Rodney spent the week of the conference trading text messages with John, mostly about how Oppenheimer was doing (and Rodney had more or less resigned himself to calling his cat Oppie). John included lots of pictures: Oppie eating his fancy cat food out of his fancy silver dishes, Cam teasing Oppie with a piece of yarn (Cam apparently liked to knit), Oppie sprawled across JD while he took a nap on the couch, Oppie gazing hopefully up at Evan while Evan was cooking in the kitchen. Also, they started a game of Prime/Not Prime, which helped Rodney resist the urge to raise his hand and ask questions that would be outlandish, given his advanced knowledge of the the physics universe, or potentially harassing to presenters he didn’t like (Tunney, Tyson).
From text messages, it was impossible tell if John was flirting with him or not. He seemed like a genuinely friendly guy, and Carter told him that John had a reputation for being charming. She also said she’d heard he was married once, but his wife divorced him because she couldn’t handle the classified nature of his work.
Rodney’s heart sank at that news. Married. Wife.
But John was brilliant and funny and quite possibly a genius, with how good he was at Prime/Not Prime (and his ability to call Rodney on Mersenne Primes).
So Rodney kept trading text messages with him, thanking him and his housemates for taking such good care of Oppie, and when John asked to arrange a time for Rodney to pick up Oppie, Rodney said yes. He agreed to a neutral location (you seem like a nice guy, but better safe than sorry) and resigned himself to meeting the beautiful John Sheppard just once in his life and then never again.
When John asked for a picture of Rodney, so as not to accidentally give Oppie to a stranger, Rodney panicked and went to Carter for help.
“I’m terrible at selfies,” he said. “Can you take a picture of me? And try to make me not look terrible?”
“You’re not ugly,” Carter said, looking amused, but she accepted his phone and directed him to pose in several different places in the convention hall, snapping a few pictures for each pose.
“Thanks, Carter.” Rodney accepted his phone back and scrolled through the pictures, trying to pick the best one.
“We’ve been working together for five years,” Carter said. “You can call me Sam.” She peered over his shoulder. “This one. This one looks good. Your eyes are really blue in this one.”
“Thanks, Sam,” Rodney said cautiously.
She smiled at him. “So, you kinda like Sheppard?”
“He’s smart. And attractive.” Rodney hunched his shoulders, defensive.
“He is both of those things,” Sam agreed.
“Do you...do you think there’s a chance he could like me back?”
Sam shrugged. “They call it don’t ask, don’t tell for a reason. Good luck, though.” She patted his soldier and then turned when someone called her name.
Rodney took a deep breath and sent the photo.
John’s reply was swift. Excellent! See you there.
By the end of the conference, Rodney was exhausted from playing nice, from listening to presentations that he knew were all wrong, and from worrying about meeting John for the first time. When he got back to Colorado Springs, he unlocked his apartment, checked that he had a pile of mail on his kitchen counter, that his house plant was still alive, and collapsed onto the bed.
Sunday morning came too early, and Rodney rolled out of bed, dragged himself into the shower. Then he looked at his watch, saw it was two hours till he was meeting John to pick up Oppie (noon, in a local park, near a specific tree which John had sent a picture of), and called Jeannie in a panic. He needed help picking an outfit.
Jeannie sent a few token protests (American ex-military! Divorced! You’ve never even met him!) but then submitted to examining the selfies he sent her of various outfits. Finally Jeannie approved of a pair of khakis and a blue button-down shirt and a black leather jacket just in case it was chilly, and she encouraged him to go.
So Rodney drove over to the park, listening attentively to the instructions from the GPS on his phone, and parked in the little parking lot. The park was lovely, rolling green lawns, broad shade trees, a gazebo, some swings and playground equipment.
Rodney climbed out of the car with Oppie’s cat carrier and checked the picture on his cell phone for the right tree. It took a bit of wandering around until he spotted the tree, and he came up short. Because beneath the tree was laid a big quilt, a picnic basket, a bottle of fake bubbly cooling in a bucket full of ice, and two little trays set with plates and silverware and champagne flutes. Someone was planning some kind of romantic engagement in Rodney’s meetingplace. Clearly he was in the wrong place.
Only when he looked at the photo, he was pretty sure it was the right tree.
He spun around, startled.
There was John Sheppard, in the flesh, wearing dark jeans and a deep blue sweater and carrying Oppie in his arms.
“Hi,” Rodney said, and oh, John was really, really hot. Tall. Lean. Perfect.
“So, welcome home from your conference,” John said. He ducked his head, blushing. “I, uh, didn’t want to be a creepy stalker or trickster, but I thought, given how many rounds of Prime/Not Prime we played, the conference wasn’t great times for you, and a nice lunch might make you feel better. While you get reacquainted with your cat.”
Oppie yawned and flicked his tail, gazing at Rodney with sleepy eyes.
Rodney eyed the picnic basket. “Looks like a very nice lunch.”
“Fer cryin’ out loud,” someone said, voice muffled by distance. There was a rustling behind a bush. “It’s a date.”
There was a softer, more muffled shut up! and an ow! and John turned even redder.
“Well,” Rodney said, clearing his throat, “if you’re offering a date, then I accept.”
John’s smile was brilliant, and Rodney’s heart skipped a beat. “Well, then, Rodney McKay, welcome home.” He went and sat down on the quilt, settling Oppie across his knees, and Rodney joined him.
Rodney was definitely lucky.