Chapter 5

It had been a bit of a tussle, but she'd won first watch, a borrowed com with a short lesson, and strict instructions to call if anything arose. Radek had provided a laptop to while away the time, but she left it sitting on the side, leaned back and let her mind roam back over the years. There had been good times and bad, as with any family. Her mother had been bamboo to her father's gale, but the children had been in the middle - Mer had borne the brunt of the wind for not being into sports, not making friends easily, things her father was good at. Mer's abilities were more esoteric, and her father had not been a subtle man. She had, perhaps, a kinder view, not only because she'd been his favourite, but by being a parent herself she was learning what it was to hope for your children, to plan.

Her brother's face was ghostly on the pillow, in the odd light from the windows. She touched his hand - it was like ice. He'd been piled high with warmed blankets, but still shivered, and she held his fingers between her palms to warm them.

Ending up here, in another universe, wasn't all that much of a stretch - theoretical physics postulated odder things. What made her smile was how he'd done it - head of science of a multi-national endeavour, one of three leaders that made it run. He'd been forced to expand his horizons and he'd done so, admirably, but it wouldn't have worked if there hadn't been the precise mix of personalities. Without Sheppard, without Carson or Weir, without his team - and she'd never thought of Mer being a team player - none of the abilities he'd shown would have been developed. Leadership, bravery, the ability to have and to be a friend...

He was shivering again, hard, and she looked around for another blanket for a moment before a silly idea flashed in her mind.

For a long time, thunder had terrified her. She'd nerve herself to walk down the hall to the next room where, often as not, Mer would be awake, resigned to a set of cold five-year-old feet sliding under the covers. She'd stay with him, feeling safer, until the storm was over and then head back to her own bed.

She dropped the side of the bed carefully, and slid under the sheet, wrapping her arms around her brother and holding him close, letting her warmth warm him.

OOOOO

"Jeannie."

It was a woman's voice, and she lingered in a half-doze. Her brother lay quietly, no longer shivering, and Teyla - it was she - tapped her shoulder again, gently. "Jeannie?"

She sat up a bit and wormed out from under the covers, raising the bedside again.

"He was cold," she said, a bit embarrassed.

"It was a logical thing to do," Teyla agreed. "I would have considered it myself, if he were in a similar situation while I was watching him, but he would be - chagrined - if he woke with me in his bed. Terrans have very odd social customs."

"I guess we do, at that." She straightened her clothes, and then the covers, stretching. "So, it's the middle of the night, huh?"

"It is." Teyla sat on the bed opposite, again doing that smooth lotus thing. She watched the alien huntress (and didn't that sound fanboy) settle herself, and sat.

"Why do you do this, hanging out here? Carson said he'd be ok. On Earth we'd be way, way past visiting hours..."

"You are here."

"Yeah, but he's family."

Teyla smiled. "Exactly," she said, pleased. "We have each been in similar situations, and we know how much easier it is to endure a serious wound or illness with someone loved and trusted nearby each time we wake. Rodney has done this for all of us, at one time or another. It is a thing we do."

"I'm glad. You know, he thinks of you all the same way. He said so in a video he made before the first attack by the Wraith."

"We know he does." Again, that quiet smile, and she found herself liking this woman. She hadn't very many female friends, even with the playgroups the mothers she met were people to chat with, not to have serious discussions with. Not heart-to-heart types. This was as close as she'd gotten in ages, and she found herself reluctant to leave. Teyla regarded her, and seemed to feel the same, for she asked, "You have a child?" suddenly.

"I sure do. I have a photo in my wallet; sorry I don't have it here! She's four."

Teyla smiled. "Our family traditions are more - blended than Terrans. Children are raised by the village, but I have several who call me, 'Aunt'."

And as easily as that, they fell into a quiet conversation that expanded to cover far more than children, and cemented their friendship.

Chapter 6

"...tire more easily for a bit, but you'll be fine. And out of here in another day."

Jeannie shifted her bag to the other shoulder. She'd caught the tail end of the conversation as she approached, and Carson grinned at her, then made for his office, while Mer frowned.

"So you're going," he grumbled. "Leaving me to convalesce alone."

She didn't take offence. "Yup," she agreed cheerfully. "All alone, no friends to coddle you, bring you laptops, pudding cups..." She glanced at the night table and pretended shock. "What's this? Laptop. Pudding cup."

"Yeah, yeah, mock the invalid." He was really down about her leaving, she realized suddenly, and she put the bag down.

"Mer, you know you're welcome any time, and all your extended family here is welcome too. I'll even get an extra long bed for Ronon." She touched his shoulder, and he looked up, still almost pouting, looking for all the world like Madison denied a cookie. It touched her, and she sat.

"Listen, you can call on me anytime. Maybe I'll even send you some of the emails I write when I can't sleep." She took one hand, squeezed it, "I worry about you."

He looked defensive. "I'm trained, now, Sheppard saw to that, and Ronon and Teyla..."

"...would do anything to protect you, I know," she finished, and it wasn't what he'd meant to say, but he didn't argue.

"So don't worry." He said it like it was something he had control over, and he'd established the protocol for her level of concern. It made her smile. "What?"

"Nothing." She leaned forward and kissed him. "Come visit, soon, and bring your team. Madison will love Ronon's hair."

It made him return her smile, as she'd intended. "You just had that mental image, didn't you?"

He nodded, and she stood. "John is waiting for me in the gateroom." She hugged him. "Keep in touch, Mer. And try not to get into any more trouble."

OOOOO

It was like getting back into a routine after a holiday, but gradually she returned to the real world of ballet lessons, school, playgroups...and the nightmare had returned, as she knew it would.

She wrapped her housecoat around her and headed downstairs, grabbing a glass of soymilk from the fridge, resisting the temptation for something stronger. She booted up her computer and sat for a moment, staring at the white screen.

"Dear Mer. I remember promising I'd really send you the emails I write when I can't sleep, so I hope you're ready. I know you belong out there, and I'm proud of you, but I am so scared, too, knowing what you're up against - Part of me wants to just grab you and bring you home, though for you I get the feeling home is where you are right now. I feel like I'm getting to know you again, is all, and I really like you, as well as loving you - if that makes sense - I just don't want to lose the chance for you to watch Maddy grow up, and maybe even the chance for you to have kids of your own. Don't laugh! You may still find Mrs. Right."

She paused, sipped, thought.

"So now it sounds like I'm trying to persuade you to come back, which isn't my plan at all, but just please, please be careful. Listen to what your team tells you, they worry as much as I do. Call me when you can, and please, please respond to my email so I know you get them."

Her typing slowed, and stopped, and she stared at what she'd written, drinking the last of her soy, listening to the comfortable sounds of her home at night.

It was selfish, she realized, to try to tell him how scared she was. It would add a burden to him, it could distract him, make him equivocate, hinder his decisions, and she reached out and clicked Select All, and Delete.

"Mer! You have to come home for Easter, and bring everyone you can - I already have the sleeping arrangements planned. I could even persuade Caleb that tofu is against Ronon's religion, so don't be afraid of tofurky, though ham might be too far to go. Maybe we could go out, there's a great Greek restaurant near here. Madison is looking forward to meeting everyone, so see what you can do. Have to run, email soon!"

She clicked 'Send' and sat back. It would wait in the server, she knew, till the gate opened for the weekly report, and so it would be a good ten days till she heard back.

It was still better than four years.