And if you go, if you go,
Leave me down here on my own,
Then I'll wait for you, yeah.
-- In My Place, Coldplay
Despite the offer and acceptance of marriage, Keller danced around setting a date for the wedding for almost a year. John knew it had nothing to do with her father, who had actually taken an instant liking to Rodney, much to everyone's surprise. Instead, she kept making one excuse after another to Rodney. They would get married once Rodney had finished working on the star-drive and could leave Atlantis, once Rodney had finished the specs on the hyperdrive for the Puddlejumpers and could leave Area51, once she had studied the Tok'ra healing device so she could leave the SGC, once they were certain all of Ba'al's clones were destroyed so the world was safe. She resigned only three months after Atlantis arrived back on Earth, taking up a surgical post in her home town. And after Rodney had left Atlantis, and resigned from the Stargate program, then she wanted to wait until he was fully settled in Chippewa Falls even though there was nothing for Rodney there. No Ivy League colleges or universities, no hi-tech companies looking to add someone of Rodney's caliber to their research and development department. There was just the local community college that was interested in hiring a new math and physics teacher.
John gazed around as he drove along the streets of Chippewa Falls, letting the sat-nav direct him to a rented apartment situated closest to Keller's family home. From what John had gathered, they weren't even sharing that apartment, with Jennifer living back home with her father while Rodney rotted away alone.
He parked outside and found the apartment easily enough but had to knock several times, waiting an eternity before Rodney finally answered. John stared at him for a moment, drinking in the sight while noticing that Rodney was paler than usual, and slightly disheveled. He wore his ratty blue bathrobe over the top of what was likely his sleep wear, as if he had not been expecting company. Yet it was already halfway through the evening and John had expected to see Jennifer here.
John smiled, letting the sound of Rodney's voice wash over him as he realized, again, how much he had missed his friend.
"So? You going to let me in?"
Blinking in surprise, Rodney stepped back. John took a couple of steps inside and froze, suddenly unsurprised by a lack of Keller as he took in the mess. Two laptops were up and running on the desk, with papers scattered all around them and across the floor. The papers were covered in Rodney's writing, filled with equations and some dotted with yellow post-it notes that said IMPORTANT, or CHECK. White sheets of paper were plastered on the walls, again covered in equations, and though the landlord would probably have a conniption fit, at least John knew what Rodney had been doing for the two months since leaving Area51. He recognized some of the equations from the boards that used to line Rodney's laboratory on Atlantis. Power equations for designing and building ZPMs, or increasing the output on the Naquadah generators. They had taken away all of Rodney's research material when he resigned so John knew most of this had come straight out of that brilliant mind.
John felt sick.
This was a close approximation of the future described by the elderly holographic Rodney following John's time travel 48 thousand years into the future. This was Rodney preparing to take on a job well below his ability to spend the rest of his life living in a couple of rented rooms filled with equations that should have won him the Nobel Prize, but would gain him nothing. This was the start of an empty and lonely life that John had promised himself would never come to pass.
"What are you doing?" he asked softly.
"Huh?" Rodney glanced around the room and then smiled brightly. "Remember when I had accelerated brain functions due to the--"
"Yeah, the ascension machine."
"Well...I recalled some of the higher math and think I can reverse engineer a ZPM if--"
"That's not what I meant."
Rodney looked confused, and John felt like a man about to kick a dog.
"Jennifer?" He looked around the room as if expecting her to be hiding behind a piece of paper. "Huh! I thought she was planning to come over after her shift at the hospital. She must have got delayed."
John narrowed his eyes because Rodney had never been any good at lying. He pulled out his cellphone and dialed a number he had committed to heart, and Jennifer's father answered.
"I was trying to get hold of Jennifer Keller," he stated, deliberately speaking in a formal tone so Rodney thought he was calling the hospital. "Colonel Sheppard." He pursed his lips. "How long? Okay. Thank you, sir." He sighed and put the phone away before offering a soft smile to Rodney. "I want you to pack up your stuff."
"You're coming back to Atlantis."
Rodney straightened and folded his arms across his chest. "No."
"Is out with her new boyfriend this evening. A doctor at the hospital. They've been together for two weeks."
All the energy and anger rushed out of Rodney and he sagged, dropping into the only available chair. "She said we needed some time apart. A chance to see if what we had was just adrenaline fueled from shared danger or..." His voice trailed off.
John sighed. He had kept tabs on Rodney, especially after Rodney broke off all communications with everyone he knew--including John and his sister. They had all told him to give Rodney a chance to come back on his own but John knew Rodney too well. He knew Rodney would wait for Jennifer to be ready even though it was obvious to everyone that it could never work between them. Part of him hated Jennifer for stringing Rodney along rather than simply telling him outright that she wanted more than Rodney could give--a normal life. And part of him hated himself for doing the same, though unlike Jennifer, he had kept finding reasons for keeping Rodney at arm's length when all he truly wanted was a future with Rodney by his side and in his bed.
"Come on," he cajoled gently, and began to gather up the sheets scattered across the desk and floor, carefully piling them in what he hoped was the correct order. Rodney watched for a moment or two before pushing up from his chair and closing down the laptops. They worked in silence until the whole room was clear. While Rodney moved into the bedroom to gather up his few belongings, John called the SGC, glad when the call was intercepted by O'Neill rather than Landry.
"Sir, I'm bringing our chief geek home."
"Want a lift?"
John thought about it for a moment, recalling that the Apollo was in orbit. "Can you send someone to take back the rental?"
"Consider it already done."
"Then I'll take you up on that offer as soon as McKay is ready, sir."
"I'll have the Apollo standing by."
John smiled wryly. Despite Rodney's social inadequacies, neither the SGC nor the IOA had wanted to lose him due to his brilliance so he was not surprised that they were acting quickly to get him back. Rodney appeared in the front room fifteen minutes later. He had changed out of his sleep wear and ratty bathrobe, and had even combed his hair but his eyes held no fire, only defeat. Suddenly, all the reasons for keeping Rodney at arm's length seemed ridiculous. DADT had been repealed and John was no longer Rodney's team leader. None of the rules applied anymore.
It still took more courage than he recalled needing to fly a nuclear bomb into a hive ship but John reached for Rodney, cupping his face in both hands as he leaned in and kissed him. When he pulled back, Rodney's eyes were round in shock, and so intensely blue that it was like gazing into an open Stargate. Yet even as he stared into those eyes, he saw the pupils dilate, swallowing the blue until all that remained was a ring around the darkness. John dropped his gaze to Rodney's mouth, to lips parted in surprise, and he felt no resistance when he leaned in and kissed him again. Pulling back when he still gained no response.
"I stopped waiting for you," Rodney whispered raggedly.
John smiled, recalling 48 thousand years. "No. You waited an eternity. I just took a little longer...but I'm here now."