Warnings: Uh. None that I'm aware of? Except if you count the fact that this is switching genres about halfway through.
Prompt: Regular AU #55: Rodney McKay is a maligned scientist, kicked out of his cushy post at a leading university. When no other school will hire him, he falls back on his high school hobby--inventing simple items to help around the house. The problem is, his abrasive personality makes selling his brilliant inventions hard. Enter John Sheppard, king of late night infomercials. John's sure his good looks and charm can help sell Rodney's products, but first they'll have to sell John to Rodney...
Author's Notes: I know next to nothing about the production of television shows, let alone home shopping. And I'll admit I couldn't be bothered to do any in-depth research (I may have been a little close to the deadline when writing this *coughs*), so this is very likely to contain errors. Let's all pretend that in this alternate universe, TV production works that way. A huge thanks to houseinrlyeh, smuffster, thisissirius and broet_chan for the proofreading and pointing out of embarrassing errors. Any remaining mistakes are
Cover by smuffster
When Rodney had walked away from his academic circles-
Well, no. When Rodney had been unfairly kicked out of his academic circles because of differences in opinion with, oh, just about everyone, he'd never thought he'd find himself in the electronic retailing business. Rodney was to home shopping as most cats were to leashes: they didn't really work all that well together. However, he was also a scientist and therefore perfectly able to analyse a trend, and judging from the corresponding channels popping up left, right and center, home shopping wasn't just a trend, it was the trend. Besides, there was also the matter of Rodney's financial situation.
He wasn't exactly poor, but he also wasn't rich enough to spend the rest of his life watching TV and indulging the cat, not to mention that he really wasn't the type to just sit around doing nothing. So he needed a job, and when it became clear that no school or university or private research facility or government project would hire him, he'd figured he might as well fall back on his high school hobby and invent simple items to help around the house. He'd tinkered around now and then to distract himself from particularly stubborn equations, so there was a whole stack of little helpers stuffing his closet.
Besides, apart from theoretical astrophysical research and teaching, inventing was more or less all Rodney could do, and he was getting a little desperate. Not that he was about to admit that, even to himself.
Home shopping TV had seemed like the fastest way to ensure a regular income, but Rodney had early on run into an unexpected problem. Naturally, he had planned to introduce his inventions himself and not risk further humiliation by having some dim-witted would-be actor screw up their presentation. As Brian Cowen from Genii Industries Ltd. had put it, though, no one was going to risk a deal by putting a man in front of the cameras who had no prior experience in the electronic retailing business. Other companies had expressed very similar sentiments, occasionally also commenting on Rodney's somewhat abrasive personality.
Yet here he was, sitting in an obviously expensive visitor's chair, facing the CEO of PegasusTV. Dr. Weir was taller than he'd expected, slender, with reddish-brown hair that fell in slight curls just over her shoulders. She was attractive, if one liked the type – or women in general - and she was willing to give Rodney a chance.
Right now, she was flashing him a professional smile. "I took the liberty of having a proposal prepared. If you would like to take a look?"
Rodney nodded and she handed him a thin stack of papers. He skimmed the numbers. Shared production costs, dividing of profits according to sales, licensing of his patents for an allotted time, sales prognosis according to market developments over the last few years… the figures seemed solid, promising him a good sum of money over time. All for simply turning a hobby into a job.
Nodding again, Rodney carefully restacked the papers and handed them back to Dr. Weir, asking the question that was foremost on his mind. "And I will present my inventions myself?"
"Yes," Weir agreed, and Rodney barely suppressed a relieved grin, settling for a satisfied little smile instead. "Together with a partner."
What? Partner? Rodney's smile froze as he tried to process that startling bit of news. There had never been any talk of a partner. He didn't want a partner. He was bad with partners. Partners meant working harder to pick up their slack and watching one's tongue lest he wanted to be called 'petty, arrogant, and bad with people'. Rodney was a genius and had early on learned how to deal with insults, but even he had his limits. And he simply had to admit that he was awkward at best when it came to teamwork.
Except Dr. Weir, oblivious to Rodney's inner tumult, was already reaching for the intercom. "Laura, would you please send John in now?"
"Yes, Dr. Weir," the tinny voice of her secretary replied, and moments later, the door opened. Rodney turned, on the verge of hyperventilating, and nearly fell out of his chair when he saw who was entering: a slender man with dark, messy hair and a friendly smile, wearing a button-down shirt with blindingly bright purple-and-green swirls. Rodney had seen him before on home shopping television, usually clad in blindingly ugly sweaters and smiling cheerfully at his guests as he subtly insulted them without them ever noticing.
"Dr. Rodney McKay, John Sheppard," Weir introduced them, and Rodney rose mechanically to shake the proffered hand, brain running on autopilot. Sheppard's grip was firm without being painful, his hand warm and dry. As he sank back on the chair, the home shopping host sitting down next to him, Rodney wondered absent-mindedly if the man used talcum powder or something to make sure his hands weren't sweating. It seemed like something a professional might do.
"So you're the inventor."
Shaking himself from his stupor, Rodney turned to Weir. "The contract says nothing about a partner."
"The contract is a proposal," she reminded him, smiling and leaning back in her leather chair. "And if you're familiar with our program, you will have noticed that our licensed products are always presented by two people."
"Well, can't you make an exception?" Rodney asked, a little of his discomfort bleeding through. Working with a partner was bad enough, but being forced to collaborate with a smirking, colour-blind fashion victim was just cruel and unusual punishment for... he didn't know what.
"The Pegasus Home Shopping Network prides itself on its success through teamwork. Besides, John is the best-selling host in the business," Weir told him firmly, and Shepherd visibly preened.
"Well, it can't be because of his fashion sense," Rodney snapped before he could restrain himself. Shepherd shot him a surprised look, then he grinned.
"Says someone who wears a striped shirt over a chequered t-shirt."
"I'll have you know that this combination is perfectly acceptable in academic circles. Naturally, I don't presume you're familiar with those."
"Naturally," Shepherd echoed dryly, mouth already open to add something else, but he never got that far.
"Gentlemen," Dr. Weir interrupted them before the conversation could deteriorate any further. She looked at Rodney. "Dr. McKay, I'm afraid that this is the only deal I can offer. We will allow you to present your products yourself, but only with a partner."
Rodney gritted his teeth. This was the only job he'd been offered so far, and he needed it. He'd simply have to bite his tongue and refrain from provoking Shepherd any further; behave like a professional, he could do that. Being unjustly evicted from academia was bad enough, and Rodney wasn't about to throw an opportunity away just because his so-called partner-to-be had the fashion sense of a chimpanzee. And if he had to work with the alleged king of direct marketing to earn his due, fine, so be it.
"All right, fine." He was perfectly able to be the bigger man. Perhaps he could persuade Dr. Weir to let him work alone at a later point.
"Great." Weir stood up, and Rodney hastily did the same. "Dr. McKay, welcome to AtlantisCorp."
She reached out to shake his hand and he did, a little dazed, realising that after almost three months, he'd finally be working again.
"This is gonna be fun," Shepherd promised, clapping him heartily on the shoulder, and Rodney pulled a face. So his unwanted partner was of the touchy-feely kind, too. Figured.
This was going to be hell.
The studio was a lot smaller than Rodney had expected: almost tiny, with three monstrously large cameras set up around the waist-high counter that would be his presentation space. And Shepherd's.
Dr. Weir had decided that the first item they'd introduce in PegasusTV's brand new series 'McKay's Astonishingly Low-priced Products' – a title made up by junior production manager Ford, who in Rodney's opinion shouldn't be allowed to name anything, ever – would be one of Rodney's older inventions: the flat, triangular, fully automatic vacuum cleaner SpotBot. Judging by Rodney's own hatred of vacuum cleaning, the thing should sell just fine.
Now he was standing behind the counter, the SpotBot resting on top of it and Shepherd standing next to him, clad in tight blue jeans and a black zip-up shirt that made him look kind of… slinky. Hot, actually, and it was all Rodney could do not to stare. Rodney himself felt rather plain in his khakis and blue shirt, but Weir had told him to dress informally, and that was what he'd done. His hair had been styled so it was standing up a little, though nowhere near as messy as Shepherd's, and his face was itching beneath the make-up. And yet he was distracted by an entirely different problem.
"Uh, Mr. Shepherd-"
"It's Sheppard," the other man interrupted, finally stopping his fiddling with the low chair which had also been placed on the counter to be used for a demonstration later.
"You can call me John," Sheppard went on, and Rodney refrained from rolling his eyes at the over-familiarity. Barely.
"Yes, well, I don't think so."
Sheppard shrugged, apparently not caring one way or the other. "Whatever stirs your coffee."
Rodney huffed and turned his attention back to the various people inspecting their equipment one final time before the broadcast started. They'd executed a dry run before to introduce Rodney to the chaos that was home shopping television, but he had to admit that despite his vast and glorious intellect, he hadn't entirely grasped everything. At least his first telecast would only last half an hour due to a sudden change in PegasusTV's schedule, which had less to do with Rodney's arrival and more with Parrish and Brown from 'Parrish & Brown's Brilliant Ideas for Orchards' trying to kill each other in the cafeteria over who was the real star of the show.
So the TV people had hurriedly explained their production process to Rodney, and Rodney had hurriedly briefed Sheppard and Weir on the SpotBot's particulars, and now here he was, on a Friday night two minutes before midnight, feeling utterly unprepared.
Sheppard was looking at him, leaning casually against the counter as if to accentuate the line of his waist and the slight paunch of his stomach, one eyebrow raised. "You had a question."
"Uh. Yes." Rodney took a steadying breath, trying to convince himself that he wasn't nervous at all, and asked, "Which camera do I look at again?"
"That'd be number one." Sheppard pointed at the complicated construction in the middle. Rodney's fingers twitched with the urge to take it apart and see how it worked. "Keep your eyes on the little red light and you'll always know which camera is running."
"What little red light?"
"The little red light that isn't on yet."
"The level of your unhelpfulness is astounding, Sheppard," Rodney told him, and Sheppard nodded.
"It's a gift," he said earnestly, before he suddenly pushed away from the counter and stood up straight. "So. Ready to go?"
"Uh-" Not really. In fact, Rodney suddenly felt the near-irresistible urge to pee, or perhaps throw up, but the last few seconds were already being counted down with obscure hand movements, and then invisible speakers started to blare some truly horrible theme music. And then Rodney was on air, stared at by hundreds, possibly thousands of bored people who were sitting in front of their TV sets waiting for him to sell them something.
His mouth was open but no sound was coming out while Sheppard blathered on about having one very special guest that night, the studio lights suddenly felt way too hot; he was this close to hyperventilating; and then Sheppard's fist lightly nudged his side as the other man leaned far into his personal space.
"Dr. McKay," he exclaimed brightly, grabbing Rodney's hand and shaking it. "It's my pleasure to welcome you to the amazing experience that is the Pegasus Home Shopping Network."
Sheppard stepped even closer, bringing his lips to Rodney's ear. "Just pretend it's a lecture," he whispered. "You have lectured, haven't you?" He took a step back, grinning as if they'd just shared a private joke, and Rodney broke his wide-eyed stare at the camera with a blink. Lecture. Yes. He could do that.
"Ah, thank you, Mr. Sheppard," he straightened his shoulders and raised his chin, "I'm looking forward to the opportunity of working with you." Which was a complete and utter lie, and they both knew it. Sheppard's grin widened.
"So, what have you brought us?"
Rodney quickly described the basic capabilities of the SpotBot and why everyone should own one. Well, it was fully automatic and essentially cleaned whole rooms on its own – who wouldn't want that? It was also nearly silent, had a remote control, and came in three different colours.
"And further," he explained, "its triangular shape allows it to reach every corner of a room, a feat which the conventional round models have yet to achieve."
"I hear that Dirt Devil's currently trying to solve that with nanobots," Sheppard commented.
Rodney paused, momentarily derailed. "Really?"
"No." Sheppard smiled beatifically, and Rodney could have killed him. "So, Dr. McKay, you told us the SpotBot is rechargeable? How does that work?"
"Thank you for asking that question, Mr. Sheppard," Rodney gritted out. "In fact, the SpotBot automatically connects itself either to the nearest or a pre-programmed wall socket when its energy runs low."
"If it's fully automatic, why does it need a remote control?"
"Because some people," have a pathological need to make their guests look stupid, you jerk, "prefer to have power over the order in which the SpotBot does its labour," Rodney explained, forcing himself to smile despite his rising irritation. "With its intuitive remote control, the SpotBot is easily directed wherever you wish it to go."
"This button here says 'ultrasound'." Sheppard picked up the remote control and held it into the camera, waggling his eyebrows. "Does the SpotBot have some additional features you haven't told us about yet, Dr. McKay?"
Rodney snapped. That patronising, self-aggrandising, insufferable son of a bitch. Trying to humiliate Dr. Rodney McKay, triple PhD. and certified genius? Oh, he'd show the man exactly what happened if he backed a brilliant scientist into a corner!
"Why, yes, Mr. Sheppard," he sing-songed, ignoring the challenging glint in Sheppard's eyes, "otherwise the show would be over with half an hour to spare." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw one of the cameramen shake his head. Well, tough.
"I see they don't call you a genius for nothing."
"They really don't." Rodney raised his chin. "The SpotBot is made even more effective by its complex ultrasound system, which allows it to locate larger pieces of dirt, like crumbs or small stones."
"What, like a bat?" Sheppard made big, surprised eyes, like he didn't already know about nearly each of the SpotBots features.
"Yes. In fact, I also affectionately call it the BatBot. Ahaha." Rodney let out a fake little laugh that was just this side of condescending and earned him a tiny smirk from the other man. "Now, that's not everything. The SpotBot is truly superior to any common cleaning robot of its kind. If you'll allow me to demonstrate."
Rodney pulled the low chair over from Sheppard's side of the counter and sprinkled it with the contents of a small bag of salt he'd kept in his pocket. Then he picked up the remote control and activated the SpotBot. The little machine purred quietly to life and after a moment, turned on its spot and extended a small hose, raising it to quickly and completely suck up the salt. It chimed when it was done and couldn't detect any more dirt in its immediate vicinity. After a countdown of five seconds, it shut itself off.
Sheppard smiled brightly at the camera again. "That's amazing, Dr. McKay," he chirped, "Can the SpotBot also reach higher places, like, say, the top of a wardrobe?"
"Yes, of course, Mr. Sheppard," Rodney assured him cheerfully, "with a simple press of this button, the patented water-fuelled jet engines will activate, enabling the SpotBot to fly up and hold a stable position with its side thrusters while the hose disposes of any dust and small objects the sensors detect."
"Really?" Sheppard's eyes lit up with intrigue, and Rodney almost pitied him.
"No. Obviously, the SpotBot is a ground vehicle."
Sheppard's face fell, then he cocked his head and nodded ever so slightly. Point acknowledged. Rodney grinned.
Things rapidly went downhill from there, the two of them goading and ribbing each other until Rodney wasn't certain any more if they were fighting or flirting in a strangely aggressive way. Sheppard kept leaning and slouching as if his life depended on appearing as feline – and bendable, and Rodney cursed himself for having that thought – as humanly possible, and Rodney kept talking and gesturing and trying not to walk right into Sheppard's verbal traps. He didn't think he'd ever been so annoyed in his whole life.
He didn't think he'd ever had that much fun, either.
"What on earth were you thinking?" Dr. Weir demanded to know, glaring at both Rodney and Sheppard from her side of the desk.
"Come on, Elizabeth," Sheppard wheedled, his voice dripping with innocence, "he was nervous. I was just helping him to relax."
"Is that what they call it these days," she said dryly, turning to Rodney. "Dr. McKay, I understand that this was your first day, but this is not the performance I'm expecting of you."
Rodney nodded, eyes turned down, feeling guilty. He'd behaved unprofessionally, again, and it'd be perfectly within her right to fire him. Rodney had followed Sheppard unquestioningly, and that wasn't the way things were supposed to go. Perhaps Cowen had been right. Perhaps a man with no experience at all, however brilliant, had no place in front of the camera.
"I apologise," he offered quietly, hoping that would be enough. Next to him, Sheppard went still.
"Apology accepted." Weir sighed, and shook her head. "I'm aware that you're both doing a stressful job. You want to keep it? Do better."
Again Rodney nodded, and obviously Sheppard did the same, because Weir folded her hands. "Good. That will be all."
Rodney and Sheppard left the office together, barely two steps from the closed door before Rodney turned to the other man. "This is all your fault!" he accused.
Sheppard raised his hands in a defensive gesture. "Hey, it was a good show."
"It was a disaster! You might be the home shopping king, but I really need this job!" Horrified, Rodney snapped his mouth shut. His situation was no one's business but his own, and really, it wasn't as desperate as his outburst had just made it sound. It was just… if academia in general didn't come around soon, Rodney might be stuck with this for a while. Just for a while, until he'd figured things out.
Something must have shown on his face, because Sheppard let his hands sink back to his sides, suddenly serious. "McKay. Trust me, I know what I'm doing."
"Well, excuse me if my faith in someone I only met a few days ago is somewhat shaky," Rodney returned stiffly and left Sheppard standing in front of Weir's office.
He just wanted to go home.
Dinner – or probably breakfast, at three a.m. – was instant Ramen, a concept Rodney supported wholeheartedly. The TiVo had dutifully recorded the late-night infomercial, and Rodney settled down to watch, occasionally pushing the cat away from the steaming bowl.
Watching the show was like watching a car crash, with already knowing everyone involved would die a horrible, bloody death. But the high school drama club had taught Rodney that to improve one's performance one had to know one's performance, and besides, he was no coward. He'd never watch that particular broadcast again, groaning as he watched himself stare at the camera like a mountain goat would gawk at an approaching avalanche, but he'd probably survive it once.
Besides, he looked good even in the unflattering light of the studio after finally closing his mouth. Smart. Distinguished. Like someone who'd eventually earn himself the Nobel Prize without any support from the so-called academic elite whatsoever. And the blue shirt really brought out his eyes, Rodney noted, nodding his approval.
Then Sheppard, looking flirty and mischievous, started talking about nanobots, and Rodney groaned, his good mood evaporating.
Hell. Fiery, undeserved hell.
He had to go in early on Monday for the infomercial for the LitterPal – the fully automatic cat litter box – and several other gadgets. Rodney's show was regularly set to last for an hour, which gave him and Sheppard the time to introduce about four inventions per broadcast. Having decided that he really didn't care what Sheppard was thinking about Rodney's fashion sense – which was perfectly fine, thank you – he'd opted for comfortable clothes: blue jeans that fit in all the right places but didn't pinch, and a white, red-striped shirt over a burgundy t-shirt. Rodney hadn't played dress-up when he'd still been high in the academic pecking order; he didn't intend to do so now only because he was on national television. Besides, he'd seen Sheppard's favourite TV sweater –Rodney didn't think he even owned anything that ugly.
The porter nodded at him as he pulled up the barrier. "Dr. Weir asked for you to see her first thing when you come in." He grinned jovially. "Sheppard, too. Must be important. Hey, I saw the show yesterday. Think it's got something to do with that?"
"Obviously, I wouldn't know that before I actually go in," Rodney replied and drove on, rolling his eyes. Why people kept thinking he was a clairvoyant, he'd never understand. Also, the show had been Friday night, not Sunday.
Weir's secretary cheerfully showed him to a small conference room when he arrived, and as he entered he found that Sheppard was already there, again wearing something black and tight, sitting opposite from a slender woman with bronze hair and a serene expression. Dr. Weir had taken the chair at the head of the conference table, several sheets of paper spread out before her.
"Dr. McKay, good morning." Weir smiled at him as he echoed her greeting and pretended he didn't see Sheppard's smirk. "Please, have a seat. This is Teyla Emmagan, one of AtlantisCorp.'s marketing strategists and among the best in the business." Yes, of course she was; this company had obviously made it a goal to employ only the best in the business, not that that was saying much since the business was home shopping. Well, at least they'd hired Rodney, he supposed that counted for something.
"Teyla, please continue," Dr. Weir said as soon as Rodney had slid into the seat next to Sheppard. Emmagan inclined her head.
"As I was saying, we are currently putting together a survey for PegasusTV's homepage. We will have to allow for a few days to show us a definite trend, but the reactions by phone so far have been very positive."
"How many have we sold so far?" Weir wanted to know.
"By half past seven this morning, the count was thirteen thousand eight-hundred and seventy-three SpotBots. The main audience seemed to be women, who also apparently called their friends to watch the reruns on Saturday and Sunday. There was a notable increase in sales after each rerun."
Rodney's jaw just about hit the table. "Thi- thirteen thousand SpotBots?" he echoed feebly, fearing he might pass out at Emmagan's encouraging smile.
"Closer to fourteen, Dr. McKay."
Sheppard dragged his chair closer and none-too-gently nudged Rodney's arm, grinning like a loon. "Told you I knew what I was doing."
Rodney was speechless. Thirteen thousand SpotBots! That was… that was incredible! Obviously, the small cleaning robot was a valuable addition to every household, but thirteen thousand after little more than two days! How was AtlantisCorp. even going to produce that amount? And there had been reruns? Thirteen thousand SpotBots!
"So I'm guessing we're not changing a successful concept?" Sheppard asked, trying for innocent and not quite cutting it. From Weir's amused look, she'd also noticed. Rodney shook his head and tried to listen.
"No, we're not. You can keep helping Dr. McKay to relax," she answered, humour evident in her voice. Under normal circumstances, Rodney would have bristled, except he was beginning to suspect that he'd left normal circumstances with the porter.
"Our call centre employees have also reported that many customers asked them when the next show would be scheduled," Emmagan added.
Sheppard grinned. "Better get to it then." He winked at Weir, who gave him a long-suffering sigh.
"All right. Gentlemen, Teyla, don't let me keep you." Everyone rose, and Weir stacked her papers. "Oh, and John? Don't push it."
Sheppard threw her a sloppy salute and held the door open for Emmagan, who thanked him with a gentle nod as she walked out.
"Teyla." Weir hurried to catch up with her. "If you have a moment?"
The two women walked into her office together, talking quietly. Still holding the door, Sheppard raised an eyebrow at Rodney, who hadn't moved.
"You coming, McKay?"
Rodney looked at him. "Thirteen thousand SpotBots."
"Think you'll call me John now?" Sheppard asked with a grin.
That snapped Rodney out of his stupor. "What? No! And I don't need to be relaxed! I am relaxed! No one has ever been as relaxed as I am! I love the camera and the camera loves me!"
Sheppard snorted. "Sure, Superman. Come on, can't leave the camera waiting." He cocked his head and smiled, a narrow gap between his tight black t-shirt and faded jeans revealing the gentle curve of his hipbone beneath soft-looking skin, and Rodney didn't know if he wanted to smother the man or jump him.
Halfway through the show, he had definitely decided on smothering. And no amount of slinking would save Sheppard. Not this time.
The recording of their 37th infomercial Rodney watched from the comfort of his couch, empty plate with the remains of the meatball-sauce from his spaghetti slowly drying on the coffee table. He'd been working for AtlantisCorp for a little over three months now, at three telecasts a week, his high school hobby earning him more money than he'd dared imagine. The SpotBot was a bestseller, as were the LitterPal and the DripStop. Whatever schematics he handed in were immediately turned into prototypes all set for serial production, and Dr. Weir strongly encouraged him to keep tinkering at home. So when he wasn't busy single-handedly advancing the field of theoretical wormhole astrophysics, he did just that.
There had been a first few tentative offers from several private schools and universities to employ Rodney in their physics programs. So far, he'd turned down everything. Why would he return to academia? The positions he'd been offered were middle management at best, teaching undergrads at worst, and he had no inclination to spend the rest of his career as a guppy swimming circles in a pond of mediocrity. His current job was less stressful and better paid than his previous one at the university; he had more time to concentrate on his research; he was receiving fan letters gushing about his eyes, his arms, his hands, and strangely, his belly. He had even adapted to working alongside John Sheppard, whose new policy of dark, formfitting clothing had been met with widespread approval.
Sheppard, who was flashing the camera his most winning smile before he turned to the Rodney on screen, saying something about their invention of the day and squirrels, if Rodney remembered correctly. He wasn't going to turn the volume back up to find out.
TV-Sheppard patted TV-Rodney's back before trudging off to the side to fetch a particular gimmick, and Rodney briefly closed his eyes, remembering that touch. Sheppard kept flirting with him like they might make it an Olympic category and he was already training for gold. The man didn't seem like he had ever heard about the concept of personal space. Which was weird, actually, because Rodney had seen him avoid others with a grace that had to be born from a lifetime of practice. The flirting and touching wasn't limited to the show, either, so Rodney couldn't even brush it off as some incomprehensible strategy.
Sheppard probably didn't mean anything by it, though. In all likelihood, the man was secretly still pouting from Rodney's initial remark about his beloved sweater – which had apparently been a gift from his ex-wife, and could Rodney spell foot-in-mouth disease? – and had privately declared a weird kind of open season on one Dr. Rodney McKay. Not that Rodney minded, exactly. Sheppard's sarcastic brand of flirting always held something of a challenge; one they both enjoyed without talking about it.
Although Sheppard most likely didn't take his enjoyment quite as far as Rodney. He wouldn't make himself comfortable on his couch, tune in to the latest broadcast of their infomercial, and lazily cup himself through his pants. He wouldn't rub gently, wouldn't squeeze his balls with his fingertips and feel himself harden through the thick fabric of his jeans. No, Sheppard probably wouldn't do that. But Rodney did.
He watched TV-Sheppard laugh his fake little TV-laugh, his eyes fixed on Sheppard's mouth, his perfect teeth, the barely visible shape of his tongue. He wanted to capture that mouth, wanted to drive his tongue between those lips and reduce the ever-cocky man to a shivering bundle of nerve endings. His breath coming faster as he imagined how Sheppard's hips might buck against Rodney's own while his mouth was taken, Rodney carefully pulled down the zipper and tugged his erection out, shivering as the cool air of his living room met overheated skin. He started to stroke himself, slowly, lightly, willing to draw it out. He had time. He could make it last.
Except then TV-Sheppard licked his lips, round tip of a soft pink tongue sweeping out to moist sinfully full lips that now glistened wetly under the studio lights, and Rodney groaned, his hand speeding up almost involuntarily. That wasn't even part of Sheppard's game; that was a truly unconscious habit, and one that drove Rodney insane. No matter the time, no matter the place: Sheppard's tongue was there, flicking out and inevitably catching Rodney's eye, dragging his attention to Sheppard's lips, which led to stirrings in certain nether regions, which led to inappropriate thoughts of Sheppard's lips in relation to said nether regions, which led to Rodney inconspicuously adjusting himself and vowing never to look again.
But he never managed, and the thought of Sheppard ever realising the effect he had on Rodney was both frightening and hot as hell, because Rodney had already dreamed up several scenarios for that particular conversation, for how it might go down. How Sheppard might go down, drawing Rodney out of his pants much like he was now, kissing him and licking him and sucking him down. Breath catching, Rodney circled his thumb over the slick tip of his cock, smearing pre-come as he rubbed the sensitive head until his hips jerked and his exhalations had become panting, shaky. He resumed stroking, squeezing and pulling at his erection, all thoughts of taking it slow gone from his mind. Now he just wanted to finish, watching himself, watching Sheppard.
On screen, Sheppard leaned close to TV-Rodney, said something and laughed, and Rodney remembered that, too; remembered the heat of Sheppard's body nearly plastered against his own; remembered the warm huff of Sheppard's breath; remembered how it had brushed over his neck. With a groan, he came, his cock twitching as he spilled his seed all over his hand and boxers, possibly ruining the couch as well. Which was also all Sheppard's fault.
Damn the man.
"How do you keep coming up with this stuff?" Sheppard wanted to know, turning the knife compartment of the EasyPeel in his hand. It looked like a light blue plastic ball, which was probably why it had caught his attention in the first place.
"Genius," Rodney replied succinctly as well as truthfully, and Sheppard laughed.
It was their 50th infomercial, live on air and going into its second hour as a special edition. To celebrate the occasion for their ever-growing number of fans – and it was still a little mind-boggling that home shopping salespeople would even have fans – Rodney and Sheppard were presenting only previously unreleased items today. Sheppard was all excited about getting to play with so much new stuff, and it was becoming a little tiring.
Rodney reached out to snatch the knife compartment from Sheppard's hand and reinserted it into the EasyPeel. "As you can see," he told the cameras, "the EasyPeel is effortlessly taken apart and reassembled, so keeping the knife compartment clean can be easily accomplished. The knives themselves have a guaranteed life of two years, as does the laser unit. Nevertheless, if you purchase two EasyPeels now, you receive one knife compartment per item for free."
"Wow, that's quite a bargain, Rodney," Sheppard drawled. "What about the laser unit, is that detachable, too?"
"No. I don't want to tempt people like you."
Sheppard raised an eyebrow. "People like me?"
"Don't tell me you haven't thought of mishandling the unit to try and build a lightsaber, Sheppard," Rodney scoffed, and Sheppard twitched and looked away, coughing. Guilty as charged, not that Rodney was surprised. The man was constantly mocked by his colleagues for his collection of model fighter planes and possession of every Star Wars DVD ever released.
Sheppard had obviously caught himself and was now leaning against the counter in a practised slouch, looking for all the world as if he were in a bar instead of a television studio. "Aw, Rodney, you know me to well."
"You'd get that impression."
"Wanna get to know me even better?" Sheppard waggled his eyebrows and Rodney gaped at him.
"Go on a date with me, Rodney."
Rodney choked on his own spit and felt his cheeks heat up with what no doubt was a truly magnificent flush. "But- you- what?" he stuttered, staring into Sheppard's oh-so innocent face.
"You can't ask me that!"
"If I don't ask you, then how can you say yes?" Sheppard pointed out. "Say yes, Rodney."
Rodney shot a quick glance at the cameras. The cameramen were grinning, and he was certain that their audience at home were glued to their TV sets.
"Rodney," Sheppard prompted, and Rodney gave up before he had a stroke.
"All right, yes, fine. Yes. Now can we perhaps leave this conversational venue and instead perform the job we're paid for?"
"Sure." Sheppard aimed his most amicable smile first at Rodney, then at the cameras, but Rodney had seen the brief flash of triumph flickering across his features. "So, I believe we were just about to recap the EasyPeel's features for you. It's great: you just throw your potatoes or whatever you want peeled and the laser sensors map their size and form before the knives come into play. I tried the EasyPeel out myself, it works great with-"
Rodney spent the rest of the show in a dazed disbelief that a) Sheppard had asked him on a date, b) he'd agreed, and c) Sheppard had asked him on air. Sheppard had to have known that Rodney wouldn't dare to say no to him while they were broadcasting for fear of antagonising their fans who were rapidly developing an unhealthy obsession with their private lives, spamming the Pegasus-tv.com forums with their ridiculous blabber about Sheppard's unrequited crush and Rodney's cool aloofness. Rodney had been shamelessly manipulated, and he confronted Sheppard as soon as the telecast was over.
"You did that on purpose! You were planning to force me into saying yes!"
"Yes, I was," Sheppard admitted frankly, and Rodney triumphantly jabbed a finger at him.
"I knew it!" Then the meaning of Sheppard's words sank in. "Wait, you were? Why?"
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "Gee, Rodney, I don't know. Maybe I wanted you to say yes?"
"But-" One would have to be an idiot to say no to this man, except it would probably be best not to say so, so Rodney switched tracks. "All right, Sheppard, since you appear to have this all planned out: where is this 'date' supposed to take place?"
"Rodney, you just agreed to go out with me. Call me John."
"All right, fine. John. Where do you want to go?"
"How about dinner? I know you can't eat citrus, so I scouted out this little Italian place that serves a mean lasagne, and I promise I'll keep the fish far away from you."
Huh. That sounded like Sheppard had already made the effort to find a restaurant they'd both enjoy, so Rodney hesitantly agreed. Then Sheppard strolled out of the studio, whistling, and Rodney was left staring after him, gaze involuntarily dropping to the man's ass. Sheppard had asked him, Sheppard had asked him on a date, all previous notions of heterosexuality apparently thrown out the window. Rodney had no idea how to explain that, except perhaps Sheppard had picked up on Rodney's staring at him when they weren't on camera. Perhaps he'd decided that leading Rodney on, seeing how far he could go, would be fun. It wouldn't be the first time something like that had happened.
Well, Sheppard might think that he was pulling a great joke, but Rodney would take advantage wherever he could, starting with having the other man pay for dinner on their date.
Wait a minute. He was going on a date with Sheppard! Rodney felt the blood leave his face as the realisation finally hit, and he rushed to the closest toilet, where he spent the next twenty minutes quietly hyperventilating.
The 'date' – Rodney was still refusing to drop the imaginary air quotes – was going surprisingly well. Sheppard – John; it was impossible to call a man whose nipples you could see through his thin white shirt by his last name – acted a little differently from his TV persona, quieter and smiling less, but when he did his smiles seemed honest, almost sweet. Rodney was surprised to find that he liked this display of a shyer side, and even if John still smirked plenty, he wasn't as sarcastic as usual somehow. More relaxed. It was… nice.
Of course, then John laughed and Rodney nearly spewed his beer across the table. John's TV laughter was a melodic chuckle; this sound however had a disturbing resemblance to a donkey serenading a foghorn. He stared and John winked at him, looking comfortable and smug and like he was honestly having a good time, even if his lasagne had been a bit dry in the middle.
Holy shit, this was a date!
"This is a date," Rodney blurted, and John raised and eyebrow.
"Why, yes, I believe that's what we agreed on," he drawled. "What did you think this was?"
"Um." Rodney squirmed, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. "I, uh, I thought-"
"You thought this was a game," John said flatly.
"I didn't even know you were gay!" Rodney burst out, gesturing wildly.
"I can be gay if I want to."
"Hello, ex-wife?!" Rodney spluttered at John's petulant statement.
"So I'm bi. Same difference." John sighed. "Rodney, I'm not leading you on."
"Yes, I, uh, I realised that. I'm sorry."
"Sorry for…?" John asked a bit warily, and Rodney realised with a start that the other man wasn't sure if Rodney had only agreed to their date because he'd thought it wasn't serious in the first place, if perhaps Rodney was the one for whom all of this was merely a game. For all John knew, Rodney could be apologising for his assumption before he got up to leave.
John Sheppard, darling of home shopping television, insecure.
There was really only one thing to say. "Sorry for being dense."
John leaned back on his chair, some of the tension leaving his face in favour of a tiny smirk. "Wow. That must have cost you."
"You have no idea," Rodney admitted, and just like that, everything was all right.
After dinner, Rodney had one espresso after another until he felt wired and a little shaky, but he couldn't help it. This restaurant was using the really good beans, and John cheerfully kept ordering the little cups, smiling bemusedly as he watched Rodney go nearly orgasmic over the beverage. Finally, their waiter – a huge, dreadlocked giant of a man – and apparent owner of the establishment, threw them out with a toothy grin and a threat of hidden knives aimed at John, who promptly wanted to know if said knives had been bought through home shopping. Rodney would go out on a limb and guess that those two knew each other. The waiter laughed and closed the door in their faces, and then John drove Rodney home, because, "I don't trust you not to jitter your way right off the road."
"You just want to know where I live," Rodney complained, and John laughed again. Rodney had to grin at the sound, and they shot each other a look, both of them smiling. It had been a good evening.
It took them barely fifteen minutes to get from the restaurant to Rodney's modest little house. Possibly because the streets were almost empty, but John's reckless driving might have also had something to do with that, Rodney thought, staring longingly at his front door, one hand still clutching the dashboard. He took a deep breath, then another, until he was sure he'd found his voice again, then he turned toward John and asked in what he thought was a remarkably calm voice, "Are you insane? I'm barely 35 and I haven't won the Nobel Prize yet and you want to kill me?"
"Relax, Rodney. I told you, I know what I'm doing."
"You have no idea what you're doing most of the time!" Rodney protested. That man needn't think that Rodney didn't have him pegged. "As long as it's fun and you get to charm people, you just go right along with it!"
John grinned unrepentantly. "But you like that, don't you." It wasn't even a question. Still Rodney rolled his eyes.
"I'm here, aren't I? But next time, I'm driving." He reached for the belt buckle, only to find that his fingers were too shaky to press the release button. After he'd fumbled for a moment, John batted his hands away.
"Wait, let me-"
"No, I can-"
They both stilled at the same moment, staring down at their tangled fingers before they looked up. Rodney felt a flush heat his face as he met John's gaze, utterly fascinated by the strange combination of green and brown in the other man's eyes. Slowly, John leaned forward, gaze flicking down to Rodney's mouth. Rodney closed his eyes just before their lips met for a soft, unhurried kiss. His upper lip caught a little on the stubble above John's mouth, something that made them both sigh. Kissing John was nothing like Rodney had imagined it might be: slow, tender, surprisingly shy. Sweet, almost, and that, that was…
Rodney pulled back slightly, opening his eyes just in time to catch John licking his lips, own eyes still closed, and that was it, that was more than any man could possibly take. Reaching out to slide his hand behind John's neck he pulled him back in, pressing their mouths together with probably a little too much enthusiasm, but John just chuckled and parted his lips to sweep his tongue over Rodney's mouth with a playful flicker.
After that, things got very heated very quickly. If there hadn't been one of those damn storage spaces between them, Rodney might well have climbed into John's lap. As it was, they just clung to each other, chests pressed together, hands gliding over arms and backs and up again, breaths mingling in each other's mouths. The whole experience was one of the most sensual things that had ever happened to Rodney, and he had trouble believing that he could possibly have so much luck.
"Do you want to take this inside?" he asked breathlessly, already moving back in for another kiss, head swimming with John's warmth, John's scent, the feel of the smooth skin of John's neck under his fingers. His erection was straining against the fabric of his jeans, and he wanted, he wanted-
"Uh." John pulled back, not just a little but away, licking his lips and clearing his throat as he settled back into the driver's seat. "Not really, no."
Rodney gaped at him. "What? Why?"
"I'm just not one of those girls," John drawled, looking ridiculously hot with his spit-slick, swollen lips and his slightly glazed eyes.
"I wouldn't think any less of you," Rodney assured him earnestly, trying to draw him closer again, and John huffed out a laugh.
"I know, Rodney." He shrugged again. "It's just not something I do."
With a sigh, Rodney gave up. "All right. Never let it be said I couldn't exercise a modicum of self-restraint when the situation calls for it." Even if he was going to jerk off the second the front door closed after him.
John nodded. "You're a very self-restrained guy."
"No reason to make fun of me, Mr. Temptation," Rodney sniffed, surreptitiously adjusting his jeans before he reached for the door handle.
"So, uh. See you tomorrow?" he asked once he'd gotten out of the car, suddenly feeling uncharacteristically insecure. What if John had been put off altogether by Rodney's aggressiveness? What if he was shocked and disgusted and never wanted to see Rodney ever again, let alone kiss him and eventually have sex?
"I'll pick you up," John promised lightly, leaning over to pull the passenger door shut before he drove off and left Rodney to shout after his disappearing tail lights, "Do you even live somewhere around here?"
He could have sworn he heard John laugh, but that was of course impossible.