have I told you lately how wonderful you are?"

"Yesterday, in fact. What's gotten into you?" she demanded. Rodney released her and shrugged sheepishly.

"I guess I'm in a good mood."

"You're scaring the other employees. They don't know how to react when you're so pleasant."

"Go away," Rodney said, opening the door.

"That's a bit better, but you need to put a little venom into it," Liz replied. Rodney slapped her bottom as she passed and shut the door. He smiled when he heard her laughter.

An hour later, there was a knock on his door and he bade his visitor to enter. He glanced up and stared at the sight of Aiden. He was dressed as he was on his first visit: baseball cap, tee shirt and jeans. Only now Rodney could see that the tee shirt and jeans were by top of the line designers and the shoes on his feet closely resembled the Bruno Magli loafers he had in his own closet.

"Hello, Aiden," he said, rising and going over to the sofa. He'd become used to having their meetings in that area of the office; it was a more comfortable and informal area and Aiden had taken a liking to Rodney's leather chair.

"Hey," Aiden replied, slipping into his usual seat. "Sorry I'm so late, but--."

"Not at all," Rodney interrupted. "I got the distinct impression that you were busy when I called."

"Yeah," Aiden said, eying the envelope in his hand. "We were in the middle of a creative dispute."

"Sounds messy."

"Nah," Aiden said. He paused and looked up. "No, it's nothing we couldn't handle. Artists--well, we've got egos."

"No kidding," Rodney said mildly.

"Nothing near as big as yours," Aiden said, "at least not in hip hop."

"Really?"

"Are you going to open that or do you just plan to torture me with it?"

"Here." Rodney slid it across the table to him and rose to go to the bar. He opened the wine cellar and pulled out a bottle. He paused to watch Aiden carefully break the seal. "Oh, just tear it open, will you?"

"No," Aiden replied. "This is important." He slipped the letter out of the envelope and opened it. After a few seconds, Rodney rolled his eyes.

"Would you mind sharing?" he said dryly.

"Oh," Aiden looked up. He read the letter out loud, beaming. "We asked for that much? I thought we were trying to raise a quarter of a million."

"It takes money to make money, young man," Rodney said as he put the bottle of champagne back into the cellar. "This is seed money. It will make our project grow."

"If you say so. Why did you put that back?"

"I put it back," Rodney said as he returned to Aiden, "because I had a better idea--if you're free, that is."

"I got some time," Aiden said, checking his watch.

"Great. " Rodney took the letter from him and delivered it to Liz's office. He returned and grabbed his briefcase. "When do you have to be back?" Aiden shrugged. "Perfect. You hungry?"

"Yeah."

"Well, then, let's go."

"Are you taking me back to that place?" Aiden asked as they set out in Rodney's car. Rodney noted that Dex was following in the Escalade.

"If you like."

"I'm not exactly dressed for it," Aiden said. Rodney glanced over. Though he was certain that Aiden's casual attire would pass muster, he didn't argue the point.

"I know a nice seafood place. Do you like seafood?"

"It's not my favorite thing, but I'm game."

"No, no; it won't be a proper celebration if we don't both totally enjoy ourselves. What do you like?"

"To tell you the truth, I could go for a nice steak right now," Aiden replied. Rodney abruptly turned the car around at the next intersection.

"I know the perfect place to have one," he said. They rode in silence for a few minutes and arrived at Rodney's place.

"Your place?"

"My place; you are about to be treated to a steak that will knock your socks off," Rodney said. He parked the car in the garage and led Aiden to the elevator.

"You can cook?"

"I make a steak that makes cattlemen weep," Rodney replied.

"And that's a good thing?"

"Follow me, doubting youth," Rodney said. He entered the kitchen and offered Aiden a seat at the counter. He disappeared for a few moments and returned with a bottle of champagne."Here; your task will be to open that."

"You keep a bottle of champagne on ice everywhere you go?" Aiden asked as he began to twist the wire cage off the bottle.

"Everyone should," Rodney replied. He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a package wrapped in white butcher paper. "I bought these last night but I was invited out to dinner so I didn't get to have them."

"Nice looking steaks!"

"Watch and learn, Aiden; and this is performance art," Rodney said. Aiden smiled as Rodney seasoned the steaks and set them aside while he sliced potatoes.

"You do French fries, too?"

"I am about to astound and amaze you," Rodney said, reaching for a bottle of oil. "Glasses are in the cabinet behind you."

"This is some kitchen," Aiden observed as he retrieved the glasses. "I guess you like to cook."

"Radek likes to cook. I rarely come in here when he's around."

"Why not?"

"Well, it's sort of his domain," Rodney replied, though the question unsettled him. "You know, I don't really know why."

"So you never cook for him?"

"Radek is paid to cook for me."

"What about when he has a night off?" Aiden asked. Rodney shrugged.

"He usually goes out."

"Do you cook for your boyfriends?"

"I--. No; Radek generally cooks for my company."

"You should cook for them. It'd be cool... That is if you can really cook."

"Well, if I can't you'll be the first to know," Rodney quipped. "How about that champagne?" Aiden filled the glasses and handed him one. He raised it and smiled.

"What shall we drink to?"

"To us," Rodney said. "We make a good team."

"I'll drink to that." They touched glasses and took a sip. Aiden licked his lips and smiled. Rodney caught his breath.

"Terrific," he said huskily. He gave Aiden the glass. "Now follow me."

"Where?"

"This way," Rodney said, hefting a tray bearing the steaks and potatoes. He led the way to a huge rooftop terrace and set the tray down on the counter of a small outdoor kitchen. He had fired up the grill earlier; now he fussed with meal preparations while Aiden gave himself a tour. He looked out at the view for a moment and then down to the street, where he saw Dex leaning against the Escalade. Smiling, he turned away and walked the length of the terrace, peering through the window into Rodney's bedroom and bath suite. By the time he made his way back, Rodney had the potatoes on the grill and was holding one of the steaks in a pair of tongs. He set it on the fire, followed by the other one. Aiden was about to speak when his phone rang.

"S'up, Dex? I don't know, why?" Aiden turned and walked over to the railing and looked over. "Well, tell her I'm having dinner. No; no, they don't need me there for that. They're still doing the background and if they're going to bitch about--. Never mind. Tell her I'll--. I'll call her." Aiden pocketed the phone and turned around. Rodney was observing him.

"Trouble?

"Nah." Aiden walked over and picked up his glass. "This is very cool. How long have you lived here?"

"About three years," Rodney said, walking over to the lounge area. He sat down and Aiden joined him.

"You have the best chairs, man," Aiden said as he eased into a lounger.

"I like to be comfortable," Rodney said simply. Aiden looked around.

"No Jacuzzi?"

"We're on a roof. Management wasn't amenable to having 200 gallons of water sitting on my deck."

"I can understand that," Aiden said, rising to retrieve the bottle. He refilled the glasses. "Does this go with steaks?"

"Champagne goes with everything," Rodney said insouciantly. "But we can always switch to a nice red wine when the steaks are done. Speaking of which--." He rose to check the steaks. Aiden's phone rang again and Rodney busied himself to give Aiden a bit of privacy. He was, however, well within earshot.

"Hey, Teyla," Aiden said wearily. "Yeah, I'm at Rodney's. Why is everyone suddenly so interested in my whereabouts? No one seemed to have a use for me while you made me wait around all afternoon." Aiden took off his cap and threw it on the table. "Hey! Talk to Jimmy! He said they probably wouldn't need me again 'til tomorrow. No, I'm not saying I'm not coming back! What the hell difference does it make? Sorry; sorry, Teyla. Look; I've been there all day and other than that--. I know! If they do their part I'll be happy to come back and do my part. But as of right now, I'm taking a break. What? What did you call him for? I'm of age, you know. I don't need a babysitter and I don't--. Well, you do what you have to. Is Carson still there?"

Rodney stole a glance at Aiden and then turned back to the steaks, forcing himself not to listen. He hummed the song Aiden had given him. After a minute he sensed Aiden's presence.

"You really do like it, don't you?" he said softly. Rodney felt a thrill go up his spine when Aiden touched the small of his back. He peered at the steaks for a few seconds and then retreated.

"You don't have to leave, do you?"

"Nope." Aiden returned to the lounge and sat down. Rodney didn't want to pry but he sensed that Aiden was troubled. He turned the potatoes and the steak before walking over to join him.

"I've got to make a salad," he said, gesturing toward the kitchen with his head.

"Let me do that," Aiden said, rising. "Just point me at the stuff."

"It's all in the fridge," Rodney said. He led Aiden back inside and pulled out a bowl and cutting board, as well as other things he might need. Aiden washed his hands and went to the refrigerator. "Knock yourself out."

"What do you like in your salad?"

"Anything. Everything," Rodney said. "I've got to check the steaks." He went back outside and a few minutes later, Aiden emerged from the kitchen with the bowl. "That looks great. Set it on the table over there."

"Want me to set the table?"

"I'll get it," Rodney said. Aiden's phone rang again and he very deliberately took it out and turned it off. "Is that wise?"

"They know where I am," Aiden said. Rodney pulled a couple of plates from a cabinet and took them to the table.

"Maybe they don't approve of your company," he said glumly. Aiden looked at him incredulously.

"No one seemed to mind when we were meeting three times a week! Why should they care now?"

"Well, we were always working before," Rodney theorized. "They knew you were coming to see me for lessons or fittings."

"We're still working together, aren't we?"

"Yes, of course--."

"...And we're friends, right? I mean I don't have to have a lesson or something just to see you, right? Can't we just hang?"

"Absolutely," Rodney said with a smile.

"What?" Aiden frowned.

"A few weeks ago, I think you would have said that seeing me as a friend was impossible."

"Water under the bridge, man."

"Water under the bridge," Rodney agreed. "The steaks!" He jumped up to take them off the fire.

"I got to admit, man. You do know how to make a steak," Aiden said about twenty minutes later as they finished dinner. The two men had dined on Rodney's steak and potatoes, along with Aiden's salad, all washed down with a bottle of fine merlot.

"And you make an excellent salad," Rodney said, sitting back. He was sated and comfortable and more than a little tipsy.

"You know what we need now?" Aiden said.

"I can think of a few dozen things I'd like right now," Rodney confessed boldly.

"Ice cream," Aiden said. Rodney frowned.

"That wasn't on my list."

"It's on mine," Aiden replied. "Some day you have to come to my crib for dinner."

"Are you a good cook?"

"I can't cook for shit. But I always have ice cream in the fridge. I can make ice cream. I make wicked ice cream."

"What does wicked ice cream taste like?" Rodney mused.

"Anything you like, man! Name a flavor and I'll make it for you."

"Really?" Rodney said cagily. He leaned forward and propped his chin. "Anything?"

"Anything," Aiden said. The phone rang and both men looked up. "That's not--."

"It's mine," Rodney said, rising. Aiden grabbed his arm.

"Let it ring; you're busy."

"I shouldn't," Rodney said. "It could be important." Aiden let him go and Rodney instantly regretted it. He reluctantly headed inside but the ringing stopped. He turned back but just as he reached the table, it began to ring again. Aiden giggled and Rodney turned and ran inside.

Rodney answered the phone and Aiden got up a bit unsteadily. He made his way over to the railing and looked down. Dex was still there, sitting inside the Escalade. He sighed and turned around, went inside and found Rodney with his head in the freezer.

"What the hell are you doing?"

"Looking for--aha! I knew Radek kept a stash somewhere." He stood and pulled a pint-sized container out of the freezer. "Oh. It's only sorbet. That bastard!" Aiden laughed and walked over.

"I can deal," he said. He turned the container in Rodney's hand and tilted his head. "What is this? Ooh," he smiled slyly. "Passion fruit."

"Really?" Rodney said. He tilted his head and looked at the container, but after a second his eyes wandered and met Aiden's.

"Shall we?" he asked with an expressive waggle of brows.

"Shall we--. Oh!" Rodney cleared his throat. "I'll get the bowls."

"Just get spoons," Aiden said. "I have to--." Rodney pouted.

"You've got to leave."

"Soon, yeah."

"Bummer," Rodney said glumly.

"Get the spoons," Aiden said. Rodney extricated his fingers, which had been covered by Aiden's, and went to fetch a pair of spoons. Aiden set the container on the counter and sat down. Rodney tossed him a spoon and sat on the stool beside him. Aiden opened the sorbet and scooped up a spoonful. He turned to Rodney and smiled.

"Go for it."

"You first," Aiden said before he stuck the spoon into Rodney's mouth.

"Mm! That's a bad habit of yours, isn't it?" Rodney said, withdrawing the spoon and dropping it. "Well, turnabout is fair play." He dipped his spoon and Aiden opened his mouth readily. "Oh, that's not--." Aiden caught him with a second spoonful of sorbet and started laughing.

"You realize that it's your own fault. You just can't keep your mouth shut, man!" he said. Rodney grumbled something and Aiden gave him another dose of the frozen treat. "So who was on the phone?" he asked as he finally started feeding himself sorbet.

"Oh, that was Radek letting me know what time he'll be in tomorrow," Rodney replied. Aiden didn't seem to mind eating with the spoon he'd stuck in Rodney's mouth, so Rodney shrugged and used the spoon with which he'd fed Aiden.

"Are you going to meet him?"

"Me? No. I'll be at work."

"Take some time off. Go and get your little buddy," Aiden encouraged.

"My 'little buddy' is quite capable of getting back here without me losing valuable hours of--. Will you stop doing that?"

"I can think of other ways to shut you up, but that one's so much fun!" Aiden laughed.

"Really! What did you have in mind?" Rodney asked boldly.

"You know, I really have to go," Aiden said coyly, rising. He took another spoonful and let it slowly melt in his mouth. "Think about what I said," he said as he pulled out his phone and punched in a number.

"Oh, I'm thinking about it," Rodney said.

"I'll be down in a minute," he said and closed the phone again. "I meant about Radek."

"I'll send a car for him," Rodney said, fearing that he'd scared Aiden off by being too forward.

"Good," Aiden said, reaching for his cap. "This was a lot of fun."

"I enjoyed it," Rodney said frankly. "You know, you're welcome anytime, if you can get away."

"Thanks, Rodney. I'll remember that."

Rodney rose and led Aiden to the door. Neither man was anxious to part. Aiden shuffled his feet as Rodney opened the door to the private foyer.

"You're not really a pompous ass, are you?" he said. It was more of a statement than a question, so Rodney had no idea how to answer. But Aiden looked up and smiled. "Night, Rodney," he said softly. He stepped into the elevator when the elevator doors opened.

"Good night, Aiden."

Aiden waved and the doors closed. Rodney's smile faded and he went back to the kitchen to put the food away and load the dishwasher. But before he did he went out onto the terrace and looked downstairs. He saw Aiden emerge from the building. The lights on the Escalade came on and the door opened. Dex held the door for Aiden, who looked up and waved before he got in. Dex looked up briefly before he got back into the driver's seat and the vehicle took off.

Rodney took care of the dishes and the food and retreated to the media room. He still had a bit of a buzz from the alcohol, so he dimmed the lights and turned on the CD player. Aiden's voice flowed through the room as Rodney stretched out on the couch.

"So that's how he got that name," he said aloud. He smiled and closed his eyes.

**

The following day, Rodney was in such good spirits that Liz openly questioned him over lunch.

"What? Can't I be in a good mood without arousing suspicion?" Rodney rolled his eyes. "All right, Radek is coming home today. I missed the little dude."

"You missed the little dude? Rodney are you all right?" Liz asked.

"Oh, come on! This isn't fair!" he cried. "I spent five years being a complete bastard and everyone took it in stride. Now that I'm trying to repent you're all scared of me." Liz bit her lip, but she couldn't hold back her laughter. Rodney laughed, too.

"Well, whatever it is, I'm happy to see it," she replied. "It looks good on you."

"Thanks, Liz," he said as the waiter brought the tab. He paid it and rose to leave.

"So you aren't going to tell me?"

"There's nothing to tell."

"New man?"

"I'm not seeing anyone," Rodney insisted. "Wish I was."

"Okay, be cagey," Liz said as they walked back to the office. As the reached the building, Rodney noticed a black Escalade out in front. He immediately thought of Aiden, but schooled his enthusiasm. Escalades were fairly common in the area. But just as the thought came to him the driver's door opened and Dex emerged. Rodney smiled expectantly, but when Dex opened the rear door, it was only to remove a small cooler. He walked over and wordlessly handed it to Rodney. He got back into the vehicle and drove away.

"What is it?" Liz asked curiously. Rodney smiled enigmatically.

"I think it's ice cream."

"From Aiden?" she asked. Rodney shrugged and they went up to the office. "Are you going to open it?"

"Maybe later," Rodney said. "I've got to make a few calls."

"You'll share, won't you?"

"Not on your life," Rodney replied. He shut the door and immediately opened the cooler. Inside there was a note, written in Aiden's distinctive hand. He set it aside and placed the two pints of ice cream into the refrigerator, wondering if the chocolate brown and pale-colored contents of the respective containers were some sort of message.

"Rodney," he read out loud, "Enjoy at your own pace. Hah, hah! Aiden. P.S: the flavors are dark chocolate with raspberries and vanilla praline." Rodney glanced at the refrigerator. "Huh."

He smiled and sat down to work. But Aiden was never far from his thoughts. Rodney told himself that it was because he spent a good bit of the afternoon on the phone with the concert producer, but the truth was that Aiden's gift had buoyed his spirits. As soon as he was free, Rodney gave Aiden a call. He got a voicemail message. Disappointed, he hung up. He tried again a short while later and got the same result. Realizing that Aiden was probably in the studio, he left a brief message thanking Aiden for the gift, packed the ice cream back into the cooler along with some ice, and took it home with him. He arrived to the sound of Radek's familiar and welcome voice.

"You are home early," he declared when Rodney stepped through the door. "I have no time to unpack or cook or--."

"For God's sake, you don't need to cook, Radek. You just got off a plane! How was your trip?"

"You are being nice again."

"Is that such a bad thing?" Rodney said with a sigh.

"No. Is nice. Scary, but nice. Prague was lovely. Brno was lovely. The Zelenka family wept with joy when they saw me."

"I know the feeling," Rodney deadpanned.

"Ah. That sounds like my Rodney McKay. Here." Radek handed Rodney a package.

"What's this?"

"You said to bring back something. That is gift from Bohemia."

"Oh. Thank you, Radek."

"What is that?" Radek asked, pointing at the cooler.

"It's a gift from Aiden."

"Beautiful hip hop singer? What did he give you?"

"Uh... All right, it's homemade ice cream."

"And this you wish to put in my freezer."

"Yes. No! It's my freezer and I'll put whatever I want in it."

"Fine. Your freezer. You put ice cream in it. You eat, you grow--."

"Radek--."

"You get fat ass, pretty man finds someone not so fat. You get depressed, eat more--."

"Radek!"

"Is vicious cycle." Radek shrugged.

"And to think, I missed you," Rodney said, rolling his eyes. He shook his head and went to the kitchen. Radek smiled warmly.

**

Rodney ate dinner with Radek and listened with amusement to his account of his trip. Radek then grilled Rodney about what had transpired during his absence. But Rodney was more interested in Radek's story.

"So did Lida go with you?"

"No," Radek sighed. "She would not be romantic and fly away with me on whim." He shrugged. "She wouldn't take off from work. We argued. I left."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Rodney said.

"No loss. I met cute boy on plane who liked sushi. He was making first visit to Prague. I showed him good time."

"Excuse me? Did you just say--?"

"Hah! I joke. I spent week with my old buddies from sports academy. They show me good time. I spent day at a beer spa. I would have brought back some beer, but you would accuse me of bringing bath water."

"Huh?"

"Brno was lovely. Mother, brothers and their fat wives welcomed me with open arms. We have huge feast."

"Delightful," Rodney said wistfully.

"You should visit family," Radek said.

"Why should I visit your family? They don't even know me."

"I speak of your family," Radek said, rising to clear the plates. "Tomorrow, no takeout. Back to good food."

"Excellent," Rodney said with a smile. "I actually missed your cooking."

"I suppose you want dessert."

"Well...yes; I should try the ice cream."

"I'll get some. I say 'some,' because you would eat whole pint."

"All right, all right, just bring it," Rodney sighed, resigned to the fact that he'd have to share his treat. He heard Radek exclaim in Czech and rolled his eyes as he rose and entered the kitchen.

"You found my sorbet!" Radek said accusingly.

"Oh; uh, yes."

"And you put quite a dent in it."

"I had company."

"Oh? New man?"

Rodney gave a half shrug and hoped Radek didn't push the issue--he wasn't sure exactly how to characterize his relationship with Aiden. He sat at the counter and watched as Radek opened the container containing the chocolate ice cream.

"Oy; this has 2,000 calories per teaspoon, I am sure. You will eat in rations."

"Just give it here, Radek," Rodney demanded. He huffed as Radek measured out a four ounce portion on a digital scale, then placed it before his employer. Then he did the same for his own portion of sorbet. "Aren't you going to try the ice cream?"

"Is your gift. For all I know, is poisoned," Radek said as he opened a tin and took out two cookies. He put them in the dish with his sorbet.

"It's not poisoned. And why don't I get cookies?"

"Hello; you want to be blimp?"

"Never mind," Rodney sighed. He scooped up a spoonful of ice cream and examined it, recalling how Aiden had fed him the previous night.

"Are you going to eat or just make mess on counter?"

Rodney looked down at the dripping ice cream. He quickly put it into his mouth and moaned in ecstasy.

"Oh, my heaven! Oh! That is so good! Radek, you have to taste this! Here!" He pushed the bowl across the counter and gestured for him to take a taste. Radek frowned suspiciously. "What? It's delicious!"

"You are sharing. You send me on vacation. You send limousine to meet me at airport. You smile. What happened to you?"

"Will you just taste the damned ice cream?"

Radek dipped his spoon into the bowl. Rodney snatched it back immediately. Seconds later, Radek began to rave. Rodney smiled and lifted his bowl.

"Mine. Mine, do you hear? Don't touch it!" He went down the hall to the media room and turned on the television. He stretched out on the couch and got comfortable. "This is--." He sat up and reached for his cell phone at his waist. "Hello?"

"Hey, Rodney," Aiden said. "I got your message. Sorry I couldn't get back to you sooner. I've been tied up here all day and Teyla wouldn't allow me off the premises."

"Just because you played hooky last night?"

"Yeah. You know, I thought all these people worked for me, but the way they carry on you'd think they owned me."

"You're a prized commodity, Aiden."

"So they say," Aiden replied. "So what's up? Did you try the ice cream?"

"Oh yes! I'm having the chocolate with raspberries right now! This stuff is amazing!"

"Glad you like it. I stayed up till nearly two in the morning whipping up a batch. That's my favorite flavor."

"I think it's just become mine, as well," Rodney said.

"The praline was in the freezer so I just thought I'd send that, too. It's been a while since I got in the kitchen and made anything."

"Tell me; how did a black kid from the 'hood grow up to become an ice cream whiz?"

"What? You think we can't cook? Look at Famous Amos, man! Look at Patrick Clark! And you've got to come with me to my grandmother's crib, dog! She can cook!"

"That's not what I meant," Rodney laughed. "I want to know how you came to learn ice cream making."

"Oh, it's just something I picked up," Aiden said modestly.

"Like the piano?"

"Yeah, my grandmother says I pick up stuff like a sponge."

"Convenient talent."

"You got any talents, Rodney?"

Rodney settled back and turned off the television. He and Aiden chatted for the next hour.


On to Part 4

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