Codes: McKay, Sheppard, Jeanie Miller
Spoilers: McKay and Miss Miller, sort of
Summary: She stops wondering how Meredith could do this, why, because she already knows.
Author Notes: svmadelyn for the beta and help with the title. amireal for prereading and nodding.
Mostly, this is proof that boredom and tiredness lead terrible places. AU for Teacher's Pet, set after Teachers' Pet 9, where things didn't work out quite as they should.
One a.m. on a Sunday night, Jeanie Miller lets out a breath she hadn't even known she'd been holding, clutching her bathrobe around her like a shield.
He looks like shit, even more than during his defense, when he drank nothing but coffee and spent forty-six hours on the floor of his apartment in his boxers with nothing but his notebook and a grease pen. Bloodshot blue eyes look into hers for a flickering instant before he looks away, sagging into the doorway. "Hey Jeanie."
"What are you--" She can't just leave him standing there, dressed in a creased, badly-fitting shirt that's seen better years, wrinkled pants stained at the knees, clutching a knapsack over one shoulder and looking like his cat just died. He's years from the man she remembers in more than just age. "Meredith--oh," she whispers, finally able to distinguish the small dark shape plastered against her brother's side, eyes fixed on the floor. Jerking the door open farther, she steps back, waving them inside with a hand that isn't shaking, but only because she's still not sure what she's seeing. "Come in, get--what are you doing here?"
He ignores her--nothing new, nothing strange in that--but one hand goes down, wrapping into the kid's hand as he comes inside, dropping the bag in the doorway and turning to crouch, unzipping the kid's oversized coat and taking his bag. A *kid*. Not looking at her, Meredith starts talking as he smoothes the kid's stained t-shirt. "We uh, had to leave in a hurry, and I didn't think--" he stops, taking a sharp breath, and even she can see he's way beyond exhausted. He seems to shake himself before straightening, turning to look at her with bloodshot, pleading eyes. Meredith never pleads. "I need a place to stay for a few days."
Right. Closing the door, Jeanie thinks of Madison sleeping upstairs, her husband away for the week, and God, the one time she really, really needs some help. "I--okay." Turning to the boy, she watches him look around the room, unnaturally still before he comes back to her, taking an instinctive step toward Meredith when he sees her looking at him. "Hi," she says, thinking of Madison's friends, but honestly, she's crap with kids that aren't hers and soothing seems to make him even jumpier. The kid pulls even farther back, ducking under Meredith's arm and turning his head into Meredith's side with a shiver. Glancing up, she watches her brother look down with an expression she's never seen before. "Meredith--"
"I need to get him to bed," Meredith says, words almost slurring. "Spare room, couch, whatever; we've been awake three days and he's about to crash."
Right. She's not getting anything yet. "Up the stairs, first room on the left."
Meredith nods jerkily, and Jeanie watches as he reaches down, gently disengaging both small hands from their deathgrip on the tails of his shirt. "Come on, let me get you settled." The soft voice is a revelation, and Jeanie watches as Rodney gently leads the kid toward the stairs, with a quick, worried glance back at her. "Give me ten minutes."
She nods. "I'll be in the kitchen."
It's more like twenty, with a full pot of coffee and Meredith's laptop on the kitchen table, a plain manila folder close beside it as Meredith paces the linoleum in front of the refrigerator. Some things never change. He's all movement and sharp edges sharpened; she's almost afraid to go too close.
"Meredith?" she says carefully as he gets a second cup, hands shaking as he makes another circuit of the room. "Meredith."
Head jerking around, he looks at her like he's never seen her before. "John. His name is John."
Nodding slowly, she watches him pace again, then shakes herself and makes herself open the folder. One quick skim, then she has to stop, start again, breathe a little, and when she looks up, Meredith's sitting, finally, energy harnessed, elbows pressed to the table.
"John," she says slowly, then makes herself read the rest, because it's just that unbelievable. "John McKay."
"Yeah. Um." Taking another drink, Meredith shut his eyes, pressing the heel of his palm into his forehead. "Congratulations. You're an aunt."
"You adopted him." She doesn’t even know how to quantify this one. "You--adopted a kid."
"Yeah." Meredith's moving again, and if she was kind, she'd send him to bed, but she's not kind. It's been years and time and more words and more silences than she's ever been able to count and he's *here*. Meredith's eyes flicker to the stairs, maybe escape, but mostly worry, and if nothing else has changed, that has; Meredith has never looked like that before. "Look, it's complicated--"
"You adopted a kid--Jesus, an American kid." Adoption petition, passport, naturalization papers for citizenship--how the hell had he done that?--birth certificate, vaccinations, a letter of resignation, thick bundles with the insignia of the United States Air Force in slick color, references. Touching them, she looks back up. "Is he--" Actually yours, but if that kid's her brother's genetic son, she'll give up coffee for the rest of her life. "Who is he?"
"Complicated," Meredith said shortly. "Look, I just need to find an apartment or something. House. Apartment. God. I have to find a job, don't I?" Dropping back into the chair, he stares at his coffee cup like it personally betrayed him. "I should have thought of that. Is it time for school to start?" He stands up again, like he might go looking for a calendar, chair skidding backward from too-fast movement, and it's all she can do to stay in her chair and not shove him down before he hurts himself or breaks her furniture.
Head jerking around, he freezes, looking confused. There's no way he's going to be understandable tonight. Sighing, she sets her cup aside. "Right. Go to bed, Mer. You need sleep. I need sleep." God, does she need sleep if she's going to work this out. Taking both their cups, she dumps them in the sink to deal with in the morning, rubbing a hand across her face. "I can make up the other room--" Even thinking about it made her more tired.
"No, no, John's not--used to. This." Rodney makes a vague gesture that could mean anything before retreating toward the stairs like he'd just revealed a state secret. "And by this, I mean, houses, *your* house, and yeah. Tired. Christ, I'm tired." With another gesture, probably meant to be good night, he's already out the kitchen door, and Jeanie listens to him take the stairs two at a time, wearily hoping that he doesn’t wake up Madison.
Turning off the lights, she stares at the kitchen sink, then goes up, Meredith's voice drifting down the stairs.
"…it's a flip switch, like this." She watches the reflected light flicker on and off the far wall. "It's--stupid, yeah, but they don't have a few thousand years of civilization behind them. Christ, how are you still *awake*? Were you stealing speed from truckers or something at the last rest stop?"
She can hear an indistinct voice follow, then Meredith, softer. Curious, she gentles her step, coming up in time to see her brother sprawled across the better part of the bed, staring at the dark ceiling. The kid's crossed legged on one of the pillows, thin arms wrapped tightly around his body; she thinks, suddenly and painfully, she's never seen anyone look as alone as he does at that moment. "I want to go home," he whispers, a world of misery in the small voice. Jeanie takes two steps toward him without meaning to. "It's cold."
"It's Canada," Rodney says. "It's always cold. We're going to the coast soon, okay? This is just until I get some things sorted out."
"I want to go *home*," John says again, and Jeanie can see him begin to shake. "It's cold and everything smells wrong. I can't feel anything. I want Teyla and Elizabeth and Ronon and Lorne. I want to go *home*."
"And we *can't*," Rodney snaps back, face flushing. Then he deflates suddenly. "John. John, I'm sorry. I'm *sorry*. Jesus," and he sits up, pulling the shaking kid across the bed, holding him in an awkward hug, cheek resting in his hair. "I can make this work. We can make this work, okay? It's just different, but it's--interesting here. I think. I mean, six billion people can't be wrong." One hand brushes back the dark hair, tilting John's face up. "We're going to make this work and it's going to be fine. Go to sleep and I'll buy you a computer tomorrow."
And that's Meredith, straight through. John stares up at him for a second, wet searching eyes, then nods, letting Meredith shoo him off the bed as her brother pulls back the covers, toeing off his own shoes but not bothering with anything else before settling John beneath the covers, crouching beside John with one hand in his hair, stroking with slow deliberation.
He's still sitting there by the time she goes to bed.
John avoids Madison, giving her a wide berth in the den, absorbed in building symmetrical block towers that for some reason make her come back to look between the dishes and the laundry, watching the precise way he stacks every block, the pattern of the walls between each tower. Meredith, absorbed in shouting into a phone at someone named Sam for most of the morning, comes in twice, once to correct the angle on one of the towers, and once to tell John to eat his lunch before he passes out.
After John rebelliously finishes his sandwich, Meredith wanders out again, and Jeanie wipes her hands down and comes back, taking a seat on the couch behind John.
She'd shown him the TV, which he'd treated like an alien object, turning it off minutes in with a disturbed expression before going to Meredith, asking something in a low voice that got him a thoughtful frown. He'd studied the doors like he'd never seen them before, looking around and behind them with a dissatisfied expression before Meredith shooed him back into the den with a whispered comment that almost made him smile. He'd be a cute kid, if he'd stop looking like he'd stepped into a stable.
Madison is her model and example; she doesn't know what to make of the boy in an Air Force t-shirt and badly fitted cargo pants, sitting cross-legged on her floor. Serious, in a way she thinks that children shouldn't be, and Madison's giving him as much space as he's giving her. "John."
He turns slowly, and somehow, she hadn't thought he'd realized she was there. "Yes, ma'am?"
The politeness somehow feels insulting; that, if nothing else, reminds her of Meredith. "What are you building?"
John hesitates, glancing at the doorway. "A city," he says slowly, like he's testing the words. Looking at it again, Jeanie lets the pattern of it settle--this could be a city, perhaps. "You're Rodney's sister."
Jeanie nods, wondering what Rodney has told him about her. But that's all he seems to have to say, turning back to rearrange what looks like a pier on the left side. "So where are you from?"
"Pegasus," John says, then freezes, back going straight. Turning around, he looks at her for a heart-stopping second, eyes wide and afraid, then he's on his feet in a blur of motion, out the door before she can start to ask what upset him.
Madison comes over, climbing onto the couch and into her lap, looking up at her with solemn eyes. "He's mad," she says thoughtfully, leaning into Jeanie's shoulder. "He wants to go home."
Jeanie sighs, gathering her daughter closer. "I figured that out, yeah."
"What do you know about kids?" she hears herself say, and may God strike her dead, she sounds like Mom. From the look Meredith gives her, he hears it too.
"They're kids. They eat, sleep, go to school, and need to be occupied with something." Meredith waves toward the living room, where John has become one with a Nintendo Gameboy, playing a game of Tetris with creepy concentration. Madison skitters around him like a void in time and space, worriedly chewing on the end of her braid and trying to look less freaked out by an alien in human child skin than she has to be.
Jeanie can't blame her.
"Look, do you think I'd have resigned and run home to Canada if I thought I couldn't do it?" he says reasonably, pouring his eighth cup of coffee of the day. She wants to cut him off just because he's annoying her so damn much. "So I look for a place to live, get him into school--though honestly? The schools here are substandard. You may want to look into that before you enroll Madison anywhere." Meredith leans into the counter, glancing at the phone briefly. "Homeschool," he says in terrifying interest, and Jeanie has to forcibly restrain herself from breaking something over his head.
"You can't homeschool him," Jeanie says, hoping to head off that train of thought right off the bat. Before he can finish opening his mouth to argue, she quickly moves to the next subject. "Mer, have you thought this through?" Because Meredith on his days *off* works in twelve hour shifts, and John may be a smart kid, but she has visions of him making his own dinners and learning how to clean out the garbage disposal and it just can't end well.
"I've had seven months," Meredith answers cryptically, then sighs, throwing up his hands. "Look, it's kind of a done deal, and there's no way in hell I'm taking him back, so support would be good here? Settling down, family, this is your *thing*, isn't it?"
"But it's not *yours*," she shouts back. "He's what, ten? He's--"
"Nine," Meredith says, scowling.
"*Nine*. He's a nine year old child and children take a lot of supervision--" But Meredith's *laughing*, and she can't deal with that. No one should have to deal with their brother going nuts, resigning from whatever job he had, and adopting a kid. No one.
"Jeanie," Meredith says, looking at her like he used to look at his professors, which isn't complimentary, "believe it or not, I've been caring for him for seven months. There is nothing he can do that can possibly surprise me. I mean, he can't even wreck the ju--look. I know John."
She stares at him. She says, "Are you serious?"
Meredith smirks. "You would be amazed what he's already pulled off. Trust me. Until you've been woken up by security at three in the morning because he's figured out how to hotwire a--hotwire a thing? You haven't really lived."
Meredith just looks insufferably amused. "A car, of course."
John doesn't warm to her exactly, but by the second day, he doesn't act like she's invading his personal space by being in the same room. He plays a horrifically competitive scrabble game, decimates at sudoku, and prefers her brother's company to an extent that's unnatural. It's like living with Meredith all over again, except now he has an echo. A small, annoying echo.
And if in her life she never again gets lectured on the ridiculous danger of the internal combustion engine, it'll be too soon. John's the first person she's ever met that makes her want to whip out her degrees and *throw them at him*.
"He's very smart," Meredith says with no modesty at all, patting John's head when John corrects the Discovery Channel. John acts like he grew up in a lab surrounded by overeducated people with far too much fascination with whiteboards and particle physics. She's tempted to ask if he's ever interacted with anyone below the age of thirty.
"Did you grow him in a lab?" she asks, because honestly, she has to wonder. Meredith freezes in a way that, for a second, almost looks like guilt, before he makes strange noises about the impossibility of cloning and escapes to watch John building himself a computer in the den from the parts Rodney picked up at the store earlier. Her house has become host to more electronic equipment than she knew could fit in a single room, her den filled with game consoles, software, DVDs, books (non-fiction, science, it's like looking at the shelves in her old dorm room), a soldering iron (relegated to the garage) and power tools (also in the garage), a ridiculously expensive telescope, board games, and piles of t-shirts and jeans that make her hurt a little for Meredith's lack of fashion sense and even more for his credit card.
She watches them play cut-throat chess and blackjack with cheetos as the stakes, arguing more like old friends than guardian and child, talking in half-understandable fragments that make no sense no matter what kind of context she tries to apply. Meredith uses language that makes her send Madison from the room while John smirks into his cocoa, and neither of them have the slightest clue how to interact with human beings other than each other.
"What kind of project were you working on?" she asks once, over dishes. When Meredith drops a plate and John gets suddenly deeply interested in the Barbie that Madison keeps trying to show him, she thinks that she may have hit something.
"Deep space telemetry," Meredith says as he looks for the broom in all the wrong places as John explains to Madison that unrealistic expectations of women are encouraged by mass consumption of Mattel products. "John stop quoting Elizabeth. Go build something new."
John gives him a withering look. "I need a blowtorch."
"Who is Elizabeth?" Jeanie makes herself ask.
"My old boss," Meredith says, giving John a sideways glance. When Jeanie looks, the hazel eyes are fixed on the laptop screen again, but even from the other side of the kitchen, she can see the small face is folded into lines of unhappy concentration, and one furtive hand comes up to swipe at his eyes.
They drop the subject after that.
Late that night, Jeanie wakes up to hear John's broken voice in the next room, listening to her brother soothe with promises of one day, not now, but one day. They'll go home one day. It just can't be yet. Not yet.
Meredith keeps John occupied on his laptop for most of the next afternoon, working ridiculously complex formulas on notebook paper at the kitchen table while he calls various former colleagues, though the conversation's so splintered she can't figure out what he's asking them. They both make inroads into her junk food supply, and Madison, in a fit of inspiration, remembers that Jeanie hid the Halloween candy and John does something inexplicable with the vacuum and three chairs to get it down.
Meredith waves off her protestations of white sugar and small children in between the Kit-Kats that John hands him. "Whatever. John, finish your assignment."
John goes back to work with a frown, and Jeanie tries not to ask Meredith what school teaches fluid mechanics to small boys.
Following Meredith into the living room, she leans into the edge of the couch, waiting as he slams the phone down. "Something wrong?" she asks. She's going to need a new phone.
"No." Slouching back into the couch, Meredith stares up at the ceiling. "I forgot how much stupider everyone is here."
"Years," she says. Meredith rolls his head on the couch, blank eyed. "Years. You haven't spoken to me in years, and you know, I think you're rested enough. What the fuck is going on? Why are you here? Why did you adopt that kid? Where have you *been*?"
She thinks he won't answer; before, he wouldn't have. Before, he would have yelled, or attacked, or maybe walked out. But he's still tired, sleep aside, black circles beneath sad blue eyes, skin that's almost grey. And he never goes out of sight of John, not even for a second, even now glancing over her shoulder as John patiently works like a grad student on his dissertation.
"Antarctica. I resigned," he says quietly. "I fought for custody of John. I brought him here, because I couldn't think of anywhere else to go. Not where he could get used to everything. You're the only person I could think of. I mean, besides Sam, but she has her job and--I didn't know where else to go." Tipping his head back again, Meredith looks up at the ceiling. "We can leave. Give me--"
"I didn't say that." Sitting down beside him, Jeanie looks back in the kitchen, watching John reach for another cookie. "Mer, who is he? Did you work with his parents?"
Meredith makes a choked sound. "No. Not exactly. Something like that." Eyes closed, he lets out a laugh that doesn't sound amused. "It's complicated. He's very--complicated."
"Is he reading your graduate thesis?" she says, squinting at the laptop screen that John references before going back to his pencil. She supposes she should be more surprised; not everyone's like her brother, like she is, was raised like they were, she knows that. But. She can't imagine Rodney dealing with a normal child. Of course Rodney's kid would be like this. Of course he would.
"He's very bright," Meredith says. She can hear the smile in his voice. "He's going to be amazing, Jeanie. I knew he could be. I *knew*--" Breaking off, he shakes his head, but the smile stays. "I knew I--I was the only one that could."
All the questions she wants to ask dry up in her throat as John comes in, paper in hand, slamming it down on the coffee table before crawling onto the couch beside her brother, staring at him with a look she remembers from her own childhood; Meredith's own scornful appraisal. "Give me a challenge next time." Ducking his head, he's sprawled across her brother's lap and asleep in seconds, loose-limbed and easy and finally, finally resembling a child, mouth open and drooling slowly into Meredith's jeans.
Meredith's looking down on him with that look, a look she knows, has felt curve her own face, hand hovering over dark hair before one gentle touch, so quick it's over almost before it began.
"When this started," Meredith says, voice soft, "I thought I'd hate it. I didn't understand why it happened. All the way back, I kept thinking how easy it'd be to screw this up. But he's not--he's amazing. He's not like anyone I've ever met. Jeanie, you're going to love him."
She thinks she could love him just for the way he makes Meredith light up, this brother she doesn't recognize and thinks that maybe, she's never met. She's watched him awkwardly assemble a sandwich in the kitchen and stand over John while he drank his milk, hand covering John's as he corrected a problem, watch him like he's the only thing in the room. She remembers bringing Madison home the first time, sitting on the couch with the tiny weight in her arms, unable to look away for even a second, awed and amazed and sure in a way she'd never been before.
She can read it in Meredith's face when he looks at John, that shift that's the world moving beneath you, rearranging into something you never expected and never wanted, that you'll fight anything to keep once you have it. She stops wondering how Meredith could do this, why, because she already knows.
"I couldn't do anything else," Meredith says in wonder, with another tentative touch in the dark hair. John shifts into it before going boneless and pliant again, the corner of his mouth curving into a smile that makes her ache. "I just--it wasn't even a choice. I couldn't imagine wanting anything more than him."
Reaching out, she ruffles the kid's dark hair. "John McKay," she says, tilting her head to take in the small, slack face. When she looks at Meredith, she feels his smile like the sun.
Randomly, this is how our convos usually go.
seperis: I HATE TITLES.
svmadelyn: i found seven typos
svmadelyn: i've helped enough!
svmadelyn: i can't hand you things on a SILVER PLATTER
svmadelyn: *has found new posts about wank, etc.*
seperis: i hate you so much
svmadelyn: fine! i just thought of a great one!
svmadelyn: see if i ever tell you.
seperis: You did not.
svmadelyn: did so.
seperis: did not.
svmadelyn: to be redundant? totally did.
seperis: To be honest? Totally did not
svmadelyn: Okay, see, what you do, is just repost those last ten lines of chat, and then you don't have to have a title. People will just blink sadly at us.
svmadelyn: because I did *so*, but now, because you took so long in maligning me, I forgot.
seperis: It is depressing
seperis: *sad for us*
svmadelyn: *tumbleweed blows past*