"All right, so, what's this chick's name again?" John asked, staring at his water bottle in something resembling deep concentration.
"Fyrefly," Elizabeth supplied promptly. "With two Ys."
The members of Lantean stared at their bassist in disbelief. "You're making that up," Rodney accused.
"Oh, if only I was."
Ronon stood up. "I'm not doing this."
"Ronon, sit down," said Teyla.
"Tey, none of us want to be here."
"Haven't we done all the promotional bull we can?" Rodney said. It was a definite sign of dire circumstances if he and Ronon were on the same side. "The tour kicks off at the end of the month, and come on, one appearance on this stupid show isn't going to change the hearts and minds of the masses. Anyone watching this show is going to be buying the album already." He sank back into his plush chair - at least the green room was rather cushy and accommodating - and sulked. "I want to go home and spend time with my cats. I was thinking of taking Nick Rhodes Jr. to a groomer."
"I wouldn't mind getting in a round of golf," John mused.
Elizabeth stared at the ceiling wistfully. "I'd like to get started on my summer reading list."
"I just wanna sleep," shrugged Ronon.
Teyla smiled to herself, folding her hands in her lap and staring at them. "I have not gotten to spend as much time with Evan as I would like."
"I thought he was taking you out for dinner after the show," Elizabeth said.
"Maybe I would prefer to have lunch," Teyla said.
John clapped his hands, sitting forward. "Well, that settles that, then."
"What?" asked Rodney. "What settles what? What does Teyla wanting to have lunch with that journalist settle?"
"He has a name, Rodney."
"Yes, his name is 'potential stalkerazzi and the one who reveals all our secrets to the world when you break his heart.'"
"Because the readers of the Washington Journal really care about what Teyla Emmagen eats for breakfast," said John. "Anyway, that wasn't what I meant. What I meant was, let's blow this taco stand."
"We can't leave, John," Elizabeth laughed incredulously. "It's a live show, and it starts in six minutes."
"Okay, good, we got that out of the way, now ask me if I care."
"It's bad publicity."
"There's no such thing as bad publicity. We'll tell them we have food poisoning." John seemed almost giddy faced with the prospect of freedom. "Come on. None of us want to be here. Ronon, you with me?"
Ronon glanced at Teyla, who glanced at Rodney, who glanced at Elizabeth, who looked back at John. "Um," said one of them uncertainly, but it didn't matter. John was already out the door before anyone could think of how to stop him.
"We have to go get him," Elizabeth said.
"Why?" asked Rodney.
"We just do, Rodney."
"We're performing, aren't we?" Ronon contributed.
They got up as a group, and that was when the frazzled PA poked his head in the open doorway, his earpiece bleating the static of the director's orders. "Guys, we're on three. There's going to be some patter, an audience request, the number ten video, and then you're on." Another blast of indecipherable instructions. The PA nodded to no one in particular, then frowned at the band. "There's only four of you. Where's Shep?"
"Bathroom," Teyla and Rodney piped up quickly, then glanced at each other in surprise for matching cover stories.
The PA didn't really seem to be listening. "Whatever, I'll be back to get you in fifteen. Hang tight."
"Your attention to detail staggers," Rodney muttered derisively. "All right, let's go fetch the idiot before our careers are forever tarnished."
"McKay," said Ronon.
Rodney, just warming up, didn't notice. "You know, I always thought he was too mild-mannered for a rockstar. A jackass whore, yes, but a well-behaved jackass whore. Never trashed a hotel room, never beat up a paparazzo, never did cocaine out of a hooker's belly button..."
"At least, not that I know of..."
"...but, you know, I suppose it was only a matter of time before the fame really got to him, you know, through the mounds of hair gel he calls his brain, and I have a feeling this is the beginning of a long and slippery slope to 'Where Are They Now?'"
"McKay!" All three of them said it this time.
"Oh my god, what?"
Ronon pointed up at the TV set hanging in the corner of the green room, which they'd had muted to escape the drivel of MTV's programming. Except Ronon had now turned the volume low, and one of the VJs was gibbering away about what a 'great show' they had planned for the viewers at home. "Lantean's here today—" he began, getting cut off by a scream from the studio audience so loud that a muffled version made its way down the hallways of backstage, "—to usher in your top ten. Look, look over here, Shep's just arriving now."
"'Just arriving'?" Rodney echoed disbelievingly. "Where does he get his intel from?"
The others shushed him, the camera had panned over to the full-length windows overlooking Times Square, and the scene was none other than John Sheppard, who refused to go anywhere with a bodyguard despite the label's insistence, because he 'had Ronon', getting mobbed by a series of scantily clad schoolgirls in his unannounced attempts to escape. In the melee of screeching teens, it was definitely easy to confuse whether Shep was coming or going.
Rodney was already on his cell, hailing the ex-Marine and part-time bouncer Zelenka had insisted they get 'for the rest of the band.' John did his best to pretend all three hundred muscly pounds of Dolph 'Big D' Stein didn't exist. "Shep got loose," Rodney barked frantically into his phone. "He's headed for the limo and they're smothering him in silicone implants. Get him out of there before our livelihood is ruined forever!"
No one commented on Rodney's knee-jerk hysterics, because for once, it was serving them well. On-screen, the aptly nicknamed Big D was edging his way through the crowd, scooping John under his proverbial wing, and escorting him back into the relative safety of the building. The building security guards stared bemused at the whole show. Rodney's cell buzzed. "I've got Shep," Big D reported, "but the dude's got a bad limp."
"Limp?" Rodney repeated. "Limp? Who gets mauled by the kids from the OC?"
"He's limp?" Teyla said, concern etched into her face.
"No, he's got a limp," Rodney said. "Big D's bringing him in now."
But Zelenka beat the pair there. "What in God's name is going on?"
"John escaped," Elizabeth said. "He got, um... injured."
Zelenka swore liberally. "How badly?" he demanded.
"I'm fine," John said angrily, being escorted in the room. A trail of hyperactive MTV employees followed Big D at a cautious distance. "Just twisted my leg, is all. Old football injury."
"We are taking you to the hospital," Zelenka declared firmly, met with a chorus of protests which he ignored altogether.
"Damn, Zelenka, I'm not dying."
"We're performing!" said Elizabeth.
The PA managed to stick his head into the room, still completely unawares of anything that wasn't the director yelling at him via headphones. "It's fifteen," he said. "You guys are coming out right after the commercial break."
In his wake, a harried intern pushed her way in. "Miss Emmagen? I have someone here to see you, a Mr. Lorne? He said you're expecting him."
"I am," said Teyla.
"No, no, I want a car, back door of MTV studios, and I want it five minutes ago," Zelenka said into his phone.
"I'm not going to the hospital," said John.
"I told him you were about to go live, but he said he'd wait," the intern reported.
"You said you wanted to leave," said Ronon.
"Send him to the green room, he can wait for me here," said Teyla.
"Yeah, not in a body bag!" said John.
"What are you doing, you guys are supposed to be on!" said the PA, back for round three.
The band all looked at Zelenka. "You four, go on," he said. "Mr. Stein and I have a car waiting to take John to the hospital." John opened his mouth to protest. "Just as a preliminary check-up! I will not have you broken before the tour!" He let out a stream of words in his foreign tongue that they were largely glad they couldn't translate.
"What are we supposed to do?" said Rodney.
"I do not know. Stall," Zelenka supplied.
"Oh, you are the worst publicist ever!"
All seven of them stumbled into the hallway. Teyla, Ronon, Elizabeth, and Rodney followed the PA to the stage, John and his entourage headed in the opposite direction. "Where are they going?" asked the PA.
"Bathroom," Rodney and Teyla said again.
Lorne was just pressing up the hallway, led by the intern. "Teyla?"
She smiled at him graciously and pressed her fingertips to his cheek. "I'm glad you came, but I don't have time to talk just now."
"That's okay. You have to go on, right?"
Teyla nodded at the intern. "She'll take you to the green room. I will come find you later."
"And here they are, Lantean!" the male VJ was squawking, flailing his arms in the direction of the velvet curtain and smoke machine. He had to scream to be heard over the audience, and it sounded not unlike he was going through puberty on live television. "Teyla Emmagen, Liz Weir, Rodney McKay, Ronon Dex, John Sheppard! Lantean, everyone!"
In the haze of the smoke, the techno, the yelling, and the deranged Laser Floyd light show, it was a few moments before anyone even realized only four band members made it to the stage. Even after that, it still took several minutes for the studio audience to calm down. The lack of Shep was actually a great assistance in the matter; normally, he'd be winking at random girls and causing a domino effect of excitable shrieks. If nothing else, the audience, girls outnumbering boys twenty to one, settled only to hear the reason for Shep's absence. Elizabeth passed it off as best she could with a quick, "He's backstage getting ready."
The male VJ, Rudd, seized on this tidbit to remind everyone, "That's right, Lantean will be performing their latest single later on in the show!"
Fyrefly cut in giddily, "So guys, we saw all manners of craziness earlier when Shep was getting in. What's the craziest thing a fan you've ever had a fan do?"
Ronon wisely edged in front of Rodney slightly so he wouldn't say anything.
"Our fans are wonderful people," Elizabeth enthused. "Truly top-notch, if not a bit enthusiastic."
"No one chasing after the buses or anything?" asked Rudd, looking slightly disappointed.
Teyla smiled benignly. "You're welcome to try, if you'd like, Rudd."
"Wouldn't that be a sight," crowed Fyrefly. "Who'd like to see Rudd running down the street?" She gestured at the audience, who responded with aplomb and giddy, misplaced squeals. "All right, Avalon is our falling star this week, dropping to number nine with their video for 'New Guy'!" Fyrefly said abruptly.
The on-set TV screens all started flickering the video, and Rodney leaned in to Elizabeth to whisper, "I've met squirrels with better focus." She couldn't even muster a giggle.
"I notice you didn't mention some of Shep's more enthusiastic fans."
"I don't want to give anyone any ideas."
"You don't want to glorify him," said Rodney.
Elizabeth opened her mouth to answer, but whatever she was going to hiss at him was cut off by Rudd announcing, "And that was Avalon at number nine. We're back with more Lantean. Guys, you have a tour coming up soon, right?"
"That's right. We're kicking it off July thirtieth in L.A.," Elizabeth said automatically. "We're excited to be getting back on the road again."
"Does it ever get lonely on the road?"
Teyla shrugged, glancing around. "We have each other."
"Not as fun as it sounds," piped up Rodney, before Ronon could silence him.
Fortunately, everyone seemed to find that funny. "It must be hard to leave all your loved ones behind," Fyrefly said with what she presumably thought was a critical, serious voice. "Family, friends, significant others..."
Rudd laughed sharply. "I think she's trying to figure out who's taken in the group."
"Any inter-band hookups?" Fyrefly asked, shamelessly bold now that her cover was blown.
"'Fraid not," Elizabeth said. "We're family."
"Teyla's seeing someone, actually," Ronon contributed.
"Oh yeah, Teyla? Who? Anyone we know?"
Teyla cast Ronon a sharp, tight smile. The cameras did not pick up on the threat in her eyes that she would not forget this. "His name is Evan. He's a writer."
"A writer," Rudd echoed. "Songs?"
Rudd waited for more, but it didn't come. He kept smiling. "All the talent. Is it hard to date when you're never home?"
"It is not easy," Teyla said. "It is... difficult, asking that level of commitment from someone you don't often see."
"But Teyla's always had admirable focus," said Rodney.
"Well, all right," said Fyrefly, with no traces of irony as she chirped, "We're up to the next video on our countdown... Rodney, would you like to do the honors?" In a low voice, she added, "It's all on the prompter."
"Right," said Rodney, stumbling to follow. "Uh, coming in at number eight is Saint Valentine, with 'Have You Seen My Dignity, I Think I Left It In Your Room Last Night.'"
There was only a brief moment of respite from the 'interview' as the screaming, heavily made up lead singer flooded the dozens of screens on cue. Not forty-five seconds into the video, a picture-in-picture interrupted to display a skinny teen girl in a wifebeater (proudly bearing 'I Heart Shep' across the chest in Sharpie), who exuberantly declared how much she loved this song. Ronon started to look twitchy.
After half an hour of the show, the band had sat through seven agonizingly inane questions, five abbreviated music videos, two lengthy commercial breaks (the former of which had Teyla disappearing backstage to finally greet Evan Lorne, the latter of which had Rodney disappearing backstage to frantically call Zelenka), and still Shep hadn't shown up. An agitated producer flagged down the band hovering next to the enormous windows.
"Where's Shep?" he demanded. "I don't know what game you're playing at, here. We've let you make your excuses for the episode, but don't forget Lantean is still expected to perform."
"Shep is not feeling his best," Teyla said with unearthly calm, "and he did not want to inconvenience your hosts, who are not as well-versed in dealing with him as we are. He is backstage resting up so he will be well for our performance. We will go on." Glancing pointedly at a Rodney clearly about to protest, she added, "We always honor our obligations."
The producer seemed satisfied and shuffled off, leaving Teyla with the disbelieving stares of her three remaining bandmates. "Got something in mind, Teyla?" said Rodney. "'Cause Zelenka said Sheppard was still stuck in triage. And he's capable of a lot of things, but not of being in two places at once."
"I do have something in mind, actually." And she pulled them in to detail her plan.
Anyone who'd made the mistake of not tuning into the show during the next half hour would have been horribly confused, as Lantean did not feature at all. They'd disappeared backstage to get ready for their performance, but were cutting it close to the wire, darting towards the stage seconds before the cameras went live.
"All right, everybody!" screeched Fyrefly. "This is the moment you've been waiting for! Here's Lantean, performing the first single off their new album, and your number one requested video, 'As You Fall Away'!" The lights came up, scattered alternating flashes of red and violet over Teyla's otherwise shadowed face as she took the mic at center stage. Shep had finally shown up, lurking in a darkened corner, hunched over his guitar. He didn't look his best, and he seemed almost shorter than usual, although he was positioned in front of Rodney's raised dais. He didn't look all that good, but he sounded fine, playing through his chords with careful precision.
Teyla launched into the song's heartbreaking chorus, backed up by Elizabeth, and echoed by the dozens of assembled fans who rushed the tiny stage as close as they were allowed and danced in the smoke from the dry ice. Utter madness was the most prevalent element in the whole performance, detracting from the fact that while it was a good show, Lantean had impeccable standards that today they weren't meeting.
Time finally ran out on TRL's run, and Fyrefly and Rudd screamed their goodbyes at the camera while Lantean finished their song. Not ten seconds after the last note faded, Rodney hissed, "Go, go, go," and ushered Shep off the stage before anyone could get near the band.
Zelenka was waiting for them in the green room. "About time," snapped Rodney. Big D stood with his arms crossed and dared any wayward employees to enter, while John spread out on the cushy couch with a grimace.
"What happened out there?" Zelenka demanded.
"The show must go on," Elizabeth quipped, looking exhausted. She perched on the couch arm, careful not to disturb John's propped legs. "How's our star?"
"Pissed," John answered. "Nothing's broken, just a little twist. I'm supposed to stay off my feet. What the hell happened with you guys? The waiting room in the ER only shows the Disney Channel. I tried to change the channel, but the scary guy next to me insisted on watching Hannah Montana."
"We performed," Teyla said simply. "Evan went on in your stead." Evan waved from behind Teyla, closer to her height than to John's. He was holding a guitar awkwardly and sweating.
John cocked an eyebrow, torn between being confused or being impressed. "How'd you pull that off?"
"Dark lights," said Elizabeth.
"Lots of smoke," said Ronon.
"We gave Evan a crash course in your mannerisms," Teyla said. "Fortunately, the new single does not require you to sing or be in the spotlight."
"For once in your career," said Rodney in a low tone, apparently unable to stop himself.
"And can you actually play guitar?" John asked of Evan.
"Not a note." Evan grinned. "Although I can play 'City of the Lost' on expert in Guitar Hero."
"Shit. I can't even do that, and I wrote the damn thing."
"We had a backing track, anyway," Elizabeth said.
"I said you were not well and did not want to embarrass yourself or the group," Teyla explained. She met John's eyes with a dead stare, as if ready and waiting for his protest, but to everyone's surprise, he grinned.
"You guys are like Ocean's Eleven, or something," he said appreciatively. "No one figured it out?"
"We have not been approached so far."
"I'm thinking we should get out of here before that becomes a problem," suggested Rodney.
"We should just get out of here anyway," said Ronon flatly.
John sat up slowly. "I'll drink to that. Hell, at this point, I'll drink to anything."
"Me too," Teyla, Elizabeth, Rodney, Ronon, and Evan all chorused.
"I admire your courage under fire, but this is unacceptable behavior," said Zelenka.
"Hey, don't blame us, blame the flyboy who wanted to make a run for it," said Rodney.
"No, don't blame the flyboy," said John. "Blame the guy who got us booked on this crapfest in the first place."
"Yes, the one whose sage advice when landing us in this situation in the first place was to, I believe, what was it?" Rodney snapped his fingers. "Oh, yes. 'Stall.' Excellent. Wonderful. Thank you so, so much for that charming contribution."
"'Flyboy?'" said Ronon, to no one in particular.
"May we go?" asked Teyla with a sharp sigh. Her usually formidable irritation didn't seem to ring true, given that she was leaning her head against Evan's shoulder.
"Please," said John. "Who's gonna carry me to the car?"
"Are you insane?" spluttered Rodney. "You're not broken, you prima donna."
John rolled his eyes and got to his feet, though he favored his right side heavily. The others had no way of judging if his hobble towards the door was for dramatic effect or not, but his slow progression was halted completely by the PA, who somehow looked even more frazzled than before, despite the show being over, sticking his head in the door to announce, "Hey, you guys need to... why are there..." His eyes swept from Evan to Shep and back. "Wait a sec..."
"Sorry, we must be going, the band is very busy today, we are due elsewhere," Zelenka said hastily. Big D escorted them out the door and down the hallway, drawn to his full height and glaring interns into submission.
"I'm supposed to stay off my leg."
"And how long are you going to milk this?"
"As long as necessary. Or at least until someone buys me a drink."
"I'll buy for everyone, let's just get out of here."