How the Millers Relaxed and Learned to Love Rodney
(With A Little Help from John Sheppard)

Dec. 28th, 2007 10:15 am

Fandom: SG: Atlantis

Characters: Jeannie, Kaleb, Madison, John/Rodney

Rating: PG

Warnings: General spoilers for season four, implied slash, slight language

Disclaimer: Not mine!

Beta: ferret_kitty, who did this ON VACATION, YO!

Summary: Sooner or later, Rodney just gets under your skin.

Author's Note: Because I want Rodney to have a (happier) family. What? Wish fulfillment is allowed, right?

hr

April 14, 2008

She doesn't think she takes a breath, not from the airport to the hospital. She's hearing John Sheppard's voice, playing over and over in her head. The words are all jumbling together, twisting around each other, bouncing up and down and demanding her attention. Madison. Anaphylactic shock. A bee sting.

They'd always known that there was a good chance Madison would have some serious allergies. It ran in the family, and they hadn't been deluding themselves. Jeannie'd just always thought that she'd be there for the first attack, if it had to come. That she'd be there to comfort her little girl.

But she hadn't, she'd been at the airport instead, picking up Kaleb from a visit to his parents.

She breaks every motor vehicle law ever set into effect, Kaleb tense and obviously upset in the seat beside her. Plays John Sheppard's words over in her head one more time, "Madison got stung by a bee while we were at the lake today, but it's okay. She had a reaction but it's fine, Rodney had his Epipen and we got her to the hospital and she's just fine."

She's still hearing them as she swings into a parking space, as she runs through the halls of the hospital, as finally, miraculously she's at her baby's bedside.

Madison is awake, tiny in the middle of the hospital bed, playing with one of her toy ponies. She doesn't look hurt or traumatized. In fact, she's giggling, soft hair falling around her face. Jeannie hears herself make a desperate, weeping sound, and throws herself at her baby.

Madison squirms in her hold, little hands pushing at her as she says, voice muffled against Jeannie's shoulder, "Mom, what's wrong? Are you okay? Did you see Uncle Mer? He's with Mister Sheppard, out in the hall. I'm supposed to be sleeping but I'm not tired and so I'm staying awake until we get home and then I'm going to sleep in my bed."

She hears herself sob, again, "Oh, baby, I was so scared. What happened?" She's aware of Madison's soft hair beneath her hands, her bird fragile body gathered close. She can feel Kaleb, hugging them both, murmuring soothing nonsense that calms her for all that she doesn't really grasp it.

Madison apparently decides that squirming isn't going to get her anywhere, goes still in the circle of her arms, still patting awkwardly at her shoulder. "Mister Sheppard was teaching me how to fish and Uncle Mer said he should use the plastic worms but Mister Sheppard said that you had to use the real worms or else it wasn't sporting and I put the worm on the hook but I squeezed it too hard and all its guts came out."

She sounds completely pleased with herself. Jeannie laughs, high and desperate, rocking her baby back and forth, lets her continue, "And I caught a fish and it was huge, it was the biggest fish ever, Mister Sheppard said so and Uncle Mer made me wash my hands after I touched it but that was okay and he said we could eat it, can we eat it?"

Apparently, she's waiting for an answer on this point, and after a beat of silence Kaleb's saying, "Yes, yes, sweetheart, whatever you want, I promise."

Madison makes a pleased sound, continues, "And then I got stung by a bee, and I didn't even cry even though it hurt and Uncle Mer smashed it and pulled the stinger out and yelled at Mister Sheppard for not watching close enough and then I couldn't breath."

She pauses again, shifts, and takes a deep breath like she wants to remind herself that she's still able to. "And I was scared, but it was okay. Uncle Mer grabbed me and stuck a thing in my leg and carried me to the car. He held me all the way to the hospital and Mister Sheppard drove really fast and I'm fine now and I get to carry one of the things like Uncle Mer from now on and that makes us special cause we're not like everyone else."

Madison shifts again, pushing at her more firmly, "Mom, you're squishing me. I want to go home and eat my fish." She sounds tired and petulant and so painfully like Meredith that it tightens something in Jeannie's chest. She tries to remember what his first allergic reaction was like. Remembers only cold hospital corridors and her father, spending hours on the pay phone because he had work to do, couldn't afford to be dealing with this right now. Remembers Rodney, small and alone in the middle of his hospital bed.

She chokes, "Let me talk to your doctor, baby. I'll be right back."

It only takes one exchanged look with Kaleb before he's taking her place, and she's heading for the door. She's shaking, can't seem to stop it, even though she knows Madison is safe, even though she knows everything is fine.

She swallows a desperate breath out in the hallway, leaning heavy against the door and trying to control her shivers. And it's only then that she notices the Meredith is there, just like Madison had said he was. He's sitting in one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs, bent over with his head in his hands. And in front of him, standing like a silent sentinel, is John Sheppard.

The Colonel has his hands braced on Rodney's shoulders; he might be rubbing small circles, she can't tell. She can hear their conversation, soft tense words that echo oddly in the sterile halls, "Hey, Rodney, you okay there, buddy? You went quiet on me."

She can see her brother shaking his head, back and forth, fingers drumming against the side of his head, like he can't be still. "I didn't think anything could be worse than having an attack. God, John. She's just a little girl. What if--"

John raises one of his hands, covering Meredith's fingers with his own, bows his head a little closer to her brother. He's saying, "Hey, she's fine. She's a tough kid. Must get that from her mother's side." Meredith snorts, rocks his head into Sheppard's touch. She has a flash of him, a child in a hospital bed, lonely and scared and feels something bitter twist in her gut.

She latches on to her anger, because it's the simplest emotion to deal with right now, "Meredith!" It takes her a step to reach them, to shove Sheppard aside and bring her hand down hard across Meredith's cheek. She's got all this fear, transmuting itself into anger, and he's right there, the perfect place for her to vent this impossible fury.

She snaps, "I left you alone with her for two hours, Mer! Two hours and she's in the hospital! How could you, how could you let this happen, I trusted you!" She wants to slap him again, ignoring the wide, confused flare of his eyes, the way his skin is already staining red.

When she raises her hand for another blow, her wrist is caught, held in vice tight grip. John Sheppard's voice is low and friendly, so close to her ear that her hair shifts, "None of that, now. Rodney's had a long day."

She turns to face him, and he's smiling at her, at least with his mouth. His eyes are a different story, and she feels a chill down her spine, cold enough that it steals the anger from her chest. She twists out of his hold, shaking herself, says, "I need to talk to the doctors. I think—I think you should go, Meredith."

By the time she gets back, they're both gone. It takes Madison bothering her about Meredith's sudden departure for a week before she's calm enough to realize and admit that she made a mistake. And then it takes a half dozen e-mails before Meredith responds to her awkward, tense apologies.

hr

November 24, 2008

She's still not sure how they got talked into going to the circus, even on the way home. She thinks it had something to do with Madison begging and Sheppard egging Meredith into it, once he'd found out that her brother had never been to a circus. In any case, they'd all crammed into the Prius, and driven almost three hours to watch the clowns and elephants and acrobats.

For all that he'd been pushy about going, Sheppard is stiff and silent once they arrive. He doesn't watch the show, and the third time that he excuses himself, skin almost unnaturally pale, Meredith follows him out. They're gone for long minutes, and she exchanges a look with Kaleb over Madison's head, but he just shrugs.

When the pair does finally come back Sheppard's color is better, in fact, he's almost flushed. It's a good look on him, and she stares for a half-second longer than she should before Madison is tugging on her arm, pointing excitedly at something down below.

Meredith keeps talking to Sheppard for the rest of the show, and she wants to reach over and pinch him, tell him to leave the poor man alone, but restrains herself. Things are still tense between them, and she hates to admit that this time it's more her fault than his. She contents herself to watching them out of the corner of her eye, the way within minutes Meredith has managed to get Sheppard turned completely towards him, having an animated discussion she can't hear over the music and cheers.

As far as she can tell, neither her brother nor Sheppard pays any attention at all to the rest of the show. They still manage to hold a discussion of absolutely everything that went on with Madison on the drive home. The three of them are sitting in the backseat, Meredith constantly kneeing her in the back. And she'd complain, but he and Madison are arguing about which lion they liked best, and so she just exchanges a look with Kaleb and keeps her mouth shut.

They end up having to stop for gas before they get home, which makes Meredith's whole face light up with glee. She knows he's been waiting for an opportunity to unload on the Hybrid. She's surprised when he bites his tongue, though maybe the way Sheppard reaches out, pinching Meredith's shoulder, has something to do with that.

She bends over the seat, when Kaleb goes inside to pay, Meredith following him because he says his blood sugar is low and he needs a candy bar. Sheppard is playing Miss Mary Mack with Madison, cutting his eyes towards the gas station every few seconds. She says, "So, are you Meredith's censor, now?"

He flashes her a look she can't read in the darkness, shrugs, "No more than he's my security blanket." It sounds light, but something about the flash of his teeth, bright in the shadow, tells her that it isn't. She twists further over the seat, opens her mouth to ask what he means and jumps when a car misfires in the parking lot.

And then Sheppard's moving, lunging for the door and scrambling out and she realizes it wasn't a misfire, so much as it was a gunshot. She makes an inarticulate sound, and he leans down, stares hard at her for a brief second before snapping, "Call 911, stay in the car." And slamming the door closed.

She watches him sprint in a low crouch towards the convenience store. He's got a gun, she thinks, in his hands, and she grabs Madison, turns her daughter's face away from the unfolding scene. And then Meredith's shoving Kaleb out the front door, following a second later.

He's moving in the same low crouch that Sheppard's using, and then he spots the other man and rises. She can hear his voice across the parking lot, through the cars windows, "John!" They sprint the last few feet separating them, and Sheppard grabs Meredith by the shoulders, just for a second before sliding his hands up to Meredith's jaw, tilting his head back and forth.

And then Kaleb's yelling, "Oh my God! What the hell!" and that's about when the police cruisers and the ambulance pull into the parking lot. She opens her door, slides out, pulling Madison with her and crossing to her husband.

Kaleb's covered in blood, and she rubs at it desperately, only vaguely aware that the rescue workers are closing around them. Madison is clinging to her leg, and she grabs Kaleb, rocking him back and forth, her panicked voice loud in her own ears, "Are you okay? Are you—what happened?"

And Kaleb's babbling back at her, "It's not mine, it's not mine, Jeannie, oh God--"

Sheppard yells above everything, "I need a medic here, goddamnit!" He sounds worried and angry, and she manages to tear her eyes away from Kaleb. Rodney is sagging into Sheppard's side, his left hand wrapped high around his right arm, fingers stained dark and wet with blood.

The paramedics just surround the pair, and she catches only glimpses of her brother being loaded into the ambulance, a flash of Sheppard's hair as he crawls in as well. Police are storming into the store, and Kaleb is shaking beneath her hands and Madison clinging to her leg like she's afraid she'll be ripped away.

It's only later, after they've been questioned by the police, sat in the hospital waiting room until they'd been assured that Rodney was alright and being transported to a secure facility by the demands of the U.S. military, and successfully gotten home and gotten Madison to bed, that she manages to get the story out of Kaleb. They're sitting in the kitchen, both of them cradling beers, the phone between them, because sooner or later Meredith will have to call. Someone will have to tell them what's going on. She says, "So."

Kaleb takes a long drink of his beer, shaking his head, shoulders hunched over the table. "We walked into it, Jeannie. There were these, these men, and they had guns on the clerk and when we walked in one of them—one of them had a shotgun, and he pointed it at me."

Kaleb swallows, she can see his throat working, he makes a desperate, despondent gesture with one hand, "I thought I was going to die. I thought I'd never see you and Madison again. I thought watching Bozo the Clown with your brother was going to be my last memory of us together." He laughs, though he doesn't sound even close to amused.

She says, "Hey, it was, it was a nice night. Madison had never seen clowns before." She thinks that after the events of the night, it's probably likely that Madison will never want to see clowns again. She reaches out, rests a hand on Kaleb's arm, surprised to find him trembling.

"Yeah. Yeah, I guess. Still. There are other things I would have rather remembered, right before I died." He laughs again, turning his hand under hers, twining their fingers together. He leans across the table, kisses her, and she can taste the beer in his mouth, clings to him tighter, feels the twist of his fingers in her curls and shivers.

She breathes, when he pulls away, "What happened?'

He shakes his head again, drags a hand back roughly through his hair, "I don't know. Don't—don't look at me like that. It happened so fast. Your brother just--" he makes a gesture she can't decipher, twists and grabs at the air, before shaking his head once more and taking another drink of his beer. "He pushed me down, Jeannie, grabbed the barrel of the shot gun and just took it from the guy."

And she tries to imagine Meredith taking a gun from anyone, and hits a brick wall inside her own head. Kaleb's not done, "And he just—just hit the guy with it, right in the face. There was blood, blood, everywhere. All over the guys face and his buddy was right there."

Kaleb shudders, twirls his beer, peeling at the label with his fingers. "The boy had a—what do you call it? A hand gun?" He's gesturing again, like he's forming the gun in the air before them, making trigger-pulling movements with his index finger. "And he—I think he thought his friend was dead, because he made this sound and shot—shot Meredith."

It's a sudden icy chill in her gut to actually hear the words, because she'd known. She'd put it together, the gunshot and Meredith's bloody arm and the ambulance rushing off to the hospital with its sirens wailing. She shivers, curls her arms tight over her chest, doesn't even try to speak around the lump in her throat.

It takes Kaleb a long time to continue, as they sit there with their beers getting warm, "He yelled at the guy, Jeannie. I don't, I don't know why. Called him an idiot and a bad shot and hit him, too. Grabbed me and hauled me out of there. I didn't—I didn't even do anything. Why didn't I do anything?"

She shakes her head, because she wouldn't have expected him to do anything. She wouldn't have expected Meredith to do anything. Not her brother with his jumpiness, the cowardice he wears on his sleeve with the rest of his emotions. Not her brother, who used to pass out at the sight of his own blood. She buries her face in her hands, and they sit there, letting the silence stretch until the phone screams beside her elbow.

She snags it up, shouts a desperate hello, aware of her white knuckled grip on it, but only distantly. It's Sheppard's voice that answers her. She wonders if he's going to make a habit from calling her when one of her family has been hospitalized, "Jeannie? Hey. John Sheppard. Just thought you should know that Rodney's fine."

Relief leaves her light headed. She slumps in her seat, feels Kaleb reach out and take her hand, hold it tight and comforting. "He's fine? Oh, thank God. Where are you? Where did they take him?"

Sheppard grunts, says, voice muffled, "Sit your ass down, McKay. Don't make me come over there." And then, clearer, "What? Oh, I'm taking him home, just as soon as—Goddamnit, Rodney, will you just wait? I promise I'm not going to forget to pack your goddamn laptop—hold on a second, Jeannie."

She can hear their voices, too distant and muffled for her to make out their words. Meredith sounds petulant, though, voice high and sharp. Sheppard is gruffer, obviously irritated. She wonders why he's the one taking Meredith home.

There's a thud, soft sounds on the edges of her hearing that she can't distinguish, and then Sheppard's back on the phone, voice breathy enough for her to assume they must have gotten into a serious argument, he says, "We've got to get off here now. Rodney'll e-mail you from home."

And then there's nothing but the dial-tone in her ear.

Rodney e-mails her dozens of pictures of his arm in various stages of the healing process. She's not sure why he thinks she wants to see his stitches, or the angry red skin, or the bandages, crusted with dried blood. She finds herself looking at them anyway.

She almost smiles when he sends the first picture of the scar, puckered white flesh high on his bicep.

hr

May 16, 2009

She wakes up slowly, mostly because her throat is annoyingly dry and no matter how many times she swallows, it's not getting any better. She blinks, trying to figure out where she is, because the white walls of the room she's in aren't familiar, and neither are the ugly drapes or the sharp, antiseptic smell in her nose.

Shifting her head reveals that she had the headache from hell and that it was just waiting for an excuse to rise up. It also reveals that she's not alone, and she startles, feels her heart jackhammer in her chest. Something catches in her arm as she tries to extend it, and she looks down, takes stock of the I.V.s sticking out of the back of her hands, the hospital gown, the soft sheets folded around her hips.

Her heart spikes faster, because she's in a hospital, and she doesn't remember why, and she jerks her head back to the side, hisses, "Mer! Mer! Meredith!"

He doesn't stir, and she feels something sour twist in her gut. He's flat on his back, face turned away from her, but it's not like she can't recognize him anyway. He's got needles stuck in his own arms, folded over his chest and she balls her hands into fists, because he's so very, very still.

"It's the anesthesia."

She jerks towards the voice, focuses on John Sheppard, standing in the doorway of the room, a cup of coffee cradled in his hands. He's wearing his uniform, but it looks rumpled, almost slept in. There are dark circles under his eyes, and a few days worth of stubble on his cheeks and jaw. He's not looking at her when he continues, "He doesn't handle it well. Probably'll be out for a few more hours, at least."

Sheppard crosses the room, silent even in his big boots, and she follows him with her eyes even though he still hasn't looked at her. Watches him settle onto the side of her brother's bed, watches him rest the back of his hand against Meredith's forehead, watches his frown deepen, just a little bit.

Meredith mumbles something in his sleep, shifts agitatedly on the bed until Sheppard reaches out and catches his hand, and then goes still. And Sheppard smiles, something soft and nakedly private and she croaks, if nothing else to remind him that she's in the room, "What's going on?"

He turns his face towards her without actually moving his eyes from Meredith. Says, "Do you remember the accident?"

She opens her mouth to inform him that, no, she doesn't remember any accident at all and then she does. It's only brief snatches of memory, of the lines on the highway blurred by the rain, of Madison sleeping in the back seat, of the pick-up truck bearing down on them out of no where and twisting metal, shattered glass, big fat drops of rain falling on her bleeding skin. Pain.

She twists, tries to push into a sitting position and falls back, gasping, at the tight pain in her side. Her voice is barely above a whisper, "Kaleb? Madison? Are they--" and she discovers that she can't actually make herself ask, that the words get hung up in her throat.

Sheppard shrugs, and she's suddenly deeply angry with him, though she couldn't say why. He still isn't looking at her, saying almost distractedly, "Fine. Kaleb took her to get her some dinner and let her sleep."

The heady, complete relief smothers her irritation, and she suddenly, irrationally, wants to cry. She raises a shaky hand to her face, intending to scrub at her eyes, and gets distracted by the stitches she can feel along her brow line and the pain that even touching her nose and cheek causes. She says, "I don't understand."

Sheppard's gaze, finally swinging towards her, is sharp. Painfully, nakedly, calculating. She shivers, sinks deeper into her pillows, fingers fumbling around for the button to call the nurse. And then something lightens in his expression, the hard edges covered, "Your air bag didn't properly deploy. The steering wheel did some serious damage to your stomach, intestines. Your kidneys were beyond repair."

She swallows, her throat tightening down impossibly as she flattens her hands across her stomach. She can feel the stitches through layers of cloth, a deep ache that even the morphine, because surely they have her on morphine, isn't covering. She opens her mouth, and closes it again when no sound comes out. Sheppard's eyes are flat, judging, "Good thing Rodney had a spare."

She thinks she might be suffocating, unable to breathe around the tightness in her chest, manages to gasp out, "He--?"

"Broke every rule we had set up for intergalactic travel getting to you, too. We're going to be in some serious trouble if we brought back a plague with us, I'm sure." She vaguely remembers Meredith telling her about a one day stop over at a midway station. "Couldn't talk him out of it."

Sheppard's still watching her, but she can see his thumb, tracing absent patterns around the tubes sticking out of the back of Meredith's hand. She makes herself meet his gaze, her own hands twisting together. She clears her throat before she speaks, vindicated when she manages something above a whisper, "I don't know what to say."

He cocks his head to the side, a muscle in his jaw jumping. "No?" For a second she thinks he's going to come up off the bed, but then he shakes himself, turns his attention back to Meredith. "Lucky thing I do, then, huh? I say that this makes you even. Whatever it is you think he owes you. He doesn't anymore."

And it's an order. She's dealt on and off with the military enough to recognize that. She shifts, uncomfortable. There'd been a time she'd pegged Sheppard as a cocky fly boy, a pretty face in a uniform, and granted, that impression hadn't lasted very long. But this cold, hard, flatness isn't something she'd suspected before. He's scaring her, just a little bit. She says, "What do you--"

He makes an impatient sound, one that she's heard Meredith make since he was a child, and it startles her. "He doesn't talk about growing up, so I don't know how things were then. But they're not like that now, and I'm tired of seeing him look so goddamn guilty every time he gets an e-mail from you. It's not going to happen again."

She opens her mouth, because she's not about to sit here and be attacked by this man, snaps, "Who do you think you are? You don't have any right--"

His eyes snap up to hers, flashing emotion before he clamps down hard on it, before she watches his expression close down. His voice is startlingly calm, "I have every right. He's mine—he's part of my team." And she thinks that really, that explains a whole hell of a lot. She also thinks that 'part of my team' sounds an awful lot like the company line, and 'mine' sounds closer to the truth.

She stares at them for a long moment, feels emotion swell up in her chest. It's easy to see the protective posture now that she's looking for it, the way Sheppard's put himself between any potential threat and Meredith. The way he's managed to tangle his fingers with Meredith's, the way he's always there. She says, "Does he know?"

The man shrugs, expression still tight, "I'm afraid you're not allowed to ask." She takes that for affirmation. Thinks that she should have recognized it earlier, months ago. Wonders how she missed it, looking at the way her brother has slowly managed to curl around the other man, even in his sleep.

She's briefly and stunningly so jealous that it steals her breath. She says, "Okay," because she doesn't know what else to say. Across from her he grunts, shifts his gaze back down to Meredith, eyes softening. She watches him drag his fingers across Meredith's cheek, wonders if he even realizes he's doing it. She looks away, because it's obviously private.

Which is why she misses Meredith opening his eyes, is only alerted to it by the small, pleased sound Sheppard makes. She jerks back around, watches her brother blink slowly up at Sheppard, watches half his mouth quirk up into a smile. His voice is thick, rough, "John."

Sheppard's curling over him, his entire bearing changing, so completely focused on him that it's almost embarrassing to watch. His voice is gentle for the first time since he entered the room, "Hey. You're back early. How you feeling? Do you want me to get the doctor?"

Sheppard makes a move to stand, aborted when Meredith makes a softly protesting sound, flails a hand out to catch the corner of Sheppard's sleeve. Meredith's eyes are already sagging again, but he's pulling on Sheppard's sleeve, tugging incessantly, his words slurring together, "Tired. Cold. C'mere."

She can feel Sheppard shoot her a look, but she's looking the other way, eyes focused on the far wall. She can hear them shifting, hear her brother grumbling as Sheppard takes too long doing whatever he's doing, and then silence. She imagines them settling against each other, imagines them tangled together, but doesn't look.

It's the least she can do, and eventually she does fall asleep, lulled by the soft snuffling breaths of the pair across from her. When she wakes Kaleb is holding her hand, and Madison is sitting surprisingly solemn beside the bed. Meredith and Sheppard are gone, and she clears her throat, waves a hand towards the empty bed, croaks, "Where?"

Kaleb shifts, looks uncomfortable like he does whenever he's forced to talk about what Meredith does, "There was an emergency, they had to go back."

She doesn't get any e-mails from Meredith for nearly a month, no communication at all, and then there's one waiting for her when she gets back from picking Madison up from school. Her heart is pounding uncomfortably loudly in her ears, and she fumbles her fingers across the keyboard pulling it up, sags with relief as she scans the first line of her brother's complaints about the idiots he's been forced to work with.

There's absolutely no mention anywhere about the fact that he's one kidney short.

hr

December 26, 2009

Meredith refuses to come for Christmas dinner, because he insists that if he's actually going to get a free pass to stuff himself, it's not going to be with tofu and spinach. But he's there bright and early the next morning, Sheppard a half-step behind him. Sheppard's lugging both their suitcases, smiling indulgently beneath his aviator sunglasses as Meredith shoves bags into her arms before pushing his way into the house.

She stares down blankly at the paper bags, before looking expectantly between her brother and Sheppard. It's Sheppard that speaks first, shrugging, which seems like it should be physically impossible with the bags he's carrying, "Presents."

She can feel her mouth drop open, and Meredith is waving a hand, almost vibrating inside his skin, "His idea. I told him you already had more than enough stuff but he insisted. Where's my niece?"

It's too much, for this early in the morning, and she shakes her head, says, "Sleeping." And wishes for coffee when Meredith grins, and snags one of the bags back from her before taking up off the stairs without any explanation whatsoever.

Sheppard takes off his sunglasses just in time for her to catch the end of an eye roll. He's saying, "Our hotel had this pumpkin spice coffee. He's been...perfecting it for hours." And then he's turning his expectant gaze on her, saying, "Our usual rooms?"

And she thinks, that yes, she should have known something was up between the two of them when Sheppard got his own usual room for visiting. She shifts, readjusts her grip on the bags full of presents, "Actually, well, let me show you."

He shrugs again, raises his eyebrows, and follows her upstairs without comment. She hesitates for just a second outside the door to the spare room that is usually just Meredith's, and then opens the door, ushers him in. She tries not to sound as awkward as she feels, "We converted the other room to an office." Which is a dirty, filthy lie. She hopes he doesn't call her on it, "We didn't think you'd mind sharing."

For a long moment Sheppard just looks at her, expression unreadable, and then he sets the suitcases down, steps into the room and turns in a slow circle. There are four pillows on the bed, the sheets are folded down, and he runs his fingers almost experimentally across the comforter. He says, "You didn't have to do this."

She shrugs, even though he can't see her, "We're taking Madison out tonight. To see a movie. Sometimes we end up staying over the night in town, if it gets too late. Grabbing breakfast in the morning. So. You know. We probably won't be back until near lunch."

He turns to face her, head cocked, eyes measuring. He leans his thigh against the bed, braces his hands on his hips. He says, "Okay," and she's not sure exactly what he means, but bobs her head anyway. And then Madison is bounding into the room, a bundle of energy fit to match Meredith, who follows on her heels. John meets Meredith's eyes, somehow cutting the rest of them completely out, says, "Looks like we're sharing a room."

And it's oddly heart warming, the way Meredith's entire face goes red when he blushes.

The next day, she makes sure that they don't actually get back until closer to dinner time. They find Meredith and Sheppard in the living room, sprawled together on the couch, sleeping. She thinks about waking Meredith up just to point out that he's got his shirt on the wrong way out, but Sheppard cracks one eye open as she approaches, and she changes her mind.

She waves instead, and half his mouth twitches up into a smile as he raises the hand he had flattened across her brother's shoulders just enough to flash her a thumbs up. She manages to distract Madison with the computer, and the house is still and silent and warm the entire night, and she makes Kaleb run out and pick up some fried chicken to have along with the vegetarian lasagna she's fixing for supper.

Meredith and John end up having to leave in the middle of it anyway, scooped up by their ship before they even have a chance to grab their bags. There's an emergency, and Meredith grabs her, hugs her tight right before he disappears and she thinks it might be the first time he's initiated any kind of contact with her at all in years.

He sends her an e-mail, hours later, short and to the point. It says: Thank you. And she smiles.

::back to index::


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