Summary: Laundry. It's boring, but it has to be done. However, when one brings John Sheppard along, it's not quite so mind-numbingly dull. Especially once John realizes Rodney is doing Radek's laundry. Part of "The Bar" AU.
Author's note: With the exception of the intro story, "The Bar," I've tried to go with a theme of song-titles for all the tales in this series. This one is no exception. I swear it's a real song.
(Lyrics can be found here: http://lyricsplayground.com/alpha/songs/l/leaderofthelaundromat.shtml)
"...but the scary thing is, it just occurred to me the other day--I spend more time cleaning his toilet than my own!" Rodney McKay gestured widely to make his point with one arm as he reached for the laundry pile ahead of him with the other.
John Sheppard looked up from his own pile of laundry, an 'I don't believe you just said that' expression on his face. "Okay, Rodney--even though I know you're talking about your cat, there are some things about you I did not need to know. That's one of them." He snorted. "That's why I have a dog. No litter boxes to clean."
"No, you just have to walk them, take them outside every time they have to go, pick the shit up while you're out there...." Rodney shrugged. "Too much work for me, too needy."
"Chance isn't needy," John insisted. "He's loyal. Affectionate."
"Alfred is affectionate." Rodney looked at the shirt he'd picked up, deciding it could be safely folded rather than requiring a hanger--which was good, as he'd forgotten to bring any with him. "He sleeps with me at night. I think it's nice."
"You're warm," John pointed out.
"Which is probably why your dog sleeps with you," Rodney countered. He spotted the signature Canadian maple leaf on one of the shirts lying on the folding table and snatched it up. Though their laundry was mixing, as both he and John had dumped their respective laundry on the same table, their tastes in clothing were different enough that it was easy to tell what belonged to who. Most of the time, anyhow. Rodney frowned at the t-shirt as he actually read it. "Canada--America's Hat?" With that, he balled the shirt up and lobbed it at John's head. "I believe that must belong to you."
John snickered as he retrieved the shirt from where it had bounced off him and fallen to the floor. "I thought of you the moment I saw it, Rodney."
"Are you implying that I'm toppy?" Rodney asked cheerfully. "Because, really, I'm more of a switch."
John nearly choked on the Mountain Dew he'd stepped away to drink. "Okay, that was just way too much information. Remember those things about you I didn't need to know? Your sex life way outranks litter box cleaning." Finishing off the can--he'd only had about half of it left--he squeezed it in the middle to crush it and chucked it into the nearest trash can.
Rodney made a self-satisfied humming noise. He loved drawing those sort of reactions out of John. They always had the most interesting conversations when they were stuck at the laundromat together. There was something about being held captive in a too-warm, soap-scented room that drove them to poke at each other even more than usual. "Oh, come on, a little detail isn't going to kill you."
"You keep providing it when I'm drinking, it might," John shot back.
Rodney snorted. "Talk about undignified ways to die."
John nodded, his expression one of amused agreement. "Right up there with autoerotic asphyxiation."
"I don't know," Rodney mused. "I think that one would be kind of cool."
John laughed. "You would. Radek might not think so."
"Yeah, the whole 'me being dead' part of it would suck," Rodney agreed, "but think about it. I mean, people are always saying they want to go out doing something they love. I'm quite fond of sex. Especially sex with Radek." He could have left if there, but opted to go for the gold, because, really, he couldn't let that whole "America's Hat" t-shirt slide entirely. A thing like that called for careful, subtle revenge. "He does this thing with his tongue--"
John cut him off. "Again, things I don't need to know."
Rodney was undeterred, probably because there wasn't anyone around to keep him on a leash. Poking at John was fun. "Relax. You guys are friends already; it's not like the next time you see him, all you're going to be able to think is, 'This guy has licked my friend's nipples.'" He really wished John still had the Mountain Dew, because that one might have earned a spit-take.
As it was, the expression on John's face left Rodney longing for a camera. "You really are trying to kill me, aren't you? I swear I'm gonna get Radek to cut off your web comic subscriptions."
Rodney grabbed an inside-out t-shirt and began to reverse it so that he could see which of them it belonged to. Once he glanced at the wording, it was obviously John's. "This, from a man who owns a Muff Diving Championship t-shirt?"
"'No muff too tough; we dive at five,'" John quoted with a cheeky grin, echoing the rest of the t-shirt's slogan.
"Because that just reeks of class." Rodney dropped the shirt onto the top of John's pile now that they had gotten enough clothes off the table for the piles to be slightly more defined. "And the fact that you even caught that web comic reference tells me you're way more of a geek than you pretend to be." Not that this was news.
"You know me; I'm all about the class." John chose to ignore the latter half of Rodney's comments entirely and picked up a chocolate-colored sweater, examining it. "This is so not you."
Rodney snatched it away from him, rolling his eyes. "That's 'cause it's not mine. It's Radek's."
"You're doing his laundry?"
"I'm washing a sweater," Rodney insisted. "He left it at my place, all right? It's not like I've got his underwear collection, as tempting as holding it hostage might be." Just one or two pairs of boxers, and John didn't have to know about those, since they blended in fairly well with the rest of Rodney's clothes.
"Hmm, so he's leaving stuff at your place now." John grinned. "Toothbrush?"
"Well, yeah, for when he spends the night," Rodney said, using a tone that suggested it should have been obvious--because, really, it should have. John probably had a stash of toothbrushes in apartments all across the city.
"And, presumably, you keep one at his place?" At Rodney's nod, John's grin widened. "You leave other stuff there too?"
"I'm sure I've left something," Rodney allowed. "Where are you going with this?"
John chuckled to himself. "You may not be doing his laundry yet, but you are so close."
Rodney rolled his eyes again. "He can do his own damned laundry."
"I'm serious." John gave Rodney that look, the one which meant he was totally convinced he was right. "You may not realize it, but you're just steps away from the laundry stage."
Rodney cast a dubious glance in John's direction. "There's a laundry stage?"
John nodded. "Oh, yeah. Stages of relationships. First it's the standing date stage, where you assume you're doing something together when you're both free unless one of you says you're not. You're way past that." Rodney nodded slowly, seeing no reason to pretend that wasn't true. "Then there's the toothbrush stage, where you are now."
"When you leave a toothbrush for those overnight stays?" Rodney guessed.
"Exactly. Then there's the laundry stage, when you do each other's laundry." Pure mischief lurked in John's hazel eyes. "Then you're dead meat, because right after the laundry stage is moving in and, of course, that's when permanent commitment starts to come up."
"Are you telling me to get out while I still can?" Rodney asked. The idea of permanent commitment made him a little nervous, but considering that it would be with Radek took some of the edge off.
John shook his head. "Oh, no, no. I mean, if you were me, yeah, but you're you and he's him, so no."
"I'm not even going to pretend that made sense." Rodney should have known better than to expect coherent long-term relationship advice from one of Manhattan's most confirmed bachelors, even if John had been the one who set him and Radek up. "Just because you run scared the first time a box of tampons shows up under your bathroom sink...."
John snorted, retrieving the socks from his laundry pile and dropping them all in the trash bag that was serving as his laundry basket. "You say that like it's happened to you."
Rodney shrugged. "I don't have to shop in the store to know what the merchandise is like. There are freaky guy-commitment signs too, you know."
"Really?" John sounded genuinely interested, but that wasn't surprising. He often used Rodney as an information source to fulfill his curiosity for what life on the other side of sexuality was like. Especially since Rodney wasn't a flamer by nature and could therefore in John's mind be counted upon for a more "normal" perspective on things. Normal being a relative concept, of course.
"Oh, yeah," Rodney confirmed. "Different toiletries, same concept."
"I guess that makes sense." John let that hang in the air for a full two seconds before following up with, "So does this mean you actually have aftershave in your bathroom now?"
Rodney actually managed to locate two socks that looked like they remotely could go together, balled them up, and bounced the sock-ball off the side of John's head. He was rather proud of himself when he managed to catch it on the rebound. "I shave!" he protested, tossing the socks into his laundry bag. "Just not every day." The scruffy musician look had worked well for him over the past few years and he saw no reason to give it up now. "Besides, Radek likes the scruff."
"And the unsuspecting lamb trots happily toward the waiting laundry," John intoned, affecting a ridiculously fake British accent.
Rodney looked up from where he was collecting the rest of his socks, the ones that the dryer gnomes had apparently rejected. They were all white, which helped, but they were varying lengths. Fortunately, no one would notice under his jeans. "Okay, first of all, stop mixing your metaphors. And, secondly, your accent sucks. And third--since when is caring about how the person I'm dating likes my look mean anything? People do it all the time."
"People also move in together all the time," John pointed out.
This was an argument Rodney wasn't winning anytime soon, he knew, and the scary part was, he wasn't sure he wanted to be proven wrong. He had spent years as a confirmed bachelor in his own way, perhaps not quite so enthusiastic in his pursuit of companionship as John could be, but at the same time, Rodney didn't go into things looking to settle down. And yet, here he was, contemplating what it might be like to take that step and it only unnerved him a little. He'd been expecting complete freak-out when that came up, really. Was it possible that the death of his single status, upgrading from "dating" to "committed," could be something he might possibly be looking forward to, a tiny bit? He definitely needed to get out of the laundromat and breathe some air that wasn't "Summer Breeze Fresh."
John was grinning like a jackal, obviously taking Rodney's lack of a response to mean he'd won this round. "You are so dead."
"Probably," Rodney admitted. "Though I suppose I should be grateful that no one's going to be bugging us about when we're going to make it legal." He still thought it was stupid, but it would stop annoying questions at least.
"There's always Canada," John told him, tying his laundry bag shut.
There was indeed. But that was best contemplated later. Especially since Rodney still had no idea how Radek felt about any of this. At least he was sure to find the John Sheppard Stages of Relationships amusing.
Rodney hoisted his bag into his arms, grateful John had a car--which was why they usually did their laundry together. Hauling laundry back and forth to the laundromat on the subway was doable, but it was a bitch, and the laundry room in Rodney's building only had two washers and one dryer, which always seemed to be in use. After shoving the bag in the back seat of John's Pontiac, Rodney crossed around to the front passenger's seat and climbed in, noting smugly that the parking meter had exactly thirty-eight seconds left on it. "See, I told you the meter wouldn't need more change."
John raised his eyebrows at Rodney before turning the key in the ignition. "You are so not allowed to change the subject. He owns you."
"Assuming you don't mean that in the gaming sense, yeah, he probably does," Rodney admitted. "But I own him, too, so we're even. And I can totally kick his ass at Frogger."
"Ah, true love, when you can dodge traffic with your honey," John teased.
"And watch him get his pixilated ass nailed every time." Rodney waited. Expecting the general lack of reaction from John--it hadn't been that funny, after all--Rodney took the analogy to the next level. "And then haul him to the bedroom to nail his decidedly non-pixilated aaaaaaaaaa--hey!" Rodney cut off suddenly as John thwapped him upside the head. "Watch the road, hmm? You can go all Three Stooges on me later." He didn't miss John's anticipatory grin. "What are you up to?" No reply, just a slight widening of the lopsided smile that suggested John was up to no good. "John? John!"
John tried to shrug it off casually, and not very successfully at that. "You'll see."
Coming from John, those could be two of the most dangerous words in the English language. Rodney knew he was a dead man.
Life happened, as it always did, and Rodney never quite got around to sitting Radek down and having that discussion about their future. Which was fine, really, because things were comfortable and there was really no reason to push it, and Rodney rather thought there was an unspoken agreement between them to let things go where there were going to go and simply enjoy the ride.
However, Rodney should have known better than to let his guard down around John. Despite the ease with which the man pulled an innocent expression, complete with doe eyes, he could be evil and generally should not have been left unsupervised in public as far as Rodney was concerned. And Rodney really should have known better than to leave John alone in his apartment while he dashed down the hall to get the mail. He had been gone all of two minutes and he figured it would be fine.
Two minutes, however, was more than enough time for John to pull something. As Rodney discovered when he ducked under his bathroom sink one afternoon to retrieve the cat litter he kept there. The cat litter was there, all right, but placed strategically in front of it was a distinctly pink box. Playtex Gentle Glide. The super-absorbent ones, even.
To his credit, Rodney refrained from immediately pulling out his cell phone and threatening John's life. He simply put the box aside, got out the cat litter, and proceeded to finish what he'd been doing. Alfred immediately hopped in the clean litter to inspect it, started digging through it enthusiastically, and apparently satisfied, hopped out. Rodney chuckled and bent down to scritch his ears on the way to the sink to wash his hands, because while Alfred might not have been the brightest of animals, he provided plenty of entertainment.
Rodney dried his hands on his jeans and then grabbed his cell phone. He hit the speed-dial for John's number and waited.
"Hey, Scooby," John answered cheerfully. He must have glanced at the caller ID.
It was an old joke between them, and Rodney was glad there was no one around they had to explain it too, because their friends usually asked and it always seemed to be one of those "you had to be there" stories. "Oh, don't try that Scooby shit. You are such an ass."
"I take it you found my present."
"Yes, I did," Rodney said, "and what the hell do you propose I do with an economy pack of tampons?"
"Give them to Teyla?" John suggested.
"Riiiiiiight." Rodney managed to keep from providing John the satisfaction of laughing out loud, but it was close. "That'd be another entry on the Undignified Ways to Die list."
"What?" John asked, feigning innocence. Rodney could picture him doing the puppy-dog eyes and all. "She's a practical lady. I'm sure she'd appreciate it."
"Mmm-hmm." Rodney shook his head. "We'll ignore the entire aspect of how giving a woman something like that suggests you think she needs them, which suggests you think she's on her period, which comes with all those bitchy 'time of the month' stereotypes. Just...no."
John snorted. "So give them to Ronon."
"You really are trying to get me killed, aren't you?"
"Hey," John protested, "it'd save him a trip to the store when she does need the damned things and asks him to pick up a box."
This time, Rodney couldn't even blame the bizarre quality of this conversation on the laundromat environment, unless all that soap-fume inhalation over the years had left John permanently warped. Which he probably was, just not due to that. "Again with the stereotypes. Sure, they're roommates, but I think Teyla buys her own damned supplies. And that's so the first thing Ronon's going to think of before he kills me."
The conversation might have gone further downhill if not for Radek's timely arrival. "Hello, Rodney," he called as he shut the door behind him and stooped to pet Alfred, who was taking his guard-cat duty seriously.
"I am not even bothering to talk to you anymore," Rodney told John. "Radek's here and I can think of much better uses of my time with him around."
"Yeah, you'd probably better go let him in," John agreed.
"He's already in."
"You don't lock your door?"
"He has a key."
"A key!" John sounded entirely too gleeful.
"Yes, a key," Rodney echoed. "What about it?"
"I have two words for you," John replied. "Laundry. Stage. You'll be living together before the end of the year."
Rodney wasn't going to waste his time with a proper response. "Good night, Cookie," he said as he hung up, using the stupid nickname he used any time John called him Scooby. It was a line from a song, actually--I'm the root of all that's evil, but you can call me Cookie. Rodney figured it was appropriate enough, especially considering that "Scooby" was less creatively inspired and more based on the fact that the two of them might have possibly ended up watching a Scooby Doo marathon together while drunk once. He tucked the cell phone back into his pocket and headed into the living room to greet Radek. "Hey."
"Hello," Radek repeated, regarding Rodney with a particularly amused expression.
"If this is about the tampons, don't ask."
Radek blinked. "Tampons?"
Obviously, Radek hadn't seen them. "Yeah, John's an ass." Rodney grinned and moved in to steal a quick kiss.
Radek returned the kiss readily, but then pulled back to frown at Rodney in continued confusion. "Tampons?"
"I'll explain later." Rodney grabbed Radek's hand, guiding him toward the couch. "Right now, I've got other plans for you." He sat on the couch and pulled Radek down to join him, shoving aside a shirt that had been draped over the couch arm.
Belatedly realizing the shirt was Radek's, Rodney couldn't help but wonder if there was anything to this strange laundry theory of John's after all. Maybe they would be living together soon, and as big a step as that would be for them, Rodney couldn't find it in him to fight it. After all, if it ended in having Radek around for opportunistic make out sessions that much more often, could it possibly be a bad thing?
He was still going to kill John later, though. Just on principle.