Summary: When Rodney left Atlantis there wasn't a whole lot of people left to say goodbye to. Set during the alternate timeline in 4x20 "The Last Man"
Mostly gen, McKay/Zelenka if you turn down the lights, tilt your head and squint like *this*
Beta'd by the lovely and immensely talented bergann. Read her stories, for she is the stuff of which awesomeness is made (to shamelessly quote someone else). Has been changed since it was in her hands, so all stupidness is mine. Also thanks to mijmeraar and sevs_girl72 for flattery and general cheering-on.
Spoilers for 4x20 "The Last Man", obviously, and also 4x18 and 4x19 "The Kindred (pts. 1 and 2)"
"Colonel Caldwell says you need to be ready to go in three hours, Doctor McKay."
As Rodney nods at this, he suddenly realizes (later, he checks, just to be sure, and he's right) that apart from himself and Zelenka, Chuck the Gate Technician is the only one left from the original expedition. Some (many) have died, others have been transferred or reassigned or rotated, and it really is just the three (now two) of them left. It makes Rodney feel a ridiculous kind of kinship with the kid that he's barely spoken to in the five years they've been in Atlantis.
"I'll try to get Hermiod to sneak on board a case of Molson for you," he offers lamely, because really, what does he have in common with Chuck (does he even really have a last name, Rodney wonders idly) apart from the common flag velcroed to their respective arms? Chuck smiles wryly -- if he's surprised at Rodney's offer he hides it well -- then casts a look over his shoulder to see if Woolsey is nearby.
"I probably won't be far behind you."
"Oh. Ah, I'll send the beer just in case."
"Thanks, Doctor McKay."
He does manage to get the beer onboard the Daedalus. It's Novak who finally agrees to do it, and Rodney will never tell anyone just how much he had to bribe her. He never sees Chuck again, and never really understands why he went to so much trouble for him.
(When he gates back to Atlantis for the last time, he covertly checks the logs before getting to work. As it turns out, Chuck died trying to fix some sort of short-out in one of the control panels before the Daedalus even got back. (His last name was Campbell.) As Rodney sets up in one of the labs he wonders what happened to the beer.)
"You're really leaving, huh?"
"Yeah," Rodney says, not sure what else there is to say to Atlantis' military commander.
"Can't say the thought hadn't crossed my mind too."
"But I guess I'll stick around for a while, see what happens. Protecting Atlantis is an important job."
"Yes, it is, Lieutenant Colonel. Congratulations on that, by the way."
"Yeah," Lorne says, a hard glint in his eyes for a moment, before he snaps right out of it and flashes Rodney one of those smiles that invariably makes the female scientists quiver and sigh dreamily. "Hey, Keller's looking pretty fragile, take care of her on the way home, will you? And, y'know, take care of yourself."
Rodney nods again. "You too, Colonel."
When he meets Lorne again, at the SGC almost a year later, Jennifer is dead, and Rodney feels like the other man should chastise him for not taking care of her. He doesn't say it, but accepts a rough, awkward hug and a stiff drink in Lorne's office. He doesn't mention his plan, and doesn't ask when or why Lorne left Atlantis.
(It will take the Air Force idiots thirteen years to advance Lorne up to Major General, and an additional nine before he's put in charge of the SGC. The database on Atlantis tells Rodney that Lorne left about eight months after he and Jennifer did. It doesn't say why, which is...strange. He makes a mental note to ask the General about it when he gets back, and starts working on the hologram.)
"I wish I didn't have to leave you here," he says conversationally, feeling like an idiot. (Not least because Carson can't actually hear him. He's in stasis, for God's sake.)
"They're all gone, you know. Sam. Teyla. Ronon. Sheppard." He pauses when he finds he has to blink back hot tears, not knowing quite where to look, even though Carson can't see him. He leans against the wall next to the stasis pod.
"They've got a great team working on you, though. They'll get you out of there," he says, without conviction, because he stopped believing in miracles when Sheppard disappeared into the future.
He stopped counting on good fortune when they didn't get to Teyla in time. When Sam ran a final kamikaze, his faith in their normally abundant lucky breaks diminished. When Ronon blew himself up and took Todd with him (and he'll be damned if that particular piece of irony didn't make him laugh even as he tried to process that he's the last of his team now, the last one left) he knew they were screwed. And he certainly doesn't, for one minute, think that the crowd of useless shamans can get Carson out of that pod alive.
The admission doesn't hurt the way Rodney thinks it should. Maybe too many have died, dulling his responses, maybe he somehow finished processing it when they put Carson in the pod, maybe his repression skills are far more superior than he thought. Either way, when Rodney pushes from the wall, "Goodbye" falls easily from his lips before he turns and leaves.
He nags the SGC about Carson a couple of times, but is met with nothing but stonewalling. He died in an explosion in their third year. He's been buried in Scotland and his things returned to the family. For all intents and purposes, Carson Beckett is dead, and would Rodney please stop calling about it and just go see a therapist?
(When he gates back to Atlantis, he's horrified to learn from the database that the idiots passing for doctors and scientists revived Carson thinking they could save him, but failing. Their plan was so cretinous that even he -- clearly not a doctor -- can see why it didn't work. He curses them quietly and mentally apologises to Carson for leaving him to die like that.)
"I see you're ready to go, Doctor?"
"Just about," Rodney agrees tersely. Keller's already beamed up, and the Daedalus will be ready to go in forty minutes.
"May I see you in my office, please?"
Woolsey turns before Rodney can answer, and he rolls his eyes before following.
"You've been very...vocal about your dislike for our new policies. I'd like to be sure that you're not planning on leaving any unpleasant surprises behind."
Rodney snorts, because only Woolsey could be paranoid enough to think that he'd try to sabotage Atlantis. He briefly considers saying that he's set a time bomb, or activated loads of redundant systems to drain power from the ZPM, but he doesn't really want to bother risking arrest.
"No unpleasant surprises."
"Good." Woolsey clears his throat. "I'd like to say for the record that your leaving is a loss to this expedition."
"Of course it is," Rodney sneers. "And I'd like to say, for the record, that the IOA is making a monumental mistake. Michael is at large out there because of us, and we were the ones who developed the Hoffan drug, and we're sitting back because helping will cost us too much? In case you haven't noticed, we are the reason an entire galaxy is getting killed! This will bite us in the ass, Woolsey, one way or another, I'll promise you that. This is bad. Very bad."
Woolsey doesn't reply until Rodney turns to leave.
Rodney stops, and an uncomfortable realization tugs at the edge of his consciousness, that maybe Woolsey isn't the bad guy, maybe he's just a coward with bossy superiors. He refuses to let that realization creep all the way in on him, though, and throws an offhanded "goodbye" over his shoulder as he leaves.
Rodney says a few choice words to General O'Neill about Woolsey and the IOA, and just how useless O'Neill is for allowing this to happen. The General says a few choice words back, born of impotent rage and grief, (Rodney knows he misses Sam more than anyone) and they part in anger.
(Woolsey was injured falling down some stairs or something (Rodney snorts at this), and didn't stay in Atlantis for his allotted three years, instead leaving on the same run of the Daedalus as Lorne. He was replaced by another IOA bureaucrat, the database tells Rodney. From what he can extrapolate, they've preserved the city adequately. However, life in the Pegasus galaxy seems to be dying away at the same distressing pace as it did twenty-five years ago, and the Lanteans still do nothing, and as Rodney hooks up the naquadah generator he feels the same urge to shake someone and yell as he did all those years ago.)
"You should find out what's in those two labs on the West Pier, maybe there's something useful out there. And you should definitely look into that dummy-ZPM thing we talked about, try to get somewhere on that."
"I will, Rodney."
"And then there's the Jumper systems, you should see about implementing the hyperdrive-model for more of them, could be helpful."
"I will, Rodney."
Zelenka sounds resigned, tired, and not nearly as annoyed as he should be with Rodney for repeating himself (for the third time).
"And try to keep Jensen from blowing more holes in my lab." He pauses abruptly. "Your lab."
Zelenka doesn't answer, and an uncomfortable silence stretches between them as Rodney keeps packing, studiously not looking at him. Zelenka is pissed with him for leaving, and Rodney can't really blame him, but he can try. The quiet is so deafening he nearly jumps in surprise when Zelenka speaks again.
"Do you remember when Ancients came back, and we had to leave the city?"
"Of course I remember."
"You mocked Carson for being emotional."
"I'm not sure I can do this without being emotional."
"Then don't do this," Rodney snaps back without thinking, and after a moment's stunned silence, Zelenka's mouth sets in a hard line.
He turns and leaves. Rodney doesn't see him again before beaming up.
He leaves a note on Zelenka's laptop before leaving his lab for the last time. It simply says, "I'm sorry".
At some point, he starts seeing Zelenka's name in scientific journals (not that he's bothering to keep up with most of them, he just scans them for names and headlines, he's still got a modicum of professional curiosity, after all). After almost a year of consistently being published in every issue of all the most reputable journals, the small blurbs by his name suddenly start listing him as associate professor at MIT. He sends off an email to his staff address, congratulating him with landing the job and inviting him to call in if he's ever in Vancouver. He doesn't know what he's expecting to achieve by it.
Two days later Zelenka is on his doorstep. Rodney doesn't know what to say, so he steps to the side and lets him in. He stands silently in the doorway while the other man peruses the whiteboards filled with equations.
"You will attempt to alter time line," he says, not looking at Rodney, still absorbed in the equations. It's less of a question and more of an observation, and Rodney finds himself relaxing, mind gearing up to bring Radek up to speed, ready to brainstorm through the night, before abruptly remembering their situation.
"Yeah. I'm sorry," he says, "I know this MIT-gig is basically your dream come true and this could change all that and that really sucks and--"
"Rodney." Radek stops him with just a word, looking at him.
"I'm not where I want to be. Is good substitute, but Atlantis..." He looks at wistful for a moment, before turning back to the whiteboard. "If you are successful, we can stay there."
"I don't know yet if I can do it."
"Of course you can."
"When did you get back?" Rodney asks, unable to focus on the blind trust Radek still seems to have in his abilities, unable to remember a time when he had such unwavering trust in himself.
"I left Atlantis about a year after you." He pauses for a minute, taking a marker and making a few notes by one of Rodney's equations. "I'm sorry about Doctor Keller."
He says it quietly, unassumingly. He doesn't say "I understand why you didn't say goodbye" or "I forgive you" or "I'll stand by you", but Rodney knows an olive branch when he sees one, and Radek in his living room like this is definitely an olive branch. He nods.
"Let's go get something to eat."
(When Rodney finishes what he's doing on Atlantis (and has filled Zelenka's camera to capacity), he walks slowly back to the gate, savoring the feel of the city one last time. The last time he left he was in a hurry and saying goodbye left and right, so much so that he never really got to say goodbye to the city itself. As the event horizon settles in the Gate, he takes one last look around.
"God, I hope this works," he says quietly, to nobody in particular (but to John specifically), and steps through, out of the past and into his (temporary) future.)