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“No,” Rodney says, shaking his head, and waving his hands around for emphasis, “Why didn’t you tell me… this is a strip show. A male strip show. A… with the muscles, and the…”

They’re already sitting down, front row seats in the crowded theatre. The theatre which has currently the Chippendales logo projected onto the empty stage and a warm, disembodied voice announcing, “Just three more minutes, ladies!”

Cadman, sitting to Rodney’s left, grabs his arm into a death grip and smiles evilly.

He should have never, ever trusted that woman.

Naked!” Rodney tries again, “Men! Cadman, I really don’t…”

Katie is sitting to his right and next to her is Miko, but neither of them is coming to his aid. They know. They’re all in on it.

And okay, maybe Rodney could have noticed the huge posters advertising the Chippendales. And the hordes of screaming and scarcely-clad women. But really, he had been busy thinking about this new concept to store sub-space energy, years away from a real world application of course, but theoretically…

And yes, when they around seven suddenly suggested to go see ‘a show’ he should have been suspicious, Rodney supposes, but Katie had blushed enticingly and Miko had handed him his jacket while Cadman pulled him into the elevator, and well.

Cadman says, “We come here every year, Rodney. Remember last year, when we all came down with…” she laughs, “Oestrogen induced comas?”

Rodney actually does, he had to work a fourteen hour shift just to cover for everyone. “You told me it was the flu!”

Katie smiles happily, “I danced with Jean-Paul that night”.

“And the year before that, when we all called in horny?”

“You… really?” Rodney says, searching his memory.

“Miko slept with Mike-Patrick that night. Twice!”

“Oh.” Rodney says, suddenly feeling queasy. He had been sure Miko was a shy, sweet girl. Actually, some of his lonelier fantasies involved the both of them getting together after he’d won his first Nobel price.

Cadman grins again, “But the reason we brought you tonight…”

“Oh, here we go,” Rodney says, imagining pity. The general ‘but Rodney, you have no friends.’ Or, more concise, ‘no one but us wants to be around you.’ He’d been coerced into shopping for bathing suits that way as well.

But it’s even worse.

“We brought you because we have a standing bet as to why you haven’t been able to bang a woman since we met.”

Cadman counts down on her fingers, “Katie thinks you’re just misunderstood, Miko thinks childhood trauma, Carson in accounting thinks a mild form of autism, Sam says you’re creepy - actually, I’m not sure as to whether that was a bet or just an observation - but tonight we’re here to test my theory.”

“And that would be?” Rodney is almost afraid to ask.

“I think you’re a raging homosexual.”

Cadman looks at him eagerly. Katie looks supportive. Miko is petting his knee.

“I don’t…! I am not!” A bit of experimenting in college does not make one... Okay, well, and then grad school, but still!

“Aha, but maybe you just haven’t figured it out yet!” Cadman punches him enthusiastically.

Rodney flinches. “So you brought me to…” he motions again. Words really aren’t enough.

“Look at it like this; you’re bound to pick up some tips either way!” Cadman winks.

And then the world explodes into over a thousand high pitched cheers as the curtain opens to a couple heavy beats.

Rodney puts his head in his hands and groans.

No, no, no.

 

-

 

He manages to keep his eyes closed for about ten seconds before curiosity takes over and he just has to look. And yes, there they are. The Chippendales. About a dozen or so men standing with their backs to the audience, the whole thing looking somewhat sinister by aide of a fog machine.

And then they turn around slowly, one by one. They’re all still dressed, thank god, but even under the bulky coats and strange hats they're wearing (Rodney wonders why for a second, but then listens to the music- ‘…you can leave your hat on…’) they look well-toned and athletic.

And then the dancing starts.

They’re all different, which is the first thing that actually surprises him. Rodney had expected tanned body-builder thirteen-in-a-dozen types, but they’re not. They’re all colors, shapes and sizes. White, black, Asian, heavily tattooed, hairy, smooth, one has dreadlocks, another guy looks like he could be a kindergarten teacher. Some dance easily and confident, others strong and aggressive, one of them is laughing the entire time, another one gives the audience the finger (and Rodney can hear Cadman shout, “Hell yeah!”).

Then they start stripping.

First it’s the shoes, then shirts and pants and Cadman is pretty much screaming Rodney’s eardrums to shreds while waving her arms at the men on stage.

Rodney looks at her, but he has no idea what she wants, they’re not going to come down, they’re just not. And then suddenly something damp is thrown into his face. It takes him a second to identify what it is, but when he does he realises that one of the Chippendales just ripped off his undershirt and threw it at his head. Rodney looks up at the stage where yes, a half-naked guy is waving at him. Fantastic.

And it only goes downhill from there. The second number involves plumber outfits (or the lack thereof), the third one is a lot like a boy band performance. But it’s only after the fourth song that Rodney realises exactly how terrifying their front seats are, when one of them jumps in the audience to get volunteers.

Luckily, Cadman, Katie and Miko are too busy waving and trying to draw the attention of the dreadlocked hulk of a man that comes near them to volunteer him, but Rodney still makes sure to slink down his seat a bit. Especially because the man - they announced his name was Dex, Rodney thinks and why is he even remembering this - looks at him speculatively before pointing at Katie. She whoops like the guy has asked her to marry him or something and goes along, followed by cheers of encouragement from Miko.

They tie her up. Rodney can't believe this. He has to try so hard to get a woman to even agree to go out for coffee with him and these, these cavemen, just have to point and bam, women are all over them. Even Cadman the-notoriously-undatable throws jealous looks at Katie who is being used as the meat in a, a shimmying sandwich of bronzed muscle.

So okay, he might be a little jealous. But not much, Rodney tells himself as they bring out the whipped cream and make Katie lick some off of Ford something's stomach. The crowd erupts in crazy high-pitched screams. It's ridiculous. It's insane, it's mass-arousal, it's... a little bit fascinating, perhaps. But only from a pure outsiders perspective.

After the whipped cream number they release Katie from the stage, and rope up some other woman with a lasso, introducing the cowboy theme of the evening or something, there seems to be very little explanation. The girl totally goes for it, letting herself be carried by two of the guys back-stage.

On stage, it’s quiet for a moment until the first notes of one of those damn country songs starts playing. Rodney knows he's heard this one before, probably in the car or something. And maybe it's the vague recognition or maybe it's the fact that there's just one guy on stage now, fully dressed in a cowboy outfit, dancing, but Rodney suddenly realises that he's humming along.

And, okay, maybe he’s enjoying himself just a tiny bit. Rodney quickly looks over at Cadman to see whether she’s noticed, the teasing alone would be merciless, but she's barely paying attention. Seeing his look she says, “That one is John. He's one of the... Oh god, he's coming over here!” He is.

‘John’ has incredibly tight jeans on under the leather belt and chaps. He’s jumping closer and closer to the edge of stage, to an arm length away from where they’re sitting, rolling his hips along with the music, and it's utterly sexy. Rodney knows his mouth is hanging open but in that second, he doesn’t quite care. Cadman was right. He needs to learn how to dothat.

Rodney doesn’t realize the guy can actually see him until the cowboy, John, smiles lazily at him and winks before strutting back to the middle of the stage. Cadman lets out a high-pitched shriek, “He likes you Rodney! Oh, isn’t he amazing?” But Rodney isn’t paying attention, John has joined his handful of colleagues who have appeared now, and they’re dancing in unison. When they all take off their shirts and start fingering their belts Rodney tries to suppress the sudden hot flash to his stomach. Wow.

After a lot of teasing, their jeans come off, too, and it’s just not possible that they’re all that well endowed, not without plastic surgery at least! Rodney is about to say as much to Cadman when they all grin cheekily and each pull a sock from their underwear.

After that, they all turn around and get out of the underwear as well. Rodney just sees a flash of rather nice asses before the light goes down and the song is over.

He tries to tell himself it’s only normal he’s feeling a small sense of regret.

The outer curtain closes, and one of the more dressed ones, “Evan!” Miko supplies in a comical squeak, comes to stand in front of it. He says something into his microphone, something like, “Now who wants to dress our cowboy in his uniform?” and it doesn't make any sense - why would a cowboy have a uniform? - which is the only reason why Rodney is looking at the guy with a questioning expression, he swears.

And then, of course, is when it happens.

The guy, Evan, eyes twinkling, looks directly at Rodney. Steps down the stage towards him, scoots down and sticks out his hand, “Come on!”

Rodney shakes his head as soon as he gets the intention, “Oh no! Absolutely not, I am not going on a stage, I am most certainly...” but Cadman gives him a push and Evan a pull and before he knows it Rodney is crawling knees first onto the hard wooden stage, pretty much blinded by the light, being pulled up by Evan and then dragged behind the curtain.

Where when Rodney blinks the spots from his eyes, he can see the cowboy - ‘John,’ his brain supplies - waiting. Naked.

Completely naked.

The one good thing is that John also seems slightly flustered, “You picked a guy?”

Evan grins cheekily and signs somebody to open the curtains. Only John's quick reflex of turning around saves him from flashing the entire audience, and Rodney actually feels for the man for about a second, before he remembers that oh yes, he’s about to be embarrassed beyond belief here.

The Dex man mountain from before comes up with a chair with clothes hanging on it, grinning victoriously, and Evan says into the microphone, “Now our John wants to be dressed!”

Rodney dares a glance back towards the audience. He can see Cadman laughing so hard she looks like she's convulsing, Miko hiding most of her face behind her hands, and Katie looking on with a huge smile. Oh god. He is never going to live this down. Ever.

So he goes with the easiest solution. The faster he can get this cowboy character dressed, the faster he can go sit back down. And spend the rest of his life dying in humiliation. So Rodney reaches for the coat, but the cowboy - John - looks at him from over his shoulder and instructs, “Underwear first!”

Rodney takes the white cotton slip, gets to the other side of John - and wow, the naked, the naked is even more apparent up close like this, John has a nice size, um - and gets on his knees. The music is extremely loud here, but it does nothing to drown out the screams of the audience. They are going crazy.

Rodney can feel the beat vibrate in his chest together where his heart is going a hundred miles a minute. This is insane. His hands are shaking and sweaty when he (businesslike, he thinks,) touches John’s ankle to guide his foot into the right hole. Then Rodney scoots the underpants up, gets the fabric over John’s knees, onto, well. He sort of has to look.

Remembering how the guy had frowned at the thought of him doing this, Rodney tries to keep his touch as unobtrusive as possible while he drags the elastic over John’s ass into place. “I’m sorry if I’m, I’m sorry if I’m not good at this,” Rodney says towards John’s navel - seriously, the guy has a happy trail going all the way from his neck to his… - and then looking up briefly, pretty sure his anxiety is showing on his face.

John smiles at him, “Never dressed a guy before?” he wiggles his ass a little, the whole audience exploding with noise again.

“Well, so what if I haven’t?” Rodney says, suddenly feeling insulted. “Not everyone who comes to this, this show is expecting to be called on here to do this you know. Some of us have lives and careers that don’t involve, I don’t know, thongs.” Rodney gets the socks, and pulls them over John’s feet. He is doing this on a podium in front of oh, two thousand people? He’s allowed a little hesitancy, isn’t he? Seriously, this would be about the time where he usually starts breathing too fast, getting to the brim of passing out and…

John puts a hand on his shoulder, effectively interrupting his train of thought, and says, “Pants?” with an eyebrow lift that should not look that dorky on him but it totally does.

John hands him the pants, which probably is cheating, Rodney thinks. Rodney guides John’s feet through them, and then sits up to buckle the belt, once again speaking to John’s stomach over the insane cries of the audience, “Why do I need to dress you anyway? You can't dress yourself?”

This time John laughs, a grateful sound, and Rodney gets a starts on his shoes, while John says, “You're something special aren't you?”

“Bet you say that to everyone who gets dragged up here.” Rodney gets up and turns with John to get him into the shirt. In doing so his hand grazes the hairs on John's stomach, and John breathes in sharply.

“You’re ticklish?” Rodney guides the shirt over John's warm shoulders.

“No. Just not used to a guy doing this.” John grins widely towards the audience, giving a little pelvic thrust too go with it. Rodney tries to hurry up with the buttons, realising they’re not exactly here to be chatty, but his hands keep on skipping.

Finally John stops his hand, looks at him, and makes him go slow. “Breathe.”

Rodney nods.

It’s almost intimate.

Rodney knows it isn’t, not really, at this point John's three back-up dancers have come onto the stage as well and they are dividing some of the attention, but it still feels strange to be standing here, in the middle of all the cries and laughs and music in a sea of light, almost chest to chest, John holding his hand.

Of course, the next moment John's jacket goes on, and a ridiculous looking military hat of some sort, and Rodney is done.

John - he probably hugs his woman usually, Rodney thinks - reaches for Rodney's hand again, and helps him off the stage. When Rodney scrambles down again John gives him a last smile before turning around, and he starts dancing.

All of that only took a minute or two, three, but it feels like much longer.

Cadman immediately pats him down, hugs him half to death, and asks him how it was. Rodney is breathing fast, sweating, his heart is hammering, he’s shaking all over… And he barely hears her. He mumbles something, but his eyes are stuck following John on stage, the lights and people blending together, the absolute hotness of John in that costume, the one he put on him, is sort of overwhelming.

By the next song Rodney’s high is fading, and he can breathe again. After that there's a doctors number, where John isn't in, and another futuristic type dance, and it's only near the end where they all come out in jeans and a bowtie that Rodney sees John again.

There’s too much vigorous dancing for any eye contact, and it’s not like he was trying anyway, that would be stupid. They all take a final bow, the crowd going absolutely wild behind them, Rodney can actually feel some woman's hot breath in his neck, Cadman uses her elbows and catches some pants, and that's it, the show is over.

Walking out of the theatre is like waking from a dream.

Rodney is flushed, his ears are ringing, and even his legs are still trembling slightly. But luckily all the women seem to be too excited to care about him - yet.

When they’re through the doors Cadman looks at him and winks, “And now we're going to score invites to the after-party!”

“After... what?" Rodney blinks.

 

-

 

Surprisingly, it's not that hard. Cadman approaches one of the bouncers, the guy takes out a sheet of paper, and a couple minutes later she comes back with a smile. “We’re on the list.”

“How did you…” Rodney asks.

“Oh, I know Ford.” Cadman grins, “We were in basic together.”

They walk outside towards the artists entrance, apparently the place to be is somewhere else inside the complex completely, and Cadman schmoozes some more with another guy, a hairdresser named Chuck she runs into on the way out.

“Cadman was in the army?” Rodney asks Katie, who is now looking somewhat flushed and is hurriedly reapplying her lipstick.

“Yes, Rodney!” Miko sounds a little annoyed, “Do you never listen to us at all? I have told you this, girls like it when you pay attention to what they say.”

Rodney, his mind briefly replaying John’s touch again, hums absently, “Sure, you’re right.”

If Cadman or any of them wonder why Rodney hasn’t just left yet now the show is over, Rodney himself doesn’t think about that until they’re already led through heavy doors and a couple dark hallways by yet another bouncer, some vague party music ahead coming closer and closer.

Rodney doesn’t do well at parties. Ever.

And Cadman isn’t even dragging him along anymore, she’s up front, hiking up her black leather skirt another two inches, Rodney could easily tell them goodnight and go. But maybe it’s Cadman’s voice in the back of his head, telling him that ‘You never do anything fun Rodney!’ Or maybe it’s that he’s genuinely curious about the party. He doesn’t know, just that it’s very easy to just follow them.

They end up in a loft-like industrial space; Rodney is not sure whether it’s actually back-stage or somewhere else. There’s a bar in the corner, and backlights drowning the place in a strange surreal light. There are a couple Chippendales dancing already, obviously showing off for their posse of women. Rodney can see Miko looking at them adoringly, but he’s parched, plus, he supposes if he’s going to survive this night then he needs to be at least somewhat intoxicated, so he offers to go get the drinks.

The bar is just as crowded and loud, Rodney has to manoeuvre through throngs of scarcely-clad women only to nearly get throttled by a huge man with a golden “T” around his neck and a bright tattoo on his forehead. As soon as their eyes meet though, the man smiles brightly and grasps his arm, steadying him. “Hey, man, that was well done! John is somethin’, huh?”

Rodney nods faintly, and his arm is released as the guy yells over to the bar, “Michael, hook him up, would ya?”

And Rodney immediately has the attention of the bartender, who hands him his drinks and when he wants to pay refuses and says, “On the house!” With a wink.

Rodney sees it, and strangely and silently starts freaking out. Is he being hit on? Have all of these men seen him? Of course they have, he was putting underwear on a cowboy, it’s unavoidable that they’re going to assume that… That he’s gay.

Suddenly there’s a voice in his ear, “Don’t worry, they’re just happy that they’ll get to tease me for the next couple of months.”

It’s John-the-cowboy. Rodney knows it is before he’s even fully turned around. John who’s grinning at him, and helps him load up all his drinks. He doesn’t know anyone who drawls like that in real life, (which, hah, so cliché he doesn’t even want to think it).

“So, what’s your name?” John asks, looking at him indulgently.

He probably must be used to people fawning all over him, Rodney thinks. To women trying to score, afterwards.

“Doctor Rodney McKay,” Rodney says, trying to put as much of I-am-a-doctor-and-therefore-do-not-belong-here into those couple syllables as possible.

“A doctor?” John asks, raising his eyebrows.

Rodney’s hands are already starting to shake around the four wet glasses he’s holding and he’s not sure whether this John is laughing at him or with him, and so he snaps just a little when he replies, “Phd, yes. Two, actually.”

“Cool,” John says. And then, seeing the way Rodney’s expression has turned sour, “I shouldn’t keep you, see you around, yeah?”

Rodney nods, and with a last touch to his hand, John is gone. Again.

 

-

 

It’s three in the morning when Rodney needs a break.

Miko has long since left to ‘catch-up’ with Mike-Patrick, whatever his name was. Cadman is talking passionately to Ford in a corner, Rodney can catch the words “explosive” and “like C4” occasionally. Katie is still on the dancefloor, being swung around by the man with the tattoo and “T” necklace. But Rodney has had enough. His ears are probably permanently damaged, his clothes stained with several spilled drinks, and most importantly, he hasn’t found a single woman who wants to talk to him. Probably because they all think he’s gay and therefore a waste of time especially with these fine examples of testosterone around, he’s aware, but still.

So he decides to go outside.

He gets lost only once in the long dark hallways, and then he’s back through the doors, into the cold night air. Rodney steps outside and looks up at the quite clear stars. It’s probably freezing, but he’s feeling overheated anyway - too much alcohol and people in a small space - it’s a relief to be outside.

Until a voice from near his knees says, “It’s great isn’t it?”

Rodney looks down and yes, just his luck, there is John-the-cowboy. Sitting on his ass on the sidewalk, his knees pulled in close in front of him, wrapped up in a scarf and mittens and a thick jacket.

Rodney takes a step back. “I didn’t know you were sitting here, I’ll ah, go back inside now.” Don’t want to bother the man with the fan club.

“Doctor Rodney McKay,” John’s voice sounds a little rough, “Two PhD’s in what?”

“Astrophysics and mechanical engineering,” Rodney answers automatically.

John smiles, the corner of his mouth just visible above his scarf. “I figured.”

“What? Why?” Rodney is stuck between being offended or not, “It is practical. I mean, yes, it might not seem that way to someone, well, like you, but we do invent real-world applications more than you’d… Why?” he asks again.

John is still smiling, Rodney can hear it in his voice, “The stars. You came out, and you didn’t see me sitting here, but you noticed the stars.”

Rodney is not sure what to say to that.

But John apparently does, “You can sit down if you like.” He makes it sound reasonable. As if grown men sitting on sidewalks in front of theatres is a regular occurrence. Then again, maybe for him it is, Rodney thinks.

Rodney is already shivering without a jacket, but what comes out of his mouth is, “Yes. Sure. I mean, why not sit on the freezing dirty sidewalk? It sounds like fun!” and he folds his legs under himself and tries not to groan as he sits down, leaving a careful foot between where John’s knees are pulled up and his own.

“Your girlfriend won’t dance with you?”

John asks it, and Rodney stares at him. “One, she’s not my girlfriend, her name is Cadman and she’s my secretary, better known as the bane of my existence. She’s currently discussing military procedure or possibly a bad case of food poisoning with your buddy Ford so no, I don’t think she’ll miss me even if I don’t come to work for the next year or so. Two, not exactly the dancing type here. And three, why don’t you assume I’m gay?”

“Well…” John is laughing again, Rodney can see it in his eyes. “You said yourself you’d never dressed a guy before.”

Rodney sticks his chin out, “Maybe I only undress them! Maybe I’m a gay sexual predator who only preys on men who can dress themselves! You don’t know!”

John lets out a deep chuckle, “True. So, do you?”

“No…” Rodney admits. “Not so much with the dressing or undressing of men. Or women, really,” he adds wistfully, just drunk enough to be truthful. “Actually, Cadman wanted me to see this tonight because she thought I could pick up some tips.”

“Did you?” John asks, sounding interested.

“I don’t know…” Rodney replies. “Of course, if only they’d recognise my superior intellect they’d fall for me right away.”

“Of course…” John echoes with a grin.

Rodney is slowly starting to lose feeling in his fingertips. He blows some air onto them and starts rubbing his hands together. Suddenly he wants to tell him, “I never look at the stars that much. I mean, people assume… I did, when I was very young, but then… Just the stars we could see wasn’t enough anymore. I wanted to see more, know more. And it’s never enough, I guess,” he adds, in a rare moment of insight.

“You love it though, don’t you?”John is tracing his finger over the line where one tile of the sidewalk meets the other, again and again. It’s strangely enticing to look at. “You worded it, I don’t know, like something that you need? You’re never going to know it all, so you’re always going to be there, looking for the final answer?”

“You mean like Moby Dick?”

John grins, “More like Batman.”

“But he fights crime,” Rodney says, nevertheless pleased at the comparison. There are clouds passing over the moon now, lighting John’s face into strange shapes.

“And you fight the bad theories, there’s a connection somewhere.” John smiles. Then frowns, “It’s entirely possible I’ve been drinking too much tonight.”

“Oh, yes, me too,” Rodney agrees. Actually, his head is sort of spinning.

He remembers something Miko once said about the first step to politeness being showing interest in others, so after a moment of silence Rodney asks, “How about you? Shouldn’t you be in there, dancing the night away and whatnot?”

“Nah,” John says, “we’re only required to stay for an hour or two, after that we can do whatever.”

“And so you’re sitting here…” Rodney says.

“On the dirty freezing sidewalk?” John grins.

Rodney, despite the cold, feels himself color a bit. He has to admit it’s sort of nice where they’re sitting. Although that probably has more to do with the company than…

“Here,” John says. He pulls of both of his mittens, and hands then to Rodney.

“But…” Rodney says, accepting them hesitantly.

“Your hands are cold, aren’t they?” John asks.

Rodney looks at his hands. He had been flexing them unconsciously for the last couple minutes. He even fumbles a little while putting the gloves on, his fingers are completely numb. The mittens are gloriously warm inside, making the tips of his fingers feel like they’re being pinpricked.

They’re silent again. John looks back up at the stars, not just glancing, but involving his entire body in it, arching his back, tilting his head.

And Rodney thinks, ‘I want to kiss him.’

It comes out of nowhere, and as soon as Rodney thinks it he knows it simply has to do with seeing John naked, and touching him, and that it’s a completely normal human reaction to someone who is that incredibly hot and apparently willing to speak to him. He won’t, of course – Rodney’s many things but he’s not into kissing unsuspecting Chippendales.

But it’s a warm flutter of a thought that seems like it’s not all that outrageous, right then, so he lets it be.

Time expands for a bit, and Rodney feels like it’s just an extension to the dream-like quality of the moment when John says, “We used to have nights like this. In Nevada. I’d go camping with my brother and we’d sit there, shivering, looking up at the stars all night.” His eyes look like he’s far away.

Rodney wants to reach out and grab his hand.

Instead he says, “I was born in Hawaii, we only moved to Canada when my sister was born, better schools, socialized medicine and all that. But I never got used to the cold. Actually, there’s a story in that...”

Rodney tells him his story, and then John tells him something about his brother, and then there’s a parallel to Spiderman that has them both laughing so much his stomach hurts.

Then it gets quiet again, and Rodney finds himself looking at the stars, too. Really looking. Their breath is floating upwards in clouds, and Rodney follows it until he comes back to eyeing John. John who looks back, his eyes glittering.

Rodney doesn’t even try to hide his smile. He’s somewhere between pleasantly buzzed and drunk, he’s feeling good. Great even. In fact, he’s sure that John is actually leaning in a little. He’s probably just cold, Rodney thinks, but he still gets a little thrill when John’s shoulder bumps into his.

And suddenly, when he looks at John’s face they’re very close.

John is licking his lips. It’s incredibly beautiful, and Rodney possibly even moans a little. ...right before the door opens behind them with a loud creak.

John’s head snaps up, and Rodney laughs nervously.

There are boots creaking over the sidewalk, and a head pops around the corner. It’s the guy who dragged Rodney on stage, Evan, sounding worn out. “John, we’re ready. Are you coming?”

“Yeah,” John says back hoarsely.

Evan disappears again, and John looks at Rodney. “I’m sorry.”

Rodney nods, “It’s okay, you… I understand.” He tries to stop the disappointment from leaching through. He doesn’t even know why he is disappointed, it’s not like it would have gone anywhere, he would have kissed John and John would have said no, it’s something he has done a dozen times before. But it’s forming a heavy, tense ball in his stomach none the less.

The moment isn’t completely over yet though, because Rodney can see a moment of hesitation in John’s eyes now, something soft, maybe the same sense of regret, Rodney thinks. John must see something in him, too, because he pushes his scarf out of the way, and his cold fingertips touch Rodney’s cheek.

Rodney startles, but it’s so deliberate it can’t really mean anything else, and this time when John leans in, he does so too. Their lips brush only briefly, John’s upper lip to his lower, but it’s a soft, amazing touch.

Then John draws back, and, his eyes surprisingly clear, says, “Good night, Doctor McKay.”

He gets up, and Rodney has just enough presence of mind to reply, “You too, um, John,” before he is gone.

Rodney stays on the sidewalk for a couple more minutes, contemplating the way his lips are tingling and his chest is feeling warm and his butt is basically frozen numb.

Eventually he gets up and goes back inside, the party incredibly loud and warm but dying down none the less. The others are all sitting at a table together now, Miko’s hair in a messy ponytail, Katie’s lipstick smeared all over her face. They have their shoes off, Katie’s stilettos standing on the table, a row of empty drinks next to them.

Cadman sees him first. “Rodney! We were wondering where you were! You didn’t get lucky, did you?”

Rodney tries to find his voice, but it still comes out rather shaky, “Of course not.”

“Well, we’re ready to go,” Cadman says, nodding at the now almost empty dancefloor.

Rodney nods, “Me, too.”

 

-

 

It’s only when Rodney gets home that he realises that he is still wearing John-the-Chippendale’s mittens.

He takes them off to go to bed, of course, and they end up lying on his nightstand, two woollen, orange, innocent-looking shapes. Rodney tries sleeping and not thinking about John for about ten minutes. Then he thinks about John. Then he thinks about the mittens, sighs, and turns the light back on. Seriously, what kind of self-respecting stripper wears orange mittens anyway?

Rodney takes them, and runs them through his fingers. They’re obviously home-made by someone, some of the stitches are not quite lining up. And they smell like some kind of laundry detergent, Rodney determines, (and fine, yes, he had been hoping for a bit of John’s scent, never mind). These are well-loved mittens.

Which is why, maybe, when Rodney finally falls asleep around dawn he’s still holding them.

Noon comes way too quickly, and when Rodney gets called in by Zelenka (who wasn’t even invited-hah!) he showers quickly, dresses, and, he doesn't know why, wears the gloves to go to work.

Where Cadman is sitting behind her desk and a box of Tylenol.

The news that Rodney had gone to see the Chippendales with them has spread quickly, and Zelenka grins evilly as he spots him. “Still hung-over from last night, yes? Did you dance with huge man? Did you have sexual orientation altering experience? We all want to know.”

Rodney snaps, “Bring me coffee” and for the next hour, that's all he says.

He has put the gloves on his desk though, and he keeps noticing them all through the afternoon.

Eventually, Cadman, moving very carefully, comes in to dump some files of Rodney’s desk, but where Rodney had thought that she would share his little stage adventure with the entire group, all she does is wink. Later, Miko brings him more coffee and smiles at him. When Rodney sees Katie in the hallway she waves and whispers conspiratorially, “My feet are so sore!” and it's like he's in on it now. Their little club.

Rodney even goes out with them all for a drink after work, mainly because Cadman insists that the best cure for a hangover is to just get hammered again. And once there's he's even more surprised when they all just save a seat for him and include him into the conversation.

When he finally snaps and says, “What? Why are you all being so nice to me?”

Katie says, “We’ve always wanted to be a group of four girlfriends like in Sex and the City. Now you're our fourth, Rodney.”

Rodney snipes, “Yes, and who am I, Samantha?”

They all burst out laughing.

Miko grins, “I can’t believe we’re still doubting that you’re gay, Rodney.”

He mumbles, “Late night, couldn't sleep, the only thing that was on…” but they don't seem to care, happily talking over him.

After the one drink Rodney begs off though, he has some precious brain cells to spare after all. And when he is walking back through the cold, his hands nicely wrapped up in John's mittens, he feels another pang just remembering the night before. John.

That night, when he goes to bed with the mittens, Rodney realises that they’re dangerous things. They have an illusion knitted into them or something.

And also, that maybe he should give them back.

It’s not hard to look up the Chippendale's touring schedule and determine which venue to send them to. It’s harder to decide what to write. Finally Rodney settles on:

“These better be special to you, because the over-night postage to the US is certainly going to be spectacular. If they're just knitted by some adoring fan, well, I suppose I shouldn't have bothered. But just in case they were made by your dying grandmother or something... These were really warm- thank you. R.M.”

Rodney writes his return address on the box, not because he expects to get something back, not really, but just in case the box gets lost. Or failure to deliver.

And exactly one week later, the fed-ex guy stops in front of his door, and hands him an even bigger box.

Rodney’s hands are definitely not shaking when he opens it. It's the same mittens again. It has a little note inside, with a strangely small and economic handwriting:

“Winters are a lot colder up in Canada, I think you might need them more than I do.” It has a little smiley face at the bottom, drawn on top of an overly muscled body. Rodney laughs.

The box also, Rodney checks, has a return address in Las Vegas.

It doesn't take him long to type up a letter in reply, print it off, and, before he can lose the nerve, he mails it.

“You're claiming you're not going to be cold? Mister I-dress-as-if-I-am-on-a-polar-expedition-to-sit-in-front-of-a-theatre? Well suit yourself; my hands have been remarkably warm wearing these. Usually I try to solve said problem with the vigorous holding of steaming coffee cups in winter, but I suppose this new approach of yours has something to it as well.

Oh, and also, it might be possible that your moves have rubbed off on me, albeit not in the way I had hoped. It appears I'm one of the girls now at the office. References to Sex and the City have been made, it wasn't pretty. Although I know Cadman prefers bad sci-fi and comic books anyway, the hussy. You seemed to have an at least superficial understanding of superhero characters, so tell me, if I manage to win a Nobel price, does that make me one? Radek claims no, but he's Czech, he's probably lying. R.M.”

It's only after Rodney posts it that he realises he had asked a question, and therefore implied that he was expecting a response. Which he tells himself he isn't.

But as every day passes by without one, he becomes crabbier and crabbier.

Eventually it's Katie who takes pity on him and takes him out for a manicure. Or well, he's not sure that's supposed to be pity, but it's rather nice to be taken care of that way and this means she has at least thirty minutes to listen to him.

When the reply comes, it's a very small envelope with airplane stickers on it, return address Italy. Rodney stares at it for a while before opening, sure it must be wrong, but it isn't. Inside are three incredibly thin tissues, all written on in black ink. It takes some puzzling to get it all figured out, but eventually he does.

The first one says: “Writing this from the plane; there's not exactly much paper here so I thought I’d be original.” with another drawing of an oversized bodybuilder and John's tiny spiky head on top.

The next one says: “The Czech are famous for lying when it comes to important things. You can be a super hero, sure. (How do you hope to win a Nobel, exactly?) Oh, and word of advice, if you go down the superhero road make sure to only wear the tights when you're alone. People don't tend to respond well to that- I learned that particular lesson at age ten, the hard way.”

The third one is a drawing of a man with fangs that reads “Czech = evil” and at the bottom it says “I've never been to Italy. I will be when I post this, I suppose. There’s someone next to me watching his fifteenth episode of Spongebob. Yes, it's one of my colleagues. Sometimes, I think we spend our cool on stage and have to geek it up off stage to compensate.”

Rodney sends a letter back to the Italy address the next day, and gets another light letter from John earlier than he had been expecting. It's written on an Italian bill with a lot of zero's. It reads: “Someone threw this at me today. I thought I was rich, but apparently these are useless since the euro. You should taste the coffee here, it's amazing.”

Rodney writes back the next day, and they fall into something of a rhythm. John sends him things, the stranger the better, whenever he can. And Rodney replies immediately so his letters can reach John before he’s gone somewhere else again.

From Belgium, Rodney gets a letter written on the back of five beer cards.

From Amsterdam, the same but cigarette paper.

France brings edible paper.

London a postcard he has to puzzle together in the form of a bus.

Rodney says, “The day you write me something on women's underwear just because it was handy is the day I stop replying, you hear me?”

And John's reply is written on a (male) thong with the Chippendale logo. It simply says: “How about this?”

After a while, the postage of sending letters to a different country every week starts to catch up with Rodney, and he asks: “So why don't you use the internet? It might be very handy you know. Direct connections, no longer the need to find something insane to write on...”

And when John replies completely besides the question, “Oh don't tell me, you're completely computer illiterate, aren't you? Beneath that springy hair there is a nineteenth century brain who thinks the intraweb is a series of tubes one shouts into.”

Eventually John replies (written on a white cotton sock, and hidden in between a lot of jokes), “I have to reply to fans through email all the time. I get sick of it. You know, they wanted me to change my name when I first signed up? They thought John was too plain, so they wanted me to be 'John-Bart' or something. Luckily Teyla talked them out of it, saying it would lend me more of a mystique.” and Rodney leaves it be.

John is in Scandinavia when Rodney stops hearing from him.

First he tells himself it's nothing. Then he tells himself John must have sent a package, and that's why it’s taking a long time. Then, he goes to yell at his subordinates a lot. He sleeps with the mittens.

And then Cadman notices, and they don’t really invite him out as much as drag him along on a girl’s night out. Rodney is only on his second vile-colored cocktail of the evening when he can’t hold it in anymore and he tells them, “I, um, I might have been writing to John and he’s stopped replying to me and how long means that it’s over – I mean, technically speaking, if you have an, ah, postal relationship, how long?”

“John?” Miko frowns.

“Writing to him?” Katie looks him over from behind her Piña Colada.

“Yes, John, from the, you know...” Rodney waves his hand. For some reason he can’t get himself to say ‘John the Chippendale who I dressed on stage’ “...show. John.”

It’s Cadman who gets it, “Wait - John John? Chippendale John?!” She punches him in the arm, “Rodney!”

“Ow!” Rodney rubs him arm. Also, “I kissed him.”

“You what?!!”

There’s no end to the questions, but Rodney finds that he was bursting to tell someone, and then there’s more drinks, consolation drinks and ‘he’s a bastard’ drinks. And by the end of the evening Rodney has Katie rubbing comforting circles on his shoulders, Cadman’s head lying on his lap, and Miko saying wryly, “Mike-Patrick never called me, either. He could have left a note. Or an autograph. It was a beautiful night.”

Rodney doesn’t remember how they got home.

 

-

 

After ten days, an official looking letter with the Chippendale logo falls into his mailbox.

Rodney panics for a second, and then rips it open. The writing is different from John’s, and it's short. It reads:

“Hi Rodney, John wanted me to write to you and tell you he has broken his wrist and can't write. It took him over a week of being annoying to finally tell me what’s wrong and let me write - otherwise I would have done it sooner. We're in Norway until the nineteenth, give him a call, will you? Evan”

With a thirteen-digit code beneath that Rodney guesses is a phone number. Great.

Well, it's the evening of the eighteenth for him and he really doesn't want to think about what time that makes it for John, but Rodney grabs his phone, and dials. As it rings, he imagines that he wants to sound charming. He wants to...

And then there's a muffled, “Hullo?”

“Yes, well, uh, hi, it's, um, Rodney McKay.”

“...Rodney?” John sounds a lot confused, and a little hopeful.

“Yes, it's ah, your buddy Evan gave me this number? Are you on painkillers or something? Because I heard about the wrist and how stupid do you have to be anyway, sprain a wrist dancing - do I even want to know how that happened, did you get caught on the elastic of your underwear or something? I hear those can be tricky. Well, not that I’ve ever tried combining getting out of my clothes and dancing myself. Accident waiting to happen there. Anyway… You sound strange.”

John says, a little more irritated now, “It's five in the morning.”

“Oh,” Rodney says, “Well, I just wanted to say, you know, get well soon and all that. I could, you know, I should leave you.”

“Rodney,” John says again. “…How are you?”

“Well,” Rodney thinks, “you won't believe the day I had with...”

When they put down the phone three hours later because John has to go up and catch his plane home, he’s leaving the tour for at least a month, Rodney is feeling utterly relaxed.

And ok, maybe even a little... happy.

Especially because John said, right before ending their conversation (Rodney had already accompanied him on his way through the shower and various toilet activities), “I'm glad you called.”

Once John is back home in Vegas, they talk on the phone regularly.

John still has to go dance and keep in shape, but because the world tour is going on without him he’s without his buddies, which makes him sound a little sad, every once in a while. Rodney makes sure to talk over it until he’s laughing again. He doesn’t want that, after all.

A month later, John sends him his cast in a package titled, “Victory!

Every square inch of the thing is written on. Things like: “Milk, eggs, dancing practice with Teyla.”

Or, in a different handwriting, “Save a horse, ride a cowboy!”

And, every once in a while, just to keep him on his feet, Rodney guesses, things like “Spiderman rocks!” and “Balding astrophysicists are not food.”

There's one area shaded red reading, “Itchy!”

On the one free spot, there's an arrow saying “Rodney’s signature goes here.”

Rodney tells John on the phone, “What do you want me to do with it, hang it on my wall?” But he does sign it and sends it back.

Winter shifts into spring in Canada, and that brings John’s foray back into stripping again, and then, after his buddies have returned, his first show together with them.

And Rodney gets four tickets in the mail.

Ok, so he had maybe mentioned that Seattle wasn’t that much of a drive - it actually sort of is – and Cadman, Katie and Miko’s obsession, but not that he’d be willing to, but just that he could, maybe...

And John sent him tickets. Just like that. Rodney calls and doesn’t wait for a hello, just says, “Is this your way of asking me to be one of your Chippendale groupies? I’m pretty sure the Nobel Price committee frowns on that kind of behavior.”

John replies, “Aaaw, come on Rodney, it’ll be fun.”

And Rodney fights an internal debate for about two seconds, then goes to work, gathers Cadman, Miko and Katie into his office, and says, with a serious, confidential tone...

“We’re going to have to call in sick.”

 

-

 

They drive down in Katie’s Prius.

Settle in to their hotel rooms, and Rodney goes out alone to meet John before the show, being absolutely sure that he’s not nervous, until the moment he walks in. Because the thing is, in the last couple months Rodney had sort of forgotten how incredibly hot John really is. Which is now apparent from half a bar away.

John is dressed in plain back turtleneck and jeans and he shouldn’t look like this, except he does. Like sex on legs. Actually, if Rodney were smart, he'd turn around right now and forget this craziness. And he is thinking of doing just that, when... “Rodney!” John suddenly notices him, and grins a little dorkily.

Rodney takes a couple of steps, and there he is. Rodney is already flustered before he's even said a word. Eventually that word does come out, and it's, “John, it's ah, ah, good, eh, nice to see you.”

And John smiles again.

After a couple awkward minutes, they are sort of beyond social niceties and not quite on an easy friendship level, Rodney gets bossy and insists to see the scar on John's wrist. Which segues into John telling him about a new routine he's about to do, “I get to be James Bond! James Bond, Rodney!” with glittering eyes.

Then they get down to juvenile humor, “Two thongs don't make a right,” John says, his eyes scrunching up in pleasure.

“Oh, har har, is that one of your Chippendale jokes? Because they could use some tuning up.”

And eventually, there’s just the quick and easy trading of stories and barbs and fun. There’s Star Trek and Star Wars and some obscure seventies comic book characters and Rodney starts to believe the whole idea of John spending all of his cool on stage, because he’s a huge dork underneath, he really is.

Their two hours fly by, and before he knows it they have to go. Rodney to go to the theatre the show will be at, John to escape through a back door into the artists lounge or something.

Rodney, not sure what to do, reaches out a hand, and John takes it, and holds on, briefly. “Um, break a leg? Or don’t, please don’t, don’t break anything!”

John’s eyes have lines around the corners when he laughs. “I promise.”

 

-

 

Rodney meets the others in front of the theatre, Cadman in her usual all-black leather ensemble of flirting and death, Katie re-applying her lipstick in a little mirror, and Miko in a beautiful blue strapless contraption with matching shoes. Their combined cloud of perfume surrounds him while he’s urged to tell everything that happened, and they walk in.

And yes, they are on the front row again.

This time, Rodney can’t wait for the show to start. And when the house lights dim, and then music starts, there's a certain... thrill in his stomach to go along with it. Rodney can make John out from the others within the first couple of seconds, as well as recognise Evan, Dex and Ford.

Evan smiles at them when he dances by, obviously at peace with the world. Or maybe up to something, Rodney can't tell. Actually, when Dex gets into the audience again and shows him a toothy grin he knows they're up to something. Something potentially embarrassing.

This time around, John dances his cowboy number again, but it's one of his buddies, the one Miko likes, who gets someone from the audience to dress him.

Rodney isn't that jealous.

Okay, he is. His chest feels hot and tight just seeing it, some giggling twenty-year old touching John. Katie puts a reassuring hand on his knee. Miko whispers, “It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just his job.” Cadman says, “Such a fucking hussy.”

Evan does the military number, then there’s something about plumbers again, and then as soon Rodney hears the James Bond theme he makes sure to sit up a little straighter. This is John's moment.

As soon as the smoke lifts, John is crouching there, dressed in a tuxedo, a gun in his hand. The dance is not so much dancing as stalking over the stage with a gun, but John is good at it. Incredibly, incredibly good. Rodney makes an effort to keep his mouth closed but it's still one of the sexiest things he has ever seen.

Rodney is paying so much attention, in fact, that Dex totally sneaks up on him. He almost shrieks when there’s a heavy hand on his shoulder. And yes, he's being pulled along. Again. He might be slightly more willing this time, but only slightly.

John is on the stage still shooting imaginary enemies and hasn't seen what has happened, but Rodney can tell the exact second he does because his mouth goes a little slack.

Dex deposits him on a bed. An actual bed being wheeled onto the stage, and then John comes over, his eyes a mixture of mirth and something... hotter.

John says, loud enough to be heard over the music, “Lie down.”

Rodney does, for once not protesting, instead wondering whether this has all been some sort of fever dream. Whether he’s about to wake up to the news that the last three months never happened, and a light shining into his eyes with a doctor asking him what year it is. Because these things don’t happen in real life, or not to him they don’t. Ever!

John grins, and starts slipping off his shoes. And then his socks.

Rodney says, “You're going to crawl in bed with me aren’t you? Oh god, you totally are!” and John flashes him another smile while rhythmically wiggling out of his shirt.

Rodney isn't all that nervous, he isn’t even thinking about the screaming women - although he can certainly hear them, Cadman is yelling encouraging obscenities - it’s all John.

John’s broad expense of back. His wiggle in time with the music. The sweat Rodney can see beading off his body. But mostly his almost shy grin towards Rodney as he rips up his under shirt, aims it towards the audience, and then just gives it to Rodney to the sound of their frustrated cries. Rodney accepts, of course. It's slightly damp and warm in his hand and while he knows in some corner of his mind that John must do this every single night, he’s never felt more proud to be handed anything.

Then John gives him another quick glance with an expression he can’t read, and crawls onto the bed. He goes to sit over Rodney, one knee on each side, and Rodney nearly squeaks.

Right as John is sitting up and reaching to take off his pants... John takes the sheet in one hand, winks at him, and then pulls his pants off and at the same time throws the sheet over the both of them.

The audience screams with disappointment, but John huffs a quick, “har-har” into his ear, and that’s it, the curtain is closing.

He really is naked, though. Sprawled all over Rodney.

Ford, who has seen the whole thing from the side of the stage is laughing so hard he’s almost falling down. Dex comes over to get the bed.

But Rodney, who is still lying there with John pulled over him, thinks of the time he had his face mere inches from John’s naked crotch. The kiss under the stars. The hour-long phone calls. John’s cast, and the strange mail, and all of it, and now he can feel the outline of John’s penis against his clothed leg, and he’ll never have the chance again. So Rodney pulls him in, and kisses him.

Dex is wheeling their bed backstage, another song starts, but Rodney doesn’t notice any of that, all he feels is John against him, the heat of his body, the strange swirling sensation of something unimaginable as he leans in, and in...

And then it all bursts into a supernova of feeling as John kisses back, warm and wet and enthusiastic for a long moment, it is perfect.

...Until John leans back, his eyes sparkling, and says, “I have to be back on in seven minutes.”

Rodney can’t speak. Or think. He does know it’s the middle of the show, but John leans in and kisses him again, fast. Then lingers a little, laughs and says, “This is... this is... I want to kiss you again, but… I have to go.”

Rodney lets him go, and finds his voice, “Yes, yes, I know,”

John grins, gets off the bed, and runs completely naked towards a door, where Evan had been standing the entire time. Evan hands him underwear and pants and a tube of paint and John gets dressed. Then stands by the side of the stage, smiles at him, and right when the first beats of “it’s raining men,” start, John runs onto the stage.

The audience screams, and Rodney can hear Dex laugh while dancing all the way from the stage. He sits up from the bed.

The man with the forehead tattoo comes to get him, and right when the song is about to end, he pushes him out and Rodney walks down the steps and back to his seat as the applause starts, people jumping out of their seats, shouting, cheering. Rodney has to move through the throng of bodies to get back to his seat, and when he does, Cadman catches his arm and pulls him in. She’s laughing loudly and shouts, “He kissed you, didn’t he?”

“He...” Rodney breaks, and he can feel himself beam, “Yes, yes, he... yes.”

Miko smiles, and Katie squeezes his hand, and they applaud as pieces of clothing get thrown into the audience and the Chippendales take their bows. Rodney’s eyes connect with John’s and he can see his bland expression briefly break into a dorky grin.

Yes!