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Kiss Me, Arthur

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Prologue

It was the tense tone in Cam's voice that woke Daniel from his fitful doze.

"Danny-me-boy, hope you have your seatbelt on," Cameron Mitchell said.

"Yeah, why," Daniel Jackson answered sleepily. This didn't seem to be the time to remind Cam how much he hated being called 'Danny.'

"Well, it seems that we have no brakes, already going over 80 miles per hour and seeing that we're going down a long downhill run, that may be a problem," Cam announced as casually as if he were commenting on the scenery. Only the white knuckles on the steering wheel let Daniel know that Cam was worried.

Daniel wriggled in his seat and got his cell phone from his back pocket. "Shit," he announced, "no service."

"Seeing that the signs – oh, that's right you slept through that part -- warned us about that about ten miles back," Cam teased grimly, "so, not too surprised."

They were on Route 86 in upstate New York, the Adirondack Mountains to be more precise, on their way to visit some of Cam's cousins who lived near the Canadian border. Cam had arranged something with Elizabeth Weir so they would have Sunday off from rehearsal, Monday was a day off for them this week and they'd be back bright and early Tuesday morning. Cam had gotten the car rental place to bring the car to them so they could leave from the theatre right after lunch on Saturday.

The most direct route from New York City to Canada was straight north, up the Thruway, a small swing around Albany and then again north. All of it was a beautiful drive but after two hours, Daniel had had as much scenery as he could stand for one day and had wrapped himself in his jacket and fallen asleep. He had offered to drive before they had started out but Cam had waved him off, "It's less than six hours and you'll keep me awake for most of it and I'll probably have to stop for gas or to piss at least once."

Now, Daniel was glad it was Cam who was driving and not him. After living in New York City for most of his life, Daniel's driving experience was limited and an emergency like this wasn't something he could handle with any confidence. Cam's years of driving in Nebraska and California made him much more capable than Daniel.

"The emergency brake?" Daniel asked, thinking what he did know.

"Going too fast at the moment, that would make it worse," Cam answered patiently. "Once we get to the bottom of this incline and start up the other side, we can use the emergency brake to stop. Right now it would be too sudden and I'm not so sure I'd keep control of the car."

"Okay," Daniel answered grimly. "Anything I can do?"

Cam flashed a quick grin. "I suspect a prayer wouldn't be out of order."

Neither of them were officially religious but Cam was always quoting the Bible, claiming it was something his grandmother had forced on him. Daniel suspected there was more there but never had a reason to ask. If they survived this, he'd try to remember to ask.

"One last steep section, I think," Cam announced. A warning sign that was meant more for trucks flashed by them, warning of a 2 mile downhill grade ahead.  "Fuck," grated Cam.

Ahead of them was another car, going slowly down the hill, its flashers warning other travelers of its slow speed. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem but Daniel could also see the semi that had pulled out just behind them into the left lane.

Daniel felt Cam hit the gas for some more speed to be able to get in front of the truck as he pulled the car into the left lane to get around the slowly moving car. Daniel heard the blast of the horn from the semi as they pulled in front of it and the slower car disappeared in a flash.

As Cam tried to ease the car into the right lane to get away from the tractor-trailer, Daniel felt a bump. A rock, or a branch – something in the road at the wrong time, in the wrong place.

"Protect that pretty face of yours, Danny, this is going to be rough," Cam gritted out as he fought for control of the swerving vehicle. "Now!"

The last was a whip-crack command that Daniel obeyed without thinking. He put his face into his jacket and held on to the seatbelt as he felt the car go off the road and start bouncing on the undergrowth at the side.

Daniel's last thought before he lost consciousness was If this doesn't, Elizabeth's going to kill us...

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“John?” Laura’s voice demanded over the phone. “This is exactly the sort of thing you’ve been looking for. Don’t tell me you’re having second thoughts?”

John hesitated. “No. Not second thoughts exactly....” He let that trail off.

“Well, what do I tell Weir then?” Laura asked patiently. "Since she's in New York, it's later there than it is where you are, but I should at least call her with something tonight."

John rubbed a hand over his eyes. It was exactly what he had been looking for, enough so that he wasn’t sure he wanted to trust it. He sighed. “Yes,” he said softly. “Tell her I’ll do it.”

“Any special requests?” Laura asked cheerily. “Not that you ever have any.”

John gave a small laugh. Protect me from myself. “No... wait,” he interrupted himself. “Tell her I’ll work for scale but no one is to know. She can make a donation in the name of the production to...” he debated, “some kids’ hospital in the city. I’ll trust she finds a good cause.”

John was grateful that Laura didn’t give him any grief over this. She had worked as his agent long enough to know he wasn’t in show business for the money. Heaven only knew he had enough of that from his grandmother’s trust fund and what he took from his records.

“Anything else?” Laura asked.

“Find me a hotel that will give me a piano in the room,” John told her. He had something that started brewing in the back of his head as soon as he heard Weir's offer -- it hadn’t crystallized but would when it was ready. "I'll take an electronic keyboard if I have to, but a piano would be better."

“New material?” Laura prompted.

“Something like that but not sure yet,” he told her.

“Okay then,” she was back to business. “You finish up tomorrow night in Chicago and you need to be in New York on Wednesday morning to start rehearsals so you have a mostly free day on Tuesday. I have Weir sending you what she can so you can look it over before you get there. ‘If you’d like’ she said, and she did ask politely. I'll be in New York on Tuesday morning to make the press announcement with her. Until then, she's planning on keeping this pretty much to herself to get the best mileage out of you agreeing to do this."

John did laugh at that. “I understand, no talking about it. And I’ll look at whatever she can send me all right,” he promised her. "If she has anything electronic she can send you, you can forward it on to me."

“Not a problem. Let me know if you need anything else,” Laura said.

“Always. And thanks!” John told her sincerely. After confirming some tentative travel arrangements, John hung up.

Broadway. And Rodney McKay.What had he just gotten into?

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"You haven't heard..." Mickey, Elizabeth Weir's assistant, stood in the door of Rodney McKay's dressing room looking smug. Rodney and Radek Zelenka had been reviewing some of the dialog they had together. It wasn't much dialog but they also had found that looking busy kept them away from the Director, Steven Caldwell. He couldn't bitch about them if they were rehearsing on their own. Being a Monday and with some of the other principals having a day off, Rodney knew Caldwell was working the dancers hard today and that generally put everyone in a bad mood.

"Heard what?" Rodney demanded. For as much as he liked Elizabeth – well, she was producing and bankrolling the show, so he had to like her but he really did like her – he detested Mickey. A tall, thin, sallow-faced man in his early 30's, Mickey had recently been hired by Elizabeth to help her manage the work of the show by running errands and helping her keep track of the details. Mickey also delighted in malicious gossip and Rodney had learned early not to trust everything that Mickey said.

"Cam and Daniel have been in a car accident," Mickey announced with a barely concealed glee in his voice. "Neither one of them will be available for opening night. Or for at least a month into the schedule."

"Fuck!" Rodney swore.  This had to be one time Mickey was telling the truth, he was gloating entirely too much about the entire thing.

"What's going to happen now?" Radek asked calmly.

Mickey shrugged, "Dunno. Elizabeth's locked herself in with Caldwell and they're hashing it out. Although there has been some shouting by Caldwell, which means Elizabeth's probably getting her way."

Steven Caldwell was the director of Elizabeth Weir's production of Camelot. It had been Elizabeth's dream, a bit naïve Rodney thought, to bring yet another revival of Camelot to Broadway. The one thing going for her was that a number of revivals had done well recently on and off Broadway, and it turned out that Camelot was one of Elizabeth's favorite stories. She had pulled together the financing, had recruited Caldwell to direct and Rodney to be Arthur. The rest had fallen into place.

Daniel Jackson had been cast as Lancelot, his popularity in other Broadway shows and his youthful good looks made him perfect for the part. Rodney's grudging, professional respect for Daniel showed in the relationship between the two men on the stage. Arthur and Lancelot were believable friends and the anguish at the end of the story well served by it. Their out-of-town trials had gone very well and Elizabeth reported seeing the female portion of the audience in tears – the reaction they were hoping for.

Cameron Mitchell was Rodney's backup and, when he wasn't playing Arthur, also doubled as one of the Knights of the Round Table. Rodney didn't get along with Cam half as well as he did with Daniel, so it worked out that he and Cam didn't have to do too much together. Cam had the leading role for matinees and was to take over as Arthur in case Rodney wasn't able to perform. The Knight role Cam filled in other performances didn't have as much direct contact with Arthur.

"And who is going to play Lancelot?" Rodney demanded, knowing Mickey really didn't have an answer but he couldn't help asking the question. "If they think Lorne can handle it, they have another thing coming."

Radek nodded in agreement. "We need Lorne where he is. The clean cut Mordred played well." In their out of town previews, Lorne's clean cut all-American look had played against type for Mordred's eventual dark character. It turned out that the good looks made the audience sympathetic to Mordred's story while Lorne's acting made him a believable villain.

"Well, it's not up to you anyways," Mickey announced in a huff.

Radek shrugged and acknowledged to Rodney, "He's right you know."

"Well, don't tell him that!" Rodney protested. It was an ongoing 'game' that the actors fell into within days of Mickey's hiring. Mickey took such pains to announce that he had all the answers that the actors automatically took the opposite opinion whenever possible. It was – mostly – harmless since Elizabeth would come down on them all if they didn't mostly work well together. But Mickey had not taken the teasing well which only escalated the efforts of the cast and crew.

"Right here!" Mickey reminded them. His cell phone trilled, "Yes, ma'am. On my way." He looked at the two smugly. "Gotta go, Elizabeth calls." He turned and walked away.

Rodney laid his head back in the chair. "This is a fucking disaster."

"Give Elizabeth a chance," Radek soothed. "She'll come up with something."

Sighing, Rodney had to agree. "Okay, I'll wait," Rodney said morosely. Not that there really was any choice about it.

"He wants the part, you know," Radek commented once he was sure Mickey had left. "Or at least Mordred."

"He hasn't the looks for Lancelot," Rodney callously replied. "I guess he could do Mordred but Lorne's got that locked up. Mickey's not that good of a singer in any case." Talented singers were a dime-a-dozen in New York; Mickey's singing skills were mediocre in comparison.

"Just saying," Radek defended himself. But it was no secret that Mickey really wanted a part in the production and that a small role in the chorus wasn't going to be enough for his ego. Rodney and Radek had speculated more than once on how Elizabeth had kept Mickey out of the production. Or why she had even hired him in the first place. New York was over-run with competent people; why Elizabeth had settled for Mickey was a mystery.

"Let's get back to this," Rodney stirred. Radek was both Merlyn in the production and something of a friend to Rodney. Rodney didn't have a lot of friends in his life and why Radek put up with him he didn't understand.

Mickey appeared in the door a couple of hours later with the next day's call sheets. Without a word he thrust the sheets at Rodney and Radek, gloomily wandering off to hand out the rest of the sheets.

"When is she going to make this electronic?" Radek wondered aloud, not for the first time. "It's more efficient than sending Mickey around and then they miss no one." At one point or another, almost everyone on the crew hadn't gotten a schedule but Mickey had been adamant that he had left one for everyone. They checked on each other now and the problem mysteriously went away.

"Wonder what he knows?" Rodney speculated after Mickey had left.

"He knows a little something but not all and Elizabeth has most likely threatened him with dismemberment if he talks, so he sulks," Radek decided, "I suspect we will know more soon." He waved the call sheet, "Elizabeth called a cast meeting in the morning."

"That's enough for today, then," Rodney declared. "I haven't had a free evening in... forever. I'm going home to do nothing."

"Pah! You do not do 'nothing' well, my friend," Radek laughed. "Tell me tomorrow how it goes."

Rodney wandered through the dressing room area, listening in on other conversations without contributing. Jennifer Keller, who was playing Guenevere, gestured as Rodney wandered past her open door. She waved her call sheet at Rodney and asked, "So. Do you know anything we don't?" Rodney leaned in and saw Katie Brown and Miko Kusinagi sitting on chairs in the room. As one of the leads, Jennifer had a slightly larger dressing room than the others and her dressing room had become something of a meeting place for many of the female cast members. 

Camelot was Jennifer's first leading role on Broadway and, while naturally gregarious, she made an effort to cultivate the good-will of the rest of the crew. Opening her dressing room as an informal meeting place was her way of doing that.

"Sorry," Rodney shrugged, "I don't know anything more than what you probably know."  He thought for a moment about something Radek had told him, "Wasn't Cam going out with Vala? Anyone talk to her?"

"She's gone and not answering her cell," Katie answered. "Now that we know about the accident, we figure she was called yesterday and went wherever Cam and Daniel are. We're just hoping she's back tomorrow for the rehearsal."

Rodney bade his colleagues good night and left the theatre. On the street, he debated for a moment and decided to walk the couple of city blocks to the subway station that would have the train he wanted. The nearest station had trains that went off in the wrong direction and would mean a transfer or he'd have to take a bus, which wasn't high on his list of fun things to do. He could get a cab but that was an indulgence he tried to save for when he needed one.

Not that Rodney couldn't afford the cab. He had a reasonable amount of savings and Elizabeth was paying him relatively well for this gig; it was just in his nature to be frugal when it came to himself. He had done without a lot of things when he was just getting started and the frugality had stayed with him.

It took almost an hour to get to his apartment in Brooklyn. He must have just missed the last express and had to wait in the subway station for the next train. It was just after the evening rush hour so trains were less frequent and the local he caught took longer than he had anticipated. Rodney spent the time working in his PDA on his notes for the production.

Rodney stopped in the Italian restaurant near the exit of the train station to get some dinner.

"Rodney!" Carmela, the owner, welcomed him as he walked in. "What would you like tonight? I have one last piece of lasagna in the pan."

"That will be perfect," he agreed. "And for once I'm not in a hurry, so Fred can make it up right tonight."

She laughed at him, something that frequently amazed Rodney. It had taken several visits and some lengthy discussion before Carmela and Frederico had understood how serious he was about his citrus allergy. Rodney knew he had more than a faint attitude about his allergy – okay, he was rabid about it and took it out viciously in restaurants regularly – but it turned out that Carmela was a fan of his and had decided he was worth listening to and working with. At first Rodney had stuck to some fairly plain offerings but Carmela had 'tricked' him into trying some Italian dishes he never would have considered.

Rodney had, in turn, taken the time to learn more about some of the items on the menu, for he did like to eat and while he knew plain food was safe he also knew there were tastes he was missing. In learning more about various dishes, and by giving in to samples of putative 'new' dishes for the menu, Rodney had expanded his eating options.

On slow nights or when Rodney was in between the meal rush, he had talked with Carmela about how many of the traditional Italian dishes were supposed to be made. He knew he couldn't trust other restaurants to not try to embellish a 'traditional' recipe but he now knew some intelligent questions to ask when he ate elsewhere.

"Wine?" Carmela asked.

"One glass," Rodney agreed. "Have an early call tomorrow."

She poured him a glass of red wine and set a small basket of rolls on his table.

Rodney enjoyed the dinner and the quiet time. He watched the other diners as they came and went, listening to the murmur of voices and the clatter of dinnerware, hearing the underlying rhythm.

Music was Rodney's life. One of his early primary school teachers had identified his perfect pitch and his ability to sight read music right from an early age. A middle school music teacher had introduced him to opera when his voice changed and, after some scary months when Rodney was convinced he'd never be able to sing again, his voice had settled nicely into a baritone.

From there he had never looked back. Rodney had escaped his parents' home, moving from one opera company to another when he finally ended up at the Holy Grail of opera: The New York Metropolitan Opera. At least until recently. His professional 'disagreement' with Jack O'Neill - manager at the Met - had exiled him from the Opera community, at least temporarily. Rodney knew it wouldn't be forever and at least he had the personal satisfaction of knowing he was right to give him the patience he needed before he could return to singing opera.

After dinner, he passed on dessert thinking about fitting into his costumes and not wanting to annoy Norah more than he had to, and walked the short distance to his condo. He had bought the unit in a fit of optimism and as an investment soon after he had started working regularly at the Met – almost ten years ago now. He wasn't 'home' as much as he had hoped over time, being on the road for large parts of the year, but it did give him a base when he was working in New York. The location in Brooklyn made for an inconvenient commute sometimes but the comfort of having some private space, sleeping in his own bed, with his prescription mattress, made it worthwhile.

Rodney checked for mail in his box, found only some junk mail that he discarded in the paper bin in the lobby and took the elevator to the fourth floor. He let himself in to the apartment and immediately kicked off his shoes. Padding through the semi-dark rooms, he used the bathroom and then went to the bedroom. He changed his clothes for sweatpants and a ratty t-shirt.

Flipping on the TV, Rodney decided there really wasn't much to watch and searched through the recorded shows on the DVR to find a Dr. Who he hadn't seen yet. After that was over, he decided to just get some sleep.

Rodney sank into an aisle seat of the Pegasus theatre and looked around. He didn't really get much of a chance to attend theatre in New York and never from the main floor seats. Between his allergies and the "are you really Rodney McKay and can I have your autograph" demands, he only sat in private balconies.

With the house lights lit up, most of the genteel shabbiness showed to its disadvantage but when the lights were down it wasn't bad at all. All but the newest New York theatre had its shabby spots and this one had held up relatively well. He figured Elizabeth had to know someone to be able to get this particular theatre for this production.

Jennifer leaned in from her seat in the row behind his and asked, "Do we know anything yet?"

Rodney shrugged. "Nothing at all," he had to admit. He saw Radek coming up the aisle and waved to him.

Radek crawled across Rodney with a small grunt and sat. "No, I don't know anything," he said before they could ask. "Even Mickey doesn't know anything, he'd be talking already if he really knew what was going on. Elizabeth and Caldwell are keeping this very close."

"This really is all-hands," Jennifer put in. "I don't know a lot of these people."

Radek looked around. "That group is mostly musicians," he pointed to their left, "you know many of the stage hands but probably not everyone," pointing to a group behind them. "Hmmmm....." He looked at a small group huddled in the very back. "I think they are the theatre box office staff. I wonder why they are here."

Rodney looked at the handful of people in the back. "The box office staff? Aren't most of them part time and doesn't some computerized ticket agency handle most of the ticketing?" Rodney asked. The mechanics of how people in the audience actually got the show tickets wasn't something Rodney really cared about. Only that people showed up.

"This has got to be big," Jennifer guessed. "The box office staff only cares when there's a big rush for tickets."

"Huh," Rodney replied. "Big?"

"Someone really famous," Jennifer elaborated.

"Well, we'll be finding out," Radek nodded as Elizabeth Weir and Steven Caldwell came on the stage.

"Caldwell's not happy, whatever it is," Rodney observed. The director had a frown on his face that transmitted his general dislike of what they were doing.

"This might be fun," Jennifer put in.

No one could say Steven Caldwell wasn't good at his job. His collection of Tony awards alone testified to that, as did the couple of Oscars he had earned. On the other hand, it was generally agreed that Caldwell was a bastard to work for. He wasn't patient and the demands he made on the actors and the crew were legendary. There were many that considered Caldwell even more of a bastard than Rodney but everyone also agreed that the results were spectacular.

"Shhh...." Radek cautioned.

Elizabeth took a hand mic and stood in front of the curtains. Her lean lines and precise posture actually made an elegant look, Rodney had to admit, for Elizabeth had a presence about her that commanded attention. If she was interested in an acting role in the theatre, Rodney knew she could get one.

"Good morning. I want to thank everyone for coming this morning," she started. "Many of you had to make special arrangements to be here at this time and I want to let you know how much I appreciate that you are here."

She looked around the audience. "As most of you know, both Daniel Jackson and Cameron Mitchell were in a serious car accident two days ago. While both should made complete recoveries, neither will be available to us for the start of the production. Daniel has a broken hip injury that will keep him in the hospital for a few more days and even then he will be going to rehab for a few weeks for physical therapy. Cam has a concussion and while he should be able to return sooner than Daniel, his doctors have indicated that he won't be ready until at least a week to ten days after our scheduled opening."

A small sound of dismay rippled through the audience at that. Daniel and Cam were popular among the actors and the crew; losing them just before opening day was not good.

Elizabeth went on, "There will be a couple of get-well cards in the back, as well as their addresses, please sign the cards or send your own as you wish."

She paused for just that heartbeat that had Rodney noticing how good she was at timing. "Now, since we are scheduled to open in just ten days and we have soft-opening before that, we needed to be, shall we say, creative about filling the role of Lancelot. I have taken advantage of circumstance and am very proud to be able to tell you that the role of Lancelot will be filled by John Sheppard."

There was a moment of stunned silence before babble broke out in the auditorium. Rodney heard an "Oh, my, god, John Sheppard? Here?" squeal from somewhere behind him.

Elizabeth held up a hand and the noise subsided.

"John's band closed a national tour last night in Chicago and I have spoken to his agent about bringing him up to speed. He will be here tomorrow and I will have to be asking some of you to come in on what I know might be your day off. I," she glanced briefly at Caldwell before correcting herself, "we won't be needing everyone and Mickey will be passing around revised call-sheets for tomorrow and an entirely new schedule for the next ten days." She looked up at the box office staff in the back, "The box office staff has to be prepared for an increase in demand for tickets, once the official announcement is made to the press. John's agent and I will be doing that in the lobby when we're done here."

"I have spoken briefly to John and he's looking forward to being here," she was obviously wrapping this up. "Please welcome him and assist him in any way you can. The press conference will be right after this to make the announcement but I wanted to let you know first. I don't really have any more information but will be in my office later to answer questions. Thank you." She and Caldwell left the stage.

"John Sheppard!" Jennifer breathed over his shoulder. "Whoa, that's a major catch."

"It will fill seats, if nothing else," Radek observed. "I'll bet that we sell out the first month of shows tonight."

Rodney looked at both of them. "Who the fuck is John Sheppard?" he demanded.

He could feel them both stare at him. "Well excuse me, but I don't have time to keep up with all the so-called celebrities on the planet," he went on defensively.

Rodney considered that he should be worried by the grin on Radek's face. It was the "I know something you don't" grin that Rodney had learned to be wary of.

Jennifer came to his rescue, "John Sheppard is a singer. Founder and lead singer of the John Sheppard and Friends band. Pop, mostly, but really a wide range of genres, and very, very popular at the moment with not only the teeny-bopper crown but their mothers. He's huge!"

"A POP SINGER?" Rodney hissed. "Elizabeth's gone and hired a POP SINGER?" Rodney could hear his voice rising and see head's turning in his direction. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

"He's actually a very good singer," Jennifer offered as consolation. "Part of the Sheppard Family, went off on his own and has actually become more famous than the rest of the clan."

"Wait!" Rodney demanded, faintly horrified by the connection he made. "Patrick Sheppard's son?"

There was a gleam he didn't want to understand when Radek answered, "That's him."

"Shoot me now," Rodney moaned, closing his eyes briefly. 

Mickey came scurrying up the aisle. "Elizabeth wants you for the press conference," he announced to Rodney.

"She what?" Rodney screeched.

"She wants you for the press conference," Mickey repeated patiently. "Don't know why." He rolled his eyes.

"All right, all right," Rodney answered. He got out of the seat and followed Mickey to the lobby of the theatre.

The lobby of the theatre was packed. Elizabeth and Caldwell and a woman Rodney didn't know were standing on the lower steps of the staircase to the balcony to be visible above the crowd.

"... pleased to have John Sheppard joining our production of Camelot in the role of Lancelot," Elizabeth was saying. A couple of cameras flashed at them.

Someone shoved a digital recorder in front of Rodney, "What do you think about John Sheppard joining the production?"

Knowing Elizabeth was watching, Rodney gave a practiced smile at the reporter and answered, "While it was a surprise to me, I know this is a wonderful development for the production. I've never worked with John Sheppard before but I have faith in Elizabeth's and Director Caldwell's decision and I'm looking forward to working with Sheppard." He answered several more questions directed to him with essentially the same up-beat, gung-ho answer.

After the press conference, Rodney went back to his dressing room and sat down heavily in his chair. He told himself he wasn’t sulking...

“Not the star anymore?” Mickey sneered in his doorway.

“Fuck off,” Rodney replied without heat. There was no winning with Mickey and he needed this job. “It’s good for all of us and that kind of attitude doesn’t help.”

“Ooohhh... the great McKay, playing well with others, who would have thought it?” Mickey taunted.

“Did you need something?” Rodney asked patiently, holding in the tantrum he wanted to have by sheer willpower. In any other situation he would have ripped into Mickey and had the man next to tears. This wasn't the time for that kind of attitude on his part.

“Elizabeth wants to see you,” Mickey replied blandly.

“You could have said so in the first place,” Rodney answered, getting up out of his chair.

Mickey shrugged and wandered off, probably to cause trouble somewhere else, Rodney assumed.

He tapped on the door and poked his head in. “You wanted to see me?” he asked, not surprised to see Caldwell there with Elizabeth.

“Rodney! Come in,” Elizabeth called cheerfully.

“What can I do for you?” he asked cautiously.

“Thank you for the press conference this morning,” Elizabeth said. “Sorry to spring that on you but I couldn’t risk any leaks and this was just too good of an opportunity to pass up.” She glanced at the scowling Caldwell. “Steven’s not so sure about this but... I know it can work.”

Rodney laughed to himself. Elizabeth had put them both in a position where they had no choice but to support her. She knew Rodney didn’t get along well with Caldwell personally and if Rodney didn’t overtly support her choice of bringing Sheppard on board, he’d be siding with Caldwell.

“No problem,” he assured her. “You are right -- this brings publicity that you can’t buy in this town.”

“He’s going to be trouble,” Caldwell growled. “His own family threw him out, for god’s sake.”

“And you know perfectly well there’s been nothing but good reports since then,” Elizabeth countered serenely.

It struck Rodney that she knew more than she was saying and he knew very well she didn’t give up people’s secrets lightly. She had kept his for years.

“There has been nothing negative on Sheppard that I know of since the break with his family,” Rodney had to admit. "Not that I was paying attention since I've never met John Sheppard."

“You know Patrick Sheppard,” Caldwell demanded. “What can you tell me?”

Rodney bit back an automatic Nothing and took a calming breath. “I knew Patrick Sheppard, professionally and second hand. He and I had a professional disagreement almost 10 years ago and I haven’t talked to him since,” Rodney said as calmly as he could. “I don’t know anything and, frankly, I don’t want to know anything about what might have happened.” Rodney held up a hand to stop Caldwell from interrupting him. “All I do know is that it was a private argument between John and Patrick and there is no one else who can tell you what happened. They never talk about it.”

“I still say the kid is trouble,” Caldwell insisted.

Kid! Rodney almost snorted. He did know John Sheppard was about his own age and he was no ingénue any more.

“I’ve already offered him the role and he’s accepted, so give it up Steven,” Elizabeth broke in. “John’s promised that he’s looking forward to doing this and he’s committed for eight weeks after opening night. It’s not forever and if you have any problems with him, you bring it to me.”

Rodney understood, even though she was overtly speaking to Caldwell, she was making a point that she wasn’t going to put up with anything from either of them.

“No problem,” Rodney assured her. Caldwell didn’t say anything. “Did you want anything else?” he asked.

“No,” she said. “Wait. I do need to ask for a couple of extra rehearsals that weren’t in the schedule,” she added. “Let me know if there’s something you can’t work around?”

“With my busy social schedule?” Rodney asked with a self-deprecating grin, knowing that begging off would otherwise give Caldwell something to snipe at him about. “I suspect not.” Since his breakup with Jonas Quinn, almost a year ago now, Rodney hadn't gone on a date that didn't involve publicity for whatever show he was involved in.

Elizabeth gave him a smile that let him know that she knew what he was doing.

“Mickey’ll have new schedules as soon as I can get it organized,” Caldwell couldn’t resist a parting shot.

“Anything today?” Rodney asked.

“No. We have to run Sheppard through costume first since Daniel and Cameron are both shorter than Sheppard and that will probably take the most time,” Caldwell stated. Rodney could tell he was thinking aloud, something he rarely did but it was always fascinating to watch. “I have some personal business for tomorrow I can’t cancel, so you’ll need to do that Elizabeth. We’ll probably have to coach him on his lines at some point, that’s where Rodney and Jennifer can help I think. And Radek. I have to think anything more through.”

“Okay then, if you don’t need anything else, I’m going home,” Rodney decided. It would be another chance to get a full night’s sleep and a good meal. Caldwell would be driving them all hard from here on out since they were running out of time.

Rodney went back to his dressing room, grabbed his jacket and backpack and left.

He stopped for dinner at Carmela's, knowing he really didn’t have much to eat in his refrigerator and not wanting to wait for delivery if he ordered in.

“Whatever’s simple,” Rodney told Carmela as he sat down. “Hungry and need to get some sleep.”

“Spaghetti with the meat sauce, then, and rolls. And a salad,” Carmela decided and went back to place his order. She was back shortly. “You even made the news today,” Carmela told him as she poured him water and set a glass of unsweetened iced tea down with the salad. Rodney sometimes suspected she made the tea that way just for him. “Saw you on the news. Well, the early news, anyway. The late news had most of your piece edited out.”

Rodney sipped at the iced tea. “How’d it look?” he had to ask.

She shrugged, “You look better in person.” Then she grinned at him. “John Sheppard? Really?” Rodney rolled his eyes, “Don’t tell me. You’re a fan of his, too?”

Carmela laughed. “Fred teases me about it but, yes, I am. Went to a concert once and he’s better looking in person, too!”

“Oh, save me,” Rodney begged.

“Bring him here for dinner,” Carmela directed.

“Right,” Rodney answered. “Don’t know if he’ll come,” he temporized.

“Sheppard’s a good guy,” Carmela protested. “I’ll bet he’ll come.”

“If he’ll come, I’ll bring him,” he appeased her.

She giggled and Rodney just rolled his eyes again. “You dinner’ll be a couple of minutes,” she let him know.

“Thanks,” Rodney said. He sat back and sipped at the iced tea and ate the salad. He suspected this would be people’s reactions. Well, he had expected younger fans than Carmela but supposed he shouldn’t be surprised at the reaction.

Early to bed had Rodney up early the next morning. He indulged in breakfast, cooking the last of the eggs and toasting a bagel to go with his coffee. He wasn’t much of a cook but had learned enough in self-defense over the years when it had been cheaper to cook for himself than eat out. Some of the early years had been financially lean, even if professionally profitable.

Mid-morning found Rodney back at the Pegasus Theatre. He went looking for Radek to do some warm-ups, one of the few members of the cast that would work with him without too much protest. He and Radek had formed something of a friendship, an unusual occurrence for Rodney, when they worked together on a production ofRoussalka in Prague. Radek had gained a grudging respect for Rodney as they worked on the Czech dialect needed for the opera. Rodney had worked his ass off to get the pronunciation correct for the production, learning some of the language along the way. As Rodney worked on his Czech, he had come to learn more about Radek and his country and, in turn, had opened up to the other man.

Having a friend was something of an oddity to Rodney McKay, who was known in the opera word for being sarcastic, demanding and not suffering fools lightly. His voice and work ethic gave him roles, but his drive to prove himself the best had labeled him a diva in his early years. A label that had followed him around the world. One that Jack O'Neill, production manager at the Met, had finally used as a club against him.

They used one of the small rehearsal rooms to warm up. Lorne must have heard them and joined them after a while. The three of them sang scales and did various warm up exercisess. There wouldn’t be a full rehearsal today with Sheppard coming in and Caldwell away, but it never hurt to be ready.

“Sheppard should be arriving soon,” Radek announced. “Mickey will take him to Elizabeth and then I suspect she will take him around.”

“My dressing room’s the largest,” Rodney decided. “We can wait there if you want.”

“Sure,” Lorne was agreeable.

They wandered back to Rodney’s dressing room and sat around. Radek filled them in on the gossip, Rodney was amazed with what was going on among the crew, and soon were laughing over a story Radek was telling about one of the swing dancers.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Mr. Sheppard?” the limo driver’s voice woke him from a fitful sleep. “We’re just about there.”

The only semi-reasonable flight Laura had been able to arrange for John ended up in Newark instead of in the city. She had arranged for a limo to pick him up and take him to the theatre to meet with Elizabeth Weir and get started. Since he rarely slept on a plane, the nap for an hour in the limo was welcome.

“Thanks,” John told him. He sat up straighter and stretched, wishing for a chance to clean up after the flight from Chicago. The last minute gig on his theoretical day off had put him completely off schedule but he knew it was his own fault. WFMT, the local Chicago classical music station, had contacted him about a visit during their fund-raising drive and he couldn’t say ‘no’ to that. That meant flying in early this morning for his meeting with Weir and Caldwell; losing an hour on the time zones didn’t help.

They pulled up to the back of the Pegasus Theatre. “Do you want me to wait? Ms Cadman paid for two days,” the man asked.

“Did she tell you where I was staying?” John asked.

“The Waldorf,” he answered.

“Okay, I’m going to be here for a while, take my bags to the hotel, check me in and give me a number where I can reach you,” John decided. “Will that work?”

“No problem,” he said. He pulled out a business card. “Cell phone number is on the card. You can call me any time. I’ll drop the bags off and head back this way so you shouldn’t have to wait too long for me to get you. Traffic at rush hour will be the only delay.”

“Thanks,” John said, glancing at the name and number. He grabbed his workout bag and climbed out of the car. "See you later, Todd."

Someone must have been watching, the door opened as soon as he stepped out of the car. A young man with pale skin and shoulder length, stringy hair asked, “You Sheppard?”

John nodded warily, something about this young man made him uncomfortable.

“I’m Mickey,” he announced with a self-importance John knew too well. “Elizabeth had me watching for you.”

And you had better things you wanted to do, John thought to himself. “Thank you,” he said out loud. “I appreciate someone doing that for me. Some of these old theatres are a maze once you get in them and I’ve gotten lost more than once.”

A self-satisfied look on Mickey’s face told John that was the right thing to say. No sense in annoying what he assumed was Weir’s assistant within the first five minutes he was here.

“Come on, I’ll take you to Elizabeth,” Mickey announced.

John followed Mickey through the theatre and suspected they were taking the long way around but didn’t complain. No one stopped them but John could see everyone looking at him as they paraded through the building.

“This is it,” Mickey pointed. He knocked on the door and walked in without waiting for a response. “Sheppard’s here.”

“Thank you, Mickey,” Elizabeth Weir stood from the table she had been working at. “Mr. Sheppard, so nice to finally meet you.”

Mickey left the office but left the door open and John suspected he was hovering in the hall where he could listen.

“John,” John said automatically. “Mr. Sheppard is my father. I’m just John.”

Weir smiled at him, “And I’m Elizabeth.” They shook hands.

“You have a full schedule today,” she apologized. “We have a lot to do to catch you up. Normally, Steven Caldwell, our Director, would take you around but he had some personal business he needed to get taken care of since he had planned for a day off. You’ll meet him tomorrow.”

“Understood,” John answered. “What do I need to do first?”

“Let me take you around to meet some of the rest of the cast, then for costume fittings,” she eyed him critically. “Norah’s going to have to come up with something for you since what we had for Daniel isn’t going to fit. Or suit you.”

John shrugged. “No problem. Lead on.” He looked around. “Okay if I leave my bag here?”

“You can leave it in your dressing room,” she decided. “It’s nothing special since Daniel and Cam shared it, but at least you won’t have to share.” She elaborated, "One of the swing dancers is going to fill in for Cam's knight role although we still need a backup for Rodney. But at this point you won't have any need to share."

John hesitated but offered, "If you're looking for a backup for Arthur, I can recommend Ronon Dex for the role. He's done several tours with me and he'd be more than capable."

"Do you think he'd be interested?" Elizabeth asked.

"Probably," John had to be honest. "His wife Amelia is pregnant and due in about two months. A couple months here would be welcome since her family lives in Virginia somewhere, at least this is closer than Chicago. And with the Friends tour closed down for at least the next six months, he's between jobs." John didn't think it was necessary to mention that he, well the corporation that the John Sheppard and Friends band operated under, paid Ronon and Amelia's health insurance even when the band wasn't on tour.

"Steven will want him to audition," Elizabeth warned him.

"That's between you and him," John shrugged. "Call Laura to arrange for him to come in and see."

Elizabeth made a note in her calendar. "Having a recommendation is better than searching again. We spent what felt like forever filling out the cast and now we don't have time to be too picky."

He didn't see Mickey as they left the office and John followed Elizabeth to the main dressing room area, watching their path. Yup, Mickey had taken him the long way around. She opened a door and John realized it was probably one of the smaller dressing rooms. It was cramped but functional. He dropped his bag on the nearest chair.

She took him to a room where several women were artfully hanging out. Waiting to meet him, he decided.

“John, meet some of the ladies of our cast,” Elizabeth announced. “Jennifer Keller is our Guen, Miko Kusinagi, Katie Brown and Cassie Frasier are ladies in waiting.”

“Ms Keller, ladies,” John nodded at each of them in turn. “Glad to meet you.”

Jennifer came over and reached out a hand to shake hands with him. “Oh, thank god you’re taller than I am.” She grinned. Many men in the theatre were much shorter than John and he knew how much the women appreciated his just over 6 foot height. “And, please, Jennifer.”

“John, please,” John shook her hand warmly. “Glad to meet you. Liked your work in Othello in Los Angeles.”

Her eyes widened. “You saw that?” she really smiled at him. “It came and went so fast I didn’t think anyone saw it.”

“Well, it was a bootleg video a friend of mine took,” John admitted. “But it was a shame to close so soon. You were perfect in that role.”

Dimples flashed. “Thanks!”

John shook hand with everyone else, exchanging names and nice to meet you with the others.

“Rehearsal tomorrow?” Elizabeth asked the group.

“Not a problem!” Jennifer answered for all of them.

John and Elizabeth went on to another dressing room with a trio of men sitting together. “Rodney? You in there?”

“Where else would I be?” came a voice John was familiar with.

“Rodney McKay is Arthur, as you probably know. Radek Zelenka is Merlyn and Evan Lorne is Mordred. This is John Sheppard.” Elizabeth introduced everyone.

McKay stood and John worked to keep his face professional – polite but interested, nothing more. “Sheppard. Good of you to join us,” McKay said.

They shook hands and John looked into the bluest eyes he had ever seen. In person, they were amazing. He mumbled, “Glad to meet you.” Or he hoped that was what he said. He wasn’t sure.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

A tap on the door and Elizabeth was there, with Sheppard behind her. Taller than I thought he’d be, Rodney thought idly. Then Elizabeth was introducing them and Rodney was looking into green eyes that showed... interest.... Something.... Something he couldn’t read. Warmth and curiosity, yes, but... something else.

John broke the handshake gracefully, turned to said, “Hello.” John nodded at Lorne, “Nice to see you again.”

At the questioning looks, Lorne admitted, “Worked with John’s band on a tour as a temp for, what? Six months. Great opportunity. Was glad to hear you were coming.”

McKay rounded on Lorne and demanded, “You knew him? And you didn’t tell us anything?”

Lorne held up his hands, “Hey! It was a temp gig almost 6 years ago. Wasn’t sure he’d remember me.”

John laughed. “Oh, no. I remember you,” he said. “Not that many people can fill in as drummer as well as you did. Almost sorry when Harold came back to us after his surgery.”

“A drummer, how much of a cliché is that?” Rodney asked, astonished at learning something he had not known about the other man. He eyed Radek suspiciously, this was the sort of thing he relied on Radek telling him.

Elizabeth turned to him, “I have to get John up to Norah for costuming,” Weir broke up the conversation. “Then to Teyla for choreography.” She looked at Rodney, “Want to come?”

Rodney was torn. He wanted to figure out what this thing was between him and Sheppard but didn’t want to appear too eager. “Sure. We can get acquainted that way,” he allowed.

“Come on, then,” Weir directed but Rodney could tell she was pleased that he was willing.

Rodney heard Sheppard say out of nowhere, “Saw your Baron Scarpia in Milan. That was brilliant.”

“You were there?” Rodney was stunned. He had loved that role in Tosca and had gotten only mediocre reviews from it. And here Sheppard was saying it was brilliant.

Sheppard went on to explain. “I had a night off from a series of dates in Rome, so I swung down to see it,” he admitted somewhat shyly.

Rodney stuttered, “I.... well, thanks.”

“I think you’ve made our Rodney speechless,” Elizabeth teased.

“I suspect that’s not easy to do,” Sheppard grinned

Rodney fought his own blush. He wasn’t used to the friendly teasing that this was and didn’t quite know what to say.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

They reached the costume shop on the third level and entered what would have been a large, airy space if it wasn’t packed with costumes and scenery.

“Norah!” Elizabeth called. “We’re here!” She turned to John and explained, “Easier than trying to find her in all this.”

A tall, regal-looking woman with spiky blonde hair came out from behind a pile of scenery. She looked John up and down, “I suspected as much. I need something new for him.” She pointed to a small dais. “Stand there for me and don’t move.”

John shot Elizabeth a questioning look and she just motioned for him to follow the directions.

Norah took most of the standard measurements, quickly and efficiently, making cryptic notes on a small notepad. She stood back and commanded, “Sing Do-re-mi.”

Startled, John asked, “What?”

She grinned at him. “You know, Doe, a deer, a female deer," she sang in an alto voice.

“Oh, okay,” John replied, mystified. He sang what he could remember of the song, Norah prompted him with words when he obviously didn't know them and ended up singing most of it three times as she took various measurements and made more notes and sketched on her pad.

“Okay, lunge forward like a fencer and hold it,” Norah said.

John was more familiar with this, so he moved to the required position while she took more measurements.

“Okay, thanks, come back,” she cocked her head in thought, “morning after tomorrow for a fitting.”

“What are you thinking?” Elizabeth asked.

“Not sure yet,” Norah admitted. “Just... a thought.” She looked at Elizabeth, "And I suspect Steven's going to hate it."

“On your head,” Elizabeth laughed but was obviously intrigued. “One more stop.”

John shrugged and McKay offered, “Norah’s got some great costume designs for everyone, all new things for the production. And she makes the most comfortable costumes I’ve ever worn.”

“That’s just so you have no reason to complain, Rodney,” Elizabeth put in.

“What? Me, complain?” Rodney protested.

Both Elizabeth and John laughed at that but John noted that Rodney didn't take offense at the teasing.

Down to the stage level and out on the main stage which was clear of scenery for the moment. “We have a minimalist approach to the scenery at the moment. Peter Grodin, who isn’t here today, has designed that for us. It seems to be working well.”

A small, copper-haired woman came hurtling out of the wings. “John!”

“Teyla!” John caught her, twirled her around and set her down in front of him.

“I could not believe you were coming to join us!” Teyla said enthusiastically.

“And I am pleasantly surprised to see you here!” John admitted. “Haven’t seen you since... Munich?”

“Yes, but you have not made much of an effort either,” she said sternly.

John couldn’t help the blush that stole across his face. “Sorry,” he muttered, “but, well... you know.”

"You are here, now, that is what matters," Teyla responded.

"How is Torren?" he asked. "Must be getting big."

"Eight now," Teyla said proudly. "He is Tom of Warwick in rotation with two others. Mostly the weekends, since he is younger than the other two and I won't take him out of school."

"Suspect he hates that," John grinned.

"It is a source of discussion," Teyla allowed. John knew that meant Teyla had her hands full with her son.

"We'll have to get together once I get settled," John said. "I'll talk to him, too."

“Thank you,” she said softly. "We will make a date once you are settled. Again, I am glad you are here with us.” She stepped out of his embrace.

“Do you know everyone?” McKay demanded from behind them.

“No,” John replied easily. “Just, Teyla choreographed theSuit and Tie tour for the band and came along for the first month to help us smooth it out.”

Elizabeth nodded, “I had forgotten you had done that, Teyla.” She turned to John. “Good to know you have some friends here, then.” To the small group, “Do you need me anymore?”

Teyla answered, “No, I think not. I will run John through some of the more complex scenes now.” She looked at McKay, “Although it would help if Rodney would stay.”

John saw Rodney shrug, “Sure.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Rodney had trailed along to costuming, watching as Norah did her usual mystical thing while measuring Sheppard for a costume. She had him singing “Do-re-mi” from Sound of Music for some absurd reason – she had made Rodney sing the Camelot song – but Rodney enjoyed the simple tune in Sheppard’s clear tenor voice. Sheppard’s tenor and Rodney’s own baritone would work well together, he decided.

Rodney watched Sheppard sing for Norah and watched him breathe easily through the song. Knowing Sheppard was a singer and from a singing family didn’t prepare him when he recognized the sheer level of technique Sheppard seemed to use without thought. Even for casual, un-warmed up singing, Sheppard moved into a professional mode so quickly Rodney wouldn’t have seen it if he hadn’t been doing something similar himself for years.

Rodney filed that away under the “things to figure out” category in his head as they moved back to the stage for choreography.

“Do you know everyone?” Rodney demanded when it became obvious that Sheppard knew their choreographer, Teyla Emmagen, from elsewhere.

“No,” John explained. “Just, Teyla choreographed theSuit and Tie tour for the band and came along for the first month to help us smooth it out.”

Elizabeth nodded, “I had forgotten you had worked together, Teyla.” She turned to John. “Good to know you have some friends here, then.” To the small group, “Do you need me anymore?”

Teyla answered, “No, I think not. I will run John through some of the more complex scenes now.” She looked at McKay, “Although it would help if Rodney would stay.”

Rodney shrugged, wondering what Teyla had in mind, “Sure.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Teyla used her cell phone, “We’re ready.” She hung up and turned to John, “The Lusty Month of May and the Joust scene are the most complex because there are so many people on stage. Your actual choreography is not as hard as what we did for Suit and Tie, but you have to watch your blocking more carefully since there’s little room for error.”

John was surprised when Radek Zelenka appeared while she was talking.

It was McKay who explained, “Radek plays rehearsal piano for us. We’re not officially rehearsing, which is what Elizabeth will tell the union when they protest, we’re colleagues rehearsing on our own.”

“Ah! Gotcha!” John replied. He had always gotten along well with the various performing unions and belonged to the ones Laura told him he had to join but mostly ignored the letter-of-the-law when he could. He knew he had a good reputation for being hard-but-fair among those he worked with and, as a result, had few run-ins with the unions.

Couple of times anyone tried to cite union rules at him in refusing to do something that John thought was otherwise reasonable, John had found a reason to let that person go a short while later. John always gave good recommendations, Laura took care of that, but everyone else noticed and learned that any protests they had, they went to John with or kept to themselves. He tried to be reasonable but he was in charge and everyone who worked for him knew it. He was a hands-on employer and didn’t hesitate to get involved in all of the aspects of his own business. It was actually nice to be the employee for once and not the employer. He didn’t envy Elizabeth the management headaches, he had enough of that himself regularly.

“We’ll do the Joust scene first,” Teyla told Radek. She positioned Rodney in the middle of the stage. “You’re Jennifer.”

“Why am I always the princess?” Rodney demanded.

“Because you’re good looking,” John shot back.

“Oh, right. You’re the pretty one,” Rodney said sarcastically.

“Boys!” Teyla stopped them but John could see the small grin. “Now, Guen is encouraging the other knights to fight Lance...” She walked John through the scene and John threw in his dialog at the right parts.

“Rodney, sing the chorus part for me,” Teyla ordered. “Radek, give us an intro.”

Focusing on the scene that would be in front of him, he walked through it, said the dialog and sang the few lines he really had in the scene and stopped when the music stopped.

“Okay?” he asked.

McKay looked at him in amazement. “Daniel and Cam have been practicing that shuffle-step thing for weeks and you got it in the first try? And you seem to have the dialog down? Where did Elizabeth conjure you up from?”

John shrugged, not willing to admit anything. “Teyla had a similar step in the Suit tour, so I had done that before and it was like six lines of dialog. Not hard.” John could see McKay wasn’t quite buying it but knew there wasn’t anything he could do about it.

“The last part of the Joust scene, I think,” Teyla announced. “Rodney, you can be Sir Lionel.”

McKay gave in more easily this time, John suspected because he wanted to see how John would do this time.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sheppard’s hands on his chest in the Joust scene were warm and almost caressing. Rodney shifted slightly and had to force himself to think of Mickey to will himself back from a full blown erection. Sheppard was looking down at him with that... something... in his eyes. Rodney had to blink to break the connection.

“Good enough,” Teyla announced. “A lot of the rest is solo work, so you and I can run through that tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow would be good,” John agreed and yawned.

“Late night?” Rodney had to ask as he dusted himself off.

“Somewhat,” Sheppard agreed blandly. “Had to fly in this morning and I lost an hour coming East.”

“You came in from Chicago this morning?” Radek asked as he closed up the piano.

"Yeah,” Sheppard answered, then stretched upward revealing a strip of skin between the t-shirt and pants. Rodney tried not to stare but suspected Sheppard noticed.

“Let me show you back to the dressing room,” Rodney offered, surprising himself. “You probably are turned around by now.”

“Okay, I left a bag there and I'd like to get my computer out of it but the rest of it is workout things,” Sheppard decided. “Nothing special. But a native guide is always useful.”

“Native guide?” Rodney squawked.

“You live in New York, right?” Sheppard asked. “That makes you a native.” He must have seen the look Rodney gave him, “It’s in your Bio. Looked you up.”

Amazed that Sheppard had bothered, Rodney answered, “Right. Okay, this way.”

They went back to Sheppard’s dressing room and Rodney looked around, “Not much but Cam and Daniel had to share it so on your own it should be fine. Anything that's looks to be Cam's or Daniel's that's in your way, give to Mickey and he can store it somewhere.”

Sheppard shrugged, “Like I told Elizabeth, I’ve done much worse. It’ll do.”

Rodney suddenly realized he didn’t know what to do next. “Ummm.. Do you need anything? I mean, as the native guide and all, I suspect I can help,” Rodney found himself offering.

Sheppard smiled at him. “Not that I can think of right now,” Sheppard said. “I have a limo that will take me to my hotel and I need to catch up on my sleep.”

“You mean there isn’t a date waiting for you to go out partying with?” Rodney blurted before he could stop himself.

A look of – pain? embarrassment? – flashed over Sheppard’s face before he said gently, “No date, no party. Just me and some serious, and solo, mattress time.”

“Oh. Sorry, Just....” Rodney didn’t know where he was going with that.

“Could ask you the same question,” Sheppard held up a hand, “but I won’t.” He held out a hand, “Friends?”

Rodney was stunned. Sheppard wanted to be friends with him? “Me?” Rodney was stunned. He thought he may have squeaked but ignored the thought.

Sheppard shrugged, “Easier to do all of this if we get along and.... You’re interesting and I’d like to get to know you better.”

Rodney took the warm hand and grasped it for a moment. Sheppard had a good grip, firm but not too hard and shook. “Friends,” Rodney found himself agreeing.

The smile Sheppard gave him was real, not the stage-smile they all learned early in any acting career. Rodney could see the wrinkles around Sheppard’s eyes as they lit up. Green eyes, Rodney stared for a moment before he reluctantly let go.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” Rodney said. “You should have,” he looked around the room and spotted a sheet, “a call sheet for tomorrow. Mickey hands them out for Elizabeth.”

“Good to know, thanks,” Sheppard replied. He picked it up, “Whoa, tight schedule tomorrow.”

“Yours probably more than most,” Rodney explained, “since we have to catch you up.” He looked over Sheppard’s shoulder. “Yeah, they have the cast rehearsals and you have work with Teyla around that.”

“Okay, then,” Sheppard looked up from the paper in his hand. “Thanks. See you tomorrow.”

Recognizing that as his cue, Rodney nodded and left. He found his way to his own dressing room and dropped into the chair. What the fuck just happened there?

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

After McKay left, John called the limo and Todd said, “Ten minutes. The same door?”

“Perfect,” John let him know. He took the call sheet Mickey left on the table, looked through the bag briefly, took out his laptop and figured the rest could stay here for the night. He’d be back early in the morning and there wasn’t anything he’d need tonight. He turned off the light in the room and went to out to the waiting car.

"Todd, you available for a long term assignment?" John asked once he was in the limo.

"Sure," Todd agreed. "I have a couple of things in the next week that someone else can take. What were you thinking of?"

"I'll need to have someone take me around, especially once my fans realize I'm here," John elaborated. "Just easier if I have one person on call. It'll be odd hours, and a few days that might be pretty long but I'll try to not be totally unreasonable."

"I can do that," Todd replied.

"Ditch the limo and get a town car," John directed. "Something that will have three, four passengers but isn't as obvious as this."

"In New York? This isn't obvious," John could hear the grin in Todd's voice.

"Well, just get something more reasonable," John said.

"You're the boss," Todd agreed.

"I'll have Laura Cadman call your service and take care of it," John told him. He got out of the limo and said, "See you in the morning."

Laura had set him up with a suite at the Waldorf and they had the piano he had asked Laura to arrange for. He called Laura's cell phone and when he got her voice mail, left a message about the car and Todd, knowing it would be taken care of by morning.

Resisting the lure of the music, he stripped off his clothes and took a hot shower, trying not to think about actually finally meeting Rodney McKay today.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Knowing he wouldn’t rest until he had a better handle on all of this, Rodney called Carmela from the subway station for take-out dinner and hurried home. He sat down in front of his computer and started searching the Internet for everything it could tell him about John Sheppard.

Hours later, Rodney stretched to get the knots out of his shoulders. For a public person, there was very little private information on John Sheppard. The man was a mystery, something repeated on several web sites. John’s fan web sites were almost embarrassing in how much they adored the man but there was little personal information there.

John Sheppard was the son of Patrick Sheppard of the “Sheppard Family,” something Rodney already knew. He had never met John when he had dealt with Patrick all those years ago but at that time John was still singing with the family. About a year after Rodney’s run-in with Patrick was the famous breakup where John split from the family to go out on his own. As he told Elizabeth, no one knew anything about the cause of the breakup, only some obvious bitterness on Patrick’s side when he refused to talk to anyone about his oldest son. Ever.

When John resurfaced a couple years later with his own band, John moved from the gospel/country singing the Family specialized in into a more contemporary and pop genre. While technically John was the principal, he had a group of musicians and singers he worked with regularly. “John Sheppard and Friends” was almost a larger group than the “Sheppard Family” ever was. And John's band certainly was more popular, with John himself was in mega-star territory. There was a series of records and tours that had made John both rich, rich-er since he seemed to have money from his grandmother, and world famous in his own right.

Rodney watched a couple of videos of various performances, one from the Suit and Tie tour and spotted that shuffle-step John and Teyla had talked about. If he hadn’t been looking for it, the movement would have seemed entirely natural and spontaneous. Rodney had to give Sheppard credit for an amazing singing voice, always the primary singer but sharing the spotlight easily with the other singers in the group. He even found an old video where Lorne was the drummer and grinned. It would have been glorious blackmail material if he had known before.

John had divorced his wife Nancy some time after he left the family. Interestingly enough, Nancy had stayed with the Sheppard Family after the break-up. Also something no one involved ever talked about it, and anything Rodney could find was obviously speculation. Nancy had never given any personal interviews and anytime she was cornered by the press, all she would say is "No comment."

Beyond all the touring and recording and personal appearances – of which there was an incredible number, John was on the road seemingly endlessly – there was next to nothing. John didn’t date as far as Rodney could see. Any events that required a ‘date’ had John escorting a young teen, mostly girls but a few boys, as part of a Make-A-Wish type event. John’s charity work made him look like fucking Mother Teresa, for heaven’s sake. The semi-regular paparazzi photo had John with someone from his band, a different person almost every time, or, most often, by himself. Any official press sessions were almost never solo, it was John and one or more members of the band.

Rodney sat back. He was suddenly embarrassed by the cheap shot he had taken earlier, accusing Sheppard of having a date and partying in the evening.

Glancing at a clock, Rodney was amazed that it was almost 1 am. He shut down the computer and went off to get some sleep. Tomorrow was a busy day.

Forgoing breakfast for a coffee and buttered hard roll from Starbucks, he needed to do some grocery shopping anyway, Rodney was early at the theatre. He had skipped the workout with Teyla the last two mornings and knew he needed to keep it up. The older he got the harder it was to stay in shape, so he changed into workout clothes and made his way to Teyla’s morning ‘Yoga’ class. It was more than just Yoga, aimed at the dancers in the group more than the leads who didn’t have as strenuous dance routines, and Teyla gave Rodney some leeway as long as he made an effort.

Somehow, he wasn’t surprised to find Sheppard already there. Sheppard was as skinny as the dancers in his workout clothes, which consisted of a ratty t-shirt from one of his own tours and threadbare sweatpants.

Teyla called them to order and started on the basic movements and poses. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Sheppard following easily. Having to focus on his own form, Rodney stopped watching and concentrated on the movement and his breathing. Rodney did modified versions of the more complex positions which gave him a chance to glance at Sheppard. Sheppard was no slouch and, as far as Rodney could see, in excellent condition, doing almost as well as most of the dancers who had been working with Teyla from the beginning.

As Teyla cooled them all off, Rodney ran through the rest of the day in his head.

“Stop thinking,” Sheppard hissed from beside him.

“Wha?” Rodney muttered, grimacing as Teyla gave them both a glare.

“You’re thinking,” Sheppard went on, ignoring Teyla. “You need to stop and listen to your body more and you’d be able to do some of those poses you skipped.”

“Not a dancer,” Rodney protested. “Don’t need to.”

“Good for you to try,” Sheppard replied under his breath. “Shhhh...”

“You started it,” Rodney muttered but went quiet and closed his eyes to concentrate on his breathing. He was startled when Teyla announced, “Thank you. See you all later.”

“See?” Sheppard crowed. “Bet that feels better.”

Rodney thought about it for a moment and grudgingly admitted, “Okay, it does.” He had to ask, “How did you know...”

“You show it on your face when you’re thinking,” Sheppard pointed out. “You get this furrow between your eyes...”

“How do you know that?” Rodney demanded, amazed.

Sheppard stopped for a moment and said, “Yesterday.... When we were working on choreography. You’d do that when you were listening to directions. So, when you did it now, I figured you were thinking. Again.”

Slightly mollified, Rodney allowed, “Okay. Just weird that you figured that out so quickly.”

“Quick study,” Sheppard said lightly.

“What do you have next?” Rodney asked.

“Choreography with Teyla and then blocking If Ever I Would Leave You with her and Caldwell,” Sheppard replied.

“You ever meet Caldwell before?” Rodney asked.

Sheppard shook his head. “Different circles.”

“For as much of a bastard he can be, he’s good at his job,” Rodney told him. “And don’t tell him I said that. Listen to what he’s saying and you’ll do fine.” Rodney hesitated. “Caldwell already doesn’t like you, for some reason. Just a head’s up.”

“Good to know, thanks. And not surprised,” Sheppard said. “See you in a bit.”

Rodney left the workout room as Teyla approached Sheppard, presumably to work on the choreography for Lancelot’s primary song.

Rodney found himself going to the wings of the stage about the time he knew Sheppard would be working with Caldwell. He found Sheppard vibrating in anger behind the curtain. He put a hand on Sheppard’s shoulder. “Told you he’s a bastard. Breathe,” Rodney commanded.

Sheppard took a couple of deep breaths and relaxed into Rodney’s hand. “Thanks,” Sheppard replied, not moving away. “No one’s gotten to me like that since...”

Since your father, I bet, Rodney thought to himself. “I calculate pi a lot,” Rodney admitted. “It helps.”

“Pi?” John threw Rodney a look. "9941."

“Prime,” Rodney answered with a grin.

Sheppard grinned back at him.

“Okay now?” Rodney asked.

“Yeah. Thanks,” Sheppard admitted.

The music started, “That’s your cue,” Rodney gave him a small push.

Sheppard stepped out on the stage and... transformed. It was similar to what he had done yesterday in the costume shop. Here, it was a transformation that was unmistakable and Rodney suspected it was deliberate, and for Caldwell’s benefit.

Picking up the musical cue, Sheppard took a practiced breath and sang...

If ever I would leave you...

Rodney watched as he transformed the empty stage to the rampart he knew Lancelot would sing his heart out from. Teyla’s choreography became natural movement as Sheppard moved across the stage.

It couldn’t be in autumn, how I’d leave in autumn I never will know...

Rodney was stunned. He had become a fan again.

When it ended, Sheppard looked at him and said, “Was that okay?”

Rodney shook himself, “Okay? Okay? You.... That was perfect.”

“I’ll be the judge of that, if you don’t mind,” Caldwell’s voice broke between them.

John took a breath and turned to face the section of the audience where Caldwell sat. “Sorry,” he said carefully and looked patiently at Caldwell.

“It’s exactly what I was looking for,” Elizabeth enthused. She came forward with a glance at Caldwell, “Sorry, Steven, you have to admit it was good.”

Rodney could almost feel sorry for Caldwell at that moment. Almost. With a grin he watched Caldwell rub two fingers across his forehead knowing he really couldn’t contradict Elizabeth, especially when Elizabeth was so obviously right.

“There are a couple of minor things, if you don’t mind,” Caldwell put in.

“Sure,” Sheppard answered easily, more relaxed now that he had been through it once and had his equilibrium back.

Rodney didn’t wait to hear Caldwell’s nitpicking. He raced to the dressing room area. “Jennifer, come and see this.” He was surprised she hadn’t been there for the first run-through.

They made it to the wings as Caldwell was stepping Sheppard through some things he had done properly the first time. Sheppard had himself under control at this point and Rodney could see Sheppard humoring the director.

“Again,” Caldwell commanded. He stepped off the stage and sat down in the theatre.

The music started and Rodney could see more of the cast creeping out of various hiding places. Some of them had to have seen Sheppard’s first attempt and, like Rodney, brought in anyone who had missed the first go-round.

This time when Sheppard finished, there was a spontaneous round of applause from the cast. Obviously knowing when to give in, Caldwell allowed a brief, “Okay.”

As Sheppard came off stage, Jennifer gushed, “John! That was wonderful! I can’t wait until we rehearse the Joust scene later.”

Sheppard grinned at her, “Can’t wait.” But he looked at Rodney as he said it.

As they were eating lunch in the work-out room where Teyla had the morning workout, mostly yogurt and fruit since everyone was watching their weight this close to the opening, Mickey came around. “New schedule,” he announced gloomily. “Full run through this afternoon rather than just scenes.”

“Huh,” Rodney muttered. “Caldwell had to have talked Elizabeth into this,” he decided. He looked up at Sheppard. “You going to be okay with this? We haven’t done most of the dialog.”

Sheppard shrugged. “I’ll be okay, just won’t have all the timing quite right but this is good practice anyway.”

“You have your lines?” Jennifer asked. Rodney knew that Jennifer struggled with her lines in the beginning. Once she had them, she was fine but the early rehearsals had been rough since she didn’t quite have them down pat at that time.

“Lance isn’t that big a part, Guen and Arthur have way more lines than I do,” John explained. “I have it well enough and going through the entire thing will put it together faster.”

“Miko’s good with prompting, if you need,” Jennifer pointed, and Miko waved. “Don’t hesitate to take advantage of that.”

“Thank you,” Sheppard answered gravely with a nod to Miko.

After, Rodney wondered why he wasn’t more surprised than he was. The rehearsal went amazingly well, Sheppard fitting into place like he had been there from the beginning. C'est Moi needed a reasonably good French accent and Sheppard was as perfect there as his other solo. Rodney didn’t know when Teyla had run him through the choreography. He only hesitated a couple of times, mostly over scenes he obviously had not run through at all. And the hesitations had been brief, everyone pitching in to keep Sheppard going.

“Everyone on stage, please,” Caldwell’s voice came over the PA system after the last scene.

They came out, the actors who were in the very last fight scene still sweating, with towels around their shoulders and Rodney still on a high from his last scene with the kid playing Tom of Warwick.... Jinto, he finally remembered. “That was... good,” Caldwell allowed. “Better than I expected.”

Rodney stifled a laugh. It had been very good and everyone knew it. He could feel the excitement in the entire cast.

“Some things we need to work on,” Caldwell went on. He outlined almost exactly the same things Rodney had observed, Rodney seeing Sheppard paying particular attention to criticism that was aimed at him. Sheppard nodded as he listened to Caldwell, Teyla adding some comments on movement.

Sheppard asked, “Can we do that last scene with Lance, Arthur and Guen again? I’d like to go over the blocking and the dialog.” It was one of the scenes they hadn't had a chance to work on at all. He had the dialog just not the blocking.

“Sure,” Rodney agreed as Jennifer nodded. They looked at Caldwell.

“Not where I was going to start,” Caldwell sighed. “But it needs to be done. Okay, let’s go back to the beginning of that scene.”

They ran through the scene one time stepping it through line by line, Caldwell adding what he was looking for. The second time it was much smoother. After the third run-through, Caldwell said, “Looks good. Any questions?”

Sheppard shook his head and Rodney noted that Sheppard didn’t have to be told anything twice. He took in Caldwell’s directions and Teyla’s coaching and added his personality to the character. Rodney beat down the hope that was forming in him, he didn’t want to get too excited before they opened.

“Okay, people,” Caldwell called. “We have a soft opening in five days. We still have a lot of work to do. You’ll have revised schedules for tomorrow in an hour. Make sure you have it before you leave.”

When Elizabeth Weir had proposed the Camelot production to Rodney, she had explained that she didn’t want to spend lots of time in ‘pre-opening night’ shows. They had performed some preliminary shows in Buffalo but that was to shake out the bigger kinks and try the scenery which then had changed completely once they got to the Pegasus Theatre. Working elsewhere wasn’t the same as working on Broadway but she didn’t have the capital to support the production for the usual month of shows before the formal opening. They were going to do this with two days of shows – a matinee and two evening performances – before the formal Opening Night, a week from today.

Rodney knew from Radek that, as expected, ticket sales had gone from ‘okay’ to ‘sold out’ once the announcement that Elizabeth had signed Sheppard had been made. They had sold out shows for the full eight weeks Sheppard had committed to and the next month was pretty solid, many people obviously taking a chance that Sheppard would extend his stay through the end of the planned run.

Back in his dressing room, Rodney used a washcloth to take off the first layer of grime. There were communal showers available that he would use during a production to help deal with the sweat and make-up. Today, without having needed make-up and the slower pace of practice, he only needed a quick wash-up to be ready to leave.

Stepping out the stage door, Rodney was shocked to see the crowd that had gathered. There was a faint groan of disappointment when they realized it was him and Rodney figured out they were waiting for Sheppard. Snapping his fingers like he had forgotten something, he went back in the door and went to Sheppard’s dressing room.

“Your fan club is out there, waiting for you,” Rodney warned him.

Sheppard blushed. “Umm, not surprised. Happens,” he admitted with a sigh. After a second, he gave a small grin, “Help me out?”

Warily, Rodney asked, “How?”

“Just go out there with me,” Sheppard pleaded. “Sign some autographs and get in the limo with me. I’ll have the driver drop you wherever you want.”

“I only need to get to the subway,” Rodney countered. “It’s a couple of blocks.”

“That’s easy, then,” Sheppard replied. “Do it?”

“I guess I can force myself,” Rodney shot back, “if you don’t think of it as slumming with a has-been opera singer.”

“Not that much of a has-been,” Sheppard replied firmly. “Just need some time.”

Rodney rolled his eyes. “Whatever,” Rodney said. Looking at Sheppard’s hopeful green eyes, he gave in, “Okay, I’ll do it.”

Sheppard quickly organized his dressing room, hanging up a hoodie and putting damp towels in the bin. “Ready?” he asked.

“This will be interesting,” Rodney commented. “Let me go first.”

There was the same quiet sigh of disappointment when Rodney came out again. When Sheppard stepped out behind him, several squeals of “John, here!” could be heard.

John held up a hand and waited for the crowd to quiet down, “Okay, Rodney and I will sign autographs for fifteen minutes,” he offered to the crowd. “One per person and once you have yours you need to let the next person in.” He looked up at the flash of a camera. “No posed pictures but you can take what you want as we’re signing autographs.”

“They don’t want my signature,” Rodney muttered under his breath.

“Too bad,” John shot back with a grin. “Both or nothing.” He handed Rodney a marker that he conjured from somewhere.

Pleased to be included but not wanting to show it, Rodney grumbled, “All right.”

Sheppard seemed to have this autograph thing down to a science. He’s ask the seeker’s name – mostly teen-age girls but a few older women who were probably someone’s mother – and then pass whatever paper or object, there were some t-shirts among the paper handed to him, he had signed to Rodney. Rodney would look at the name Sheppard had written fairly clearly and repeat the same thing. “To Anna, Rodney McKay”

Sheppard worked quickly and soon everyone there seemed to have their autograph. Rodney had been aware of several camera flashes while they worked, assumed it was friends taking pictures as their friend got their autograph from Sheppard. Sheppard had plastered himself to Rodney's side, so Rodney figured that he was probably in quite a number of those shots.

“That’s it for today,” Sheppard said firmly. “Thanks for being patient but it’s time to call it a night.”

There was a genial groan from those standing around but they left room for Sheppard to get to the waiting limo, Sheppard herding Rodney into the back seat with him.

“Drop me at the N train subway stop, down three blocks,” Rodney told the driver.

“Sure you don’t want a ride home?” Sheppard asked.

“Nah,” Rodney said, “it’s way out of your way and I’ll get home quicker on the subway than you will taking the bridge anyway,” He hesitated, “But thanks.”

“Okay,” Sheppard replied. Rodney thought he was disappointed at having to let Rodney out so quickly but Rodney dismissed it as a flight of fantasy.

The limo stopped at the corner and the drive said, “Your subway stop, sir.”

“Thanks,” Rodney replied. To Sheppard he said, “See you in the morning?”

“Yeah,” Sheppard agreed. “Teyla’s workout.”

Rodney groaned. He had been doing it regularly but not necessarily every day. “Okay. Teyla’s workout,” he agreed. “Night.” He got out and waved as he shut the car door.

Rodney didn’t have to wait long for his train, got on and stood holding the rail, bemused that just a few minutes ago he was signing autographs with John Sheppard and getting into a limo.

After picking up the salad he had called for while waiting for the train, Rodney took advantage of the early night to get some sleep.

The next morning found him walking into the workout just behind Sheppard. He easily gravitated next to the other man, setting out a mat next to each other. It was easier today to concentrate on Teyla’s workout and he found himself trying some of the more complex moves he had slacked off on the day before. He was aware of Sheppard next to him but today it helped him focus better, not serve as a distraction. The cool down meditation was even easier, Rodney focusing on his breathing and not looking forward to the schedule of the day.

Teyla came over at the end, “That is much better, Rodney. That was a good workout.”

Rodney shrugged. “Sheppard helped,” he admitted. “Ah, yes, John is good at this,” Teyla said. She turned to Sheppard, “Good work.”

Sheppard echoed Rodney’s shrug. “Got him to stop thinking,” he said, like it was obvious.

“Ah,” was all Teyla had to say.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

There was a note from Norah in his dressing room asking him to stop in for a fitting. John figured now was better than later with the tight schedule he had. He went up to the costume shop and called for the designer.

"Good," she said when she spotted John. "Come here," she pointed to a partitioned off area. "Try that on."

John took off his workout clothes, throwing them over the divider. He shimmied into the clothing carefully, knowing from experience that some of the pieces were probably pinned together and not yet sewn. It made fitting the costume easier for the seamstress.

He came out and stood on the dais he had stood on two days ago in the all black costume. Norah walked around him, looking critically. "Okay, sing for me," she commanded.

"Any requests?" John grinned.

"I'll get you to do one of your own songs next time," she grinned back. "Do C'est Moi for now, even though that costume's for Act Two. And some of Teyla's choreography. Watch the pins."

"Thanks a lot," John complained. He really hated getting stuck with pins, mostly because it usually was in sensitive areas. Very sensitive areas. And C'est Moi had a fairly active choreography, related to the exuberance of the song.

John ran through the steps and the song with a minimum of sticking. The costume really would be comfortable when it was done, as Rodney had said it would.

Looking down at the deceptively simple black costume, a black-on-black patterned silk for the tunic and black velvet trimmed in the silk for the pants, John asked, "Caldwell's going to hate this?"

"Oh, yeah," Norah answered. "Well, he's pretty much hated all the costumes but we don't have time anymore to fuss before opening. He has to suck it up and live with it." She waved, "Lance is supposed to be the good guy and Daniel's costume is close to white. But not white-white, Caldwell insisted on a shade of off-white that he couldn't really describe but would know it when he'd see it," she recounted with some frustration. "I spent days finding the right color." She nodded and said softly, "Oh, yeah. He'll hate this." She looked up at John, "But your fans will adore it."

"I'll take your word for it," John replied. Costumes and what looked good on him were both something of a mystery to him. He generally favored black t-shirts and jeans when he could, Norah had come close to that with this costume.

"What else?" John asked. "I think I have to be somewhere else."

"That's fine for now," she allowed. "You have a couple more changes I have to set up, but now that I have this I can work from them. Come up again tomorrow morning."

"Sure," John agreed. He went in back of the partition and changed back into his workout clothes. He handed to costume to Norah. "Thanks. And it is comfortable."

She laughed. "If you're thinking about what you're wearing, you're not thinking about your role," she explained. "Get out of here!"

"Yes, ma'am," John sketched a salute and went off to his session with Teyla. He was late but whomever had made the schedule had given him more than enough time for choreography. He was almost through all of the scenes with Teyla, just had to work on them with others on the stage.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Caldwell had them all pushing hard. Lunch was on the run between scenes Caldwell seemed to want to nit-pick to death. When Caldwell wasn't harassing them, Teyla drilled everyone on choreography relentlessly. Rodney wasn’t sure what time it was but he knew it was late and didn’t have the energy to look for a clock.

All day he had been aware of Sheppard. Either they were working on a scene together, or Rodney could hear him singing in the distance, or Teyla was working them through the footwork. And when they weren’t in some proximity, the others of the cast were talking about Sheppard – “John’s singing is even better in person” or “John’s a great dance partner.” Everyone had glowing reports of how well everything was coming along.

Sitting in his dressing room at the end of the day, Rodney knew this feeling. Tiredness warred with exhilaration. It was a good feeling that happened just before opening night of a new production.

Mickey slunk in and tossed the schedule for tomorrow on Rodney’s dressing table. “Here,” Mickey grunted.

“Thanks,” Rodney forced himself to say. Mickey hadn’t been around much for most of the day but he seemed to be in a foul mood. He was polite to the other man but he didn't have the energy to spar with Mickey at that point.

“Ready?” Sheppard’s voice came from his doorway.

“For what?” Rodney was confused. He didn’t think there was anything left on the schedule. “I’m forgetting something?” he scrabbled through his pockets for his schedule.

“Our fans?” John prompted him.

Our fans?” Rodney snorted, sitting back in the chair.

“Well,” Sheppard blushed and shuffled his feet slightly. “You helped. Yesterday. Kinda hoped you’d do it again.”

“You sure?” Rodney asked, slightly stunned.

“Hey, it was fun,” Sheppard countered.

Rodney grinned. “Okay, give me a minute,” he said. He ran a washcloth over his face quickly, tugged on the orange fleece that he had worn in that morning and turned to face the waiting man. “Ready!”

Rodney was first out the door again but the hum from the small crowd wasn’t as immediately disappointed when he stepped out as it had been yesterday. When Sheppard stepped out behind him, the excitement rose again. John gave the same announcement as he did yesterday, Rodney realized it was pretty much a rote speech he probably gave regularly.

In the car after, Sheppard offered, “I need to get something to eat. You want to come?”

Rodney considered and found he couldn’t turn down the hopeful look in Sheppard’s eyes. “Oh, heck, sure,” he agreed.

They ended up in a small deli that Sheppard had found somehow. When Rodney started to grill the waitress on the ingredients in the various items on the menu, she wisely gave up and brought out the cook who quickly understood what Rodney was asking. They finally ended up selecting the roasted chicken, garlic mashed potatoes and corn. Fresh rolls were a luxury Rodney didn't always indulge in – the calories really packed on... after all, fresh rolls demanded real butter. Real comfort food.

Rodney laughed more than he had in a long time. Sheppard.... John.... It was John, now, had a wicked sense of humor, they had more in common than Rodney would have thought. They had traveled to many of the same places, just at different times.

“I missed you by a couple of days in Anaheim,” John said as they laughed together over a generally incompetent stage manager they had both run into in San Francisco. “You were doing Tosca again.”

“You knew that?” Rodney had to ask, amazed. He had never really paid attention to John Sheppard before this and John knew where he had been and the roles he had performed.

John looked down at his coffee, suddenly silent. "Yeah," he said softly but didn't elaborate, to Rodney's frustration.

"It's getting late," John said briskly. "Can we run you home?"

"It's way out of your way," Rodney demurred. "How about a ride to Grand Central? I can catch a train from there."

"You sure?" John persisted. "Not a big deal."

Rodney hesitated but stuck to his original decision. "I'll be fine, thanks," he said firmly.

Todd had eaten his own dinner much more quickly than John and Rodney, and was waiting in the car for them. He efficiently dropped Rodney at Grand Central and if John seemed reluctant to let Rodney leave, Rodney figured it was his own imagination.

The subway ride home and the short walk on the other end helped him wind down from the day and he was ready to just tumble into bed. A quick shower, a look at the laundry that needed to be done and Rodney found himself falling asleep.

If he dreamed about dancing green eyes, he wrote it off to sheer exhaustion.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

After dropping Rodney off, John had Todd drop him at the hotel. Fortunately his fans hadn't figured out where he was staying, yet, so he got into the hotel without a fuss. Laura had reserved the suite in a cover name and Todd had checked in for him.

Until someone saw him, it was nice to live fairly simple. Well, a suite at the Waldorf wasn't what most people would consider simple, being able to come and go without the up close and too-personal attention of his fans -- that was the luxury.

Coming in tonight, he looked at the piano and the thought that had been forming in the back of his head started to crystallize. Spending a couple of days with Rodney McKay, working on the production and his own musical talent were coming together.

He sat down at the piano and started playing. He needed to do some research... he pulled out his laptop and did a quick Google search for more information. He found what he needed and used his PayPal account to pay for it. He called the concierge and she directed him to the private business center on the 11th floor where he could print his downloaded files.

John took the elevator down to the 11th floor, not sure which stairwell doors might lock behind him. That had been an embarrassing experience – he had only been looking for a diet soda from a machine on another floor when he was on tour in their early years. It wasn't until he was in the stairwell that he realized that the door locked behind him and the only way out was down. The worst part was that he was dressed only in a t-shirt and boxers.

"Ummm.... doors are locked," John waved at the stairwell as he came out in the hotel lobby.

"There are signs." The desk clerk had smirked. "You're not the first. Won't be the last."

"Suspect not," John had to agree. He slunk over to the elevator and went back to his room. He settled for semi-cool water from the bathroom sink. From then on, he took the elevator.

He put the USB drive in the slot on the computer and brought up the file. It took a couple of minutes for the printer to warm up but he soon had the copies he needed.

He checked out a couple of the more active of his fan web sites while he was waiting and was pleased to see pictures of him and Rodney signing autographs together. Someone had caught him grinning at Rodney but since Rodney had been in the process of trying to figure out where to sign the stuffed penguin he had been handed, it was all right.

Taking his printouts and some blank paper back to his room, John sat at the piano. He looked at the material he downloaded and played through the material to get a feel for it. He set it aside and used the blank pages to make some notes.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

A rap on the doorframe brought Rodney's attention to the door. Sheppard leaned against the doorframe.

"Got a minute?" Sheppard asked.

"Sure," Rodney answered easily. "What do you need?" He waved at a chair.

Sheppard came in and sprawled, there was no other word for it, in the chair. Rodney wondered how he did that. Even when he was younger he wasn't anywhere as limber as Sheppard was currently.

"Just wanted to think something through out loud," Sheppard answered.

"Go ahead," Rodney encouraged him.

"Well, I always knew the Camelot story, everyone grew up with Merlyn and Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table," John started. "Arthur and Lancelot are supposed to be best friends, right?"

Rodney nodded agreement.

"In fact, they become instant best friends and that's the key to the love triangle. Arthur's hurt is worse because it's not just that his wife has betrayed him, his wife and his best friend have fallen in love," John persisted.

"Yes..." Rodney wasn't sure where this was going.

"If Arthur and Lancelot are such good friends, why don't they have more than a dozen lines together and why don't they have any songs together?" John asked.

Rodney thought about it for a moment. "That's a good point," he allowed. "But Act 1 is long enough without another song and I'm not sure what could be done with Act 2. Lerner and Lowe cut two songs from the original production because it ran so long."

John straightened up with an air of eagerness Rodney hadn't seen before. "Well, that's where I need some help. I think that if Arthur and Lance had a duet after Simple Folk, that would be a better lead in for Mordred. It then makes the final pieces even stronger because we've shown the strength of the friendship between Arthur and Lancelot."

"Lancelot's already admitted to his love for Guen in the first song of the Act," Rodney mused. "Having Lancelot speak to his friendship with Arthur after that is a bit risky."

"But that's what makes that place so perfect," John countered. "He loves Guen and he loves Arthur and he knows he can't have them both. In having admitted he loves Guen already, Lance is now aware he's in a tough spot that can't end well. It sets the stage even better for Mordred's betrayal and makes the entire ending even sadder."

"A duet and then maybe Lance gets a short soliloquy, admitting that he knows what he's gotten himself into," Rodney mused.

"That's what I was thinking," John agreed.

"Now the problem is getting a song and the lines," Rodney pointed out. "And getting Caldwell to buy into it. Tinkering with Lerner and Lowe isn't going to be very popular."

"I know," John dismissed Rodney's concerns. "Listen, come with me. To my place, I mean. I have a piano and..." he hesitated, "some ideas. I want you to help me with it."

Rodney was tempted. If nothing else, he got to spend more time with Sheppard, "Oh, hell," Rodney gave in. "Throw in dinner and you've got a deal."

John smiled happily at him and for that Rodney would follow him anywhere.

Turned out John had a suite at the Waldorf Astoria. The elevator let them out on a small landing and John's key let them into one of the few rooms on the short hall. Must be all suites at this level, Rodney assumed. Flipping on the light switch just inside the doorway, Rodney looked around.

"Elizabeth can't be paying you enough to pay for this," Rodney observed.

John blushed. "Umm... no....." John hesitated. "Look, don't.... well, she's paying me scale."

Rodney felt his eyes get round. "Scale?"

"I...." John stuttered then sighed. "I just wanted to do this and I wasn't going to bankrupt the production. Not like I need the money." He looked Rodney in the eye. "Don't say anything?"

"Okay," Rodney found himself agreeing without really understanding why.

Rodney realized that they hadn't moved out of the entrance hall and stood close together. Close enough that Rodney could feel the heat coming from John's body and was aware of John's breathing. He wanted...

John must have become aware of how close they were, he swayed slightly closer to Rodney for a moment. Rodney had the vague thought that John might kiss him before John stepped back.

"Come on," John said, "we can order in."

Rodney followed, looking around the suite. "Interesting look they've got going here," he admitted. The old fashioned art deco look of the hotel and the antique furnishings clashed with the modern sofa and loveseat that had been crowded together to make room for the grand piano that dominated the room.

"Yeah," John shrugged. "Don't spend that much time here, so it really doesn't make that much difference." He pointed to the phone, "Order some food up, you're pickier than I am so order what you want and get me a steak dinner."

"Steak actually sounds good," Rodney agreed. "Sure." He moved to the phone to place the order.

"Call the concierge and she'll make sure it gets done properly," John called as he went into what Rodney guessed was the bedroom. "Let me change into something else." He poked his head back out, "Oh, I'm here under the name of Brendan Dean."

"People really do that?" Rodney demanded. "That is so fake."

"Be grateful," John shot back. "Otherwise we'd not get in or out of here without an armed escort."

"Oh, makes sense," Rodney replied. He called the number on the card next to phone and read the name, "Diane? This is Rodney McKay calling from Brendan Dean's suite," he told the voice that answered.

"Yes, Mr. McKay, what can I do for you?" she asked.

"We'd like dinner brought up to the suite," he told her. "Rib eye steaks, medium, baked potatoes, what's the vegetable of the day?"

"It's a green and yellow bean medley," she answered.

"That's fine," Rodney decided. "Two house salads, mine with oil and vinegar on the side and for ... Brendan....."

When he hesitated, Diane put in, "Mr. Dean prefers oil and vinegar, also."

"Good. Now, the hard part. No citrus on anything. Not a hint of citrus, no dribble of lemon juice over the vegetables. I have a life threatening allergy to citrus so it's very important that the kitchen doesn't make any mistakes with this," Rodney tried to be polite but he knew the tone was firm. 

"I'll speak to the chef personally," Diane assured him.

"Fresh coffee and some diet sodas," Rodney added.

"Would you like wine with dinner?" she asked.

Normally Rodney would be tempted but he knew he was there to work on John's mad scheme, so resisted, "Not tonight."

"Dessert?" she asked.

"What do you recommend?" he said.

"We have a cheesecake that I need to check for citrus for you, chocolate fudge cake and... I will suspect the apple pie has lemon juice in it. We do have an assortment of ice creams and can send up sauces and nuts to allow you to make sundaes. It's a favorite of Mr. Dean's," she admitted.

"If..." Rodney stumbled over the name, "Brendan likes it, then that's fine for both of us," he replied.

"Since I need to check with the chef, I can have everything delivered in about an hour?" she told him.

"Send the coffee up now and the rest when it's ready," Rodney decided.

"No problem," she agreed. "Thank you."

John came out of the bedroom and Rodney stared. Years of working in the theatre had made him mostly oblivious to other people's bodies. Years of seeing good looking bodies half-dressed or in the shower, not looking too overtly to give the illusion of privacy in communal dressing rooms had become reflex.

Today, Rodney stared. John had on yet another tight fitting t-shirt from one of his older tours, worn jeans that fit like second skin and walked around barefoot. Something in the simplicity of that made Rodney's hands itch. He wanted to peel the clothes off of him and do filthy things.

Swallowing hard, Rodney said, "Dinner in about an hour, coffee coming now. Did you want anything else?"

"Nah," John shrugged. "Have sodas and beer in the fridge if we need them."

"I ordered more," Rodney had to admit.

"Drink it all eventually," John replied easily. "Or it goes back."

They stood there for a full minute. Rodney was looking and he thought... maybe... John was looking back.

"You... you had something you wanted to show me?" Rodney forced himself to ask. "Song..." he clarified at John's sudden grin.

John seemed to shake himself. "Yeah, here," he pointed to the piano.

Rodney moved to the piano and sat on the bench when John nodded to him. Rodney saw hand written music on the paper strewn on the top and on the end of the bench.

John grabbed a couple of the sheets, sat down next to Rodney and set the sheets up in front of him. "Start with this," John said. "It's rough but I think you'll see where I was going with it."

Rodney looked over the music and put his hands on the keyboard. As he started to play, he was aware of the melody. It was familiar, like it was from the show, yet not. He played through the two pages in front of him and then stopped. Looking around, Rodney spotted the pencil John must have been using and started making his own notations.

Rodney absently reached for his cup of coffee and became aware that it was empty. He looked up to find John stretched out, dozing on the couch. Startled, Rodney looked at a clock to see that over two hours had passed.

Taking advantage, Rodney took his time looking John over. In his casual clothes and barefoot, John looked like one of his own groupies. Sleep made him look younger yet Rodney could clearly see the bruises under his eyes that told him John wasn't sleeping enough.

Green eyes looked back at him sleepily. "Hey," John said, not moving from the couch.

"Didn't mean to wake you," Rodney apologized. "We don't have to do this now...."

John yawned, "Nah, don't sleep a lot.... it was easier to sleep with the music." He sat up and stretched and Rodney focused on that same strip of skin that showed briefly between the jeans and the t-shirt. Not that he hadn't seen more in the dressing rooms but here it seemed more.... intimate.

"Let me call Diane and see what she can get us for dinner," John commented. "I canceled the steaks when you looked like you were on a roll." He reached over for the phone on the end table and called.

"Diane? Brendan Dean," he started. "Can you get us..." he looked at Rodney, "pepperoni pizza and an antipasto?"

"No anchovies or olives," Rodney added.

"No anchovies or olives in the salad," John repeated. He nodded at what was being said on the phone, "Thanks." He looked at Rodney, "Half an hour."

"That's fine," Rodney answered. "Anything else to drink?"

"Coffee or soda?" John asked, getting up.

"Soda, I think," Rodney said, "that will go good with the pizza." He looked at the empty coffee cup. "I also suspect I've had too much coffee already."

John brought them both back diet sodas, handing one to Rodney. He settled in on the piano bench and craned to look at the pages Rodney had written on.

"What you got?" John asked.

"It's still rough, but..." Rodney started playing and then singing the words he had written.

Looking over his shoulder, John joined in, softly at first but with more confidence as Rodney went on. They trailed off together, Rodney's baritone complimenting John's tenor.

John grinned, "If that's rough, I can't wait to work on it some more."

"You started it," Rodney pointed out. He shuffled through the pages and pointed, "Where’s that from? It looks different from what I can tell you did.”

John nodded, "Brigadoon.I needed an example of Lerner and Loewe's work and the Brigadoon piece seemed the most helpful. But you made it better."

Rodney started to play again, John put a hand on his and Rodney couldn't help but feel the warmth. "Come on," John said, "our pizza's about to get here and you need a break."

Rodney stretched, reaching up above his head to relax the muscles in his shoulders, and suddenly yawned. "Okay, food sounds good," he agreed. "Bathroom?"

"Through there," John pointed in the general area of the back of the suite. "One in each of the bedrooms."

"Bedrooms? Plural?" Rodney teased.

John shrugged, seemingly embarrassed, "Just... Laura usually takes security seriously and probably reserved the suite for the security more than for the extra rooms, is all."

"Makes sense," Rodney admitted, having had a small taste of John's adoring public. He wandered through the bedroom John had not used and took care of his bladder and washed up. Wiping a warm washcloth over his face and neck felt good, he realized.

Food had been delivered by the time he came back out. John put the food on a coffee table in the jumble of furniture crammed together and flicked on the television. Rodney sat on the other end of the couch.

“If we take that to Radek, he can help us smooth it out. He’s good at finishing touches and will give us some constructive criticism,” Rodney suggested.

“Sounds like a plan,” John agreed. He flipped through the channels and settled on one.

He turned to the TV, “What do you have on?”

"Like to catch at least some news," John offered. "Nice to know what's going on in the world sometimes."

Rodney shrugged. "It is easy to lose track, especially in a hotel," he agreed. "I bought an apartment in Brooklyn years ago so I'd have someplace to go and feel like I'm not living out of a suitcase all the time. Bad enough when I'm on the road but when I'm in New York I can at least go home."

"Sounds nice," John replied wistfully. "Haven't had a home base in... years."

"You live in hotels all the time?" Rodney was appalled.

John shifted uneasily. He took a bite of pizza and offered, "I have a place in Santa Barbara that I only get to about once a year. On the beach so I can go surfing. Laura arranges Make-A-Wish type things with kids who want to go to a beach most of the year."

Impulse made Rodney offer, "Come stay with me, then."

He knew it was the right thing to do when John's eyes lit up. "I couldn't do that!" John protested automatically.

"Why not?" Rodney countered. "I have plenty of room, there's an extra bedroom with a separate bathroom, it's nowhere-special Brooklyn and it's right off the subway. No one will expect you there. Worse case is that we need to use Todd to take us in and out of Manhattan if you are spotted and your fans besiege us." He shrugged. "Besides, it's New York. Celebrities are a dime a dozen."

John took another bite of the pizza and tilted his head, obviously considering. "I wouldn't be putting you out?"

"Nah," Rodney assured him. "Well, I don't have someone at my beck and call like you do here and I make the coffee. No one touches the coffee-maker but me. There's a cleaning service that does the domestic work like laundry and housekeeping. They're bonded and discreet, so that's no extra work. We'd rarely be there, anyways. We'll be in rehearsal or doing something in the theatre."

"Well...." John hesitated.

"Come on," Rodney coaxed. "It'll be fun."

"You sure?" John persisted.

"If you think it's awful, you can come back here," Rodney promised. "No offense taken."

"It won't be awful," John said softly.

"Okay," Rodney said, swallowing the last of his pizza. "That was good but I get better. Know the owner and he makes me a pizza with pepperoni and sausage and fresh mozzarella....." Rodney sighed at the thought and shook his head. "Can't have that too often, packs on the weight and then Norah makes faces at me about having to adjust the costumes."

John laughed, "Alright, I'll do it." He looked around, "I don't have a lot of stuff, really. I can pack most of everything tonight and we can take the limo to your place...." He glanced at Rodney, "If that's not assuming too much."

"No problem," Rodney replied. "It'll be fine." Rodney yawned and looked at the time. "I have to get going if I'm going to get any sleep."

"Stay," John offered. Then blushed. "The other bedroom. You can stay there."

"If you can lend me a toothbrush," Rodney countered. "I suspect your Diane or one of her minions can do that."

"There's extra already in the bathroom," John laughed. "Comes standard I guess. Like the bathrobes."

"Sure," Rodney replied. "That will be easier."

They sat in silence, the television murmuring in the background. Something made Rodney look closely at John, to find him looking back.

Rodney cleared his throat, "I should...." He waved in the general direction of the bedroom. "Long day tomorrow."

John looked down at his hands, "Yeah, I should, too."

"Going now," Rodney said, not moving.

John moved slightly, closer to Rodney. "Don't go."

"I.... " Rodney swallowed. "Not going," he whispered.

John inched closer and then leaned in. As if drawn in, Rodney leaned in and their lips met. It was chaste, as far as kisses went, but there was something...

Rodney leaned back a bit, "This... not sure we should be doing this..."

John sighed, "I know but I've wanted to do that for days." Another soft kiss and he leaned back.

Rodney felt himself smile, "Really? Me? I... no, shutting up now." The goofy grin wouldn't go away.

John's answering smile was real and just for him, Rodney knew.

"Going to bed now," Rodney forced himself to stand. "Otherwise I can't be responsible for... whatever." He took a step away. "I... we... "

"Go," John laughed. "I'll make sure there's coffee in the morning."

Rodney fled.

Crawling into bed in just his shorts, Rodney lay on his back looking at the ceiling. John Sheppard had kissed him! He wriggled his toes in the crisp sheets.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

John watched Rodney walk way and thought Fuck! Why did I do that?

He knew why. Rodney had looked so open and inviting that John had given into the impulse to kiss him. It had been as warm and lush as he had dreamed it would be. Now he had to hope he hadn’t scared the other man off.

He held onto his optimism long enough to call Laura and let her know that he was moving to McKay's place.

"You? On the subway?" Laura laughed.

"Willing to try it," John countered. "If it's awful I'll just have Todd drive us back and forth. Keep him on call so we can use him as we need."

"I can do that," Laura assured him.

John got up and went off to his own bedroom. It was the same bed he had been sleeping in for the past few days only tonight it seemed cooler than usual... and lonelier.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

He must have fallen asleep since the next thing he knew was John calling, "Rodney? Coffee's here!" A soft rap on the door and Rodney could smell the coffee.

He opened one eye to see John in a t-shirt and sweatpants, looking like he had been up for a while. "Coffee?" Rodney croaked hopefully. He heard a small laugh and the sound of something placed on the bedside table.

"Thought you could use this," John offered.

Rodney sat up and swung his legs around to hang over the edge of the bed so he could reach the cup. As he reached an arm out, he was aware of his mostly naked state.

"Sorry," he muttered, bringing the hot coffee to his lips. A taste and he sighed happily, closing his eyes to savor the taste. "Good stuff," he said.

"Ummm... yeah..." he heard John say. Rodney opened his eyes to see John looking at him.

"John?" Rodney asked carefully.

"I..." John ground to a halt and swallowed. "We have to leave in about half an hour." He backed out of the room.

Rodney stared at the door of the room for a moment, shook himself and thoughtfully finished his coffee. He took a quick shower and dressed. He frowned at his day-old clothes and hoped no one would notice.

Rodney looked at the piano when he came out and John pointed to his bag. “Got it,” he said.

“Good,” Rodney said. “Ready?”

“Todd can take us to the theatre and, if you don’t mind, he can take the rest of my things to your place,” John suggested. “He doesn’t have anything else special to do while we’re in rehearsal, might as well take advantage of him.”

Rodney shrugged. “Sure, I’ll give him the keys and directions,” Rodney agreed. “That way we don’t have as much to manage if you’re interested in taking the subway when we’re done tonight.”

"Sure," John agreed as they left the suite.

At the theatre, Rodney gave Todd the keys and the security code for the apartment, along with directions. "The bridge should be okay going out this time of day, it'll be hell closer to late afternoon."

Todd took the keys with a grin. "No problem," he said. "Do this all the time."

Mickey was just inside the door when they came in and looked Rodney up and down knowingly. Rodney decided the best option was to just ignore him.

"See you in a few," John went into his own dressing room.

Rodney changed into spare workout clothes, called the service that took care of his apartment to make sure the spare room was cleaned up and there was something other than TV dinners in the fridge and joined John in Teyla's workout. He was very aware of John today, not able to lose himself in the workout like he had the previous day.

Fortunately, Teyla didn't say anything as the session finished, although Rodney could see her looking at them.

"When are we both free?" he asked John. "I'll see when Radek has some free time but it may be at the end of the day."

"Just after lunch, I think," John said. "For us, that is. I have to see Norah for fittings first thing. She's got a couple more costumes I need to try."

"Okay. I'll leave you a message, when I know anything," Rodney decided. "I'll meet you after lunch in any case?"

"Sure," John grinned. "See you then."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

John went up to the costume shop and called, "Norah! It's John!"

"Try on the green outfit," she called back, "be right there!"

John went into the screened off area. There were multiple costumes set out for him, in a variety of dark colors. The "green outfit" was actually a deep forest green, even dressier than the black outfit he had tried on before. Checking for pins and finding none, he slipped into the outfit.

"That's for If Ever I Would Leave You," Norah came up and tugged the sleeves up by the shoulders. She hmmm'd to herself. "Turn around," she commanded.

John turned and she adjusted how the tunic sat on him.

"Sing the opening of the song and do some of the choreography," Norah directed.

John sang the beginning of the song and stepped through the footwork.

"Okay, stop," Norah commanded. "On the dais."

John stood in the dais and Norah used a piece of tailor chalk to mark some minor alterations. John thought the outfit was fine but had learned long ago not to argue with costume makers.

"Okay, the black next," Norah directed.

She had him through all the outfits in short order, making minute adjustments in each.

"I'll have these ready for tomorrow," Norah said. "There's a full dress rehearsal scheduled and we can see how you manage the costume changes."

John shrugged. "Been there," he admitted. "Did some changes on the last tour and I have plenty of time between my scenes. Shouldn't be a problem."

"Good," she said. "Okay, I'm set here."

"Thanks," John replied. He put his workout clothes back on and went back to his dressing room. He had a few minutes to himself before he needed to be on stage to work with Teyla and the majority of the cast on the Joust scene.

He was eating lunch, sandwiches he had ordered in when he heard a booming, "Sheppard!"

John looked up, "Ronon! Good to see you!" He found himself in a bear hug, feet almost lifted off the ground.

"Thanks for putting a word in for me," Ronon said gruffly. "'Melia appreciates it, too."

"Hey! It was nothing," John protested but he couldn't resist the grin that spread across his face.

"Weir says I need to audition," Ronon said. "What's that's going to be like?"

"Caldwell's a bastard," John replied. "Don't let him get to you and you'll do fine." He considered, "In fact, he'll probably hate you on sight since I recommended you to Weir. But Weir'll be fair about it."

"Good to know," Ronon answered. He looked around, to see if anyone else was around, "Who's the creepy guy that took me around?"

John grimaced. "Probably Mickey. I haven't figured out what he really wants but he's Elizabeth's assistant, so be careful around him."

"Okay," Ronon agreed. "Can I leave my things here?"

"Sure," John said. "I suspect we'll end up sharing since Mitchell and Jackson were sharing this space before the accident."

Ronon looked around the small room, "Done worse."

"That's what I told Weir," John laughed. "Come on, I'll take you to the stage."

John couldn't stay, having to meet Rodney and Radek. Rodney had left a note that Radek could meet them at lunchtime, he'd bring their lunch to the practice room.

John went to the practice room after he grabbed the sheet music he and Rodney had worked on. He placed the sheets in front of Radek who peered at it for a moment. Radek looked up at them both and said, "Do predele!"

"Well? Will it work?" Rodney demanded.

Radek traced the music with a finger. "Give me a minute," he commanded. He looked through the music, plinking at the piano as he went along. He scrabbled for a pencil and took the one Rodney handed to him. He made notes as he was going along.

"Do you know what you have here?" Radek demanded.

"Will. It. Work?" Rodney demanded.

"Yes, yes, yes. It's brilliant," Radek responded and grinned at them.

"Help us with it?" John put in.

"This. This does not need much. Well, here, it needs different words.... it does not flow properly," Radek pointed. "And there."

John leaned in to see, "Yeah, that was something I had flagged, too."

"Sing it for me!" Radek pointed at them.

John looked at Rodney who just grinned back at him. "Sure."

Radek played the intro and they sang the words they had written.

Radek made some notations and looked at the music for a long minute. "Again," he commanded, "but this time, a capella."

Rodney looked startled but followed John's lead.

When they were done, Radek announced, "Go away. Come back..." he thought, "...end of the day."

"Sure," Rodney agreed.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Elizabeth brought a tall, swarthy man to Rodney's dressing room.

"Steven's busy with setting up the details for the rehearsal so I thought I'd bring our newest cast member around. Rodney, I'd like to introduce Ronon Dex," she waved between the two men, "he'll be Cam's replacement as your backup for Arthur."

Rodney shook hands with the new man. "Glad to meet you," Rodney said. And he was, since he really had not been looking forward to having to do matinees as well as evening performances. He'd have done it if there was no one to cover the role, but having someone available made his life easier and helped not stress his voice.

"I'm putting him in with John since they know each other," Elizabeth informed Rodney.

Rodney looked at Ronon more carefully, "You're in that group with Sheppard, aren't you?"

Ronon grinned, "Yup."

"I was hoping you'd help Ronon run through some of Arthur's lines," Elizabeth asked. "Bring him up to speed."

"To my benefit if I do," Rodney agreed. "We have a full rehearsal this afternoon that you can watch and I'll talk you through some things when we're off stage." He looked at Elizabeth, "Is he doing the knight role like Cam was?"

"That was the plan," she said.

"Okay," Rodney decided. "The other knights will be able to run you through that. It's mostly chorus work and you should be able to follow along."

"No problem," Ronon agreed.

Rodney looked at the man. "Not much of a talker, are you?"

A grin. "Nope."

"Good," Rodney grinned back. "I have to get ready for the rehearsal. See you on stage."

Ronon followed Elizabeth down the corridor to the other dressing rooms.

Once they left, Rodney closed the door to the dressing room and sat down to focus on his role. Some deep breathing helped him bring his focus back to what he needed to do.

A knock on his door and Mickey called "Five minutes!"

Since Arthur was on stage first, Rodney got up and moved to where he would make his entrance once his musical cue came.

They had just finished practicing the curtain call when Caldwell called over the PA, "Everyone on stage, please."

"It wasn't awful," Caldwell started. Which Rodney interpreted as It was pretty damned good. He listened carefully as Caldwell went through a list of issues he had. Some of them were minor but others were important and Rodney paid particular attention to anything aimed at him, John or Jennifer. As the leads, it was important that they all helped each other out.

Caldwell made various sets of characters run through a set of scenes before he let them go. There was no real reason to what he had them do, the only thing Rodney could figure was that just about everyone had to go through something. Since he, John and Jennifer were in a majority of the scenes, they were up the most.

"Dress rehearsal tomorrow," Caldwell announced. "Everyone needs to come in first thing."

Rodney wanted to groan. It was getting late already, he and John were going to work with Radek and Caldwell had them coming in early tomorrow. He snuck a look at John, who had ended up next to him and John winked at him.

Radek stopped in front of them, "Get some food. You need it and so do I." He looked between them, "Take a shower, you'll feel better. And work better."

John jumped in, "I'll take care of the food." He dug out his cell phone and Rodney suspected he was having Todd run out for food for them.

Rodney went up to the practice room, feeling better for the shower. John was already there, eating what looked like a turkey sub and Radek was nibbling on something that he assumed John had brought in.

"Got you roast beef," John said. "Condiments on the side in packets so you can double check for citrus."

Rodney appreciated that John had remembered about the citrus allergy. Some places put a 'special sauce' on their sandwiches and he never knew what would be in that, so plain, in the end, was usually better.

John opened a diet cola for Rodney and passed it to him. "Easier than trying to manage coffee," John explained.

Rodney took the cold drink, "Thanks."

Radek was focused on the music as he ate, so Rodney let him be. When he was finished eating, he looked up at them and asked, "Ready?"

"Pretty much," John answered, wiping his hands on a napkin. He finished the soda and gathered up the debris.

"What do you want us to do?" Rodney asked.

"Pull up chairs," he directed from the stool in front of the piano. "One of you on each side of me so you can see the music. Easier to work that way."

"Makes sense," Rodney allowed.

They sat together and worked on the song. Radek had to have been working all day since he had smoothed out some of the rough spots and penciled in some words that flowed better. The three of them worked together, making suggestions and trying alternate harmonies to get closer to what they were hoping to do.

They jumped when there was a voice at the door in a quiet moment.

"I wondered what you were doing here," Elizabeth commented. "Not that I'm complaining, mind you, it's wonderful. What were you thinking to do with it?"

Rodney took a deep breath. "John's idea," he nodded at the other man. "He pointed out that Lance and Arthur don't really have a song together. So, he started it, I fiddled with it and Radek is helping us finish it."

"Sing it through for me?" she asked.

Radek played the intro, John started and Rodney followed. When they were done, there was a moment of silence. Rodney held his breath.

"That's beautiful," Elizabeth sighed. "When do you think it fits into the play?"

"We were thinking after Simple Folk," John put in. "Act one is already too long but this is short enough and we can do it without much scenery if we have to. Or even just in front of the curtain should work."

Elizabeth looked at Radek, "Can we get the orchestration done in time?"

Radek shrugged, "If you throw enough money at it, sure. But..." he glanced around, "I think it's better a capella."

Elizabeth looked startled at that, "You sure?"

"Listen," he commanded. "Once more, I do only the intro this time." He started the introductory piece, John started and as Rodney joined in, the piano faded until it was just their voices, singing together.

A longer silence this time.

"Oh, my," she said softly. Then grinned and added, "Steven is going to hate it!"

Rodney couldn't help but grin back at her.

"Can you do this tomorrow at some point? I’ll let you know when would be good," she was brisk now. "Once Steven wraps his head around it, he'll admit it's genius but I don't want too many more surprises just as yet since we're so close to opening day."

"Yes, ma'am," John smiled at her.

They were startled when she stepped into the room and hugged them all. "Thank you," she said. "You are what will make this even more special."

Radek closed up the piano, "Now, we all have an early morning and it's getting late."

Rodney looked at his watch and groaned. Almost ten o'clock. He looked at John, "You still up to the subway?"

He shrugged. "Makes no difference. At this hour we can get Todd to take us, if you want," he offered. "He can be here in half an hour or so."

"Half an hour? Nah, we should be most of the way there in that time," Rodney decided. "We should be okay."

"Go home, get some sleep," Elizabeth ordered. "See you in the morning."

Rodney and John swung by their dressing rooms and left most of what they could there. Radek had their music and would do what he could to make it readable for the pianist who would play it for them when Elizabeth was ready for them.

Someone must have shoo'd off John's fans, since there was no one waiting at this hour. That was okay, the sooner they got to the subway, the sooner they'd be home.

As they approached the subway entrance, John patted his pocket, "Had Todd pick me up a subway pass when he was out and about today. Figured that was easier."

"Good idea," Rodney replied. He really hadn't thought of it and he should have since he pretty much lived with a subway pass in his possession whenever he was in New York.

"Okay, here," he directed John to the subway entrance. Pointing to the sign, he said, "This entrance is open twenty-four hours, so you can get into the system here. Not all of the entrances are open twenty-four hours a day or seven days a week. There's always another but sometimes it's a couple blocks away and that's a pain when the weather is bad."

They had gotten lucky and the train Rodney wanted came up after about fifteen minutes. He watched John looking around the station, examining the art deco tile and looking over the security cameras.

"BART in San Francisco is kinda like this," John said, "but this has more character."

"Character is one way to describe it," Rodney grinned.

They grabbed seats in a mostly empty car, Rodney letting John sit next to the window so he could peer into the tunnels. He carefully ignored how the seats pressed them together and how warm John felt against him.

"No, they really didn't film Superman here," Rodney couldn't resist saying as John craned his neck to look down one offshoot tunnel. "It was a studio shot."

"Well, one can hope," John smiled. "It was a cool set, then."

"Next stop is ours," Rodney announced. After going under the Hudson, the train moved to elevated tracks. You couldn't see much in the dark but John looked anyway.

Rodney got out of the seat and John followed.

"Glad we don't have much to manage," John decided. "Not hard but too many things would be awkward."

"Ha! You should see women with baby strollers and two other kids," Rodney shot back. "That, I don't know how they manage. And at Christmas, or any holiday, the people with packages and bags can be brutal."

They got out on the platform and Rodney was glad for his fleece, the breeze was cool and he saw John zip up his hoodie. "Short walk," Rodney advised.

"Not a problem," John replied.

On the street, Rodney pointed to Carmela's restaurant. "We have to go there and eat some night," he admitted. "Great home-made Italian food and, well, Carmela's a fan of yours."

"I love Italian," John laughed. "And home-made is the best."

As they got closer, Rodney pointed to another restaurant that was still lit up, "Best pizza. And good delivery since it's not far from my place. In fact, New York is the best city in the world for delivery, in my experience. No one can beat what you can get here."

They walked a little further and Rodney stopped in front of an apartment building. "In here," he pointed. He got out his key as they entered the foyer. "Used to have a doorman but they got rid of him when it went condo. I did make sure they updated the security to keep people out. It's not a bad neighborhood, just can't do stupid."

"I know how that is," John said. "Ronon and Amelia lived in a place that supposedly had a security system but no one told them it really didn't work until after their place had been broken into. They didn't lose a lot but it was a lesson we all learned."

Rodney opened his mailbox and kept the one piece he wanted to look at and threw out the advertisements.

"What do you do when you're on the road?" John asked.

"I have it forwarded to a service my agent offers," Rodney replied. "They ditch the junk, take care of any letters and forward me an email when there's anything they don't know what to do with. The bills are all paid online but something sometimes slips through and they catch that, too."

"I have something pretty similar since I really don't have a permanent address. Well, not one I live at," John admitted. "Laura takes care of most of it, hardly anything for me to worry about."

They rode up the elevator to the top floor. There were only four apartments on this floor instead of eight like on the other floors. Having no one above him and a larger space drew Rodney to the building in the first place. He really didn't know most of his neighbors and they generally left him alone.

"Home sweet home," Rodney announced as they walked in. He rifled through a box on the shelf near the door. He handed John a key. "Take this in case you need to go out or we don't come in together."

John looked at the key and shrugged. He stuck it in his wallet.

"Everything's this way," Rodney stated the obvious, leading into the apartment.

John moved into the living room, turned slowly, looking around. "Not bad," he decided. "If I could find something like this, well, if I spent enough time in one place to be worth my while, I'd get something like this."

"Kitchen, hopefully freshly stocked since I pay a small fortune to the service," Rodney waved at the kitchen space. "Come on," he led John to the back. "Two bedrooms, two baths," he opened a door, "this one's yours. Extra blankets in the closet and extra towels in the bathroom vanity."

"I should be fine," John replied.

"Okay, I'll set up coffee for the morning if you want," Rodney offered, "not always worthwhile to do it for just myself but for two of us..."

John shrugged, "Sure. That'll be good."

"Let me know if you need anything," Rodney babbled. He made himself stop.

"Good night," John grinned, as if he knew what Rodney was doing, He went into the bedroom and shut the door.

Rodney set coffee up for the morning and went off to his own bed.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Getting ready for the dress rehearsal was actually familiar chaos. It wasn't too terribly different from the dress rehearsal they'd do for his tour dates. He didn't have as many costume changes on tour as he did here, but the parallels were there.

John had the dressing room to himself for one last day since Ronon wouldn't be joining them officially until tomorrow. He looked around and figured it would be a tight fit with the two of them.

Norah had done some magic with his costumes, all dark, sumptuous colors and they looked comfortable. She had delivered them to his dressing room on a rolling rack so they'd stay decent for the rehearsal.

"I'll have extra sets made in the next day or so," Norah said.

"Extras?" John asked, confused.

"You'll appreciate the extra sets on days you have a matinee and an evening performance in the same day," Norah explained. "Letting them air out between shows helps them last longer."

John considered that, remembering have to pull on sweat-dried t-shirts in the early days when his band would do more than one performance in one day. "Okay, makes sense," he allowed.

"What the fuck is this?" Caldwell demanded. "Norah!"

Norah shot John a small grin before she turned to face the man in the doorway, "Lance's costumes."

"That's not what I was looking for," Caldwell all but shouted. "He's a good guy and needs to look it."

"And I'm telling you that these will be perfect for John," she countered calmly. "And you aren't going to get anything else until the end of the week, so suck it up."

Caldwell glared at her, John was grateful to be out of this particular discussion, and stalked off to find his next victim.

"Once an audience sees this, he won't be able to change it," Norah was confident. "Not your problem."

"No," John agreed. "But thanks."

"Leave everything here tonight," she directed. "Hang it up, please, and we'll check it over tomorrow before the matinee. If you need any serious adjustments, let me know as soon as possible."

"Will do," John promised.

Norah left and John looked through the costumes. There was a deep navy blue tunic and pants for the C'est Moi scene. Since Lance was still in France at that point, it was more court garb than anything. The costume for the Joust scene was still plush in the deep green but more serviceable, appropriate to the Joust. The black outfit for Act Two was the outfit he had tried on before, black-on-black. Even John recognized how special it was.

He quickly changed into the blue outfit to get ready for his first scene. Since it was the first time he really got to put it on, he wanted a chance to make sure he was comfortable in it. It also gave him a chance to start to get into Lance's head.

A knock on the door, "Five minutes to curtain." Mickey announced importantly as he kept walking down the hall.

John moved to the wings of the stage to watch the first scenes with Rodney and Jennifer. The costumes and the full scenery made a difference in the presentation. John noted some scenery sitting where he hadn't expected any before this and made a note to watch the scenery when it came to his scenes.

He also watched Radek as Merlyn and although the scene was brief John enjoyed it. Radek allowed Katie Brown, filling in for Vala Mal Doran, who hadn't returned yet from going to Cam after the car crash, as Nimue to lure him away but tripped slightly over some scenery. It wasn't bad but it ruined the dramatic moment. John made an idle note to himself to see if Radek knew anything about Vala's return.

Then Rodney and Jennifer again, Arthur telling Guen about his dream of a new order of chivalry. John held his breath as Jennifer struggled with lines she had perfect the day before.

Then a scenery change to France and it was John's turn. He noted that the background wasn't as seamless as it should have been and the orchestra seemed to put an extra eight bars of intro into his music. What they played wasn't what he had been given or what they had been practicing over the past week.

John put in an extra step to accommodate the extra music, noting a trailing line on the floor. He sang through the scene, avoiding tripping across anything. It went well as far as he was concerned but he knew Caldwell wouldn't be happy.

He segued into the scene where Lance meets Arthur, Rodney's enthusiasm pouring out of him. But before John could maneuver Rodney away from danger, he slipped slightly on the trailing line that John had avoided before. John put a hand under Rodney's elbow to steady him.

John went back to his dressing room to change into the green outfit. He rushed back to watch the next scene. The scene for The Lusty Month of May was pretty much a disaster. Jennifer had her lines but the swing she was supposed to be on didn't lower down properly so she had to improvise movement within a limited space since the dancers took up most of the free space.

The music was off again when Carson Beckett as King Pellinore entered. While Pellinore was, at this point, comic relief, the music sounded too tinny and lightweight for the serious Pellinore. John made a mental note to meet up with Beckett at some point since the man had just gotten back from visiting his ailing mother in Scotland. Lance and Pellinore didn't have direct interaction and he hadn't had a chance to meet up with the missing cast member.

The Knights had the most problem in the Fair scene. Jennifer had settled down and had her lines and Rodney was steady in his part. Lionel flubbed his lines slightly and the sub for Ronon – who should have been the sub for Cam when he was Arthur but somehow wasn't -- was unfamiliar with some of his movement so ended up in the wrong place a couple of times.

It went downhill from there. Nothing major happened but little details caught them all. Costume problems, scenery not quite as expected, lines forgotten or miscued or music that wasn't the same as they had rehearsed.

"Everyone take 60 and then on stage," Caldwell growled over the PA.

John went back to his dressing room to clean up and change out of the costume. As he hung everything up, he called Todd to get some quick take-out for himself and Rodney, knowing Rodney wouldn't think of getting food at this point.

Elizabeth came to the door of his dressing room. "I think we need to cheer Steven up," she grinned. "Let's do that duet as we get back together."

John stared. "You sure of that?"

"Oh, yeah," she laughed. "It'll distract him, if nothing else. He's going to call for another dress rehearsal after the break, let's put everyone in a good mood."

Shrugging, John agreed, "Sure, can't make it much worse."

"Oh, it'll do a lot of good," she declared. "I want you to do it before we start so Steven has a chance to get used to it."

"You're the boss," John gave her a small salute.

"Yes, I am!" she agreed.

Todd delivered the turkey sub and iced tea John had ordered, "Left the other sub for McKay like you said to."

"Thanks," John mumbled, taking a bite of the sandwich.

"You need anything else today?" Todd asked. "I mean...."

"Sure," John waved. "Take the rest of the day off. Not a problem."

"Thanks," Todd replied.

John hesitated, then said, "If you don't have to leave right away, stick around."

Todd grinned, "A John Sheppard special?" He shrugged, "Watched your videos."

John had to laugh. "You could say that," he replied. "But, yeah, I think it'll be special."

"Thanks," Todd answered. "Sure, don’t have to be anywhere just yet."

"Stay away from Caldwell, the director," John warned him. "Suspect he'd throw you out if he caught you."

"Stay under the radar, I can do that," Todd agreed, giving a two finger salute.

John finished his sandwich and went to find Rodney. "Elizabeth wants us to do the duet," he announced.

"She stopped by here, all gleeful," Rodney replied. "Thanks for the sandwich, by the way."

John shrugged, "Figured it was easier."

Rodney tossed the debris in the garbage can, "Let's find Radek and make sure he's ready."

John figured that Rodney didn't want to simply sit, so he followed. They found Radek in the small room they had used the night before.

"Elizabeth is crazy," Radek muttered. He was playing the opening sequence of the song, changing the tempo and the key on the fly. "He will kill us all."

Radek's nerves actually were soothing in a weird sort of way. John had found that when he needed to be the source of calm among fraying tempers, it actually let him calm himself down.

"It'll be fine," John stated. Radek looked at him with wide eyes. "Don't. Worry."

Radek sighed and slumped in front of the piano. "Okay. Yes, I can do this," he seemed to be encouraging himself.

Mickey trudged by the door. "What are you doing up here?" he whined. "Elizabeth wants all of you."

They came to the stage to find Grodin fussing with the curtains. "You! Elizabeth says you are to do something in front of the curtains. They aren't right.... but I don't know what you're doing," he accused them, slightly in a panic. "We open in two days and she wants something new?"

Radek soothed, "Wait. You will see."

John was amused that Radek was now comforting someone else.

Radek glanced at them, "I will do just the intro, remember." He looked at Peter, "You will need special lighting. Two spots, I think. Trust me."

Grodin looked startled and almost ran up the stairway that would let him get to the lighting booth. John assumed it was so he could see what was going to happen next.

"Whenever you're ready," Elizabeth's voice floated over the PA system.

Radek moved to the orchestra pit, evicting the woman sitting at the piano bench. John could almost see him placing the music in front of the pianist, who leaned over him to see what was causing the commotion.

Rodney moved to center stage, John stayed at stage left. They turned to face the audience since while they were singing together, they were also singing separately. The introduction from the piano started and John started singing. He didn't hear the piano fade, he only heard Rodney's counterpoint to his song.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Singing along with John, Rodney was startled to realize that this was where he was meant to be. His entire life led to this moment, singing on a stage with John Sheppard.

When the song ended, he turned to John taking a step toward the other man, not sure what he was going to say. Caldwell's voice came over the PA, "Again. McKay, keep the turn and step toward Sheppard at the end. Grodin, after the step, can you fade him to black so we only see Lancelot?"

John shot him a grin as they resumed positions. Rodney noted a small change in the sound of the piano, Radek must have given the music over to the 'official' pianist. The intro started, John sang his part and Rodney again joined in the song. He turned toward John and the light around him faded.

"Once more," Caldwell commanded. "Sheppard, call to Arthur at the end."

The piano was more confident this time, Rodney noted as it started the intro. At the end, John waited a heartbeat, until the light faded around Rodney, before he gave a tortured, "Arthur!" at the end. The light around John went black without the fade. There was spontaneous applause from the cast members that had gathered to watch them.

"Lights, please," Caldwell called.

Once the house lights came up, Caldwell strode to the stage. Rodney could see Radek looking faintly frazzled off stage behind John. "Who wrote that?" Caldwell demanded.

"Rodney and I did most of it," John answered calmly. "Radek smoothed it out and figured it was better unaccompanied. So, the three of us."

"What the fuck are you doing in this show?" Caldwell wondered aloud, eying John speculatively. He debated for a moment then announced, "It's too good to not put it in." He pointed at Elizabeth. "Anything else you want to show me?"

Elizabeth grinned at him, "No. Well, nothing I know anything about."

He turned to face John, "Where did you figure this goes?"

"Act Two, just after Simple Folk," John answered.

Rodney watched Caldwell eye John carefully. "You've been thinking about this for a long time, haven't you?" he accused.

John shrugged. "Yes and no. Just, well, Arthur and Lance don't get to sing together, and.... well. It just worked out," he ended somewhat lamely.

"You'll need a better story than that," Caldwell snapped. "The press is going to eat this up and want to know about your inspiration." He spat the last word like it was an expletive, although Rodney couldn't disagree with the sentiment.

Elizabeth broke in, "I take it we're keeping it?"

"Yes, we're keeping it," Caldwell growled. He stalked back to his seat. "Ten minutes, everyone," he announced over the PA, "we need to do it all again."

This time everything went much more smoothly. Their extra song fit in seamlessly; Elizabeth had been right, it cheered the cast up.

Caldwell had only a few corrections after the second dress rehearsal. "Our first show is a matinee tomorrow, people," he reminded them. "McKay, Dex won't be up to speed, we need you to do the matinee."

Rodney shrugged, "Sure, not a problem," he agreed. Too early in the run of the show to be unreasonable. Besides, he wanted to do this very first official show in front of an audience with John.

He went back to his dressing room, hanging up the costumes for Norah and her helpers to check over. There really wasn't anything he wanted done to them, they fit well and there were no real adjustments that were needed.

John came to the door and asked, “Ready?”

“Sure,” Rodney agreed.

There was the usual swarm of fans, a slightly different hum to the crowd and one asked, “We heard there’s a new song?”

John laughed. “Maybe,” he teased, not stopping what he was signing and passing to Rodney. “You have to wait for tomorrow or Caldwell’ll have our heads.” There was a murmur of disappointment but most knew enough about Caldwell to appreciate their position.

“That’s it for today!” John announced as he handed Rodney the last item. “Have to get my beauty sleep! Big day tomorrow.”

Those still around laughed and some “Good luck” and “Break a leg” encouragements came from the group.

Rodney led John in a slightly different direction, mostly so the fans still hanging around wouldn’t quite know where they were going. Rodney hadn’t had to deal with fans at this level and figured a short detour would throw most of them off. John didn’t say anything until they got to the subway.

“We don’t have to do this,” he offered. “I can get Todd to drive, you know.” He considered. “Well, except when I give him the night off.”

“It’s not that bad,” Rodney countered. “Although we will probably want him tomorrow night after the late show. The first week is usually the worst.”

“Okay,” John agreed. It had been a long time since he had to do multiple shows in one place. Being on the road for weeks on end brought its own kind of exhaustion but he knew this would be exhausting in its own way until he got into a rhythm.

“Besides,” Rodney went on, “today we can catch a late meal at Carmela’s. She’ll be thrilled I brought you.”

The subway was more crowded than it had been late last night but no one bothered them. They had to stand a good portion of the ride, being the tail end of the dinner rush hour. He and John stood near each other, Rodney soaking in the heat John’s body gave off.

With a nudge, Rodney indicated, “Next stop.” John nodded understanding.

They got off and went down to the street level. Rodney led the way to Carmela’s.

“Good even.....” The routine welcome was broken off with a gasp. Carmela turned to Rodney, “You brought him!” She turned to John and dimpled, “Nice to meet you!”

“Dinner,” Rodney interrupted. “We really are hungry.” He said it with a smile to give her something to focus on.

“Sure!” she agreed and took them to a table in the back, one that would give them some relative privacy. Others could still see them but they could talk without being overheard.

As they sat down, Rodney considered their options. “How about salads with oil and vinegar to start for both of us, then...ravioli plate for John and spaghetti and meatballs for me.”

“Sounds good,” she nodded, “wine?”

Rodney glanced at John who nodded agreement, “Chianti, then.”

Carmela bustled off to place their orders.

John looked around, “Nice place.”

“Yeah, it is,” Rodney had to agree. “I’ve learned a lot about food here, too.” At John’s inquiring look, he expanded on how Carmela had taught him about Italian food and dealing with his citrus allergy.

Carmela brought them their wine, bread and the salads. John indicated a chair, “Sit if you have a minute.”

Rodney wanted to grin as she dimpled at John and quickly sat with them.

"Tell me about your restaurant," John started as he dug into the salad.

Dinner was long over and the staff was cleaning up around them when John said, "We've kept you long enough."

"Bah!" Carmela protested. "You've been very nice. Have Rodney bring you again." She paused, then, "Would you mind awfully if I ...?"

"Want a picture?" Rodney guessed.

"Has to be all three of us," John put in. Rodney was touched that John didn't hesitate to include him.

"That's even better," she laughed. "Let me get Fred to take it for us." She bustled to the kitchen and in a moment Fred came out with a small camera in his hand. John put an arm around both Carmela and Rodney and Fred snapped a couple of pictures.

"Get one printed and I'll sign it for you," John promised.

She saw them to the door, saying "goodnight" as they walked up the street.

"Good people," John commented.

"Yeah," Rodney agreed.

In the apartment, Rodney offered, "Want anything?"

"Nah," John replied easily. "Late enough that I'm just going to call it a night."

"I'm going to watch some tv," Rodney said. "Need to wind down after all that food." Rodney hesitated. "You can join me if you want."

He watched John debate then he shook his head and said, "Thanks, just going to take a shower and get some sleep."

Rodney shrugged, "No problem. See you in the morning."

John went back toward the bedrooms and Rodney settled in front of the television. He watched CNN for a while, flicked to The Weather Channel for a bit then shut it down and, after setting up coffee for the morning, headed off to bed himself. He fell asleep thinking of the man in the other room.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

John rubbed his stomach, full from the meal. Carmela was a treasure and he was pleased that Rodney had shared her place with him.

The duet with Rodney had gone amazingly well. He shook his head, it something he should be used to but wasn't. He wrote or co-wrote a lot of the songs he and the band did on their tour and more did well than not.

John had been tempted to sit up with Rodney but he wasn't sure he should spend time this close to Rodney, especially as tired as he was at the moment. He didn't want to scare Rodney off, even as he remembered the kiss from the other night.

In the shower, his body was evidently thinking of Rodney even as he tried to keep his brain away from the other man. His cock was full and heavy as he got into the shower and he told himself it was easier to give into it than fight it. Right. That was his story and he was sticking to it.

He washed his hair and when he put the conditioner on it, he didn't rinse off the extra but reached down to take his cock in hand. A small groan that he tried to keep quiet escaped – he didn't know how sound proof the walls were and, best he could figure in his head, the shower shared a wall with the kitchen. He didn't want Rodney hearing him if he was prepping coffee for the morning.

Biting his lips, John slowly worked his hand up and down his length. He reached with the other hand and rolled his balls around gently, trying to make it last. He wasn't in any hurry tonight and he could take his time.

Another groan tried to escape and he grit his teeth together to keep it in. Then the thought of Rodney on the other side of the wall, listening to him in the shower, hit hard and he was coming...

Panting slightly, he rode out the aftershocks. He let the water wash away the come on the walls, although he had to splash the wall slightly to get it all. He rinsed out his hair and ran a wash cloth over his body quickly.

He looked at his image in the mirror. Hair disheveled from the towel, rosy cheeked from both the hot water and the orgasm and his lips red and slightly swollen from biting them.

"You are so fucked," he told himself with a sigh. He turned away from the mirror to pull on clean boxers to sleep in.

He climbed into bed thinking of their duet, hearing Rodney's voice as it lulled him to sleep.

A tap on the door woke him. "Coffee's ready," Rodney's voice called.

"Thanks," John replied. "Ten minutes." He looked at a clock, he was usually up before this.

"No problem," Rodney answered. "Whenever you're ready."

Rodney had toasted bagels for them to go with the coffee. They ate in companionable silence.

"We need to get going," Rodney announced as he put the dishes in the dishwasher.

"Okay." John drank the rest of his coffee and handed Rodney the mug.

The walk back to the train station was cool but not uncomfortable. "Good thing Todd'll pick us up tonight," John reminded him. "This would be a bear after a late show."

"Elizabeth would get us a car if we needed," Rodney said. "I try not to abuse that but the first week, the days are really long."

Again, no one recognized John on the train, something he was grateful for. He didn't often get to do 'normal' things and he enjoyed it.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

There was a level of tension in the theatre as they arrived that Rodney knew was due to general nerves. This was their first performance in front of an audience since their shows in Buffalo and today's show was different enough that is was like starting new again.

Rodney had a good feeling about today... until he walked into his dressing room. The costumes the he had hung up carefully the night before were strewn about the room. A couple of pieces were obviously ripped apart, others trampled on.

Behind him, he heard John hiss in dismay. "Check yours," Rodney commanded. Something about this suggested... what, he wasn't quite sure.

John was back shortly and ground out, "Mine's the same way."

"Let's find Elizabeth," Rodney decided, closing the door on the wreckage.

They found Caldwell, Jennifer and Norah already in Elizabeth's office. Elizabeth looked up at them, ignoring the glares Norah and Caldwell were giving each other. "Yours, too?" she asked.

"Mine and John's," Rodney clarified.

"What kind of help do you need, Norah?" Elizabeth asked the normally cool woman.

"Everything was all right last night," Norah replied, helplessly. Rodney suspected this wasn't the first time she had repeated that statement.

"How many people were affected?" John asked. "Everyone or just us?"

"Good thought," Caldwell admitted. "Keller, Zelenka and Beckett for sure, now you two. We need to see if anyone else has been victimized."

"We'll go," John offered. "Rodney and I can do it faster than you can. Norah needs to see what can be salvaged for the show."

"Go," Elizabeth ordered. "We'll start in Jennifer's room to see how really bad it is."

Word had spread fast about the vandalism so that by the time he and John had visited the rest of the dressing rooms, everyone had thoroughly checked out their own costumes. The additional damage was limited to the men's dressing room, nothing had happened in the female dancers' room.

John and Rodney reported back to Caldwell. He rolled his eyes, "Great." He stalked off, presumably to see how Norah was making out.

Not sure what else to do, Rodney offered, "We can hang out in my room."

"Sure," John agreed.

They went back to Rodney's room and they picked up the costumes. They looked over what was actually damaged, what needed cleaning and what was just crumpled. Only two pieces were actually torn and that was at the seams rather than the material itself.

"Someone did this with their hands," Rodney decided. "If they had scissors or a knife, the fabric would have been cut or torn."

John looked at the piece Rodney had in his hands. "You're probably right," he agreed.

They brushed off the dirt and footprints as they could and hung everything back up.

"Let's see what we can salvage in my room," John said.

"Sure," Rodney answered. Anything they could do to help should be appreciated.

They went back to John's room and Rodney could see John's dismay at how the black outfit had been abused. It was both trampled and torn, as if the person who had done this had a personal grudge against John.

"It's going to take some work to salvage this," John held up the costume.

"If it can be saved at all," Rodney replied.

They heard a sigh from the door. "That was so special," Norah said softly. "Hand it over, we'll have to see what we can do with it before the show," she said briskly.

"We hung up the things in my room." Rodney offered.

"Thanks," she said as she went on to the next room.

"Why would someone do this?" Rodney asked.

"Someone doesn't like someone or something about the production," John offered. "It could be against the entire production, or against any one of us."

"Some one?" Rodney asked. "You think it's only one person?"

John shrugged. "While it looks like a lot of damage, some of this is one person trying to cause problems for the production. More than one person would have done more damage than this. And while there's damage to the costumes, it's not anything that can't be repaired. So I'd think it is someone who's not happy but didn't want to stop the production from going on."

"My thoughts, also," Elizabeth put in from the door. "There's nothing that can't be fixed, given some effort. Just... Who would do such a thing?"

"Who doesn't like you?" John asked. "Who did you offend in the process of putting this production together? Who doesn't like Caldwell? Maybe it's not you, maybe it's aimed at him."

Elizabeth considered. "Me? It's not really a long list. I've pretty much played by the rules putting this together. Sure, I called in a couple of favors and bent a couple of the rules, but nothing anyone else wouldn't have done. Steven? That's a long list but it doesn't feel like something about him. This feels personal."

"Then you're going to need to watch yourself," Rodney put in. "If this is against you, you need to make sure to not do anything stupid." He thought. "Where are you staying?"

"With friends on the upper East side," she replied. "Why?"

Rodney turned to John. "We'll drop her off tonight after the show," he said as much as asked. "That way we know she gets home safely. It's too easy after a show to just wander off or get carried away. We need to pay attention."

John nodded. "Good idea," he agreed. "Todd can drop you off before he takes us home. And make sure someone brings you to the theatre in the morning for the next couple of days."

"I don't want to be a nuisance," Elizabeth protested.

"You won't be," John replied firmly. "And we'll all rest easier if we know what's going on."

"For tonight and tomorrow, anyway," she gave in. "Thanks."

"Anyone else need to be taken care of?" John asked.

"I'm not sure," Elizabeth admitted. "Let me check around and I'll make sure everyone has a ride or buddies up with someone else for the next couple of days."

"That should work," John agreed.

Rodney realized it was John's experience in running his own show that was speaking at this point. John had been pretty laid back before this, letting Elizabeth run things but his own background was making sure that everything, and everyone, was taken care of.

Needing to do something productive, he looked at John, "Have we missed Teyla's workout?"

John looked at a clock, "I think so. But you and I can do some basics on our own. Or see who else needs to warm up."

The dancers had a more organized warm-up schedule but the principles and some of the chorus weren't always required to participate. "Sure, I suspect we need to keep moving," Rodney replied. "I need to at least stretch out before I start my vocal warm ups."

"Good," Elizabeth said. "I'll let anyone else know."

"Come on," John urged. "Get changed and we'll go warm up."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

By the time they had done their physical and vocal warm-ups, Norah had worked several miracles and had at least a basic set of costumes ready for everyone.

She handed John his costumes. "If you wear the blue again for act two in the matinee, I can have the black repaired for the evening show," she told him. "The green just needed some steam pressing so that's in good shape and we were able to brush out the blue set enough to make it presentable."

"Good enough," John took the armload.

"Since I hadn't finished your second set," she went on, "I'll get the black done first so you can have that."

"Thanks," John said softly. "You're a miracle worker!"

She blushed. "Get out of here! I have a lot to do."

John shot her a grin and took the costumes back to his dressing room to hang up.

Starting to apply his make-up, John called Todd and ordered some food brought in for him and Rodney. His schedule indicated that Elizabeth had a buffet set up in the dancers' studio but he suspected Rodney would appreciate something where he knew where it came from.

Todd brought the order to his room and John went to Rodney's dressing room.

"What?" Rodney looked at him. "You look like a mad harlequin, half made up."

"Well, I'll just take this back," John made to turn to go back to his own room.

Rodney sniffed. "Coffee? And food?" he demanded. "Get back in here."

John laughed. "You sure?"

"Come on, I'm starving," Rodney complained. "And I hope it's none of that rabbit food Elizabeth organized."

"Grilled chicken sandwiches and fresh fruit salad," John held up the bag. "And chocolate chip cookies."

Rodney held his hands out in a grabby motion. "Gimme..."

They settled into Rodney's room, eating together. John looked around and saw Rodney's costumes.

"Norah did good, I see," he commented.

Rodney shrugged. "She worked a fucking miracle, is all I can say," he replied. "Although Radek said that Elizabeth pulled in some extra help to get it all done. Norah normally only has one helper but they dug out three or four more from somewhere."

John knew there was always casual help available in an emergency for any show. All you needed to do was to be able to pay for it. In the early years of the Friends tours, they'd pitch in and do the work themselves, often pulling it together just before the show had to start. With a bigger production in the later years, there were more people available to help and problems usually got taken care of quickly.

"Teyla probably has some friends she could call," John suggested. He knew her extended family was in New York and some of them might be available for temp work.

Rodney shrugged. "Dunno. Just that Norah looked less frazzled by the time she had my things ready," he said.

John finished up his lunch but left his cookie for Rodney, who had been eyeing it longingly. "You eat it," John left it on his dressing table.

A quick grin told John that was what Rodney had been hoping for.

The matinee went off with no major problems and was a smash hit, in spite of how the day started. There had been a standing ovation at the intermission as well as extra bows at the end. The audience went ballistic for both John and Rodney, for which John was glad.

Sitting in his dressing room and cleaning off the stage make-up, Mickey put his head in John's door. "Elizabeth wants to see you," he drawled. "Soon as possible."

"Five minutes," John answered. "Let me get cleaned up."

Mickey shrugged and left.

John hung up the costume, noting that a second set would be welcome if Norah had had time to finish it up. But what he had wasn't too bad and if Norah really did get the black outfit finished for the evening performance then he'd be in good shape.

He tapped on Elizabeth's door. "You wanted to see me?" he asked.

"John!" She exclaimed. "Thank you for coming so quickly."

He shrugged, "Mickey said as soon as possible."

A frown crossed her face. "I didn't say that," she replied, faintly puzzled but shook it off. "Anyway. I have multiple requests for interviews with you and we never discussed what you'd be willing or available to do."

John dropped into the chair next to the desk. "Surprised there hadn't been anything before now. And I thought you and Laura would have worked that out," he temporized.

"I did ask but Laura said this one is your call," she replied.

John thought for a moment. "Okay, how about I don't do any solo interviews? Me and Rodney at the very least or anyone else you'd like to get out in front of the press," he outlined. "I've already co-opted Rodney into the autograph sessions at the back door and I'm going to keep on doing that."

"That's been very popular," she agreed. "Should we put on any extra security to handle the crowds?"

"You'll want to keep an eye on it," John admitted. "I never see it coming and all of a sudden there are a thousand screaming women out there. Okay. Maybe a hundred. But it's more than I can handle."

Weir made a note. "About the interviews?" she persisted.

John shrugged. "This show isn't just me," he said. "The 'no solo interview' policy always worked when we were on a Friends tour," he elaborated. "Should work here."

"Works for me," she answered with a pleased smile. "And it's very generous of you."

He wriggled a bit in the chair. "Ummm... thanks."

"Okay, this is what I have right now and I suspect there will be more once the press knows you're available to talk," she put a list in front of him. "Tell me what you're willing to do and who you'd like to take with you."

They worked through the list and John took on more interviews than he normally would have liked to but also made sure that Rodney was included in the major portion of them. He also suggested some group sessions and ruthlessly pushed several requests at Elizabeth and Caldwell. "You aren't going to make me do all of this!" he protested.

"All right," she agreed. "And this is more than I could have hoped for. Thank you."

"Thanks for being reasonable about it," John answered.

"I have one more, and it does involve you and Rodney," Elizabeth said.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Rodney leaned back on the love seat in his dressing room, trying to get comfortable enough to maybe sneak in a power nap. Doing both the matinee and the evening performance was exhausting and he knew enough to take some down time when he could get it.

He closed his eyes.

The tap on the door startled him awake.

"Rodney?" It was John.

"Come in," he invited, not moving.

He heard John enter the room and stop. "Oh, sorry, didn't mean to wake you," he said softly.

"Awake now, sit," Rodney directed. "What did you need?"

"I can..." John started to offer.

"John," Rodney said patiently. He opened his eyes and looked into a green that he wanted to swim in. "Sit and talk to me. Just like to at least close my eyes between performances when there's a matinee and an evening performance. If I really didn't want to be disturbed, I wouldn’t be here, I'd hide elsewhere."

John came in and sat in the other chair in the room.

"Okay, good idea, actually," John admitted. "Just talked to Elizabeth about some PR for the show and wanted to double check some things with you."

Rodney waved a hand. "It's probably fine," he replied.

"Well, there's something... special," John said in an odd voice.

Rodney did look up at that. "What?"

"Well, Springsteen is doing a concert in Central Park in a couple of weeks and wants us to 'crash' the concert," John grinned.

"Us?" Rodney tried to keep the bitterness out of his voice. "No, he just wants you."

John leaned in and put a warm hand on Rodney's knee. "No, us. Really. Evidently one of the stage hands also works on his show and there's already a bootleg video of our song from yesterday's rehearsal."

"Us?" Rodney was dumbfounded.

"Come on, it'll be fun!" John coaxed.

"If you're sure?" Rodney persisted.

"Very," John promised.

"Okay, then, sign me up!" Rodney agreed. "So that walk-on stuff isn't so spontaneous?"

"Nah," John replied. "Can't get through security without planning for it. And the play list needs to be developed. So, no, not spontaneous."

Rodney looked at John's hopeful eyes and gave in. "Okay, sure," he agreed. "Springsteen? Really?"

John's laugh was a bit rueful. "You know him and you don't know me?" John put a hand over his heart. "I'm crushed."

"Hey! I was saving the best for last," Rodney replied.

"Good save," John grinned.

The evening performance was just as much of a success as the matinee. The adrenaline from the afternoon performance carried them all through the evening performance. The audience was just as enthusiastic and the applause was deafening.

"Sheppard's fans are out there," Mickey drawled in Rodney's door. "Elizabeth told me to tell you."

"Okay," Rodney replied. He didn't know why Mickey was telling him this.

Mickey just stood in the door for too long of a moment. Rodney waited him out and Mickey finally left without saying anything.

There was a crush of people in the halls. Friends and family of cast members along with selected members of the press milled around talking giddily. It was a happy noise, one that came with a successful performance.

John appeared at his elbow, Elizabeth in tow. "Ready?" John asked.

"Evidently there's a crowd out back," Rodney repeated Mickey's warning.

John shrugged. "We'll go out the front tonight, then!"

"Sneaking out?" Elizabeth teased.

"Sometimes, gotta do what you gotta do," John replied.

"Have to hang around tomorrow," Elizabeth warned them. "Opening Night is a big deal. And there are some investors we need to play nice with."

John shrugged and Rodney nodded. It was something they both had done over time.

Going out the front of the theatre, Todd was waiting for them. He ushered Elizabeth into the car, Rodney sat in the back with her and John sat in the front.

"Where to?" Todd asked.

Elizabeth gave him the address of her friend. At the late hour, it didn't take too long before they were pulling up in front of an apartment building. A doorman came out and Elizabeth waved a small greeting. Todd got out and helped her out of the car.

"See you tomorrow!" she said.

John moved to the back seat with Rodney and Rodney started to doze on the ride home. He found himself leaning into John's warmth.

"Hey, sleepy head," John murmured. "We're home."

Rodney opened his eyes and found himself plastered against John, who didn't seem to be complaining.

"Oh, okay," he said muzzily.

"Come on," John urged him out of the car. The cool night air woke Rodney enough to get them into the building and the apartment.

"Need anything? Help yourself. I'm going to bed," Rodney muttered, heading toward his bedroom.

John's gentle laugh followed him into sleep.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It was all John could do to keep from putting his arm around Rodney in the car. He had rearranged Rodney gently to make sure he didn't get a creak in his neck from sleeping awkwardly.

He made arrangements with Todd to pick them up in the morning and then again after the show. With only an evening performance, they could come in slightly later in the morning but it would be a late night. Having Todd to take them back and forth would be a god-send.

Rodney woke enough to get himself into the bathroom and John watched him walk off.

John took a quick shower to take the rest of the makeup and sweat off his body before crawling into his own bed.

Rodney tapped on his door in the morning. "Coffee in fifteen," he announced.

"Thanks," John replied. He rolled out of bed and dressed. He ran a hand over his face and knew he'd need to shave before they went anywhere.

Rodney was fussing in the kitchen. "Eggs and English muffins?" he asked over his shoulder.

"Fine," John replied.

"Muffins in the freezer," Rodney pointed with his chin.

John found the muffins and got two out. He ran them through the microwave briefly to be able to cut them in half and set them into the four slice toaster.

John found butter in the refrigerator and asked, "Jelly?"

"Sure," Rodney agreed.

Breakfast was companionable, John thought. Something he could do for... he quashed the thought.

"Ready?" Rodney asked.

John looked at the clock. "We have some time," he replied. "Todd won't be here for another hour. I didn't think we'd want to take the subway this morning."

"Thanks," Rodney sighed and reached for another cup of coffee.

Todd came right on time, and dropped them at the theatre. Teyla had a special warm-ups scheduled for everyone in anticipation of the evening performance.

Ronon returned from Chicago and getting 'Melia, and Caldwell had them working hard to prepare Ronon for his role as Rodney's replacement. Fortunately, Ronon had most of his lines and didn't need much coaching on that. They spent the day blocking his actions and running through the songs.

Rodney worked easily with Ronon, John was glad to see. Ronon would take in Caldwell's directions and watch Rodney's demonstrations and put just enough of his own spin on the role to make it his own.

John enjoyed singing the duet with Ronon, but it wasn't as special as it had been with Rodney.

They ate dinner with the cast that night, John knew that they had to be somewhat sociable and not always eat on their own. Always having Todd bring in food for them put a spotlight on them, something John didn't want to make a point of.

"Rabbit food," Rodney groused as he ate salad and yogurt.

"We can get something after, if you want," John offered.

"At least there isn't a matinee," Rodney replied.

"Worked out okay yesterday," John said.

Rodney finished his salad and looked at the buffet table mournfully.

"We can stop on the way home at least get cookies or something," John suggested. He knew it was the right thing to say when Rodney brightened at the idea.

"I'll take you up on that," Rodney said.

The evening performance was just as popular with the audience as the previous day and there were multiple curtain calls for the entire cast.

John came to Rodney's dressing room after he changed. "I hate to ask, but we ducked the fans yesterday and we should make an effort."

Rodney shrugged. "Sure," he agreed.

"I'll get Ronon to go out with us," John explained. "He can help keep control. Lorne says there's quite a crowd out there and if we don't do some of them tonight, tomorrow's going to be worse."

"Makes sense," Rodney replied. "Having Ronon looming over everyone will make sure we get out alive."

John grinned. "I'll have Todd pick up Elizabeth out front so she doesn't have to go through that," he said.

"Oh, sure, you let Elizabeth off the hook but not me?" Rodney teased. John could see he was glad to be included.

"Hey, we're a team," John said. "Back each other up."

Rodney looked faintly amazed at the idea and gave John a brilliant smile.

It took more than John's usual fifteen minutes to get through the fans. The crowd was larger than normal but having Ronon there when John announced they were done did help. Ronon waved them off when they offered him a ride saying "'Melia is waiting around the corner. I'll be fine."

Todd dropped Elizabeth off and as she got out she said, "I have a date for the party tomorrow night, so I won't need a ride."

"A date?" Rodney asked. "What's that?" He grinned at her.

John elbowed him gently. "Be nice," he said. "And you can be my date, how's that?"

Rodney turned to look at John with a look John couldn't quite interpret but it quickly changed to happiness. "Wait. Why am I your date? Why can't you be my date?"

John grinned. "Okay, I'll be your date, then."

They sat there smiling at each other and Rodney jumped when Elizabeth cleared her throat. "You're both silly," she said. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Night," they chorused.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Thursday was the official Opening Night and Rodney figured that Elizabeth had done that so that the reviews would be in the Friday paper and help sell tickets for the weekend, not knowing when she made the schedule that they would have John Sheppard to sell tickets for them.

In spite of that, there was a hum of anticipation in the theatre as he and John arrived that morning. It was too early in the production run to be coming in later in the day for the evening show. The fact that everything had gone well the night before had little to do with the general nerves that went with a formal Opening Night.

Rodney had always been both sensitive and ignorant of critical reviews. He always knew when he did a good job and, if no one else saw it the same way, that was their loss. But bad reviews of a production always meant trouble and he was also aware enough to know that bad reviews meant a production closing earlier than hoped and he'd be out of work again. So he couldn't make himself ignore the press completely.

Mickey found them where they were doing some vocal warming up with Jennifer, Ronon and Carson.

"Elizabeth wants you," Mickey drawled to John. "Some reporter showed up."

"Okay," John nodded. "Tell her we'll be there in 15."

"She only asked for you," Mickey eyed Rodney.

John shrugged. "No problem," he said.

When Mickey left, John turned and said, "Elizabeth knows my 'no solo interview' policy. Come with me?"

Rodney hadn't expected to be included and knew he showed his surprise, "You sure?"

"She and I talked about it," John nodded firmly. "I'm sure."

Rodney didn't hesitate to give in. "Okay, then." He looked down at his ratty work out clothes. "Like this?"

John shrugged again. "Reporter drops in without an appointment, gets what there is."

"Okay," Rodney agreed. Somehow John was dressed similarly but on him it looked good.

They went to Elizabeth's office and Rodney was surprised to see Caldwell already there. Zelenka came up behind them. Even Rodney could feel the tension in the office. Obviously someone who was not one of Caldwell's fans.

"What's going on?" Radek asked.

"Suspect it's about the duet," John murmured.

Rodney had a flash of anger at Mickey, who had obviously not passed along the message he was supposed to. He tamped it down, filing it away with all the other grievances against the man.

"John! And Rodney!" Elizabeth peered over their shoulders. "And Radek! Thank you for taking time for this!"

"Not a problem," John replied with a smile.

She turned to the man sitting in her office to introduce him, "Gentlemen, this is Abraham Ellis from Rolling Stone, they'd like to do a feature on the duet."

John nodded a short greeting, "Ellis." The two had also obviously met somewhere along the line. John looked around the small office and then offered, "How about we go on stage and sing it for you?" He turned to Caldwell, "Can we use that?"

Caldwell tilted his head, obviously running through the schedule in his head, "The dancers should be about done," he said. "Sure, we can do that."

"Excellent!" Elizabeth agreed.

Elizabeth kept up a general flow of chatter about the production in general as they walked along. She tried to include Caldwell in the discussion but his monosyllabic answers weren't helpful. Luckily, talking while walking through the backstage area was awkward, Ellis seemed content with the general information from Elizabeth that he probably already had.

"I will play the piano," Radek announced, heading toward the pit to roust out the practice pianist.

"The lighting's not set up," Caldwell informed Ellis. "Grodin's off this afternoon and I'm not going to have anyone else messing with the lights just now."

"No problem," Ellis waved a hand. "Just want to hear the song myself."

"Gentlemen," Caldwell gestured.

It amused Rodney that, for once, Caldwell was on their side in this. Not that all reporters were the enemy but Ellis was known for not pulling any punches. Rodney had never met Ellis before; Rolling Stone paid some attention to the opera scene but it had never specifically included Rodney before.

John put a warm hand on Rodney's back, where no one could see but to Rodney the touch was searing.

"Focus on me," John murmured in his ear. "Ignore everyone else."

Rodney nodded and missed the warmth as soon as John moved his hand.

Not even looking at the auditorium, Rodney took his position at center stage and waited for Radek to play the introduction. He picked up his cue and started singing, listening for John to join him. The piano faded and they sang together...

The scattered applause at the end startled Rodney for he was looking in John's eyes as they finished. John had turned to face him during the last bars of the song and he had become lost in those green eyes. Even from half-way across the stage, Rodney could see the happiness.

Elizabeth called, "Come down here!"

They perched on the seats near where Elizabeth sat between Ellis and Caldwell.

"Tell me where that comes from," Ellis started, looking at John.

Rodney caught Caldwell's smug look. But John had evidently been thinking.

"It's a combination of several things," John explained easily. "The most important part is that Lance and Arthur are best friends... instant best friends and yet they have only a handful of lines together and no songs at all." He nodded toward Rodney. "I've been a fan of Rodney's for a long time and it seemed criminal to not be able to actually sing with him. So I put together some ideas for how a duet might work, Rodney actually took the really rough draft and made it something we could work with." He gave Radek a nod. "Radek polished it for us, and came up with the a capella idea."

"The idea is that the love triangle is really a full triangle," Rodney put it. "Guen loves both Lance and Arthur, that's always a given. Lance and Arthur both love Guen. But what's been missing are the emotions between Lance and Arthur. It's a deep friendship bordering on love that is only referred to in passing. This brings that out."

"It also makes the betrayal by Mordred in the end even more heartbreaking," John picked up the story. "The three people are caught in a tangle of forbidden love and, in the end, they are all alone."

"I know this is new," Ellis said. "But it isn't jarring. Where did you get the music from?"

"I used some of the music from Brigadoon for inspiration," John admitted. "I needed something else from Lerner and Lowe to work from and some of the incidental music from there helped me find the base for this song."

"You going to record it?" Ellis asked.

"Most likely," John said, glancing briefly at Rodney and Radek. "We haven't discussed it but I suspect there's some interest."

"Well, someone has a bootleg from the show already on the internet," Ellis said. "And it's got almost half a million hits. I suspect there's more than some interest."

"Really?" Radek put in. "We have been... busy."

Elizabeth laughed, "Yes, they have been."

Ellis asked, "Will there be any more new songs?"

John laughed. "We've promised them to Elizabeth first." He leaned in and, in a stage whisper, added, "And she's promised Caldwell he'd be one of the first to know." Leaning back, John added, "Nothing for Camelot."

"For something else then?" Ellis persisted.

"At this point, there's nothing else," John answered calmly. Only Rodney could see the slight tension in his back at the line of questioning.

Elizabeth turned to Ellis, "And I know nothing! Anything else? It is Opening Night and we have some work to do to make sure we're ready."

"Can I take a quick picture?" Ellis asked, pulling his camera out.

"All three of us," John directed. He moved closer to Rodney and, at John's gesture, came closer to both of them.

John put his arm around Rodney and Radek and Rodney was again acutely aware of the warmth. The tension flowed out of John as they came closer together.

Ellis took a couple of pictures of them and thanked Elizabeth for the opportunity.

After he left, Elizabeth said, "Thank you for that. It was too good to pass up and the article should be in the next issue."

"Glad to help," John said easily.

They went back to rehearsing and dinner came and went in a rush, although Rodney found some chocolate chip cookies in his dressing room when he went to put on his makeup. There was someone to help with makeup and hair but Rodney always found it useful to do most of his own makeup. It let him 'put on' the role and settled his nerves before a performance.

Norah came around about a half an hour before curtain to check his costumes.

"Everything all set?" she asked.

"All set for me," Rodney replied. "Great costumes, if no one has told you."

She grinned. "They have but it's always good to hear." She knocked on the door frame. "Break a leg."

"Thanks," Rodney replied.

She hurried off to check on the rest of the cast.

Rodney finished his makeup and then sat with his eyes closed, focusing on his breathing. He ran through the production in his head, a habit he had developed early in his career.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

At the fourth curtain call, John just wanted to grab Rodney and run. His life had never been what anyone would call 'normal' but this would put it over the top. He had to take a deep breath to resist the impulse.

There was a TV crew waiting in his dressing room when he got there. Carson was already there, chatting with the crew and Lorne came in behind John. Even more than ever, John was grateful for the 'no solo interviews' policy... the other actors helped settle him down so he could converse naturally with interviewer.

He dawdled enough that Rodney would be through the shower before he got there, although he knew that Rodney and Jennifer had their own interview to go through. Being naked in the same place as Rodney right now would be too much temptation and he didn't want to embarrass either of them in front of anyone else.

He got lucky and only some of the dancers were there when he entered and he had himself mostly under control by the time he was done. He went back to his dressing room and put on the tux that was expected for the 'gala' after the show. Luckily, the event was essentially dinner with some of the show's backers; people Elizabeth had borrowed money from to be able to put on the show.

The majority of the cast got to go off to their own party, lucky them. John had made sure that both Ronon and Teyla had been invited to the dinner. With the two of them and Rodney, he'd have someone to talk to and someone to leave with at the end of the night. Todd would drop Ronon and then Teyla off before taking John and Rodney home.

Elizabeth had put John and Rodney together at dinner, for which John was eternally grateful. He had 'played nice' with sponsors for his own tours, so he knew how important this was to Elizabeth.

Fortunately the food was good, which helped put Rodney in an upbeat mood. Elizabeth must have ordered the entire meal without any citrus in it. Rodney looked touched that someone would have thought about that, making the entire meal based on his needs.

"Mr. Sheppard..." the woman on his left started.

"John, please," he said gently.

She smiled, "Then I'm Teer. I'm very pleased to be part of this production. It's even more exciting than Elizabeth ever thought. You've made this a very special event."

"It's not just me," John demurred. "There are a lot of others involved... Rodney, Jennifer and Lorne, to name just a few."

"You're very modest," she said, leaning closer. "Your presence has taken a good production and made it something that people will talk about for years to come."

John inched away from her. "Thank you," he said seriously. "That is quite a complement."

She hitched slightly closer. "I still think you're being too modest," she persisted.

Teyla appeared over his shoulder at that moment, "I'm sorry to interrupt your discussion but Elizabeth would like to borrow John for a moment."

John heaved an internal sigh of relief, putting a regretful smile on his face. "It was good to meet you," he said, fleeing the table.

Elizabeth gave a small grin, "Okay now?"

"Thanks," John admitted. "That was just going to turn very awkward. And I never see it coming until it's too late." He looked over at the table to see Teer eyeing Rodney speculatively. Rodney was oblivious to the look.

Teyla slipped into the chair John had vacated, picking up some threads of conversation at the table.

"Sit with me for a moment," Elizabeth directed. "Teer has enough of an investment in the production that I can't be too obvious about snubbing her."

John sat, feeling faintly uncomfortable about leaving Rodney, but it was a relatively small room and he hoped that Rodney would find him when he was ready.

It was a couple more hours before John decided they could politely escape. He found Rodney essentially huddled in a corner with Ronon and Teyla, and John was glad Rodney had made friends with the other two.

"Ready?" John asked.

Rodney's face lit up. "Been ready forever!" Rodney replied.

"Todd's out front," John said. He looked to Ronon and Teyla, "Either of you need a ride?"

"I would appreciate one," Teyla said. "This was too late for Kanaan and there was no one to watch Torren. So a ride would be helpful."

"I'm fine," Ronon waved them off. "It's not that far from here and it's good weather."

John let Teyla sit up front with Todd, mostly because John wanted to sit next to Rodney. After 'playing nice' all night, he needed some... comfort. Rodney would do that just by being there.

It wasn't long before they had dropped Teyla off at her building and they settled in for the ride back to Rodney's apartment. Rodney must have had too much coffee, he was awake and talking about the dinner. John let the words wash over him...

"Hey, sleeping beauty," Rodney said gently in his ear. "We're home."

John realized he had fallen asleep on Rodney's shoulder. He rubbed his face briefly, "Thanks."

"It was your turn anyway," Rodney said.

John was comfortable and warm in a way he had not been in a long time. He didn't want to move...

"Come on, sleepyhead," Rodney said with a grin. "A bed will be more comfortable."

I don't think so... John thought. He stirred. "Okay, coming." He leaned to the front, "Thanks, Todd. See you in the morning?"

"Lunchtime," Rodney corrected. "It's almost morning now and we don't have to be to the theatre until after lunch."

"Good," John said. "Okay, then. See you tomorrow!"

"No problem," Todd answered. He waited until they were inside the door before he drove off.

"I'm getting spoiled with Todd to drive us around," Rodney commented. "Elizabeth would have arranged something for nights like tonight, if we wanted, but not routinely."

"Not sure how you'd manage, otherwise," John observed. "Too many long days like this and I'll be dead on my feet."

"Now that we're past opening night," Rodney replied, "it gets easier. So we'll have time to recoup. And Mondays are dark, so we get a chance to recover."

John groaned. "We have PR things to do on Monday," he admitted.

"If it's really awful," Rodney pointed out, "we'll get Elizabeth to reschedule. No one ever died from missing an interview with a reporter."

John had to laugh. "Okay, okay," he agreed. "Going to get some sleep."

"We can go to Carmela's for lunch," Rodney offered. "She'd be glad to have us."

"No doubt," John agreed. "Good night then."

John crawled between the cool sheets remembering how warm he had been not too long ago.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Lunch at Carmela's was the right thing to do. Todd ate with them, John insisted, and Todd told discreet stories about some of his more unusual driving jobs. They all laughed over the stories.

Carmela stood by the table, "I hate to ask..."

"Do you have the picture?" John guessed.

She blushed and admitted, "Yes. If you could..."

John reached out to take the print and looked at it. "Umm, you have one of these I can have?" he asked. While he had a lot of pictures of Rodney, he didn't have any with Rodney. He was hoping for more in the future but, well, this was the first one.

Carmela dimpled. "Sure, you both look good in it," she agreed. "I'll get it for you."

John signed his name above his head and handed the pen and picture to Rodney, "You, too. She'll want both of us to sign it for her."

"Good shot," Todd commented.

"Her husband took it," Rodney said as he signed the picture. "It turned out pretty good."

Carmela came back with an envelope that she handed to John, "One for each of you. If you want."

Rodney grinned, "Perfect. And thank you."

"Dessert?" Carmela asked.

"No, thanks," John replied. "I've had plenty."

"I'm good," Rodney said.

"Ready?" Todd asked.

Carmela wouldn't let them escape without a hug – even Todd got one.

Being the middle of a Friday, traffic wasn't as bad as it could be and they were at the Theatre in good time. John made arrangements for Todd to pick them up after the show, knowing they'd both be pretty tired.

Norah had some costume adjustments she wanted to make, so John went off to meet up with her while Rodney went to start warming up.

John didn't see a lot of Rodney during the afternoon, he had an interview with a local NY news channel along with Jennifer. The interviewer tried to play off the Guen / Lancelot connection but John ignored it and talked about production as a whole. Jennifer, fortunately, caught on quickly and too the same tack, and the reported gave up semi-gracefully.

After the interview, Jennifer commented, "Now I see why you don't do solo interview, what a pain!"

"Thanks for that," John said.

Deciding that even with the healthy lunch in the middle of the day that he wanted something to munch on, John called out to Todd to pick him and Rodney up some food.

"We skipped dessert," John told him. "How about some pastries of some sort. Cookies will do."

"Sure," Todd agreed. "Shouldn't be more than half an hour."

"Just call me when you get here," John said. "I'll come out to get it. That way you don't have to try to park the car."

"Not a bother to bring them in," Todd answered. "And I think your fan club is hanging about the back door, hoping you'll come out during the day."

John sighed. "Okay then. Bring it in when you can."

It was closer to an hour later when Todd showed up in his dressing room doorway. "Forgot to mention that it's Friday rush hour. Everyone's running around," he reported.

John took the paper bag and looked into it. A couple of pastries and a dozen cookies. "Good choice," John told him. "If I'm hungry, I know Rodney is. This will help deal with the rabbit food Elizabeth has for the rest of the crew."

Ronon came in at that point and sniffed obviously. "You got enough to share?"

"Go ahead, big guy," John laughed. "Just leave something for Rodney."

"Oh, learned already not to get between McKay and cookies," Ronon grinned as he took a pastry from the bag. "Thanks."

"If that's all for now?" Todd asked. "Going to grab a nap before I pick you up later."

"Nah, should be good," John replied. "Need someone to be awake later."

John followed Todd out the door on the way to Rodney's dressing room. The door was closed and John tapped and called, "Rodney..."

The I have cookies! died in his throat as he opened the door to find the chair Rodney had been sitting in over-turned and Rodney in convulsions on the floor of the dressing room.

"Todd!" John rapped out urgently. "Call 911 and get an ambulance here!"

It felt like time stopped as John fought his way through the haze to Rodney's side. He fell to his knees to see if he could help when he spied a sandwich wrapper on the table. "Fuck!" He lunged to the makeup table where he had seen...

"Got it!" he crowed. John twisted the end off the epi-pen and stuck it firmly against Rodney's leg. He hit the release and he could feel the injector hit Rodney's leg.

Rodney shuddered as the epinephrine hit his system. John saw that his breathing was slightly better and counted slowly to ten... when at 'ten' Rodney's breathing wasn’t improving any more, he hit the release on the pen again to give Rodney another shot. John knew from his own research about Rodney's condition that the pens had multiple shots in them but that more than two shots weren't recommended unless the patient wasn't breathing at all.

The second shot seemed to help as Rodney was able to take deep, shuddering breaths of air.

John put his hand on Rodney's chest. "Okay, got you. Just focus on breathing."

Rodney opened his eyes blearily and said hoarsely, "Fucking allergy..."

"Don't talk," John soothed. "Ambulance on its way. Just breathe for me."

"I..." Rodney started then coughed roughly.

"Just breathe..." John insisted, moving as close as he dared, looking around for a blanket or something to keep Rodney warm.

An ambulance crew showed up in the doorway at this point.

"Citrus allergy, found him in anaphylactic shock," John reported to them. "Gave him two shots from the epi-pen. He was in convulsions when I found him and became aware a couple of minutes ago."

"Still here," Rodney growled roughly.

"And is still aware," John grinned.

"Okay, then," the medic put in way too cheerfully for John's comfort. "I suspect the doc will want to take a look at you and make sure you're okay." He took the epi pen from John, for the dosage information, John assumed. John moved out of the way as the medics started to check Rodney over and attach a blood pressure cuff to him.

"Hate..." Rodney moaned.

"I'll send Todd with you," John soothed. "And I'll be there right after the show."

"'kay..." Rodney breathed, closing his eyes.

The medics efficiently wrapped Rodney in blankets and hauled him out of the room.

"Todd," John directed. "Stay with him and leave me a message so I know where he ends up."

"Got it," Todd nodded, following the ambulance crew down the corridor.

John sat back against the wall, his own adrenaline rush starting to come crashing down.

"Is he okay?" Ronon asked.

"He will be," John said. "Another five minutes and he might not have been." The reality of that was too much to think about.

"You need to focus," Ronon squatted down in front of John. "An hour to curtain and you need to be ready."

John closed his eyes for a moment and then took some deep breaths, trying to bring his scattered thoughts back to the show.

A warm hand on his arm brought his eyes open. "You did good," Ronon commented. "He's in good hands."

"My head knows that," John said. My heart isn't so sure...

Ronon stood and offered John a hand. "Come on," he said, hauling John to his feet. "Let's finish warming up."

Just then Elizabeth came flying down the hall. "I just heard," she said breathlessly. "Is Rodney okay?"

"I sent Todd with him," John said. "But he should be okay." John looked around the dressing room and spied the sandwich wrapper. "Someone sent him food with citrus in it."

"Who would do that?" Elizabeth demanded, reaching for the wrapper.

"Don't touch it!" John stopped her. "You need to call the police, discretely – if that's at all possible. Hopefully, someone screwed up and left some fingerprints."

Elizabeth looked at him with wide eyes. "You think someone did this on purpose?" she asked.

"Rodney's religious about checking what he eats," John answered, holding on to his temper by a thread. Elizabeth should know this about Rodney, he thought to himself. "He wouldn't have eaten this unless he thought it was safe. So someone tricked him into thinking it was okay to eat."

Elizabeth eyed the wrapper and pulled out her cell phone. "Get out of here," she commanded, taking charge. "I'll take care of this."

John left and followed Ronon to a warm-up room. Radek showed up a few minutes later and, without speaking, played the piano for them. The music helped John focus.

Only by squelching every iota of worry was John able to get through the performance. Sharing the dressing room with Ronon was helpful in keeping everyone away.

The duet between Arthur and Lance was still good but John was very aware that the chemistry wasn't the same without Rodney. John let long years of habit carry him through the performance.

As soon as the curtain calls were over, John raced to the dressing room.

He's at East Side Hospital, Todd's message reported. I'll come back for you, it'll be easier. I should be waiting for you when you're finished. A moment's hesitation. McKay's fine. Already bitching at the staff.

"He's at East Side Hospital," John told Ronon. "Todd'll meet me at the back door."

"Want me to come?" Ronon asked.

"You don't need to..." John started.

"I will come with you," Teyla said firmly from the doorway. As John was about to protest, she gave him a look that made him stop.

"Okay," he capitulated. He looked at Ronon who was looking expectant, "You might as well come, too."

John groaned internally at the crowd at the back door.

"What happened to Rodney?" a voice asked from the crowd.

"You may or may not know Rodney has a serious citrus allergy," he started. The hum of the crowd was uneven – some were aware and some were not. "He ate some food he thought was okay and had a serious reaction. He's fine now and in the hospital. We're on our way to see him." There were some disappointed looks in the crowd.

"How about I sign things for anyone who absolutely cannot come back another time and I'll spend more time tomorrow?" he offered. "That fair?"

The hum was positive and some of the people in the front started to move back to allow the folk with limited access to get to the front. Ronon stuck firmly by John's side and John handed him things to sign. Teyla eased around the crowd to locate Todd and the car.

"Thanks, everyone!" John waved to the crowd as they left. Teyla was in the back seat and Ronon pushed John into the middle so they could sit together.

"McKay's doing well, he had a secondary attack, which is to be expected I'm told," Todd let them know. "It wasn't serious, the docs pushed some fluids in him as a precaution and just want to keep him overnight for observation at this point. Ms Weir is still with him."

John wanted to sag in relief and appreciated Teyla's and Ronon's warm bodies on either side of him.

The ride to the hospital was relatively short and the staff let them in without too much hassle. Being near Broadway, they had to be used to dealing with celebrities and some unusual comings and goings.

Elizabeth greeted them at the door. "He's fine, and demanding to get out," she grinned at them. "The epi pen did the trick, John, that was good work."

"I knew he had the allergy," John admitted. "So I read up on what to do if... anything happened."

"Good thing, then," she agreed.

"Did he say anything about what happened?" John asked.

Elizabeth's face clouded over. "Mickey gave him the sandwich, implied it was from you," she said grimly. "The police are tracking Mickey down now since he's not at the theatre."

"Mickey may have been the source of many of our difficulties," Teyla put in. "We all know he has not been happy."

Elizabeth sighed. "I know, I know," she admitted. "But it was a favor to a friend and... well, I have to admit it was a mistake. Hopefully, we'll know more soon."

John finally ran out of patience. "Can I see him?" he demanded.

Elizabeth grinned at him knowingly. "Sure, go ahead," she stepped aside. "One at a time and don't wake him if he's asleep."

The lights were turned down but even in the twilight John could see how tired Rodney looked.

"Hey, you," Rodney said.

"Hey yourself," John said back with a hopeless smile on your face. "Scared the fuck out of me."

"Been there, done that," Rodney said wanly. "It's never fun."

"Don't even want to imagine," John said. He moved toward the bed. "You're really okay?"

"Okay enough that I'd kill to get out of here," Rodney replied. "Only tired and I can sleep better in my own bed."

"Will the doc let you go?" John asked.

"Probably not," Rodney admitted. "Not unless there's someone to keep an eye on me."

"Hold that thought," John said. "I'll be right back." He went back out into the hall.

"Teyla, Rodney needs someone to keep an eye on him tomorrow, when I need to be in the theatre," he said. "Do you know someone who'd be available to help out?"

"I'm sure I can find someone," Teyla replied. "Let me call my friends."

"Todd can pick them up and take them back," John said. "To keep the inconvenience to a minimum."

"It is not an inconvenience," Teyla said softly, "but the thought is appreciated."

"If you can't find anyone, Melia will do it," Ronon offered.

John laughed softly at the thought of Rodney at the mercy of the pregnant woman. "That's good, thanks," John said.

"If nothing else, we can hire a private nurse," Elizabeth put in. "I'm feeling more than faintly guilty about the entire thing, now that I know Mickey was involved."

"You three figure it out and let me know," John said. "I'll spring Rodney in the meantime."

John mentioned the private duty nurse option to the attending physician to help speed up the release process. It took a couple of hours but they soon had Rodney bundled into a wheelchair, heading toward the exit.

"You take Rodney home," Elizabeth directed. "I'll make sure Teyla and Ronon get home safely."

"You take care of yourself, too," John looked her in the eye.

She grinned. "Called my friends and they're sending someone for me," she said. "I'll be fine. You take care of him."

Todd discretely helped Rodney into the back of the car and John got in next to him. He put an arm around Rodney and said, "I've got you." Rodney leaned into him and closed his eyes.

The ride back to Rodney's took forever and lasted an instant. John reveled in Rodney so close to him, yet hated how this had come to be.

Todd waited until he got Rodney into the building. Rodney was barely awake and leaned against the wall next to the elevator while they waited for it to come. John got Rodney into the apartment and steered Rodney to the bathroom, hovering while Rodney peed and weakly ran a washcloth over his face.

"You can clean up better in the morning, after some sleep," John said. "You're all but asleep on your feet."

He helped Rodney strip down to a t-shirt and boxers and climb into bed.

"Night," John said softly as he left the room. He wanted nothing more than to curl up around Rodney and hold him. He padded back to his own room.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Rodney hated the day after an allergy attack. He had had just enough of them to know that. He hurt, the seizure causing muscle strain all over his body. The epinephrine made him alternately groggy and over-stimulated. He had a mother of a headache. It was like a huge hang-over, only without the fun of having been at a party.

John had left only when a friend of Teyla's named Halling had come to stay with him. John had taken the "someone should keep an eye on him" from the doctor seriously and had recruited help. Not that Rodney'd admit it out loud, but it was nice being taken care of.

Rodney was taking a shower when he heard the doorbell ring. He let Halling manage whoever was there, appreciating the chance to clean up properly. He put on clean clothes and went out to the kitchen.

"Carmela!" Rodney was surprised.

She came over and threw her arms around him. "Are you okay?" she asked, holding him at arm's length.

"I'm find now," he replied. "How..."

"John stopped by on his way to the theatre and asked to get some lunch delivered," she explained. "Figured I'd bring it myself."

"Thank you," he said. He sniffed the aroma in the air. "Is that your vodka sauce? And fresh bread?"

She dimpled. "Yes, and there's more than enough for you and your friend for lunch," she assured him. "John will be hungry tonight, too, I think. So there's plenty, just heat it up and make fresh pasta."

"I..." he was at a loss for words. "That was more than thoughtful," he admitted. "Thanks."

"I have to get back," she said. "But I wanted to check on you."

"You didn't have to do that!" he protested.

"It's nothing," she blushed.

It turned out Halling was Jinto's father, so Rodney had something they could talk about as the afternoon crept by. Being a Saturday, Torren was playing Tom of Warwick in tonight's production, where Jinto worked some of the week nights.

Halling asked about training for someone as young as Jinto – who had just turned thirteen – and Rodney was happy to share some suggestions. As well as to add some personal advice he wished he had when he was younger. Advice Jinto probably wouldn't listen to but Halling soaked it in.

When he was yawning over lunch, Rodney let Halling talk him into taking a nap. He knew it was best but it was frustrating to have to give in to it.

John's eyes lit up as he entered the apartment. "You're looking much better," he said.

"Anything's better than what I was twenty four hour ago," Rodney agreed. "You hungry?"

"Sure," John replied. "What you have?"

"Carmela sent plenty of vodka sauce, if you want pasta," Rodney offered.

John considered for a moment, "Kinda heavy for this time of night," he shook his head, "although I suspect it's delicious. You have hamburgers?"

"Frozen but they're good quality," Rodney suggested.

"That works," John agreed.

"What happened to Mickey?" Rodney had to ask.

John sighed. "Turns out to be something of a sociopath," he replied. "His real name is Michael Kenmore and he's actually distantly related to Elizabeth. A second or third cousin or something like that. It's only important because he thinks he was owed a role in a production Elizabeth was doing about five years ago in California, and she didn't even know he had auditioned, much less been rejected. He's been nursing a grudge ever since and blackmailed Elizabeth's friend into recommending him as her assistant. He actually wanted to be the one who 'found' you, so he could claim your role."

"That's... that's bizarre!" Rodney exclaimed.

"He's also the one behind the problems with the production," John went on. "He admitted to the missing call sheets, hoping he could get someone fired for not being at a rehearsal when they should be."

"And the vandalism to the costumes?" Rodney asked.

"That, too. But that seems to be sheer frustration that nothing was going his way," John shrugged.

"Wait! Daniel and Cam?" Rodney asked.

"That was sheer opportunity, evidently," John replied. "With both of them out, Mickey thought he'd surely have a chance at a lead. He never expected Elizabeth to reach out to someone like me as a replacement."

"Well, that part worked out well in the end," Rodney admitted.

John grinned at him.

"Okay, go clean up and I'll get the burgers started," Rodney pointed toward the bathroom. John went.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

John wasn't hovering. He told himself he wasn't hovering. He was just making sure Rodney was okay. Even after Halling's report that Rodney had taken it easy all day and seemed fine, it was hard to erase the memory of Rodney lying on the floor of his dressing room just yesterday.

"Sit down," Rodney sighed. Right. John was hovering.

"I...." John stuttered then took a deep breath. "What can I do to help?"

"Okay, get some plates and silverware out," Rodney pointed in the direction of a cabinet and drawer. "And do you want coffee or something else to drink?"

John shrugged. "Coffee's fine."

"Good," Rodney said. "Then coffee mugs are with the plates." He bustled over to the coffee maker and started organizing coffee.

John watched in fascination as Rodney ground coffee beans, got filtered water and put it together in the coffee maker that dominated that side of the kitchen. Rodney has set up coffee for them a couple of times but John had never had the chance to watch the entire process before.

"How much coffee does that thing make?" John asked, amused.

"It'll make fifty cups if I ever need," Rodney answered as he poured the ingredients together. "Never did that many but it makes great coffee. There is a smaller version but I was seduced by the thought of endless coffee."

"I'll bet," John replied with a laugh. He busied himself searching through the cabinets for plates and setting the table. It suddenly felt very domestic and warm, something John wasn't used to.

Rodney was putting the cheese on the burgers on the grill that was part of the stove when there was a buzzing noise.

"Has to be someone looking to get in," Rodney scowled. "Some of the other tenants figured out I'm up odd hours and buzz me if they've forgotten a key." He went to the speaker in the wall. "What?" he demanded.

"Rodney? Is that you?"

John knew that voice. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Rodney froze for a moment. "Jonas?"

"Yes. Let me in?"

Rodney threw John a look he couldn't interpret as he pressed the button that would let the visitor into the building. He turned the grill off and stared at the burgers for a moment, looking unsure about what to do. "He... Went away," Rodney offered. "Didn't expect him back."

John knew all about Jonas Quinn. He and Rodney had been lovers for a couple of years before Jonas had gone off to Australia with a production company that planned to tour there for at least a year. Jonas and Rodney had never been in a show together but their schedules had meshed for a long time. John had drawn the line at peering too closely into Rodney's personal life but he was pretty sure what Jonas had meant to Rodney.

All too soon there was a rap on the door and Rodney was moving to open it.

"Rodney!" Jonas said softly. "How are you?" He stepped closer to Rodney and John was perversely glad to see Rodney take half a step back before stopping. Rodney leaned in and gave Jonas a quick kiss before stepping away.

"Jonas," Rodney stuttered. "I... I wasn't expecting you back. I'm glad to see you. Come in."

Jonas looked at John and John stepped forward, holding out a hand, "John Sheppard."

"I... yes, a fan of yours," Jonas shook his hand. "Glad to meet you. Didn't know you and Rodney were... friends."

John shrugged easily. "Rodney was kind enough to offer me his spare room while we're doing Camelot. Nice to not have to live in a hotel."

John could see Jonas eyeing them speculatively and John had to resist moving closer to Rodney. To stake a claim, he realized. If he wasn't so worried about what would happen, he'd be amused at his own reaction.

"We're just getting something to eat," Rodney explained. "How about some coffee?"

Jonas laughed, "You still have that monstrosity?"

Rodney smiled back, "Yes, I do. Now, coffee?"

"Sure," Jonas agreed. "I'm not intruding or anything? I don't want to..."

"No," John broke in. He could do this. He could. "I just got in and Rodney's cooking some burgers. The coffee's already started. Join us."

"Thanks, then," Jonas answered.

John got another coffee mug from the cabinet as Rodney plated the burgers. They weren't quite awful, slightly overdone but John figured extra ketchup would fix that, Jonas declined one when Rodney offered and they sat around the table.

"How long are you in town for?" John tried for casual but wasn't sure he succeeded, he was suddenly desperate to know.

Jonas shrugged, "A while, I guess. Tour closed in Australia and my agent didn't have anything that I wanted to do available, so I thought I'd come back here and see if I could find something to do."

John wanted to groan but took a bite of his burger which was quickly turning to lead in his stomach.

"Do you have any leads?" Rodney asked.

"O'Neill's almost always looking for reliable help for the chorus at the Met," Jonas said. "He told me when I was leaving to let him know when I was back in town. And there's some regional work out on the Island that has promise. Other than that, though, nothing concrete." He looked at them both. "Tell me what you're doing now."

As Rodney went on happily about the show, the burger in John's stomach got heavier and heavier. He found himself looking at the last quarter of the burger in his hand and put it down on his plate. He couldn't do this. Not now.

"John?" Rodney's voice broke in. "You okay? Is the burger okay?"

Mentally shaking himself, John answered, "Fine, I'm fine. Just... not as hungry as I thought, I guess." He pushed the plate away.

Jonas cleared his throat, "My apologies, but... John, I'd like to talk to Rodney. In private. Do you mind?"

Hell, yes, I mind! But all John could say was, "No. I... I guess I'll call it a night." He looked at Rodney, knowing he was giving too much away but he couldn't hold it in right now. "I'll see you in the morning." He stood and nodded at Jonas, "Nice meeting you." He turned and went back to his bedroom.

John sat on the bed in the dark room, listening to the murmur of voices from the kitchen. He wasn't sure if he really wanted to know what Jonas and Rodney were talking about. He lay back on the bed, legs dangling over the side, not sure what to do. If he could do anything. The voices went on for what felt like a long time.

Rodney's footsteps came down the hall and stopped in front of his door. A light tap on the door and a hesitant, "John? You still awake?"

John ran a hand over his face and sighed. Now for the bad news. He got up and went to the door, "Yeah, still awake."

"I hate to ask..." Rodney started.

John closed his eyes for a moment. "No, it's okay. I understand," John forced himself to say. "I can go back to the Waldorf. Or someplace. It's okay."

"You. You are an idiot," Rodney huffed, "but we'll get back to that in a minute. Look at me."

John looked into clear, blue eyes and was lost.

"John," Rodney demanded with a touch of amusement, "I was going to ask if we could call Todd to take Jonas into Manhattan. He has a room there but it's late enough that the trains barely run every hour and a cab would take forever."

Todd? John was confused for a moment. "Oh, right," John found a couple of functional brain cells. "No problem, let me call and he can be here..." he looked at a clock and winced at the time, "in about 30 minutes. That work?"

"Perfect," Rodney answered and then glared at John. "Don't go to sleep yet, I think we have some talking to do."

"Right, I can do that," John babbled. "Let me call Todd..." He went back to the dresser and reached for his phone, hitting speed dial and watched as Rodney went back to the kitchen. Rodney had left the door open and the voices were louder but still indistinct. "Todd? Sorry, I know you probably just got to sleep but can you come back to Rodney's and take someone into the city for us? Don't know where he's supposed to go but Manhattan somewhere."

"Sure," Todd's steady voice assured him. "I'll make good time at this time of night, should be there in less than thirty minutes."

"Thanks, I owe you one," John replied gratefully. "Just ring the buzzer, Rodney'll send your passenger down to you."

John sat on the bed trying desperately to not watch the clock. He stared at the floor and listened to the murmur of voices that wafted into the room. Not soon enough, he heard the buzzer and the door open and close. It was quiet for a bit and then he heard the door again. Rodney must have escorted Jonas to the car.

Then he was in the door, standing there.

Rodney sighed and came into the room. He sat on the bed next to John, John wanted to lean into the warmth that radiated from the other man but he resisted. Rodney thought they should talk.

Rodney cleared his throat, "You okay?"

John gave a laugh that was probably closer to a sob. "Think so." He gave in to gravity and leaned against Rodney, who leaned back.

"He left, over a year ago," Rodney started softly. "He did kind of ask if I wanted to go with him but I'm pretty sure he didn't mean it. I had a production at the Met I was obligated to, along with the Chicago Lyric Opera a couple months later. He knew I couldn't go. But the first I knew anything about it was when he was packing to leave, to catch a plane early the next morning." Rodney was quiet for a minute. "I kissed him and let him go. The next week, when I went to pack up the things he left behind, I didn't find anything meaningful. A couple of paperback books, some CDs, some clothes that had been in the laundry. He had taken everything with him or had already packed it up. I gave the books and CDs to the local library and the clothes to the Salvation Army."

"Sorry," John whispered.

"I'm sorry you had to go through that," Rodney countered. "I... you... you mean a lot to me and you're a part of my life... one I don't want to give up."

John dared to reach for Rodney's hand, intertwining their fingers. "I don't want to give you up, either," John said.

"John?" Rodney asked.

Daring greatly, John turned his face toward Rodney and leaned in for a kiss. The kiss a week ago was still burned in his memory... he wanted...

Rodney leaned in and kissed him back. Then it was hot, demanding... Rodney's free hand was wresting him onto his back. John went easily, wrapping himself about Rodney.

"Skin..." Rodney panted. "I want..."

"Yeah," John agreed fervently. "Touch..."

John didn't want to let go but had to in order to take his clothes off. It wasn't long before they were both naked and John felt Rodney's skin against his.

Just the touch of skin-on-skin was exciting. It had been too long since John had been touched like this and the skin-hunger was overwhelming. Rodney's hands roved over his body, touching him everywhere. Then Rodney reached between them to wrap a warm hand around both their cocks. John all but groaned at the feeling of silk and steel next to and around his own cock. Rodney's grip was firm, stroking from root to crown, John watched in fascination as the heads of the cocks appeared and disappeared in Rodney's hand. Before he knew it, he was coming, and coming hard. Rodney came just after him.

They panted together, John touching what parts of Rodney he could reach. Kissing softly.

"Move over... there..." Rodney directed, pulling the bedding out from underneath John and pulled it over them. He wrapped an arm about John's waist and pillowed his head on John's shoulder. "Sleep."

John did.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Waking up wrapped about John Sheppard was something Rodney had never thought about. Now that he was here, he wanted to spend the rest of his life doing this. For someone he had only met two weeks ago, that was a very scary thought.

Rodney kissed John's shoulder and got up to go to the bathroom to take care of his bladder. He used John's toothbrush to deal with the morning breath.

He found John awake when he got back to the bedroom.

"Go piss," Rodney directed. "Then I want to do some perfectly filthy things to you."

John leaned up briefly, giving a quick kiss. "With you," he agreed.

Rodney crawled back into the bed, enjoying the warm spot John had just vacated. It wasn't long before John was back, crawling over the bed toward him.

"I believe I was promised some filthy things," John's eyes danced.

"When we have time, I want to spend the day fucking you until you don't even know your own name," Rodney began. The way John's eyes dilated told Rodney he was on the right track. "But right now, I want to taste you."

"Only if I can do the same thing," John shot back.

Rodney's cock jumped at the idea. "I suspect I can let you do that," Rodney leaned in for a longer kiss. He could get used to this, kissing John Sheppard, long mornings naked in bed together...

"Stay there," John directed. He twisted around and then wriggled so that they were in position to have access to each other.

Rodney leaned in and flicked his tongue at the end of John's cock. It jumped slightly at the contact, and the taste of slightly bitter and salty exploded in his mouth. He tongued the end of John's cock gently, using one hand to hold it in place.

He tried to ignore the feeling of his own cock in John's mouth. John had taken the end of his cock in his mouth and the feeling of warmwetsuction engulfed him. He drew his own focus back to pleasuring John.

John's cock was as pretty as John was. Long and lean, a pretty shade of pink, except for the head, which was deep maroon. Rodney flicked his tongue around the length, easing his hand down the shaft, moving to John's balls. He nuzzled into the space between the cock and the balls, inhaling a scent that was pure John.

Rodney moved back up the shaft and finally took John in his mouth. John's hips flexed slightly, which Rodney knew was as much instinct as intent. He placed his free hand on John's hip, to hold him steady, as he took in more of John's cock. The plump head brushed the back of his throat and Rodney held it there for a moment.

Moving again, Rodney focused on the length in his mouth. He loved the feel and weight of cock in his mouth and he knew he'd had time... years... to get to know the taste and feel of John. The true level of that knowledge stunned him in a way he had not thought possible. The rightness of that thought surged through his body and suddenly he felt himself coming.

A deep breath to steady himself and Rodney focused on John. He moved the hand on John's hip around to John's ass, reached into the cleft and – sucking John in completely – brushed gently against John's hole. That had John coming down his throat in an instant.

He licked John clean as he felt John do something similar for him. Then he tugged, "Come up here," he commanded. John swung around so they were both facing each other.

Rodney leaned in for a kiss. He settled in and they wrapped their arms around each other.

"We have time for a nap," John commented.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“John, talk to me.” Rodney’s voice was implacable yet held an overtone of pleading. But the arms holding him down were warm. If he put Rodney off, he’d never ask again but it would always be something between them. Tired of the pretense, John went for honesty.

“I.....” he dropped a kiss on the top of Rodney’s head. “You were amazing, even then. I didn’t know you, didn’t know what happened but you were the first person I knew that ever stood up to my father. You made him so mad, we all tip-toed around him for days. Even my mother was careful around him and we never knew him to deny her anything.” John remembered the strained silence and the bad performances that occurred over the next week.

"Your father wanted me to join the group but I had to go back into the closet," Rodney admitted. "Recant being gay, as if it was a mistake I had made. As desperate as I was for work at that moment, that was something I knew I'd regret. I wasn't even in a relationship at that point but I knew going back wasn't going to happen."

“Knowing that someone could successfully say No to my father changed my life,” John went on. “He had no reason to be happy with me since Dave had already caught me with one of the stage hands and had quickly run off to Father to tattle. Dave had always thought I was the favorite and it was his way of trying to replace me. Father was more worried about the Family image than about whether I was happy or not.” John didn’t recount the yelling, both his and his Father’s, that went on. His Mother had tried to calm them both down and even now John seriously regretted how he treated her when he thought she had taken his father’s side against him.

“Nancy was a mistake I regretted almost instantly,” John offered, concentrating on his breathing while trying to speak calmly about his ex-wife. “It was before you and well, I was trying to do something to make my father happy. Thought I could be... okay with it. But we never got away from the family, we got married on a tour and that didn’t help. It wasn’t the spectacle it could have been but it was too public and the press was involved all the way along. Maybe things would have been different if we had time alone....” Nancy had been the innocent in all of this. John suspected she really was in love with him and he never could reciprocate. After his first tour with his own band, he had Laura find him a lawyer to handle the paperwork and Nancy hadn’t contested the divorce.

“I saw the Family through the current engagement after that argument. I was considered an adult by then and had to sign a contract with the Family, mostly as a sop to the unions,” John said. “Then I left.” He hadn’t taken much, only a couple of changes of clothes that fit into one bag, didn’t say anything to anyone, just called a cab and took the first flight out. It went to Chicago, of all places. “I used my credit card until it quit three days later, I assume my Father cancelled it, or one of his people, which was like two days more than I thought I’d get.” John didn’t tell Rodney of the alternating feelings of panic and liberation that he went through for the first days. Then he realized he would start to run out of money soon and needed a job. He had withdrawn as much cash as the card would give him and had used the credit card to pay for the room for a month, which luckily wasn’t cancelled by the credit card company, but he didn’t have that much cash and needed to eat. He couldn’t touch the trust fund from his grandmother until he was 30 without his father’s cooperation, even then he knew he’d need a lawyer to get at the money there.

“Knowing nothing but music, I scouted around for a good neighborhood bar and offered to play piano for tips,” John recounted. “The manager recognized me and grilled me pretty good but agreed to give me a chance. That was the best year of my life. It was pretty hand-to-mouth but the bar owner put a good word in for me to a friend who was looking for a keyboard person for a band.” He shrugged slightly. “The fact that I could carry a tune was an advantage.”

Rodney did snort at that. “Carry a tune, ha!” John could feel Rodney roll his eyes.

“The rest of that is history,” John said. The small band realized almost immediately that John was out of their league and quickly made him their reluctant leader. In turn, he taught them everything he knew. The drummer turned out to have a wicked skill with creating lyrics and they started turning out their own songs. Taking advantage of his Sheppard name, John had gotten them a big-time agent, Laura Cadman, who had them recording demo records and doing gigs in bigger and bigger venues. Laura had made some amazing deals and before he knew it, “John Sheppard and Friends” had become a hugely successful pop band.

“As soon as I could, I started following your career,” John admitted. “I was... obsessed, you could say. I followed all your performances and went to all of them I could. You were the reason I left the Family, my family. For a long time I really didn't even admit to myself what I was doing but I pretty much was stalking you. We traveled in different circles and I never had any chance to really just run into you. The longer I waited before trying to contact you made it harder to take that first step." John hid his obsession about Rodney from just about everyone although he suspected Laura had a good guess. But as time went on he was also faintly embarrassed by the depth of the obsession and it held him back from contacting Rodney when he could have. "When Laura told me that Elizabeth wanted me for this production, with you, I was almost afraid to take it. I didn't want to scare you off with my obsession.”

John stopped, afraid of what Rodney might say. That he might leave. John held his breath, heart breaking as Rodney stayed still and silent. He closed his eyes, waiting for the rejection that he was sure was going to come. He didn’t know how they’d work together, John steeled himself to the pain of seeing Rodney at performances and then never again.

“Ten years?” Rodney asked. “You waited ten years to talk to me?” Rodney stirred and looked up at John, looked into his eyes. John tried to shut the pain out but he wasn’t quick enough.

“You idiot,” Rodney whispered, eeling up John’s body, skin brushing against skin. Rodney leaned in, pressing their lips together. John opened to Rodney’s mouth, losing himself in the warmth, welcoming the weight that held him down. “We could have been doing this for years!”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

That night's show was even more special, Rodney could feel John's eyes following him everywhere. He hoped his impatience for the show to be over so he could be naked again with John didn't bleed over into his performance.

He knew he hadn't hid it completely when Teyla stopped into his dressing room at intermission.

"You are good for him," she announced.

"What! I..." he sputtered. "Really?"

"Yes," she said firmly. "There is a level of tension that I do not think even he knew was there that is now gone."

Rodney grinned at her. "I feel the same way," he said softly.

She grinned back. Then said seriously, "Although do not think I will not search for you if you ever hurt him."

Rodney held up his hands in mock surrender. "I'll try not to!" It was, he surprised himself, a promise he hoped to keep.

But it was John who surprised him completely after the show.

While they were signing autographs together, a voice from the crowd asked, "Rodney how are you feeling?"

"Happy!" Rodney smiled at John before he realized that the question really was about his allergic reaction the day before and not about his love life. "I'm fine, nothing to worry about," he tried to quickly correct himself.

"Happy? Is there something you want to share?" John teased from his side.

Rodney fought the blush and shrugged. "Just... happy and glad to be alive."

John handed him the next thing to sign – the playbill from the show -- and after Rodney scrawled his name on the cover, John took the playbill from him and handed it back to the woman waiting for it.

"Just happy?" John asked, moving so he was in front of Rodney.

"You really going to do this here?" Rodney asked, trying to give John an out if he needed it.

"Best place to do this, I think," John glanced at the crowd around him. "Right, ladies?"

There was a small squeal from somewhere in the crowd – someone had understood what was about to happen.

"Kiss me, Arthur," John murmured against his lips.

Ignoring the flashing cameras going off around them, Rodney put a hand on John's shoulder to bring him closer.

"Just happy doesn't begin to describe it," Rodney allowed with a silly grin on his face.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Epilog

"John?" Rodney felt John stiffen next to him and in the same instant recognized the voice.

They both turned to face the couple that had come up behind them, Rodney moving closer to John instinctively.

"Father." John's acknowledgment was flat, giving nothing away.

Rodney recognized John's mother, looking worried, standing just behind her husband. John looked so much like his father, Rodney could see how John would look in another twenty years. Time had not been quite so good to his mother, up close he could see the effects of aging that distance and good makeup usually hid.

"Congratulations. You've done well," Patrick Sheppard said, sounding sincere.

John reached out and Rodney automatically took his hand, intertwining their fingers. "We've done well," John said softly.

Patrick flushed, glancing at their clasped hands, at the wedding ring on John's left hand, but Rodney had to give him credit for looking John in the eye. "Yes, you've both done well," he answered roughly.

"John? How are you?" Eleanor Sheppard asked quickly. As if she wanted to get the question out before she could be stopped.

John's fingers tightened on Rodney's, the only sign he gave of the agitation he was feeling.

"I'm doing fine," he told her baldly. At the sign of tears in her eyes, his voice softened. "I'm fine. We're happy."

"Good." A whisper. A blessing.

"I... we have to go," John said. "They want.... something."

"Interview," Rodney prompted him.

"Right, thanks," he smiled briefly at Rodney. "Sorry, we have to go."

They turned to go.

"John? Call me?" his mother's voice pleaded.

John stopped but didn't turn. "I.... I don't know if I can." A deep sigh. "Maybe." He looked over his shoulder, "Give Laura a number I can reach you at. But.... no promises."

"Thank you," she said softly.

Rodney pulled John into a fortunately empty meeting room then wrapped his arms about him. John clung to him for a moment and breathed heavily on his shoulder. "Thanks," he mumbled into Rodney's shoulder.

Rodney just held him tightly until he had his breathing under control.

"Hey," Rodney said gently. "You okay?"

"No, not really," John laughed mirthlessly. Another deep breath. "But I'll live."

"Good," Rodney replied. "We have a press thing to do."

"Oh, god," John moaned. "Shoot me now."

Rodney laughed, "No, I'm not doing this interview and photo shoot alone." Then he asked seriously, "You ready?"

John brought Rodney back into a hug, "No, but l know. Let's go."

When they came back into the corridor, Rodney was glad that there was no sign of the elder Sheppards. He knew John was holding it together but it also wouldn't take much to push him over the edge. He and John went to the obvious media room where they were greeted warmly. Laura Cadman came rushing in a minute later and sighed patiently, "There you are."

Rodney watch John put on his public persona as they sat in the chairs provided for the interview. In pretending to adjust the chair to be comfortable, Rodney managed to move it closer to John, so he could reach out and touch if he needed. Cameras flashed as they settled into place.

The pretty young lady that was the interviewer, Rodney had forgotten her name as soon as someone had said it to him, sat opposite them. "Congratulations to you both," she started.

"Thank you," John answered with a nod.

"I'm told that while your tie for Best Actor in a Musical isn't the first tie for a Tony, it is the first tie in the Best Actor Category and it is the first time we have a married couple as winners," she pointed out.

Rodney grinned, "We were honored just to be nominated, to have both of us win was not anything we had considered."

"You did plan to pout if I won and you didn't," John teased.

"I did not!" Rodney retorted.

John just smiled at him and Rodney had to smile back. Rodney could see the cameras flashing at them.

"What are your plans, now that Camelot has ended its run?" the woman asked.

Rodney looked at John and gave a nod.

"Well, you're the first to know that Rodney will be joining the next tour of the Friends band," John announced. "We're working on blending his operatic background into the style of the band and we think the results will be more than interesting."

"How exciting," the woman chirped. "When do you expect that tour to start?"

"At this point, we estimate in about six months," Rodney answered. "We have to tie up some loose ends here in New York and we're still working on new material." He shrugged. "No longer than that, is the plan."

John did reach out then to hold Rodney's hand. "However long it takes."