I was taken by the mad urge to re-write the first chapter of Dawnrise today, which was bothering me all day because I forgot to bring the flashdrive to work with me, because I am an idiot. This was bothering me especially because I have now got a Meadhon soundtrack tagged on my Zen, and it kept bringing up scenes in my head, and reminding me what an idiot I am. Grr.
Keller kicked them off Atlantis. It wasn't cruel or perfunctory, but that tight-faced, I'm Going To Enforce My Authority Now, and You Can Just Stick It face that Keller made was pretty final. It wasn't that Rodney didn't like her - because he did, respected her, even - but sometimes he wondered if she wasn't much scarier than she came across most of the time. But when she got herself all worked up like that, she seemed so uncomfortable about it that most people went along out of guilt. Even Rodney was susceptible to it. At the time, he blamed the concussion.
It had been Keller who'd told him to contact Jeannie. More specifically, she'd told him to pick a place on Earth or he'd be spending his "vacation" camped out in the desert outside Cheyenne Mountain, she didn't really care. So feeling much put-upon, he'd obeyed, and afterward he'd still felt so put-upon that he'd harangued John into coming, too. It wasn't as if John had anywhere else to go on Earth, Rodney had pointed out, which had been a low blow, but Rodney was not above dirty tactics if it got him what he wanted, for the most part. And Rodney wanted not to spend three and a half weeks alone with his sister complaining about getting kidnapped and blaming everything on him and telling him he was a jerk. Also, he wanted someone with whom he could sneak out and get burgers, because he'd been under threat of vegetarian food from Jeannie since his last visit to Earth. At least, these were the reasons he listed for John, and if John had doubted any of them, he hadn't said so. If Rodney had doubted any of them, he'd ignored the doubt.
Sam was worried. Rodney might have found that touching if she hadn't been in the middle of helping Keller shanghai them out of the city. She took him aside as they were dialing the Gate, and crossed her arms, and looked awkward, and said: "It's harder than you think it is," and Rodney had stared at her like she was speaking Chinese.
Sam sighed, and frowned at him like he was being difficult on purpose. Rodney would have liked to oblige her, because being difficult for Sam was one of his most treasured hobbies, but just then he honestly had no idea what she was talking about.
"Rodney," she said, carefully, like she was treading on very thin ground, "one of the reasons I let Dr. Keller convince me you two needed a break is because we haven't got a replacement for Dr. Heightenmeyer yet. You know that, right?"
Rodney felt a flush creep up his neck. "Look, I told Keller, I'm fine. If that's what this is about, you can shut down the Gate right now. Let Sheppard go surfing or something without me." Though even as he said that, he felt an odd lurch in his chest at the idea of John being somewhere else for a month. So he scowled at her. Scowling was always a good fallback; it tended to make people think you were too mean to bother with.
Unfortunately, Sam knew him better than that, and she met him scowl for scowl, but her face looked a bit strained. "Rodney, this isn't negotiable."
"So I've been told," he groused, hitching his bag higher on his shoulder. "But let's stop treating me like an invalid, okay? I'm not going to freak out."
The next look on Sam's face stopped him cold, because for a second she looked like no Sam Carter he'd ever seen, tired and sad and genuinely worried. "Yeah," she said, quietly, "you are. I just thought you'd prefer it if you didn't do it here, where people can see you."
Rodney's face was hot. The bag felt much heavier than it had a minute ago, and at the bottom of the stairs, John was calling for him. "Come on, McKay, we don't have all day!"
Rodney turned to follow, moving on automatic, but Sam stopped him with a hand on his arm. He looked at it like it was some kind of poisonous spider, but she was unintimidated. "McKay," she said, still quietly, "it's a lot easier in the long run, if you just let it happen."
In the end, it was the careful sincerity in her eyes that made him angry, and he jerked his arm free, stomping down the stairs towards the Gate.
When they landed in Vancouver, it was raining.
The city was beautiful, though, he'd been honest about that much. Even in the rain, which slacked off as they rode into the city, green everywhere, and warm breezes, and people. Rodney did not, as a rule, like people, but just now there was something comforting about knowing there were people ten feet away wherever he went. He really hoped this would pass, because it could get old, fast.
Jeannie's house was in one of those comfortably crowded neighbourhoods with old houses and mid-size yards and people walking tiny dogs everywhere you looked. It was quiet, relative to downtown, though he could hear the distant hiss of traffic as he made his way up the front walk. John finished paying the driver, and jogged to catch up as the car rumbled away down the street. Rodney didn't need to knock, because as they were climbing the steps, Jeannie opened the door, and Madison cannoned out onto the porch, stopping just short of Rodney, looking up at him suspiciously. "Hi, Uncle Mer," she said, and Rodney wordlessly reached into his pocket, handed her a badly-wrapped package, and she practically trilled. "Thanks, Uncle Mer!" she shouted, running back into the house. Jeannie tilted her head at him.
"Is that going to explode and burn my house down?" she asked, eyes narrowed.
Rodney huffed. "Yes, because I would give a five-year-old something that explodes. It's a Rubik's Cube, all right?"
Jeannie still looked skeptical. "She's five, Meredith," she said.
"Yeah," Rodney shot back, "and she's your kid."
Jeannie shut her mouth at that, and looked surprised, and Rodney realised, belatedly, that he'd just said something nice. "Can we come in?" he asked, sullenly, and Jeannie laughed, and stepped aside.
"Are you sleeping with my brother?"
Jeannie Miller was not so unlike her brother, John thought, staring at her open-mouthed. For a few seconds, it was all he could think, as the rest of his brain was occupied with gibbering. That suspicious, triumphant, I'm-so-much-smarter-than-you-are look was so patented McKay that for a second he wanted to do a double-take and make sure he wasn't imagining it, that Rodney himself wasn't sitting here wearing a curly wig.
The really weird thing was that she didn't seem all that bothered about it. She was peeling potatoes. The look she'd given him had lasted only a second, after she'd glanced around to make sure the others were out of earshot. Now she was back to peeling potatoes as if what she'd just asked was the most natural thing in the world. This had to be a Canadian thing. The blunt-and-semi-inappropriate-questions thing. Or maybe it was just a McKay thing. Maybe both. Good god.
"Well?" she asked, dropping another peeled potato into the bowl of water at her left elbow, shattering any hopes John might have had that the whole thing had been a hallucination. She raised her eyes a little, a little too carefully casual with a hint of shrewd, and god, it was a McKay thing. It had to be. Nobody could be that evil on purpose.
He'd asked her to call him John, because now that Rodney never called him anything else outside of missions, hearing his rank sounded strange. He was starting to wonder if that had been a mistake. Hell, he was starting to wonder if coming here had been a mistake. But he was here, and Jeannie was still looking at him. Eventually, she rolled her eyes. "Fine," she said, "I said you didn't have to answer. If it's an uncomfortable topic..."
"It's-- no," he blurted, feeling he needed to say something to block off the hole rapidly opening in the floor under his chair. "No."
She eyed him. That's what she did, she eyed him, skeptically, mouth tilted a little to the left, hands still moving. Then she shrugged. "All right," she said, sounding disappointed. "If you say so."
John glanced over his shoulder. Rodney was sitting on the couch, and Madison was excitedly explaining something about the very complex- looking Lego city she'd built on the living room rug, making full use of expansive arm gestures. Rodney's face was fluctuating between alarmed and fond, like he couldn't decide which he'd rather be. John almost smiled despite himself, before he pulled himself together and turned back to Jeannie, leaning his elbows on the table.
"Look, I-- why do you ask?" he asked, managing to sound amused by the conversation.
Jeannie rolled her eyes at him. "Oh, I'm not going to out you to your oppressive autocracy, don't worry," she said, with cheerful scorn. "Hand me the salt?"
Bemused, John handed her the saltcellar without looking away from her face, and she shook some into the bowl of water, now turning cloudy with potato starch. She sliced the end off of a piece of potato and positioned it near the end of the cutting board, the saltcellar next to it, and went back to peeling. John stared at that in puzzlement for a moment, and then cleared his throat. "What makes you think... I mean..." He frowned at her. She smiled at him, a little pityingly.
"Please. I am a genius," she reminded him, stirring the water a little. "Also, I live in Vancouver. Is it just guys or do you swing both ways?"
John, who had been taking a sip of his beer, had to labour briefly to keep from choking. When he could breathe again, he coughed: "Christ," and set the bottle carefully down. Tact had apparently not been a central tenet in the McKay family, which came as very little surprise. He'd always thought of Jeannie as the nice one. John stared at her, thinking, desperately, that he could have taken his enforced time off somewhere else, anywhere else, but Rodney had wanted to visit his sister. He was still feeling guilty over getting Jeannie kidnapped, and he'd made such a big deal about it that John had agreed to go along. It wasn't as if John had anyone else to visit, and Jeannie had greeted him warmly enough. The coast was beautiful in early summer, Rodney had told him. Surfing, he'd been promised. Mountain climbing. Hiking. Really great beer. And now he was trapped in the kitchen with McKay's sister, who wanted to talk about his apparent big gay crush on Rodney. What weird parallel universe threshhold had he crossed today?
He cast another wild glance around the kitchen, but there was no way he could get outside without passing Caleb, standing out on the deck grilling something made of soy, or even out of the kitchen without disturbing Rodney and his neice, and Rodney would notice something was wrong. Rodney was oblivious about a lot of things, but John was pretty sure that right now even Rodney's five-year-old neice would notice that John was freaked out. As if to underscore the point, Rodney chose that moment to laugh, loudly, and Madison began shrilly correcting him on something Very Important about Lego architecture.
Jeannie laid a damp hand on his arm, and he turned back to find her face much gentler than a moment ago. "I'm sorry," she apologised. "I didn't mean to freak you out. It just seems a lot closer to the surface the last couple of days than the last time I saw you two together, and you both showed up here kind of wired." The shrewdness was back, but now it was concern rather than amusement. "Mer won't talk about it. I guess you can't, huh?"
And just like that, John felt his backbone bending, as he leaned heavily back into the chair. The anxiety was gone, and somehow thinking about the reason for their leave was less disturbing than thinking about what Jeannie had asked him a minute ago. He scrubbed his face with one hand. "No," he said. "Sorry."
She looked at him, long and careful, and then stood up, pushing a sixth potato and the little knife into his hands. "Here," she said, going into the fridge and coming back with a bundle of leeks. She sat down and started stripping and chopping them. John began uncertainly peeling the potato, glad for something to do with his hands that wasn't clenching them on his knees.
"I guess I knew something happened," she admitted, cutting the leeks into tiny pieces. "Mer doesn't usually ask to come, usually he waits until I invite him. That way he can pretend I made him come," she said, smiling, and John had to smile back, because he'd figured out that ploy months ago. Rodney loved his sister, and he was maybe even starting to like spending time with Madison, but admitting it out loud would be out of the question.
"I've noticed that," was all John said.
She nodded. "I won't ask, then," she said. "About that, since it's probably classified or something ridiculous like that. But about the other thing..."
John started, almost cutting himself. Jeannie rolled her eyes again. "Don't tell me that's classified too."
"It's..." Damnit, thought John, she'd blindsided him, and he had a feeling she was going to keep asking, too. "I told you the truth." He hunched down in his chair, not looking at her, because he had a feeling she'd be looking at him with pity.
"And the rest of it?"
"Does it really matter?" His chest felt tight, out of panic or relief he wasn't sure.
There was a thoughtful silence, filled only with the sound of Jeannie's knife thunking across the cutting board. "I don't like labels," she said eventually, primly, and then, with a glance over John's shoulder that took in her brother and daughter, and then flicked back, "I'm just asking because... I mean, Mer. He's kind of an idiot."
John frowned, hard, at the potato, as he peeled back the skin and found the dark blot of an eye consuming almost half of it. "Yeah," he agreed.
Jeannie persisted: "He doesn't have a lot of... I mean he's never been any good at... you're important to him." Her lips were pressed thin, and she was looking at him expectantly.
John swallowed, hacking out the dark eye from the white flesh like he was coring an apple. He handed it to her, hole through the middle, and she slipped it into the water, again without looking away from his face. "I know."
"And you... I mean I don't think anybody else knows, if that's what you're worried about."
Good, he didn't say, but he thought it, and it must have made it to his face, beause Jeannie sighed, in a defeated sort of way, and got up from the table, picking up the bowl of drowned potatoes. "Fine," she said, going over to the sink and rinsing them off. "You're off the hook. For now," she added, warningly, and John felt, honest to god, like he'd gotten a reprieve. She smiled at him with a sudden, terrifying sweetness, and said: "You tell him I was worried and I'll kill you in your sleep."
And strangely, John found that endearing, and he laughed, reaching for his bottle of beer - which was, after all, very good beer - and tipped it respectfully in her direction. "Deal," he said, taking a swig.
Rodney, followed closely by a chattering Madison, came into the kitchen then. He picked up Jeannie's lone forgotten potato slice, looking furtive. Then sprinkled it with salt and popped it in his mouth, chewing happily.
"That's disgusting, Meredith," said Jeannie, from the other side of the kitchen, but it was a fond smile she gave Rodney's back.