Tell Me What You See
It was the kind of summer day he'd rather be spending with sunshine and fresh ocean air, but instead John was sprawled in a corner of the couch in Rodney's lab, noodling around on his guitar while Rodney sat nearby on a swivel stool messing with crystals and leads and a laptop. He'd been at it for close to an hour already. John didn't mind. He was tired and a little achy from sparring, the lights were low, and the electric blue chord progressions felt good skittering down his spine. He thought about taking a nap.
"Aha! There we go." Rodney swiveled toward him, and his eyes were so blue in the light from the guitar that for a second John forgot everything else. Then he saw what Rodney had in his hands.
"I'm not wearing that during a concert, Rodney." That was a helmet-shaped device studded with electronics and connected by two long bundles of wire to a crystal tray that was wired in turn to the laptop. "It looks like the colander thing from Ghostbusters."
"It does not!" He frowned down at it as if to make sure. "That was much more… anyway, this is just a prototype, I'll make something smaller once I've tested it. Your glam-rock hair is safe. Now c'mon, sit up straight."
John made a face, but sat up and let Rodney fit the contraption onto his head. There was an uncomfortable poky thing inside, and somehow the wires got tangled around the neck of his guitar. John sat still while Rodney shifted and untangled everything to his satisfaction. It was weird and intense to have Rodney all up in his space without, like, doing anything.
"Y'know," he said, mostly to distract himself, "I still don't get why the piano doesn't have this feature."
"That's because it's not a feature, it's a bug — one most likely brought on by whatever braindead Ancient thought it was a good idea to leave a fragile musical instrument in a dank storage room without a case for 10,000 years."
"Hey." Yeah, so he was defensive about his guitar. "It works fine, Rodney."
"It's a seizure waiting to happen."
John raised an eyebrow, which earned him a glare when it caused the helmet to fall askew. "I'm sorry, which of us is the Pink Floyd fan again?"
"Pink Floyd doesn't have direct access to your visual cortex." Rodney straightened the helmet and then moved on to the crystal tray. "And it's more than a little disturbing for the rest of us to play with you when you can't see your hand in front of your face."
"I can see just fine." Mostly. When he bothered to. "Anyway, if you think it's dangerous for me, why are you going to all this trouble to inflict it on other people?"
"Because maybe I have better things to do than compose a light show every other week when we already have one conveniently available in your brain."
John rolled his eyes. "You love doing the light shows."
"I know!" Rodney paused and made an oh crap, busted face as his brain caught up with his mouth. "I mean…" He sighed, deflating. "Okay. It's just that it's important to you, and I just, I want…" He reached up and brushed gentle fingers against John's temple. "I want to see, that's all."
John looked steadily into Rodney's eyes, which was awesome and still kind of terrifying.
"I'd show you if I could."
Rodney stared back for a moment. Then he slowly got that smoldering look that he only ever had when he was really sure of himself, and he cupped John's face in his hand and leaned in over the guitar and wires to kiss him. John closed his eyes and parted his mouth, leaning into the touch.
Rodney's face was flushed when he pulled away. "I'm going to hold you to that. Because now —" he swiveled away and punched some buttons triumphantly — "you can." He turned back to face John, his eyes bright. "Show me."
John smiled back. "Okay."
Rodney would be expecting a few random, tentative notes. He could do that. Or —
He willed the guitar to top volume and let loose with the opening chord of "A Hard Day's Night." Beside him, he felt Rodney jump at the noise as a swirl of brilliant reds and pinks overloaded John's senses. As the chord ebbed away he could see Rodney staring with big eyes at the laptop screen, where a shimmering curtain of color was just beginning to fade.
"It works," Rodney breathed. He had grabbed John's knee and wasn't letting go. "I mean, did it work? Is that what it looks like?"
John grinned and nodded, dazzled by the double image and Rodney's infectious excitement. "Nice job, Rodney." He played another quick, experimental riff and watched rainbows chase themselves across the screen.
Then he got down to business. He played the intro to "Solitary Man," and white-gold sparkles danced over the screen like sunlight on water. He kept on through the first golden verse, switched to the opening riff of "Folsom Prison Blues" — deep, lake-bottom green — and then tore through a blistering glissando into "Crazy Train," burning jagged tracks of orange across the computer screen and his own vision.
Rodney was rapt. He kept looking back and forth from John to the laptop like he couldn't decide which one was more fascinating. He was still holding on to John's knee.
He kept playing.
It was exhilarating — it always was, but more so with Rodney right there, seeing what John was seeing, even if it was only on a two-dimensional computer screen instead of the full-body sensory immersion of the guitar. Sharing this with Rodney was like hearing the songs and feeling their colors flood through him for the first time.
He played Rodney's song "Hurricane," with its quick finger-picked intro and the big chords that flashed blue and white like breaking waves. Rodney watched with his face full of wonder.
"I made you see that?"
"Mm-hmm." He grinned to himself and started in on the reggae-like "Peace Train," all softly syncopated peaches and greens, while Rodney stared avidly at the computer. Then he played one of their Bon Jovi covers. The song just wasn't the same without piano, but it had a toe-curling guitar solo that bent pink to purple to blue in long arcing ribbons of sound and that made him think of standing under the spotlights with Rodney no matter where he played it.
At some point he must have closed his eyes without realizing it, because when he opened them again at the end of the song Rodney was watching him.
John smiled at him. "Any requests?"
"Hmmm, just one." Smiling mischievously, Rodney lifted the guitar out of his hands; its light dimmed and then darkened as it was set gently on the floor. He took the helmet from his head and put it on the table with the crystal tray.
John took a deep breath and turned sideways to face Rodney as he settled beside him on the couch. "I'm gonna have some trouble playing anything without my guitar, Rodney."
"S'okay," said Rodney, and leaned in to kiss him again. "I've seen enough."
Author's Notes: Written April 28–May 2, 2010, and originally posted at McSmooch. Thanks to general_jinjur for betaing.
Rodney's song "Hurricane" was recorded in our universe by Something Corporate.