“He’s here,” said Ron, the guard at the front gate.
John checked the time. He was rolling into the lot at quarter of six, and he was one of the early ones. He tried to look casual.
“He’s probably nervous.”
“Maybe. Have a good shoot.”
John pulled into his parking space, the one bearing the placard with his name on it. It was just another day of filming, nothing to be excited about. Not like they hadn’t had special guest stars on the show before.
“He’s here,” said Vera, who did hair and make-up with a small team of assistants. “He’s already been in the chair.”
How the hell early did that guy get up? Was he trying to show that he was more professional? John frowned, which made Vera tsk and rub her finger between his eyebrows.
“None of that. Let’s see what we can do with those cowlicks today.”
John knew as well as Vera the cowlicks wouldn’t be contained, but that didn’t stop her from trying. He settled into the chair, phone out so he could check the news of the day, when he saw the pictures taped to the mirror.
The guy was stupidly hot. And he’d very likely been sitting in John’s same seat.
“He’s here,” Sam said with a roll of her eyes when John got to the set. “You should’ve heard him ripping into Frank. It wasn’t pretty.”
“Citrus allergy?” John asked, trying to get a look at the kraft services table without looking like he was looking.
“That. Plus the turnovers weren’t flaky enough and the eggs were too dry. He’s such a diva.”
“Are you talking about Rodney?” Evan strolled over, fresh from wardrobe in a tailored charcoal suit. They were starting the courtroom scenes today. “I think he’s going to set a high bar for us this week. I mean, the man has an Oscar.”
An Oscar, seven Emmy’s, five SAG awards, and a Tony. Rodney McKay was a formidable actor, well-respected if not well-liked, and John didn’t want to know what kind of deal had been made to get the man to do a guest spot on a soap. Rodney notoriously hated soap operas and the so-called ‘hack acting’ that went along with them. John should’ve despised him for his better-than-thou attitude.
John was one of his biggest fans.
Rodney had a way of inhabiting a role, of making his character strong yet vulnerable, that continually drew John in. He’d seen all of Rodney’s movies and television appearances, including his current starring role on one of those political dramas that critics loved so much.
“Okay, everyone! Let’s run through the blocking.” Richard, the director, arrived on set with his tablet in one hand and the script in the other. “Evan, we don’t need you yet. Why are you here?”
“Why are any of us anywhere, Richard?” Evan winked and left, headed toward the courtroom set.
“Do you need to run lines?” Sam asked John. “We’ve got time.”
“Nah. I’m good.”
Truth was, the lines were burned into John’s brain. The last thing he wanted to do was fumble or look unprofessional, especially on Rodney’s first day. He would be happy to disabuse Rodney of the idea that soap actors were any less skilled or professional than other actors. In fact, they worked twice as hard putting out daily episodes. Rodney had a whole week to film one ep of his fancy-pants drama series.
“Rodney, are you ready for blocking?”
“Let’s get on with it.”
He’s here, John thought to himself. He tried not to stare at Rodney’s broad shoulders, or his blue, blue eyes, or the way his mouth twisted down on one side.
“Rodney, this is John Sheppard.”
Rodney flapped at hand at him. “Yes, yes. I’m well aware. The big daytime star. Can we get started now?”
They went through the blocking, which was more for Rodney’s benefit than anyone else’s, and then moved on to filming the actual scene. The whole time, all John could think about was what an amazing actor Rodney was.
It was going to be a long week.
It was plain to see why John was the star, even though the entire ensemble was strong. He had natural talent, and charisma to spare. He was pretty easy on the eyes, too. Not the usual type of guy that Rodney was attracted to, but then he wasn’t supposed to like soap operas either, and he was obsessed with Edge of Passion.
“He’s good, isn’t he?” Laura, a PA, handed Rodney one of the small bottles of water he preferred. “He could carry a full-length feature.”
“Possibly,” Rodney said, keeping his tone non-committal.
Truth was, he hoped to convince John to audition for his latest project. He’d be perfect for the role of Rodney’s love interest, and there was no question that John could handle the dramatic requirements. It was risky, because John had never done a feature film, but Rodney was set on it, and he almost always got what he wanted.
“No deal,” Evan said. “I won’t admit to something I didn’t do.”
“We’ll only get one shot at this,” John replied. “Are you sure?”
“My life is in your hands.”
That was the end of the scene, and Rodney knew there’d be a swell of dramatic music added to it in post-production.
“This is why you never touch guns when you find them at crime scenes,” Laura said. “Pretty sure Callan will get off, though.”
Callan was Evan’s character, and Rodney disagreed. Dramatic trials were passé. If the writers had an ounce of imagination, they’d send Callan to prison and get a few juicy episodes out of that setting before something or someone turned up to clear his name. It would be good for Evan, who’d been a mostly tertiary character. He had the chops to take on a larger role in the show.
“Okay, that’s lunch!” the director called out. “Half an hour, and then we’re in court.”
Rodney intercepted John on his way to the cafeteria.
“Nice work back there.”
“For a soap actor, you mean?” John asked without malice.
He seemed amused by Rodney somehow, when most other people found him difficult or downright rude.
“For an actor. Don’t put words in my mouth.” Rodney had seen the script. They’d be filming about one hundred and forty pages just today. It was well beyond what a day of shooting on his own series involved. “Did you go to acting school?”
“Nope. I was a personal trainer, if you can believe that.”
Rodney had seen John without a shirt on. He could believe it.
“O’Neill hired me to help get him back in fighting shape after his surgery and talked me into coming for an audition.” John shrugged, like it was the kind of thing that happened every day.
Jack O’Neill had been part of Edge of Passion since the beginning. (When he’d started in the role of Brock McCain, he hadn’t had a single gray hair. Now he was every magazine’s top pick for sexiest silver fox.) He had a lot of clout, and if he’d wanted John on the show his word would’ve been enough to make it happen.
They’d reached the cafeteria by that point and went through the line together. There were several productions happening in the same studio, and the actors mingled together over lunch.
“Have you ever thought of doing a feature?” Rodney asked, carefully examining all the food options. “You’ve got the right look.”
“Never felt the need,” John replied. All he grabbed was a turkey sandwich and a chocolate pudding cup.
There wasn’t a chance to follow up on that, because Rodney had been spotted and it seemed like half the cafeteria was eager to talk to him. They wanted to hear anecdotes from some of his more popular projects and they wanted acting advice and they wanted to pitch projects.
He was going to stick to kraft services for the rest of the week.
Even more impressive, Rodney finished his scenes early and went back to his own studio for filming on his show, Capitol Hill.
“I heard he’s donating his EoP salary to charity,” Ronon said. “Classy.”
“Hearsay,” Evan countered.
“He was very professional,” Teyla said.
They were hanging out in Teyla’s living room, which had a nice view of Sunset Park through the picture window. Edge of Passion was a popular show, and it was hard for them to go to public bars or restaurants without being accosted by fans. Especially when Ronon was with them, because he was the most recognizable thanks to the dreadlocks and the sheer mountainous size of him. So they rotated between their apartments on the nights they were feeling social.
“Why do you think he agreed to do our show?” Evan asked. “That’s a step down for a guy with an Oscar.”
“Daytime dramas are much more professional than they used to be,” Teyla said. “You should not perpetuate the idea that we are lesser actors for being in one.”
She had a very polite way of scolding a person.
Shop talk gave way to shop work when they started running lines for the scenes they’d film the next day. John in particular wanted to be at the top of his game because he had several scenes with Rodney, and he wanted to show that he was more than up for the challenge.
Ronon wasn’t part of the courtroom storyline, so he voiced the judge and other ancillary characters and Rodney’s prosecuting attorney. They’d been given new pages right before the end of shooting and when they got to the end of the scene, there was an unexpected note.
**finalized scene available tomorrow am**
“What the hell does that mean?” John asked. “How are we supposed to get the dialogue down if we don’t have it?”
“That is very unusual,” Teyla agreed.
Last minute changes were always a hassle. They had so little time to learn a scene and nail the dialogue. Tomorrow there’d be a chance to do a rehearsal, maybe two if the first one didn’t go well, and then it was three takes to get it right or close enough to good before they moved on to the next scene.
Evan studied the page. “Do you think this is another surprise murder?”
“Maybe McKay goes on a shooting spree,” Ronon said, chuckling.
“It has to be something big, or else they wouldn’t still be working on it.”
John pulled out his phone and texted Daniel. He was the head writer for the show.
What’s up with missing pages?
The response was quicker than John had expected.
“What does he say?” Teyla asked.
“He sent a zipped lip emoji,” John said with a scowl.
Give a guy a heads up.
Sorry, Daniel texted back. We want it to be fresh.
“That’s not good,” Evan said, reading over John’s shoulder. “They’re going to throw a wrench in the works somehow. Oh, no. Do you think they’re killing off Callan?”
“Nah.” Ronon clapped him on the shoulder. “They’re just getting started with that guy.”
Whatever the writers were planning, John hoped it didn’t make him look like an idiot in front of Rodney.
Dealing with pages of new dialogue with just an hour to prepare was trickier.
John’s reaction to the new pages was interesting. He immediately went to the writers, having a hushed but heated conversation with one of them. Some of the other actors joined them and it turned into a pow-wow. Rodney focused on the dialogue, committing it to memory the best he could.
It was the start of the meaty courtroom scene, with both lawyers giving opening statements. There was a lot of dialogue on both sides, but Rodney’s character would be making his case first, so he had a bit more than John.
“Okay, everyone. Let’s go. We don’t have time for this.” Richard, the director, herded his actors toward the courtroom set. “John! Leave Daniel alone and let’s go!”
They got set up and did a quick run-through of initial blocking so the cameramen would have an idea what to expect. Rodney was ready. John was not.
“Cut!” Richard called. “John, we need at least one decent take.”
“Yeah, I know. Sorry.”
John looked chagrined, and Rodney wondered what was going on with him. He’d been practically perfect yesterday. Had the new pages thrown him that far off…oh.
“Give us a minute,” Rodney said to Richard, and dragged John off to a more private corner of the set.
“Hey!” John protested.
“Hey yourself. What’s wrong with you today? Don’t tell me the leading man on a soap opera is afraid of a kiss.”
Rodney was expecting an argument, but to his surprise John merely ducked his head, his slightly pointed ears turning pink. Oh. Again. Maybe it wasn’t the kiss. Maybe it was that he had to kiss Rodney.
“It’s just another scene,” Rodney said.
“Yeah. No. I got this,” John assured him.
It would’ve been good to have a chance at rehearsal, but Rodney understood the need to get a fresh first take. They got back on their marks and John finally nailed all of his dialogue, hitting all his objections to Rodney’s character’s legal arguments with increasing agitation until the judge, played by George Hammond, called for a recess.
“I suggest you speak with your client,” he said sternly to John.
The courtroom emptied out until it was just John and Rodney, glaring at each other from their respective tables.
“Listen, Flannery,” Rodney snapped. “There’s no point objecting to everything I say. All the evidence is on my side.”
“You’re a Matlock wannabe,” John fired back. “Callan is innocent. You know it, and the Egglesons know it. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Tell it to the jury.”
“I’m telling you!”
During their dialogue, they slowly moved toward each other, body language defensive and angry. Eventually they were practically nose-to-nose, John only very slightly taller than Rodney. The air between them crackled with intensity, and now that John was in the zone Rodney was once again impressed by his acting chops.
“Someone has to go down for Gary Egglesons’ death. It’s going to be your boy,” Rodney said.
“Like hell it is,” John snapped back.
The moment was on them. Rodney moved first, but John met him in the middle and then they were kissing.
There’d been no guidelines for the kiss in the script, so Rodney didn’t know if they should keep it short and full of shame or take it longer and layer it with more emotion. But once the kiss got going, Rodney lost the thread.
He wrapped his arms around John, who had his hands pressed to Rodney’s chest. The kiss deepened and Rodney’s head filled with a pleasant white noise. Every nerve ending was singing in harmony.
“Cut!” Richard shouted.
“Aww! So soon?” someone complained.
Rodney and John pulled apart. John’s face was flushed, and his eyes were wide, and Rodney’s heart was pounding in his chest.
“They’re using the first take,” Evan said. “It was that good.”
John just groaned and dropped his head back on the sofa. Everyone was clustered in his dressing room, even though he’d desperately wanted to be alone.
“You like him,” Teyla said. John didn’t need to look to know she was studying him with a critical eye. “Much more than you let on.”
“Just another scene,” John muttered.
That’s what it should’ve been. During his time on Edge of Passion, John had kissed his fair share of men and women, and it had always just been part of the job. Kissing Rodney had been something else. Electric. Inevitable.
He’d never be able to face the man, not after having been so unprofessional. So naturally Rodney was the next one to knock on the door and stick his head in John’s dressing room.
“Can we have a minute?” Rodney asked.
“Of course,” Teyla said. She herded the others out.
John waved his arm. “Make yourself at home,” he said.
His dressing room wasn’t very big. A rack of costumes – mostly suits – shared space with his blue sofa, a couple of folding chairs, and a vanity table that was mostly covered in sudoku books and hair products. Laura insisted on hanging up magazine covers John had been featured on, which gave the room an egotistical air he didn’t care for.
“I don’t make a habit of this,” Rodney said without preamble, standing by the vanity, “but I want to apologize. I took some liberties today I shouldn’t have.”
John stopped lounging and sat up. “What?”
“I’m classically trained, you know. Canadian College of Performing Arts, Royal Shakespeare Company. You get the idea.”
There was no reason to mention that John knew Rodney’s entire bio, because that would be both creepy and weird.
“What I’m trying to say,” Rodney said, “is that I’m a professional. But what I did today wasn’t. It wasn’t my first kissing scene, far from it in fact, and I should’ve had more control over myself.”
“Okay,” John said amicably. Maybe he was reading too much into it. Then again, if Rodney had been faking that kiss, he deserved another Oscar.
“Okay?” Rodney parroted, incredulous. “I basically admitted to sexually harassing you and that’s all you have to say?”
“Unwanted and unwelcome, that’s what the training said,” John replied.
Rodney frowned at him. “So you’re not freaked out about today’s scene? Because it seemed like you were.”
“Let’s just say I’m usually more professional, too.”
It was a crazy thing to admit, and John felt as reckless as he had the time he took a spin around the track at Indy as a promotional stunt. He watched Rodney closely to judge his reaction, but the man had an excellent poker face.
“Maybe this isn’t the right time,” Rodney said.
“Right time for what?”
It wasn’t like John was looking to start something official. It had just been one kiss for one scene, though he was under no illusions about how the rest of the courtroom stuff would play out now that Daniel had gotten his way. It wouldn’t end with just the one kiss, he was sure of it.
Rodney sighed and dropped down on one of the chairs. “I want to go on record as saying this is completely separate from the thing with the kissing. I don’t want to muddy the waters.”
“Okay,” John said. He never could’ve have predicted what Rodney would say next.
“I’m directing my first feature. It’s a project I’ve been trying to get off the ground for years now, and it finally got greenlit. There’s a role you’d be perfect for, and I’d like you to consider it.”
John needed a minute to process that. An Oscar-winning actor wanted to put a soap star in a feature film? Well, it wasn’t like other actors hadn’t made the leap from small screen to Hollywood fame – Brad Pitt, Leo DiCaprio, even Morgan Freeman – but the average working stiff didn’t get that opportunity.
“He’ll take it!” Evan shouted through the closed door.
“Shut up!” John shouted back. He looked at Rodney. “Why me?”
“Because you could be doing so much more than what this show can offer. You’re a natural, and you’re who I want. I almost always get what I want.”
“Uh huh. Can I have some time to think about it?”
“I can give you till the end of the week,” Rodney said.
He stood up, straightened his suit, and left the dressing room without paying any heed to the cluster of people standing outside it.
John dropped his head back on the couch and closed his eyes. What a fucking week it was turning out to be.
They’d gathered at John’s apartment for pizza and a rehash of the events of the day. John hadn’t invited them, but they’d shown up anyway.
“I’m not a movie actor,” John protested.
“No-one is,” Teyla said. “Until they are.”
John rolled his eyes.
“Daniel was right about the chemistry,” Ronon said around a mouthful of pepperoni and cheese. “You work well off each other.”
“And I’m sure Daniel can write you out of the show while you’re filming the movie. Maybe Flannery goes on vacation or something.” Evan wiped his greasy fingers on a napkin. “He’ll work something out, because you have to do this. It’s a huge opportunity.”
They were right. John knew they were right. But it was a little scary, the idea of leaving the soap and doing a feature. Especially since he didn’t even know what Rodney’s movie was about. What if it was bad? What if the role he wanted John to play was so far outside his comfort zone he couldn’t pull it off? What if…
“You did not think you could be a soap actor,” Teyla pointed out. “When O’Neill brought you in, you thought you would last a day and be sent home.”
“If you suck they can always recast your role,” Ronon said.
John threw a wadded-up napkin at him. “Thanks for that.”
“He’s right, though,” Evan said. “You’ll always have a home at EoP, regardless of what happens. But you’ll regret never having tried something new.”
John held up his hands in surrender. “Fine! You guys win. If the script isn’t terrible, I’ll take the job. Can we stop talking about this now?”
“Yeah.” Ronon sucked the sauce off his fingers. “I need to run through my fight scene.”
“Not it!” John and Teyla said simultaneously.
Evan rolled his eyes. “Chicken shits,” he grumbled.
He really wanted it.
Laura knocked on his door. “Five minutes, John!”
“On my way.”
He put the script on his vanity, checked to make sure he hadn’t wrinkled up his suit, and went back on set. They were filming the final courtroom scene, which involved some stunt work and special effects because Rodney had insisted, even before he took the guest role, that his character be killed off and unable to return.
He was such a drama queen.
They wrapped the scene in two takes. It ended with Rodney bleeding out on the courtroom floor while his assailant was dragged out in handcuffs, John standing over Rodney’s body looking both shell-shocked and distraught.
“You’ll be able to add a Daytime Emmy to your collection,” Laura said, bringing Rodney a bottle of water after John helped him off the floor. “That was great!”
“Not my first death scene,” Rodney replied, though he looked smug.
They had a little wrap party after filming was done for the day, with cake, as a way to thank Rodney for being a guest on the show. John knew the ratings were going to go through the roof once the episodes aired.
“A toast to Danny,” O’Neill said. “Good call on the chemistry.”
John pulled Rodney aside at the earliest opportunity. “I read the script. It’s amazing.”
“Is that yes?” Rodney asked, looking hopeful. He had a smear of chocolate frosting at the corner of his mouth.
“It’s a yes.”
Rodney grinned, and before John knew what was happening, they were kissing again. That part, at least, would require no rehearsal. Rodney tasted of coffee and sugar, and John never wanted it to end.
They pulled apart when the catcalls and whistling started.
“Chemistry,” Daniel said.
John gave him a thumbs up.