unadrift: (really)
[personal profile] unadrift
Title: Look, Listen, Learn
Author: [personal profile] unadrift
Pairings/Characters: Jeannie, McKay/Sheppard
Rating: PG-13
Words: 3333 (No, really.)
Notes: Tag for The Shrine with a tiny AU spin on the episode, written for the Season 5 Tagathon on [livejournal.com profile] sga_episodefic.

To give credit where credit is due: This was inspired by [personal profile] cesperanza's episode reaction (point eight *g*), it features a couple of lines from the episode, and it was improved by the fabulous beta strike force [livejournal.com profile] naye and [livejournal.com profile] tacittype!

The infirmary is mostly dark when Jeannie comes to find Doctor Keller, but it's not silent. She feels tears well up in her eyes again when she recognizes her brother's voice.

A distinctive blueish glow indicates to the doctor's whereabouts as well as the source of Mer's voice. It's another one of those videos, recorded on day six – Jeannie can read the information over Doctor Keller's shoulder. When she hears Mer's awkward, "I love you," it breaks Jeannie's heart in more ways than one.

For Jennifer, because she probably knows.

For her idiot of a brother. (And how much does it tell about their relationship that she can still be annoyed with him, even when he's dying on her, fast, wilting in a way that is the worst kind of hell for him.)

And for John Sheppard, who continually manages to surprise her with the carefully hidden depth of his care for her brother.

She clears her throat.

"Jeannie," Jennifer says, startled, and stops the video. "I wasn't expecting anyone this late."

"Yeah. I'm kind of one of those people who needs all the information they can get." And Jeannie thinks that she might have gotten it, finally. She only hopes that it won't turn out to be useless.

* * *

"Hey," Mer greets her from his infirmary bed, smiling.

He is about as himself again as anyone can stand. But Jeannie has seen him smile more often during the last two days than during the entire Christmas holiday vacation he spent with Jeannie's family last year. Although, the vegetarian food and the presence of Kaleb's mother – a firm believer in astrology, flowing energies, and the healing power of stones – might have had a lot to do with that.

"Hey. How are you feeling?" Jeannie sets the laptop down on a chair next to the bed, out of reach for Mer's eagerly outstretched hands. "No work for you, Mer. Doctor's orders."

"Come on," he whines. "I keep telling them that I'm fine! Really, I am! Look, sitting up without problems here. I'm allowed to walk around on my own, even. I need to check on the critical systems. There's no telling which one is going to blow up first under Zelenka's sloppy maintenance. You have no idea of the million and one ways Zelenka is likely to mess things up when I'm not--"

"He seems very capable to me," Jeannie interrupts him and sits down on the side of the bed. She knows the beginning of one of Mer's endless rants when she hears one.

Mer snorts. "Appearances can be deceiving."

"And you can be such an idiot," she snaps, and huh, this wasn't quite how she'd intended to start this conversation. But-- Radek had been so worried about Mer, so unwilling to give up hope that Jeannie had felt a lot better after they'd spoken, before the team took Mer and her to the shrine.

"Excuse me?" Mer says indignantly.

"You heard me right."

He makes a face at that. "You do realize that this is the 'mom' tone you usually use on Madison? I'm not your kid, you know. You can't send me to my room or take away my sweets," he says moodily.

Jeannie sighs. He's right, this is her 'mom' setting. "That's only because you act like a ten-year old half the time."

Mer crosses his arms. "What happened to being nice to the man who almost died two days ago? His sister and friends were drilling a hole in his head with a power tool in a cave! Is a little sympathy too much to ask?"

He must have seen her face fall, because that memory is not a good place for her to go. Not at all. Mer looks like a deer caught in the headlights, his mouth opening and closing soundlessly a few times. He's obviously eager to comfort her, but without the slightest idea how to do so. Oh Mer, she thinks.

Jeannie catches herself. "I thought you were fine," she says. "So you're fit for work, but not fit enough to handle the truth?"

"Well, it's not like my occasional displays of social inadequacy are news, anyway," Mer amends. "At least that's what I hope you're referring to here. Although I wouldn't have expected you to rub my nose in it now."

Jeannie has to smile at that, because despite his 'social inadequacies', Mer knows himself well enough to recognize them. "I'll be gone tomorrow, so now's the perfect time."

"Do you have to leave so soon?" The words slip out before Mer can stop them. Jeannie is aware of the fact that he really didn't intend to say them out loud.

"Yes," she says. "Or we would need to ask Kaleb's mother to come over and watch Madison during the rest of my--"

"God, no," Mer grabs her wrist, looking horrified. "No. You go. Tomorrow. Don't leave your child in the clutches of that-- that shaman!"

Jeannie suppresses a smile and goes for a chiding tone. "She's good with Madison, you know."

"How wonderful," Mer huffs. "Just wait, you'll see your daughter grow up to be an anthropologist."

"There's nothing wrong with that." She watches Mer take a deep breath to predictably shred her statement into tiny pieces with quick-witted, razor-sharp sarcasm. So, in a pre-emptive strike, she says, "I've been wondering how much you remember. From before. When you were--" She hesitates and has just settled on 'sick', when Mer interrupts her.

"Say it: dumb." His voice is flat, and his face as blank as he can manage – which is to say, it's not hiding the terrifying nature of his memories at all. Jeannie cringes inwardly and waits for him to answer her question.

He stares back and finally caves. "I'm not entirely sure. I remember the beginning clearly. But you-- When you arrived I was already mostly--," he starts plucking at the sheet and breathes in deeply, "--gone. I remember unconnected images, sounds, and vague, uh, feelings. But apart from that--"

Jeannie knows her brother well enough to realize that there are things he really doesn't want to remember – like how it felt to be slow and fuzzy and stupid, with the ghost of a memory still in his mind that knew brilliance and clarity from before.

"You told Jennifer that you're in love with her," she says.

"Oh." Mer blushes. "You've seen the recording? Wait, she showed it to you? Did John--" He stops himself. "Jennifer wasn't supposed to show it to you!"

"She didn't. I saw it by accident," Jeannie tries to reassure him.

Except that Mer isn't reassured in the slightest. "You snooped around, you mean," he accuses, voice rising. "Really, there I am, dying a horrible death, and you've got nothing better to do than--"

"Meredith. It was not intentional."

"Right," he says with such disbelief that she just has to smack him upside the back of his head lightly.

"Hey!" he squeaks. "Head injury here! What is it with you people and physical punishment? Does it bring you joy? Because I can tell you, it's got absolutely no effect on me, no matter whether it's you or John doing the punishing."

Jeannie can't help but notice how Mer has shifted from 'Sheppard' to 'John' since they last met. "We only do it because we love you," she says and thinks that truer words were never spoken.

Mer continues to be oblivious. "Yeah, right," he retorts.

Jeannie has the sneaking suspicion that he will continue living in easy, blissful ignorance as long as humanly possible.

"I need you to watch this." Jeannie bends to retrieve the laptop and opens it.

"No," Mer refuses flatly when he sees his frozen image on the screen. The date stamp reads 'Day 15'. "What-- I can't-- Why the hell do you want to torture me with this?"

Her hand covers his quickly when he moves to close the laptop. "This is what they showed to me when I arrived in Atlantis. You need to watch it. You need to understand."

Mer looks up at her, more puzzled than angry now. "Understand what?"

Jeannie braces herself. "Why this thing with Jennifer is going to end up the same way your relationship with Katie did."

He couldn't have looked any more shocked if she had slapped him.

"Don't get me wrong," Jeannie adds quickly, because she can see the storm starting to brew. "I like Jennifer. I like her a lot. This is why--"

"What is there to not get wrong?!" Mer interrupts her, his voice high and brittle. "You're suggesting-- What are you suggesting? I'm trying to figure out how you expect me to fuck this up. So?" He shakes his head, hurt, in disbelief. If Mer were able to, he'd walk away from her now, as fast as he could. "Wow, we both know that I'm not good with relationships, but your confidence in me is really--"

"Mer. Meredith. Rodney." She grabs his face in both hands and forces him to look her in the eyes. "It's not that, okay? It's not you. Not by conscious decision, anyway. I think."

"Stop with that cryptic nonsense!" Mer snaps and pulls out of her grasp. "Just say what you have to say, if you absolutely need to."

"Watch," she says firmly and leans over the screen to press 'play'.

"No," he says, but he doesn't turn his eyes away.

It's painful to see him cringe at the images – at the utter helplessness bleeding from them, at the broken and defeated voice that sounds from the speakers.

When she pauses the video afterwards, Mer's lips are pressed into a thin, unhappy line "Satisfied?" he asks. "Can you leave me in peace now?"

"You still don't get it." Jeannie watches with growing amazement how Mer's eyes narrow even more at her.

"Get what?!" he explodes.

"Jennifer!" Jeannie shouts back. And, boy, is she glad that she postponed this visit until the night shift started and the infirmary was deserted. "Jennifer was in that room with you, right in front of you, but it wasn't enough. You were calling for John. When you were frightened and alone and desperate, you called for John." Short of drawing Mer a diagram, or trying to knock some sense into him, there really isn't anything else Jeannie can do. "Do you get it now?"

"Wait," he says. "Wait. You're saying--" His eyes widen. "You think that I'm--"

"In denial? Yes, very probably." Thank god, she thinks. Judging by his panicked expression Mer is really starting to get it. "Keep in mind that this," she raps her knuckles on the laptop, "this is still you, a-- a glimpse of the you underneath, without any inhibitions or restraints. These are your most basic feelings."

"I'm usually not very in touch with my feelings," Mer says faintly.

Jeannie can't argue with that. "You could get in touch with them now," she suggests.

"Wow," he says, as if the thought has just occurred to him, which it probably has, "you'd really be fine with me being-- You know." He gestures frantically. "Uh. You know?"

"Gay?" she finishes for him, rolling her eyes. "Why wouldn't I be? Also, you could do a lot worse than John Sheppard. Thinking about it, you can't do much better than him."

Mer flushes an even deeper shade of red at that. His expression is not happy. "Great," he says. "Now we've established that I've got another one of my patented crushes on an unattainable person. And isn't that just what I needed." He leans back and throws an arm over his face. His voice is muffled when he adds, "Thank you so much, Jeannie. You can go now. I'm tired."

She sighs. "You're such an idiot."

"What, still? I thought we were done with the insults." He really does sound exhausted. And miserable.

"Should the opportunity arise in the near future, make the effort to slow down for one second and just look at him, will you?" Jeannie advises and stands.

Mer peeks out curiously from under his arm. "What are you saying?"

"There are some things that you need to figure out on your own." She picks up the laptop. "Goodnight, Mer. I'll stop by tomorrow before I leave."

"Wait," he calls after her. "What are you saying? Come back here!"

Jeannie smiles. Mer is smart. He'll figure it out.

* * *

John turns up in the infirmary such a frighteningly short time after Jeannie left that Rodney panics for a moment, thinking that he must have heard everything. But John just smiles at him easily and asks, "So what's the verdict? When's the doc going to let you out of here?"

"Tomorrow, hopefully," Rodney says, fighting back the effects of the panic attack that had been building. "It's about time. I don't know how long I'm expected to lie around here. It's ridiculous."

John pulls up a chair. "Yeah. Since you've only got a hole in your head, I don't get what all the fuss is about, either." The sarcasm was probably intended to be funny, except that John doesn't sound like he's joking. He sounds more-- pained than anything else, actually. Rodney eyes him thoughtfully.

"Did you watch? When Jennifer--" He touches a finger to the bandage on his forehead.

John looks down at his hands. "I assisted." His voice is quiet and carefully neutral.

"Oh. You-- Really?" Rodney wonders why no one has bothered to tell him before. "That must have been--" Gross. Horrible. Terrifying. Rodney can't decide.

"Yeah. Yeah, it was," John says.

"I'm really glad I was asleep for that part." Although the part before that, the part when they administered the anaesthetic, hadn't been all that much fun either – with the good wishes and hushed goodbyes, with the thought that he might not wake up ever again, and with John's worried face imprinted as the last clear visual in his mind.

"Um. Did I say thank you before?"

"Not ever, I think." John is trying hard not to smile when he looks up, Rodney can see that. He thinks of Jeannie's words and pays attention. The change of focus must have shown in Rodney's expression, because John tears his eyes away, fast.

Huh, Rodney thinks, and, Wow, and, Christ, am I really that blind?

"You don't share your beer with just anyone, do you?" he asks, his heart threatening to beat out of his chest. Rodney can't believe that he's actually steering the conversation down this road. He should ignore the revelations from before and go back to following the safe route. Ignoring this would be one hell of a lot easier, because it would involve fewer complicated silences, like the one that has settled around them now.

After a moment John leans back in the chair, going for casual. "If it's late enough and I'm not actually all that awake, I might."

Rodney glares at him until he gives in.

"No, I don't," John admits.

"I really had no idea." None. Not even the tiniest suspicion. Rodney would really like to chalk this up to John's almost inhuman ability to hide himself from others, except that he can't.

To his credit, John isn't trying to pretend that he doesn't know what Rodney is talking about anymore. "You weren't supposed to know," he says, sounding almost defensive, and kind of-- freaked out? Rodney does a double take, because he's never seen John Sheppard actually afraid of anything before.

"Well," Rodney finally says. "Tough luck. Now I do." He crosses his arms. "How long has this been going on anyway?"

John draws a breath and meets Rodney's eyes again. "Look. I know that you're not interested in anything more than the friendship that we already have, and that's okay. It's fine. It would be great if we could just forget about the whole--"

"Who says I'm not interested?" Rodney cuts in, and if he sounds annoyed that is only because he doesn't like people making assumptions about him.

John's eyebrows climb skyward, his expression more disbelieving than hopeful. "Are you telling me that you are interested?"

Uncertainly, Rodney deflates a little. "Um, yes, maybe? Although admittedly only for the past twenty minutes or so?"

"You-- What?" John looks torn between bursting out laughing and strangling him. Strangely, Rodney sees him like that a lot.

"I didn't know!" he says exasperatedly, throwing up his hands. "I can't help it if I'm slow with these things! So I was blind and deaf before. But you could have said something!"

"Why? You're straight!"

"Well, apparently not!" Rodney shouts back. It's probably not their wisest move to have this conversation – this shouting match – in the semi-public infirmary, Rodney realizes. John does, too, by the looks of it.

He raises a warning finger at Rodney and takes a moment to collect himself. "And how would you know, all of the sudden?" he asks in a much quieter voice.

"By observing myself! The me without 'inhibitions and restraints'." Rodney mimics the quotation marks in the air. "The me that relied on you and trusted you even though I hardly knew my own name anymore."

Silence stretches for a long moment. "You remember that?"

"Not really, no." And Rodney is kind of glad that he doesn't. "I've seen the recording, though."

"Jeannie," John says. It's not a question.

"Yes. And she was right. She's going to have a field day hearing me admit it, but: she was right. On everything. Trust me to fall in love without even noticing."


Rodney can't believe that he just said that out loud.

He's not the only one. John's eyes widen and he freezes, staring. After thirty seconds Rodney is tempted to radio for Zelenka and that Ancient tachyon scanner, since John seems to be stuck in a time dilation field.

But then John moves. Close. Noses-almost-touching close. "Are you serious? Because sometimes, with you, it's hard to--"

All in all, Rodney reasons that kissing John seems like the best idea at that point. It has the benefit of shutting him up, and also a certain experimental character to gain evidence in support of the hypothesis of his still theoretical gayness.

Rodney moves in too fast, and the angle is wrong. Still, just the sensation of John's lips, soft and unmoving under his, is enough to confirm that this was his best idea ever.

And then John cups his face, and tilts Rodney's head just right, and kisses him. He's careful at first, soft and slow, then Rodney starts to give back as good as he gets, and suddenly there's want, and heat, and--

Oh. Oh. Yes, Rodney thinks, make that definite gayness.

"Uh, wow," he says intelligently when John pulls back.

"I take it you're really-- interested?" John asks, with a slow smile spreading over his face, a genuine smile that makes his eyes light up.

Rodney feels a little funny now, with John's taste lingering on his tongue, John's neck warm under his hand. It's happiness, Rodney realizes. How pathetic is it that he needs a moment to even recognize the feeling for what it is?

He can't help but smile back. "You could say that."

"Cool," John says.

Rodney rolls his eyes. "Of course."

* * *

From her position in the doorway Jeannie can hear Rodney's sarcastic, "Of course." Where he got the idea that this would be a good time for sarcasm is beyond her. John doesn't seem to mind, though, since he lets himself be tugged in for another kiss.

Jeannie smiles to herself while she sneaks back out of the room. The little needle prick of guilt she'd felt for dumping all these things on her brother before eases away.

She drops by the lab and leaves the laptop at Mer's desk. It doesn't look like Mer needs to be cheered up with the opportunity to check on his colleagues' amateurish work tonight.

He's doing just fine.

- end -

Transforming Water (tag for 5x05) // Tell Me What You See (tag for 5x07)

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