Sheppard had discovered the room in the corridor above the living quarters one quiet week early in the expedition. It was unlike any of the labs and workshops they’d already come across, and Rodney hadn’t been interested at first, too absorbed by his new lab, the technology, the new star system they lived under to bother with one small room which seemed largely functionless.
“I think it’s a movie theatre,” Sheppard said, in that slow, ponderous way he had, the one that made Rodney want to grab him by the shoulders and shake him loose.
“Working!” he snapped instead, waving a spiny Ancient...thingy in Sheppard’s face.
“Chill, Rodney.” Sheppard squinted at the thingy. “Looks like a toothbrush.”
Rodney rubbed tiredly at the bridge of his nose. “It’s not a toothbrush. Look. Go and play in your movie theatre and leave me alone, some of us have actual work to do!”
Sheppard didn’t leave, just shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other, his face doing something twisty that made Rodney’s insides hurt. “Rodney,” he whined.
“Shoo!” said Rodney. He didn’t look up, and when he’d finished his work, Sheppard was gone.
It was a movie theatre, as it turned out. A smallish room with a strange lumpy piece of furniture against one wall -- “Seats,” said Sheppard, delighted -- and, opposite, a thin, flat sheet of opaque glass that spanned nearly the entire wall. There was a console next to it of typical Ancient design, and it was the work of half an afternoon for Rodney to hook it up to one of the crappier laptops. He even whipped up a makeshift remote.
“Cool,” said Sheppard, as they sat side-by-side on the oddly comfortable lump-seat and watched as the Paramount logo spread over the huge screen. Rodney grinned at him. It was cool, and he’d gotten tired of watching The Wrath of Khan alone anyway.
After that, news spread fairly quickly. The marines seemed to gather to watch Bad Boys, or Die Hard, or One Million Years B.C. (and okay, Rodney may have slipped in for sneak peek, because hello, Raquel Welch) every week like clockwork, and even Elizabeth could be found there, her eyes going big and startled when Rodney caught her watching The Next Generation one sunny afternoon when most of Atlantis’ personnel were busy courting melanoma out on the balconies.
“Ha!” he said, pointing at her. “Nerd alert!”
“I’ve always had a fondness for bald men,” she said, deadpan. Rodney’s hand flew to his forehead before he could stop it, and Elizabeth’s mouth twitched. Her eyes dropped to the Red Dwarf box set that was clutched to his chest.
“I’ll...later,” he said, “wouldn’t want to interrupt.”
Maybe Sheppard could be coaxed into a game of chess.
“We should show Teyla and Ronon some movies,” said Sheppard, as he picked up his rook. His nose was pink from the sun, and he squinted at the board, seeming to pick a square at random to drop the rook before slouching back in his seat again.
“Oh!” said Rodney. “Oh god, they’ve never seen Alien.” He deliberated a little, then moved his queen.
“Predator,” said Sheppard, swooping his remaining knight into the path of the queen.
“If you mention Alien vs. Predator, I might have to throw you off the north pier,” said Rodney. He stared at the board. Sheppard was four moves away from check at most, and he hadn’t spent more than thirty seconds on any move. It might have been impressive if it wasn’t so infuriating, and Rodney morosely prodded a pawn forward in a belated attempt to protect his one remaining rook.
“Never saw it,” said Sheppard. “Aliens, now there’s a movie.” His knight took the rook.
“Hm,” Rodney agreed. He squinted at Sheppard, who had brought out a tiny pocket knife and was busy cleaning his nails, and then back at the board. Maybe he could get away with swivelling the entire thing 180° and convince Sheppard he’d been playing white all along.
“No,” said Sheppard, not looking away from whatever fascinating dirt he was excavating from his nails, ugh. Rodney glowered at him.
“Fine, fine. We’re taking into account that I slept very badly last night, and I haven’t eaten in two hours; if I was on top form I would have easily won. It was a cheap victory, Sheppard, I hope you’re happy.”
“Ecstatic,” Sheppard drawled, stupid smug smile spreading on his stupid smug face. He slapped his knife down on the table and clapped Rodney on the shoulder. “Let’s go see about setting up that movie, shall we?”
“I would be interested to see your world’s perception of alien species’.”
Teyla sat cross-legged on the floor of the movie room, her back propped against the lump-seat. In one hand, she held Alien on DVD; in the other, Predator.
“Um, well, these aren’t exactly realistic.”
“I have seen a movie before, Rodney. I am aware they are fictional.”
Ronon plucked Alien from her fingers gently.
“Nostromo,” he read, vowels picked out carefully. “That an Earth ship? Like Daedalus?”
“It’s made up! Look, it’s...it’s a story. Not what people actually thought, and not based on any facts. It’s just a movie.”
“So this person, she’s not real?”
“No! She’s a character, invented by Ridley Scott, probably. It’s not true or anything, just a made up story.”
“Sounds stupid,” Ronon said, tossing the case back to Teyla. Rodney sputtered.
“Alien is not stupid, it’s a masterpiece, it’s--!”
“Rodney,” said Sheppard, grabbing the case and smacking him lightly on the head with it. “Shut up. Ronon, also shut up. I’m putting it on.”
“Did you bring Pop Corn?” said Teyla, in that casual Teyla-way that meant she was practically bouncing on her heels. Rodney could hear the capitals.
“Almost-corn. Kinda pops.” Sheppard tossed a bag at her.
Rodney settled in his favourite part of the lump-seat -- near the wall, high enough to see over Sheppard’s stupid hair, and with enough back support that he could go practically boneless in it without seizing up and never being able to move again -- and turned the lights low with his mind, which was never going to stop being awesome. Ronon and Sheppard shuffled around, Sheppard tucking up next to Rodney’s knee and Ronon sprawling near his foot. There was a hiss-pop as Sheppard opened one of his pisswater American beers.
Teyla crunched on the not-corn, and serenely refused to pass it around. Rodney sometimes wondered what magical power she had to fool everyone into thinking she was a sweet, self-sacrificing person. Luckily, he had chocolate.
“Rodney. Rodney. Rodney.”
Sheppard was trying to whisper and failing miserably, thwarted by his horrible nasal drawl. On screen, the xenomorph menaced a hapless crewman in an airshaft, and the projected light flickered softly over Teyla and Ronon’s rapt expressions.
“Shh,” Rodney hissed. He slid another piece of 80% dark into his mouth and let his eyes flutter shut a little. God, chocolate. Sheppard prodded him in the knee with his empty bottle.
He sounded like an adenoidal warthog.
“What?” he managed, through his mouthful. Ronon turned to aim a death glare in his direction, and he pointed at Sheppard. “I’m not even--! Sheppard--!”
“Quiet,” snapped Teyla, not turning from the screen. There was a piece of not-corn hanging forgotten between her fingers.
“You owe me,” hissed Sheppard, shuffling a little closer and pitching his voice low. He was eyeing the piece of foil-covered chocolate that was tucked into Rodney’s left hand, and Rodney stuffed it behind his back before Sheppard could get any closer. “You owe me, McKay. Two pudding cups, don’t think I forgot.”
“Oh come on,” Rodney whispered back indignantly, “that was almost three months ago!”
“And you said, and I quote,’Yeah yeah, take an IOU or something,’. And this? This is my IOU.”
“It’s Madagascan,” Rodney could hear himself whining a little. “Eighty percent. For a pudding cup!”
“Sheppard. McKay,” Ronon growled from the floor. It was his I have a knife, and stabbing is imminent voice, which, really, didn’t differ all that much from his normal voice.
Sheppard made an accusatory shape with his eyebrows, wiggling them meaningfully.
“Fine,” Rodney hissed. “But so you’re aware, this is so not a fair swap. You can have two squares.”
Another eyebrow wiggle.
He broke off a piece resentfully, and held it out to Sheppard, eyes darting back to the screen.
Held it out to Sheppard, who ate it from his fingers, before relaxing back into his seat with a small pleased noise as Rodney hung frozen, mouth half-open in shock, fingers tingling from the brief touch of Sheppard’s tongue.
He stared blankly as Ripley crept through the cold, dead corridors of the Nostromo, and all he could feel was that little lick, soft and hot, and he had no idea what it meant, or if it meant anything at all. Sheppard nudged his knee.
“C’mon,” murmured Sheppard, his ridiculous accent drawing the word out low and soft. He opened his mouth.
Rodney snapped off another square and held it out blindly, half-terrified to look down and see Sheppard, see what Sheppard was doing, see him - ah - lipping it softly from Rodney’s fingers. Briefly, Rodney felt the slick heat of the inside of Sheppard’s mouth.
“Mm,” said Sheppard, his mouth still next to Rodney’s dumbly dangling hand. “Mm--mm.”
And okay, yeah, Rodney might have suddenly become a little...uncomfortable. In his pants. Hello, could Sheppard’s oral fixation be any more obvious, and oh my god, was he--?
“Mm,” Sheppard hummed again, his mouth closing briefly around Rodney’s chocolate-smudged thumb. “S’good.”
“Good,” said Rodney, strangled, hoping Sheppard wasn’t going to glance at his crotch. Or at his face. Or just anywhere, really, that wasn’t the screen, because Rodney could feel that his entire body was flushed hot, and wow, were his eyebrows sweating? He glanced at the clean line of Sheppard’s jaw and willed himself to stop squirming in his seat.
When Sheppard stopped making pornographic noises, Rodney had gathered himself enough to hold out the last bit of chocolate and hope that Sheppard wasn’t going to do anything obscene with it; he’d be almost willing to give up the rest of the bar if it meant getting out of this situation without embarrassing himself horribly.
Almost. Eighty percent, after all, and pudding cups just didn’t cut it.
Of course, Sheppard chose that moment to turn his head slightly, his eyes flicking up towards Rodney’s face for a moment. To lean in towards Rodney’s knee and, in the dark, obscured in the shadows of the flickering light from the screen, suck Rodney’s finger into his hot, wet mouth.
Rodney froze. He made a strange gurgling noise in the back of his throat, the fingers of his free hand clenching reflexively, because mouth, oh my god--
Sheppard’s mouth, sliding with a slow, deliberate sensuality over the suddenly hypersensitive skin of his fingers.
Oh god, and Rodney couldn’t look away, not for anything. His jaw hung stupidly open, his whole body prickling with heat, and every sensation seemed to be coming from his hand, his finger, the feeling of Sheppard’s soft tongue licking him. Sheppard’s eyes were closed, but as Rodney’s breathing suddenly went wildly erratic, he blinked them open. Sucked hard, just for a second, and pulled off to swallow his mouthful of chocolate.
And oh, this was beyond flirting. This was--this was foreplay! Rodney was still gaping stupidly, trying to think of anything that had happened between them that had suggested this, and coming up blank.
Except then, Rodney thought about Sheppard giving him two pudding cups. Had given him most of his pudding cups, actually, and never asked for anything in return, until now. He thought of Sheppard leaning over him in the labs, slouching in Rodney’s doorway when he was bored, slithering too close and getting in the way so that Rodney had to squawk and flap at him to get out of the way, you overgrown lightswitch, or make yourself useful! and Sheppard would bitch and moan until Rodney would find himself in Sheppard’s quarters at 3am being soundly beaten at chess, or Mario Kart, or arguing over Kirk and Picard (“Of course you would prefer Kirk,” Rodney sniffed. “Kirk!”).
Sheppard had turned back towards the screen, and Rodney could just see the subtle movements of his throat, the way he shifted to settle himself back in his seat. It was too dark to make out much more, but Rodney’s eyes were glued to him as his brain flitted wildly from thought to thought. His finger was still wet, and beginning to feel cold. His could taste chocolate. He was half-hard, tingling from his mouth to the tips of his toes with the need to...to touch, to touch Sheppard, or himself, and he felt totally, utterly blindsided.
It took him another ten minutes of restless fidgeting and glancing at the back of Sheppard’s head to work out that Sheppard was waiting for him to do something. Rodney could just see his hands, clenched into a tense ball in his lap, and the line of his back was military-straight where it was usually slouched almost horizontal. His one beer bottle was propped neatly between his thigh and the lump-seat, and Rodney suddenly felt an intense tug of fondness in his chest. Idiot.
Nervousness was practically radiating from Sheppard’s stupid spiky hair, and it was so easy for Rodney to slide his hand up and over Sheppard’s neck, to pet a thumb at the fluff on his nape. To feel the sharp release of a shuddering breath, and the way he puddled into Rodney’s touch.
Rodney tentatively scratched at the back of Sheppard’s head, and watched the shape of his hands flexing against his thighs. The weight of his arm was resting against Sheppard’s shoulder as he stroked, and Rodney marvelled a little that they’d managed to have this entire conversation without speaking to each other at all. It was inevitable; that the movie would finish, that they’d stand slowly in the dark and Rodney would make complaining noises about his back and Sheppard would bop him gently on the head with his empty bottle. That they would walk together to Sheppard’s quarters in silence, a meter or so apart, Sheppard grinning his stupid, dorky grin, Rodney trying not to go any more pink than he already was.
Except the movie finished. Rodney felt Sheppard shift away from his hand and the lights went up, and suddenly there wasn’t the close intimacy of the dark, the almost dreamlike quality of the flickering movie light, and they were just getting up a little awkwardly, Sheppard sliding out of his seat to bump Ronon on the shoulder.
“Stupid,” said Ronon, and Rodney forgot to be startled briefly as he took a deep breath, preparing to be outraged, but then Ronon grinned and punched him (hard! ow!) on the upper arm and said, “Kidding. It was cool.”
“I liked it very much,” said Teyla.
“Next week?” said Sheppard. Next week, they agreed, and Rodney watched as Sheppard slipped off in the direction of his quarters and wondered if he was supposed to follow. It almost felt like he had dozed off during the movie and imagined Sheppard’s mouth on him, his hand on Sheppard.
Okay, Sheppard had sucked his finger, of course he was supposed to follow. Rodney didn’t move, though, frozen under the harsh bluish light.
Sheppard hadn’t actually talked to him; if Rodney followed him he would look like some kind of weird crazy stalker. He wasn’t supposed to follow Sheppard at all. He would get to Sheppard’s door and Sheppard would laugh in his face, like that time at Caltech which he had resolved never to think about ever again. He hovered, awkwardly.
But then again, finger.
Who even sucked someone’s finger? Sheppard, apparently, but what did he mean by it? It was no secret that Sheppard, despite his languid demeanour, was kind of insane. Who knew what was going on underneath that crazy hair of his? Sheppard would talk to him tomorrow. Sheppard would make some kind of move, and they would--he would. He would be sure.
He couldn’t tell if the feeling that twisted in his belly as he slipped into his own quarters was guilt or relief.
If he’d expected that Sheppard might act differently, might give him a hint that things had changed between them, then he was sorely mistaken. In his imaginings -- hot, slow, late-night imaginings, oh god -- Rodney finally got Sheppard alone, one thumb up over his bony hip, the other pushing into his plush mouth...
And okay, the fantasy hadn’t got much further than that before Rodney had been shaking and gasping and coming all over himself, but suffice to say it ended with them, well, not exactly skipping away into the sunset.
The next morning, Sheppard was a mask of normalcy, and it had to be a mask. Had to be, because there was no way that he was ignoring what had happened, except, apparently, that he was. He smirked his usual irritating smirk, honked his usual irritating laugh, made terrible jokes and slouched around and called Rodney ‘buddy’ in that treacly-slow drawl.
It hadn’t felt like Sheppard had been making fun of him, but Rodney had been at the butt of too many jokes not to feel a little stab of hurt anyway. No doubt if he’d followed Sheppard there would have been incredulous laughter, maybe followed by manly backslaps and ha, ha, all in good fun! Well. He felt his mouth harden into a line as he looked across the mess to where Sheppard was sitting with Ronon. No harm, no foul, wasn’t that the saying?
Three days later, he sat next to Sheppard at lunch. Ronon lounged opposite, his long legs sprawled under the table, and as Rodney squirmed to fit his feet in between them, huffing, his thigh bumped into Sheppard’s. Sheppard flinched. Actually flinched, and Rodney watched as his fingers clenched around his spork before he began to eat again. The hurt flared up so suddenly that Rodney felt frozen in his seat, half sure that he was about to do something mortifying, like burst into tears. He ground his teeth and shoved his leg in between Ronon’s, who frowned at him absently before turning his attention back to his roasted Many-Legged Thingy from MA6-464. Sheppard ate in silence and left without saying anything.
“What’s wrong with him?” Ronon said, shoveling a spoonful of dark purple mash into his mouth.
Rodney breathed in through his nose. “Probably just got a stick up his ass about something,” he said, poking at his mash savagely. “He’ll get over it.”
The more he thought about it, though, the more angry he got. He hadn’t started this stupid thing, Sheppard had. Sheppard had--had licked him, and looked at him all dark-eyed and come-hither and Rodney hadn’t done anything!
He marched through the corridors purposefully, only pausing when he found his hand hovering at Sheppard’s door. It slid open, of course, leaving him standing there looking like an idiot.
“McKay,” said Sheppard, warily. Rodney bristled.
“You,” he said, pointing at Sheppard.
“Me,” Sheppard drawled, an edge to his voice that prodded the tender parts of Rodney’s temper. He opened his mouth, before realising that he had no idea what to say. They glared at each other in silence for a beat, before Sheppard’s mouth twisted and he turned away.
“You know, it’s stupid of me, but I didn’t expect this from you.”
Rodney gaped at him, humiliation and rage spiking suddenly behind his eyes. “You fucking asshole,” he wanted to say, but the words wouldn’t come out.
“If you have a problem with me, you could just fucking say it, rather than--” Sheppard choked out, then bit his lip, looking furious with himself. His fists were clenched.
“A problem?” Rodney spat, and Sheppard visibly winced. “My problem is that you’re being a giant asswipe. I thought we were--that we were friends. Fuck.”
Sheppard’s expression crumpled with startling suddenness. “Jesus,” he said. “This is so messed up. I’m really sorry, about, y’know, I thought that you. I mean, you looked like…” he trailed off, rubbing his eyes. “But you didn’t have to be such an ass about it. If you didn’t want, if you don’t want...I’m not going to jump you.”
“I--” said Rodney, brandishing his finger, “wait, what?”
“I’m not going to ogle you in the showers, Rodney,” Sheppard said. He sounded weary now, all his anger gone. He sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed his thigh with his thumb.
“So the other night,” Rodney said carefully, “you were...that was…”
“Look, I misinterpreted. I--well, nevermind. I said I’m sorry, okay?”
“And if I had turned up at your quarters--,”
“Well, clearly you didn’t. Jesus, can we drop this already, McKay?”
“So the next day, when you pretended nothing had happened, and called me ‘buddy’ and then earlier when you flinched when I touched you.”
Sheppard was beginning to frown at him. “We were in the mess hall. You didn’t--you hadn’t said--” he seemed to run out of words. “Are you seriously saying what I think you’re saying?”
“I’m not very good at subtle,” said Rodney, somewhat sheepish. Sheppard’s eyebrows crawled up onto his forehead.
“I was sucking your fingers, Rodney,” he said. The corner of his mouth was beginning to curl up, and Rodney felt himself redden. “I didn’t--I wasn’t making fun of you, Jesus! I wouldn’t do that.”
“Yes, well. I might have tiny - tiny! - issues with confidence. Um.”
“Wow. Um. Sorry I thought you were a homophobic asshole,” said Sheppard. He was beginning to grin, a sunny thing that seemed to drain the tension from the rest of his body. Rodney was suddenly aware of the fact that they were in Sheppard’s room, and that Sheppard was smiling at him from the bed. He stepped forward, into the bracket of Sheppard’s knees.
“Better,” Sheppard said, bringing a tentative hand to rest on Rodney’s hip. It was warm, steadying.
“You’re an idiot,” Rodney murmured. He scruffed his hand softly through Sheppard’s hair.
“We.” Sheppard said, leaning up. “You’re at least as guilty as me. We’re friends, moron.”
“Morons,” said Rodney, brushing his mouth against Sheppard’s. Sheppard licked him.
“Boneheads,” he said, pulling Rodney down on top of him and grinning against his face.
“Lock the door, jackass.”