Author's Notes: Spoilers for Season Three's Sunday ahoy! Otherwise, no warnings and no ships.

Self Defence Mechanism

'The temptation to take the precious things we have apart to see how they work must be resisted, for they never fit together again' - Billy Bragg, Must I Paint You A Picture

When the doorbell rings at three in the afternoon Jeannie's first assumption is that there are Jehovah's Witnesses at the door.

She knows there are a group going around the local neighbourhood. She has already seen a leaflet, pushed into the letterbox. Madison liked the pictures on it, and was unimpressed when her mother threw the paper into the trash. Atheism aside, Jeannie isn't sure of how to turn away callers without being rude, and she has no desire to engage them in conversation.

Besides, she's busy. There is dinner to think of, and washing still to be done. The living room is still a mess, and she has not yet spent the hour she has allocated each day to the paper she is currently writing. Visiting Atlantis inspired her to come out of retirement, as Kaleb put it, sharing his wife's pleasure in her rediscovery of academia.

And now that she knows her work may have a practical application, Jeannie finds her passion is stronger than it ever has been before.

Thinking of all these things, Jeannie is not focussed on who might stand behind the door, so when she opens it and sees her brother she is unable to restrain a gasp.


She is a mess; Jeannie knows this. She showered this morning, but never bothered to spend any time on her hair, which is now tied back, loose strands across her forehead and neck. There is flour across her skirt and vest from the cakes she was baking earlier. The cardigan top she pulled on for warmth is in need of a wash, stained with ink and worn in the sleeves.

Even so, she looks better than her brother.

His jeans and shirt are crumpled, the sign of a long journey. His hair is flat to his head, and his skin is an odd, sickly grey colour. Heavy cologne does not succeed in masking an underlying base of sweat. As Jeannie struggles for words, Meredith fidgets, one hand clutched tight around the bag on his shoulder, the other picking at his shirt's hem, un-tucked from his jeans.

"Hi, Jeannie." His voice is stilted, nervous. "I know I - I should have called. Sorry. It was, ah, last minute. Sort of. I wasn't sure…"

Impulsively, Jeannie leans forward and hugs her brother, wrapping her arms around his waist while Mer pats her on the back with his free hand.

"Hi," he repeats.

"It's good to see you," she says, releasing her hold so she can step back, and allow him to enter. "Kaleb's at work, and Madison's at a friend's house, so it's just us at the moment. How long are you here for? Why are you here?" She pauses, frowning. "Is something wrong? What do you need my help with?"

She expects this question to prompt a barrage of insults, or at the very least a scowl. She doesn't expect to see her brother flinch.

"Nothing. I just - I was on Earth, and I wanted to see my little sister. I'm allowed, aren't I?"

"Of course," Jeannie says, restraining a snappy comment, because she senses it wouldn't be appropriate. She leads Meredith into the living room, gesturing toward the couch. "Sit down. Just put the bag on the floor somewhere. Do you want a coffee?"

He nods. His right hand is still clenched tight around the bag strap, and it seems to take him a moment to process her words into instructions, to tell his body to release its hold on the luggage.

Denying her curiosity satisfaction, Jeannie heads into the kitchen. She shares her brother's love of caffeine, and usually has a pot warming on the side. Kaleb does not approve, but she insists on the guilty pleasure, having agreed to tofu and steamed vegetables and all the other health kicks her husband forces on her. She pulls out the big mugs, the heavy ones with the thick rims that were a promotional gift from one of the many companies courting the university science fairs. She first met Kaleb at one such cattle market, staking out the Unilever stall because it gave away the best products.

She pours two cups, both strong and black and sweetened with sugar. Returning to the living room, Jeannie finds Meredith standing by the mantelpiece, looking over the framed photographs.

"Is this recent?" he asks, pointing at one nearest the end.

"It was taken a couple of months ago. Maddie entered a snowman building competition. Kaleb did most of the work, though."

"Did you win?"

"Second prize."

"Huh. She's bigger than the last time I saw her."

"Yeah, she's grown. Kids have a tendency to do that." She watches her brother move slowly down the fireplace, examining each photograph with a level of care and attention that sets alarm bells ringing. "Atlantis is okay?"

"Still standing, the last time I was there. Is this your wedding?"

Jeannie winces. The picture is not one of her favourites. Eight months pregnant and the size of a house, she had given up on the idea of wearing white, but had not been pleased to find her bridal gown featured an elastic waistband. Kaleb tells her she looked beautiful, but when Jeannie looks at the photo all she sees is a bloated and flushed version of herself.


"I should have come."

"Yes," she answers, honestly. "You should have." It is a thorny issue, and not one she is entirely sure she has forgiven him for, but Jeannie has no desire to reopen old wounds. "How are your friends? Sheppard, Teyla, Radek…"

"They're all fine. Sheppard says hello. Teyla gave me something to give to you, actually. I think it's a necklace. Or a really big bracelet. I'm sure you can figure it out."

His fingers rest on the final photo, a shot from their childhood. Jeannie had kept the pictures hidden for a long time, in a box in the attic, but after Atlantis she pulled them out, and selected a few to put up around the house. It felt good to share the walls of their house with photos of both Kaleb's and her own family. She is eight or nine years old in the scene, sitting in a swing while Meredith pushes her higher and higher. She does not remember the when, or the where, but she recognises the delight in both the children's faces as something she has lost.

"Carson died," Mer says, conversationally. "That's why I'm here. Not here, obviously, but that's why I'm on Earth. I took the body to Scotland, back to his family."

Jeannie feels the world drop away from beneath her feet. She stares at her brother, while he continues to examine the photographs, and address his words to the wall.

"I have a couple of days before the Daedalus leaves so I thought I would drop in, say hi. I brought a present for Madison. And don't worry, Elizabeth helped me choose, so it's something she'll actually like. I haven't brought anything for you. I would have, but it was last minute, and I wasn't sure what you might want, so…"

"Mer," she interrupts, struggling to find her voice. She can't move, having lost all sensation below her waist.

He swallows, his hands clenching spasmodically into fists. "Did you meet him? I'm not sure…"

"We met," she says, "briefly." She remembers the voice, mostly. The Scottish burr, and the kindness and warmth within it. The way the doctor's eyes twinkled fondly when his gaze rested on a blustering Meredith. "I'm so sorry. You were friends…"

"Yes," he says, and his voice is so tightly controlled she fears it will break.

"How?" she asks, though it will make no difference.

"It was… stupid. A stupid thing." He pauses, shaking his head, wrapping his arms around his chest defensively.

Jeannie waits, coaxing her brother into speaking through her own silence.

"This Ancient… thing… created a sort of, explosive tumour in anyone who came near it. Turned two of my people into walking bombs. One of them died before we realised. The other…" He hesitates, shoulders hunching, body curling inwards. "I told Carson to leave. He never listens. No one ever listens to me."

"Did…" She has to stop, swallow to moisten her throat before she can continue. "The other person lived?"

Meredith doesn't answer but, she realises, he doesn't need to. She spent little time with the Scottish doctor, too busy with the project, or with sharing stories with her brother's team. They were introduced in the food hall, but the physician had been about to leave. He had apologised for his haste, citing some crisis in the infirmary, something non-serious which still warranted his attention.

She remembered her brother's soft sigh of relief, as though he were glad there was at least one person he could hide from his sister and the embarrassment she caused him. She also remembers her amazement at realising just how many people seemed to care for Meredith, beyond the team he worked so closely with.

She thinks about saying sorry, but no apology will make a difference.

"Sit down, Mer." She holds out the cup as a peace offering. "Drink your coffee."

He takes it from her without a thank you, sitting down onto the couch while still refusing to meet her gaze. Hesitantly Jeannie sits down beside him, putting her coffee onto the table.

"Did you come on your own?"

"Sheppard, Ronon and Radek came to Earth. I went to Scotland on my own. Didn't want to frighten his mother." He snorts, an ill, painful sound. "Although that wasn't really an issue."

"I'm sure she was glad you were there," she says, quietly.

"Actually, I'm sure she rather I wasn't." His face softens. "She was nice, though. The way Carson talked you would have thought she invented sunshine, but she… she was nice. I wasn't sure mothers could be."

"Not everybody had our mother," Jeannie points out. Her memories are fragmented, fewer than her brother's. Heavy perfume and thick lipstick, a shrill voice and a drive for perfection.

Meredith frowns, looking around the room. "Where's your daughter?"

"A friend's house," she says. "I told you."

"Oh." He nods, eyes unfocussed. "Is she, uh… is she doing well at school?"

"You don't have to pretend to be interested."

The reproach comes without thought, and immediately Jeannie bites her tongue, cursing herself. "Sorry. I didn't mean…"

"I am interested," he interrupts. "I'm just… I'm not very good at… this." He gestures with his free hand, shapes without meaning.

She understands, anyway. Family. "The McKays have never been good at it," she points out.

"You seem to be coping." He glances at the photos above the fireplace.

She opens her mouth to respond, then changes her mind on her reply. "Maddie's doing very well. She has lots of friends, and her favourite subjects are dance and art."

This causes him to blink, and stare at her in shock. "Are you sure she's yours?"

Jeannie grins, and sees Meredith smile back, nervously. Then he looks away, and she remembers why he is here, and her humour fades.

She watches him drink the coffee, his hands fidgeting as they grip the mug.

"I suppose this town is too small to have a decent hotel? Not a Holiday Inn. I saw a report on the cleanliness of those places and you wouldn't believe what they found on a mattress…"

"You're not going to a hotel, Meredith. There's a couch in Maddie's playroom."

"Oh, very comfortable," he retorts, but there is relief in his voice.

"It's not so bad." She pauses, wondering if she knows her brother well enough to provide any kind of comfort. "What was Scotland like?"

"Cold. Wet. Lots of grass and sheep. His family were friendly. Given…" His breath hitches, just a fraction. "Given the circumstances." Then he looks at her, and Jeannie sees hurt and pain and a desperate, pleading look in his eyes. "Can we - can we not talk about it?"

"Okay," she says.

An awkward period of silence follows, as Meredith sits without speaking and she tries to think of a way to change the topic and mood of conversation. Her gaze falls on the clock on the VCR, and she frowns, suddenly remembering what she was doing.

"Damn - Kaleb will be home soon with Maddie and I haven't even started dinner." She starts to rise from her seat, ignoring her brother's mumbled apology. "I don't suppose you've learnt how to cook?"

"Take-out and MREs."

She frowns. "You can wash up."

Meredith does not ask her to stay silent about the reason behind his appearance, but Jeannie senses he doesn't want more sympathy. When Kaleb pulls her to one side and whispers the question in her ear, she answers simply: "He's my brother. That's all that matters." And then Kaleb kisses her, which is his way of saying it's okay, and she loves him for that.

Madison greets her uncle by wrapping herself around his legs. He made some disgruntled comment about how much heavier she was, which Jeannie decided to treat the same as the clichéd remark about a child's height. He stomped around the kitchen for several minutes with Maddie clinging to his ankle, until he finally relented and said: "Alright, alright, I brought you a present."

The present turns out to be a small stuffed thing, with ears and beady eyes and two tails. Meredith claims it is a type of goat the Athosians breed, and sniffs, as though he is mildly disgusted with it. Madison, predictably, adores it, hugging the misshapen lump of cloth to her chest in delight.

She names it Squeak, despite Meredith arguing that the goats don't, that the only noise they make is a cross between 'a growl and flatulence.'

While Kaleb helps in the kitchen - Meredith proving useless as either dish dryer or table setter - her brother and Maddie sit in the living room

They have dinner around the kitchen table, after Jeannie has cleared it of papers and flour. Vegetarian curry and thick crusted bread. Meredith goes back for seconds, and around mouthfuls of rice questions his sister about the paper she is writing, and whether she has read this or that latest journal article.

At first she thinks it is jealously, a desire to know what his sister can do so he can prove his achievements are better, but after a while she starts to notice the way he lifts her chin, or raises an eyebrow. Her brother is proud of her.

She is pleased, embarrassed, and annoyed at this.

Kaleb listens, and asks the occasional question for clarification, but it is not long before brother and sister are debating the higher functions of metaphysics, voices raised and fingers snapping, and by the time Jeannie realises they are alone in the kitchen, the sun has set, and the evening is dark outside the window.

Meredith breaks off from a speech about cosmological constants and says: "Oh. Where did everybody go?"

"Kaleb's taken Maddie to bed," she answers. "I heard them go up the stairs about thirty minutes ago."

"Oh." He frowns, deeply. "Is it really that late?"

She glances at the kitchen clock. "Apparently."

He yawns, without bothering to cover his mouth, and Jeannie grimaces.

"Do you have the number for a cab?"

"I told you," she scolds, getting up from the table, "you're staying here."

Mer shoots her a dark and suspicious look. Snaps: "I don't need hand outs, you know. On my salary…"

She interrupts, knowing it isn't the freebies that he resents. "This is what families do, Mer. Sharing? I realise we haven't been much of a family for a long time, and you've probably forgotten the rules - but this is one of them." She collects the dinner plates from the table and stacks them beside the sink.

After a moment Meredith rises from his seat, and moves to stand next to her. "I, uh… do you want me to wash up?"

"I'll do it tomorrow." This time she yawns, although she has the manners to hide it.

"Okay." He hesitates, seeming uncertain. "I'll go get my bag from the other room."

Jeannie nods. She finishes clearing the table, then wipes her hands and heads to the closet beneath the stairs. On the top shelf, badly folded, are the spare sheets and blankets, and she grabs several before calling for her brother.

"Are you coming?"

"Right." He appears behind her, and follows her down the hall to the room at the back of the house.

In an attempt to keep their home tidy, and to help his wife, Kaleb had turned his small office into a play area for Maddie's second birthday. His desk had been sold, and replaced with a miniature version, painted in yellow and red and complete with child-sized chair. There is a television in one corner, small and dated, and a number of crates housing Maddie's toys. Both parents had pledged upon her birth not to spoil her, not to ruin her with too many games and cuddly animals, but the message had never been received by any of their family or friends, and Madison's possessions now came close to outnumbering their own.

Jeannie dumps the bed linens on top of one of the crates, and then turns her attention to the couch. It is old and over-stuffed, lumpy in places and threadbare in others, covered over with a patchwork throw which she now removes. She replaces it with sheets, blankets and pillows, while her brother lingers in the doorway awkwardly.

"You could help," she says, pointedly.

He doesn't answer, and when she is done with the bed Jeannie turns around to find out why. Meredith is staring at the room. At the drawings done in paint and clumsy crayon, tacked to the walls. At the shelf of books bearing their titles in oversized, friendly-looking font. At the pair of small, pink rubber boots placed on newspaper near the back door, and the matching raincoat above them.

"Believe me," she says, brushing hair from her face, "this is relatively neat."

"No." He frowns, the hand around the strap of his bag gripping tight, the other by his side and oddly still. "It's just - it never really hit me before."

Jeannie frowns. "What never hit you?"

"That you - that you're a mother."

She stares at him, relying on sarcasm in her confusion. "The existence of Madison doesn't make that obvious?"

"No - I mean, yes, of course, but…" He presses his lips together and scowls, walking over to dump the bag onto his bed. "Never mind."

Jeannie hesitates. She has not forgiven her brother for the way he so carelessly cut her out of his life, and she isn't sure she ever will, but this is neither the time nor the place for an argument.

"Thanks," Mer says, looking round at her.

"No problem." She moves towards the door, then lingers in the hall. "I should warn you - Madison tends to get up early, before anyone else. Don't be surprised if you get a knock on the door around six."

He blinks at her, and protests: "Six?"

"You don't have to get up - she'll soon settle in the other room. Just don't shout any obscenities thinking you're back on Atlantis, okay?"

He scowls, and the sight of such a familiar expression causes something to ease deep within her chest.

"Good night, Mer," Jeannie says, with a touch of fondness. Then she shuts the door on her brother, and troops upstairs.

Kaleb is awake when she enters, and watches her as she undresses. "Are you okay?"

She hangs her skirt over a chair, then pads over to the bed, slipping between the covers. "I'm fine."

Her husband waits for her to get settled, then rolls onto his side to face her, lifting one hand up to touch her cheek. "Did you talk?"

Jeannie stretches out her toes into a cold patch of the bed. "We caught up. The work that they have done since I was there is amazing…"

"Not about science," Kaleb interrupts. "Whatever has happened - it's bad, isn't it?"

She stares at her husband, feeling his fingers ghost over her skin, and she leans into his warmth. "It isn't fair," she says, quietly, and isn't sure what she means. Carson's death, or the impact on her brother? Their failed relationship and time wasted, or her inability to support him in grief?

Kaleb kisses her, then lifts up his arm as invitation. She curls up against him, pressing her cheek to his shoulder, and thinks about the first time Mer took her into space, in orbit above the planet, and told her of the alien dangers to all life below.

"I love you," she whispers, into his chest.

He strokes her hair in answer, and wrapped up in her husband's embrace, Jeannie eventually sleeps.

The Millers are deep sleepers, so when Jeannie wakes to see the clock reading 5.30am she knows something has woken her.

Kaleb's eyes are closed, his breathing deep and easy. They have separated some time in the night, but his right hand lies on the pillow, as though reaching toward her. She pauses to kiss his knuckles, then rises from the bed and pads gently in bare feet to the door. She takes a tattered dressing gown from a hook, then slips it on as she steps down the hall, ignoring the paint stains and smears of chocolate on the cuffs.

The door to Madison's room is closed, a sure sign that her daughter is still sleeping. Jeannie continues down the stairs, resting one hand on the banisters, and pauses at the bottom.

There is light coming in from the kitchen, dim in the early morning, but she knows the curtains were closed when she went to bed.

She isn't surprised to see her brother sitting at the kitchen table, but she is thrown by the pieces of machinery scattered across its surface.

"Is that my toaster?"

Meredith looks up from his work. He holds a pair of small pliers in one hand, stolen from the back of a cupboard.

"Jeannie. Sorry - I thought I was being quiet."

"It is my toaster." She takes a seat opposite. "Or it was."

"It's broken," he tells her, attempting to bend what was once part of the grilling mechanism.

"I know," she replies ruefully, starting at the parts of the toaster. "Kaleb was going to take it back to the shop. It's still under warranty."

He drops the pliers guiltily, an expression of remorse flashing across his face. "Oh. I - I'll buy you a new one."

She sighs, picking up a piece of the remains and twisting it in her hands. "It's okay, it doesn't matter." She puts the piece down. "Was the couch that bad?"

"Huh?" He stares at her, blankly.

"You're up early. I'm guessing the couch wasn't the best of beds?"

"Oh. No, it was fine, I just…" He shrugs, ineffectually. "Jet lag."

"Oh." Jeannie doesn't believe him. She gets up from the table. "Coffee?"

He nods, looking down to his lap.

"You never said where the others are," she says, conversationally. "Radek and John."

"Radek went to visit family. I think Sheppard took Ronon out to California, or somewhere like that. He mentioned surfing."

"And you didn't consider joining them?"

"Standing on a small piece of wood while the ocean crashes beneath and I try not to fall off and drown? I don't think so."

"Good point. Too much like physical exercise." She watches the coffee start to bubble within its pot, the liquid dark and frothy. "Do you still make your own sun-cream? That stuff used to stink to high heaven."

"I burn very easily, as well you know," he snaps. "Besides, Carson says…" His voice breaks.

Jeannie stares at the coffee pot. Without thinking she starts to prepare two mugs, fetching the milk and sugar. The machine clicks, noisily, to signal its readiness.

"You can talk about him, if you want."

"I'm fine," Mer replies, tersely.

"You can't lie to me, Mer." Jeannie pours out two mugs of coffee, then adds the milk and sugar. "You were never very good at it." She picks up the drinks and returns to the table, pushing one into her brother's hands before taking her seat.

There is silence, drawn out and painful. Jeannie concentrates on her coffee, and waits for her brother to speak.

"I was supposed to go fishing with him." Meredith frowns, wrapping his fingers tightly around the mug. His knuckles are white. "I made an excuse at the last minute, and he couldn't find anyone else to go with, so…" He pauses, briefly, voice fast and stuttered. "He should have been on the mainland. If I'd gone with him like I was supposed to… but I didn't. And…" Then he breaks off and swallows, thickly.

Jeannie hasn't seen her brother cry since he was little, seven years old and heartbroken over the train-set his younger sister had so thoughtlessly smashed. The McKays are not the crying type. Mer blinks, fast and hard, then pulls back in his chair, lifting the coffee to his lips as though to hide his face.

"It wasn't your fault."

He looks at her, and she instantly realises she is only one of many to have said those words, and it never makes a difference.

"Do you know what Carson's mother told me?"

She shakes her head.

"She said, 'he's in a better place.' She was trying to comfort me. Me. As though I needed…" He breaks off, shaking his head. "Besides, you and I both know that's not true."

Jeannie stares at her brother's hands, gripping the coffee mug. "We do?"

"No heaven, no everlasting peace. Neither of us ever believed that. And he didn't ascend either." Mer swallows, the sound loud in the silent house. "He's dead. He's not coming back. And I won't ever see him again." And then his voice breaks, and Jeannie has to stop herself from reaching out and placing her hands over his. "That's so selfish. She lost her son and I keep thinking about how it's going to affect me."

"That's what we do," she says, quietly. "That's what everyone does. Even if we pretend otherwise."

He nods, and looks away, down to the remains of the liquid in the mug.

"Sorry," he mutters darkly, hunching his shoulders as though he can shrink into the table. "I didn't mean to just turn up and ruin your weekend."

"I'm glad you came," Jeannie replies. She means it. The knowledge that, despite four years of silence, her brother still seeks family comforts her more than she imagined.

Mer takes a deep breath, seeming to calm himself. His gaze falls on something beyond her shoulder, and Jeannie turns to see Madison standing in the kitchen doorway.

"Hey sweetheart."

Her daughter rubs her eyes with her right hand, the other clutching Squeak to her chest. Jeannie pushes back her chair, and after a moment Maddie clambers onto her lap, a warm and comfortable weight.

"It's broken," she announces, mournfully pointing at the remains of the toaster.

Meredith pulls a face. "It was broken before I took it apart," he grumbles, sweeping the pieces toward him and away from small, curious hands.

Jeannie feels her daughter adjust her position, placing her toy on the table. "You should be in bed," Maddie nags, repeating the words her mother has said to her so many times before.

"We're grown ups," her uncle tells her. "We can get up and go to bed when we like."

Jeannie grimaces. "Don't tell her that, it's already hard enough trying to get her to sleep when she should." She bends down and kisses her daughter on the top of her head, then suggests: "Do you want to go to the other room? Your shows will be starting soon."

Maddie nods her head enthusiastically, and slips off her mother's knee. Grabbing Squeak by one stuffed leg, she disappears into the living room, and a moment later Jeannie hears the sounds of the television set.

"I can't believe she likes that thing."

"She likes her uncle," Jeannie points out. "Although I don't know why."

He smiles, lop-sided and wry, and looks away. "Yes, well Radek makes me look like Santa Claus. He refers to his nephew as 'Damian.' There's a planet, M7G-677, full of kids. He spends a few hours with them and comes back looking like a kindergarten project, covered in paint and ribbons."

Jeannie grins, imagining her brother in the same position. "And I'm sure you taunted him for weeks afterwards."

"It took that long for Carson to get the gunk out of his hair. Radek said…" And then he stops, his face crumpling, voice breaking. "Sorry."

Flinching inwardly, Jeannie leans forward, propping her elbows onto the table. "You're going to have to say his name eventually," she says, gently.

Mer looks away, down at the table. Grief, Jeannie knows, is never easy to bear, but it looks even more unnatural on her brother. He has always been easy to read; another trait the McKays share. Now, sitting across the table from her, amidst pieces of toaster, hair ruffled and shirt creased, Meredith seems broken.

She hates that; and worse, Jeannie hates that she has no idea how to take that hurt away. She only knows that she wants to.

Now, more than ever before, she is glad of the creative eureka that, by chance, brought her brother back into her life.

"That's what Teyla says," Mer says, suddenly, as though the words are forced from his lips. "She thinks we should talk about the d… about the people we know. It's an Athosian thing. Elizabeth thinks she's right. That's why she sent me back to Earth. All of us. Said we needed some time to talk." He frowns, deeply, hugging his arms across his chest. "I thought I… well, I wanted to - to come here. I know that we…" He pauses, clearly uncomfortable. "That I haven't kept in touch."

"You've done better recently," she says. Letters, emails, the occasional video message. Most of the content has been about science, boasting of the work done on Atlantis, the advancements made without her, and the letters from Teyla have been longer and warmer - but she appreciates the effort. The polite, artificial questions about Kaleb and Madison, added as an afterthought to a rant about the latest screw-up of his allegedly incompetent staff.

"I have," he says, with force, sounding like he is ten years old again, and asked to do a chore. Well I tried, to their mother, when gesturing at the chaos of his bedroom.

"And you're always welcome to visit."

"Oh." He brightens a little. "Really?"

"Sure, Mer." She drains her coffee cup, the liquid now lukewarm. "And talk."

There is a sound behind her, slippered feet against the floor, and a plaintive voice asks: "Uncle Rodney?"

Jeannie grins, as her brother winces. "You're needed."

Mer gets up slowly, grumbling, clinging to the coffee cup like a lifeline. "What?"

Maddie walks over to her uncle and grabs hold of his trouser leg, tugging insistently. "Come with me."

"You can't watch television by yourself?" Mer mutters, but Jeannie is amused - and secretly pleased to see him follow his niece through into the living room.

It is there she later finds them, after she has cleared the table and deposited the remains of the toaster into the trash. Meredith, sprawled out on sofa, asleep, with Madison sitting on his legs, bumping Squeak absently against his knees while her attention is consumed by the cartoons.

Jeannie drops into the empty armchair, and watches Spongebob until Kaleb wakes.

The Millers had plans for Saturday - boring, mundane plans involving mowing the lawn and picking up paint to retouch the bathroom ceiling. Meredith initially insists that these plans not be altered because of his presence - then upon learning what these plans were, abruptly announces his desire to treat the whole family to the outing of their choosing.

To avoid arguments Kaleb and Jeannie nominate Madison as decision maker. Their daughter picks the zoo, at which Mer groans, complaining he was thinking more of a meal, a few hours in a restaurant.

"It's scientific," Jeannie points out. "And she's too young for an observatory, Mer, so don't even suggest it."

Kaleb drives - Meredith admitting his licence has expired - while Jeannie shares the back seat with Maddie. She listens to her husband and brother conduct awkward, stilted conversation, which gradually becomes more animated, talk turning to memories of previous family outings.

"The funfair," Mer declares, craning his neck back to look at his sister. "That was good."

"Until you ate so much cotton candy you threw up all over the car seat on the way back."

"That was afterwards!"

"Or when you got into an argument with the guy running the hoopla about how it was rigged?"

"The dimensions of the hoops made it impossible!"

"You were eleven, Mer, and the guy was still close to hitting you!"

Kaleb laughs, then at his brother-in-law's dirty look says: "If it was rigged, you had a right to complain."

"It was embarrassing." Jeannie looks toward her daughter, who is eagerly listening to every word. "Don't ever use your uncle as a role model, okay honey?"

Maddie giggles, pressing her face into Squeak's stomach.

Jeannie smiles, then turns to look out of the window at the passing street.

Carson Beckett's name has not been mentioned again. Her brother pretends their earlier conversation never happened, and Jeannie has not told Kaleb of the broken toaster, hidden in the trash.

She worries at Mer's attempts to hide his feelings. She recalls the video message John had shown her, filmed by her brother when he believed he was going to die. She never asked why she failed to receive the message, and suspects she doesn't want to know.

It doesn't matter now.


She starts, her thoughts interrupted. "Sorry."

Kaleb is looking out at her from the driver's seat, the car at a standstill. "We're here."

Meredith and Maddie are already standing outside, Maddie with a firm grip on her uncle's trouser pocket, as though to stop him from wandering off. Which, Jeannie suspects, is not necessarily a bad idea. She joins them, slipping her own hand into Kaleb's.

"Last chance to pull out, Mer," she teases.

He pulls a face. "I offered, didn't I?"

Maddie tugs on her uncle's trousers, impatiently. She leads them to the ticket kiosk, where a disgruntled assistant looks dismayed at the large denomination of dollars that she is handed.

"All the cash machine had," Mer excuses, not sounding apologetic in the least.

The day goes well - better than Jeannie would have imagined. Madison impresses her uncle by revealing a detailed knowledge of different animals, their eating habits and homeland. Mer decides this means his niece is destined to be a famous explorer, and attempts to encourage her interest by purchasing an overcomplicated encyclopaedia on African wildlife. Kaleb has to intervene, secretly swapping the book for a smaller version, one with more pictures and bigger lettering.

They have lunch - overpriced burgers and fries; Mer, Jeannie and Maddie all ignore Kaleb's offer of fruit salad. In support of her husband, Jeannie picks a veggie burger. They sit beside the monkey enclosure and feed the pigeons with scraps. Her brother is lighter, freer, than he has been since he arrived on the doorstep the previous day. Jeannie sees the way the lines around his eyes have eased, and watches his hands fly about the table expressively.

"Not eating all of these?" he asks, helping himself to her remaining fries.

"Be my guest," she says, pushing the carton over to him.

Maddie, growing restless, slips down from her seat, pointing at the play park across the way. "Please?" she asks, looking up at her uncle plaintively.

"I'll take you," Kaleb offers. He takes his daughter's hand, and smiles at her. "Swings or the slide?"


"Not too fast," Jeannie warns, calling after them. "Remember last time!"

Mer stares at her. "Last time?"

"Madison can get a little carried away when she's excited. And last time she'd just eaten and…" Jeannie grimaces, "let's just say, when she gets older, she owes me a new pair of shoes."

"Oh." He grins, lop-sided and familiar. "Just like a McKay."

"Don't let Kaleb hear you say that. I blame his side of the family." She returns the smile, then turns to watch her husband and daughter. Maddie is pulling Kaleb toward a bright yellow swing set - her favourite colour - and Kaleb laughs, faking resistance, dragging his feet in the woodchips.

"Thank you."

She turns back to her brother, surprised. "For what?"

"For…" He pauses, shrugging. "This. All of it. Sometimes… sometimes I forget what it's like to be normal."

"You've never been normal, Mer," she teases.

"Right." He pulls a face.

Jeannie sobers suddenly, looking down at the bench. "That's why you have to go back, isn't it?"

It is his turn to look at her in confusion. "What?"

"When you and Colonel Carter came to me, when you took me to that ship…" She lowers her voice, aware of the very public nature of their conversation. "You told me that the work you do is important to everyone on Earth."

"Well…" He frowns. "Yes."

"For Maddie, and Kaleb, and…"

He catches her eye, and nods, finishing her sentence. "For this."


"I have thought about not going back." Mer picks absently at a cold fry, pulling it into pieces.

"It's not safe."

"Obviously." He swallows. "I've always known that, ever since - well, I've always known."

"It's different when it's a friend," Jeannie says, gently.

He looks away. "I've thought about it, but - I can't. The work we're doing there, the advances and discoveries we're making - that's why I'm out there, that's why - that's why he was out there, why any of us went…" His voice trails off. "I know I've said it before, but sometimes I need reminding that, uh, it's not all about theories and papers and research."

"No," she agreed. "It isn't just that. But you could do it from here. The research, the theories…"

"I know." Mer shrugs. "But I… it feels like…"

"Family," she supplies, remembering the video message, shown to her on the small screen of Sheppard's laptop.

Mer furrows his forehead suspiciously. "I wouldn't go that far."

"Hmm." She reaches out to take the fry from his hands, dropping it onto the table. "You belong there, Mer."

"Yes," he muses, eyes suspiciously bright. "I suppose I do."

"However much I'd like it if you stayed here."

He snorts derisively. "Right."

Jeannie laughs, admitting: "Alright. You'd drive me nuts."

"It wouldn't be a one-way thing," he objected.

"It'd be nice to know you were safe, though."

"Oh." Her brother's face falls. "I hadn't thought of that."

"What?" Jeannie asks. "That it was dangerous, or that I'd be worried about your safety?"

"I guess…" His face twists with thought. "I suppose a little of both."

"Mer…" She leans forward, and punches him on the arm lightly. "Maddie needs her uncle. You're the only one she's got."

His expression clears. "Really?"

"Kaleb has two sisters." She smiles, and adds, teasingly: "She's pretty fond of them too, and they've been around longer, so just be aware you've got competition, Mer."

"Humph." Mer folds his arms across his chest. "Well I've already established that her affections are easily bought. Just like you."

Jeannie gasped in mock indignation. "What?!"

"Oh, please. You were always so easily manipulated. I promised to get you some new clothes or accessory for your dolls…"

"Is that how you remember it?" she interrupts. "I remember my brother threatening to melt my dolls if I didn't clean your room…"

"I would never have…"

"You sent me Lilly's feet in a box!"

Mer lifts his chin defiantly. "You got her back, didn't you?"

"In pieces!"

"What about the time you poured lemon juice all over my science report? You could have killed me!"

"It was a rash, Mer, and are you this much of a drama queen when you're at work?"


She and Mer turn at the same time. Kaleb stands beside the table, Madison's hand in his, and he looks at his wife and his brother-in-law with a clear expression of concern.

Madison scowls, glaring up at them both. Pointing a finger, she declares in a loud voice: "No yelling!"

Jeannie bursts out laughing. Opposite her, Mer huffs theatrically, and mutters about know-it-all kids.

The excitement of the day tires Maddie out and she sleeps through the entire journey back, curled up against her uncle on the back seat of the car. They stop briefly to pick up Chinese take-out, and while Kaleb manoeuvres their daughter out of the car and into the house, Mer helps Jeannie carry the bags of food into the kitchen.

"We could just eat it out of the carton," he points out, when she starts to get plates out of the cupboards.

"This isn't your bachelor pad, Mer. And besides, it's bad enough trying to get paint and glitter out of the rug, I'm not going to attempt it with sweet and sour." She stacks the plates onto a tray, the cartons onto another, then hands one to her brother. "Put it on the coffee table. And be careful!"

He snorts, but does as he is told. Jeannie takes cutlery from a drawer and puts it on the remaining tray, then follows her brother into the living room.

Maddie is curled up in a corner of the couch, and Kaleb is bent over her, coaxing her into waking.

"Come on, honey. Time to eat."

Maddie utters a soft growl, rolling over and pressing her face into the couch.

"Heavy sleeper?" Mer guesses.

"Yeah." Kaleb frowns. "But she'll only wake up cranky later if she doesn't eat now."

Jeannie winces, seeing her brother's mind whirring, leaping to conclusions.

"Have you had your doctor check if she's hypo…"

"She's not, Mer," she interrupts, "and I don't want you putting the idea into her head. You might have used it as an excuse but I don't want my daughter picking up the same bad habits."

"It's a legitimate medical condition," Mer huffs.

"Oh, sure." She grins, deliberately baiting her brother. "I just don't think you ever had it."

Madison stirs, sitting up and rubbing a hand across her eyes sleepily. "Rolls," she announces, pointing at the cartons.

Kaleb bends down and picks up a carton, removing the lid before handing it to his daughter. "Be careful," he admonishes her, as his daughter picks up one of the spring rolls in her fingers. "They could be hot."

She nods gravely, and starts puffing on the pastry.

Jeannie crosses the room to the shelving unit beside the fireplace, and looks over her shoulder to her brother. "What should we watch?"

"A movie?" he asks her, slightly surprised. She sees him glance quickly toward Kaleb.

Kaleb looks at his brother-in-law and shrugs. "It's Saturday," he points out. "Movie night."


"We might be vegetarians, Mer, but this isn't a commune." Jeannie reads a few of the DVD titles. "It has to be something Maddie can watch as well."

Mer turns to his niece, addressing her in a sober, adult tone. "What do you want to watch?"

Maddie shrugs, too busy concentrating on cooling her spring rolls to pay her uncle much attention.

They watch 'Muppets' Treasure Island' while eating, Kaleb opening a bottle of wine to go with the meal. The alcohol, food and warmth of the room lull Jeannie into sleep, and she misses the end of the movie, and wakes to find an hour has passed, and someone - Kaleb, probably - has cleared the plates and empty cartons.

"What time is it?" She pushes herself up from the cushions, and glances at the clock.

Mer is hunched over on the floor, Maddie sitting cross-legged beside him. A board game is positioned in the space between them, and opposite Kaleb rests on a cushion, leaning across to pick up a card.

Jeannie frowns, watching her daughter. "It's past your bedtime," she warns.

Maddie pouts. "M' not tired."

"It's my fault," Kaleb says, apologetically. "I was going to put her to bed but by that time she had woken up properly and, well, it's the weekend…"

"It's my fault," Mer interrupts. "We had ice-cream."

Blinking, Jeannie spots the empty bowls on the coffee table, and the large bottle of chocolate syrup. "Sugar," she groans. "Great."

Maddie bounces. Squeak has reappeared, and is balanced on her knee like a fluffy mascot. "I'm winning," she declares, triumphantly.

"You haven't won yet," Mer tells her, and takes the card from Kaleb.

Jeannie tries to decide whether to be angry or amused, and settles for the latter for ease. She leans forward, propping her elbows on her knees, and watches the game.

The doorbell rings.

Kaleb glances at the clock. "At this time?"

"I'll get it." She rises from her seat. Outside the warm weather has turned thunderous, and fat raindrops hit the windows. The sound is louder in the hallway, not muffled by carpet and curtains, and feeling a draft Jeannie shivers, and pulls her arms up close to her chest.

Her first attempt at opening the door ends in failure, and it takes her a moment to realise Kaleb has locked it. Jeannie finds the keys hung from a coat hook, and she fumbles when putting the key into the lock.

The doorbell rings a second time.

"Just a minute," she calls out, finally having success with the door and opening it wide.

John Sheppard stands on the doorstep, looking slightly damp, shifting his weight from foot to foot nervously. Behind him Ronon lurks, like a distorted shadow.


Jeannie stares at them both for a moment, stunned and speechless. "John." She reaches out and hugs him, impulsively, wrapping her arms around his leather jacket and ignoring the way rain soaks through her sleeves. "It's good to see you."

He pats her on the back, awkwardly, before he pulls away. "You too."

She smiles, and briefly sees him smile back before suddenly the shadow that is Ronon steps forward, and sweeps her into a crushing embrace. Jeannie feels her feet leave the floor, and she squeaks, as Ronon rumbles into her ear.



After a moment he puts her back down, then steps back. "Where is he?"

"Inside." She gestures behind her. "Come in. We've just eaten, I'm afraid. But I'm sure there's something in the freezer I could defrost."

"Pizza," Ronon says, thrusting a cardboard box at her. He grins.

"Oh." Jeannie takes the box offered to her, then turns to lead the way into the living room. It takes her a moment to realise she isn't being followed, and she turns to see John struggling to take off his shoes. He is propped up against the wall, left leg bent, hands fumbling at his shoelaces.

Beside him Ronon glowers, arms crossed defensively.

"It's okay," she tells them. "You can leave your shoes on."

"Told you," Ronon says.

"It's wet outside," John excuses, finally winning the battle against his shoe. It drops to the floor with a clunk, and he turns his attention to his right foot. "We don't want to track mud over the house, right Ronon?"

The Satedan shrugs. "She said it was okay."

"It is. Although the thought is appreciated." Jeannie waits for John to lose both shoes, then turns back towards the living room. "Mer?"

She can hear voices from the other room - bickering between Meredith and Maddie, a heated debate over who moved how many spaces, an argument she suspects Maddie is winning.

"Honey?" Kaleb spots them first, and gets up from his cushion, eyeing up John and Ronon nervously.

It's sweet, really.

"They're with Mer," she replies, ushering the two men into the room.

Her brother looks up from the board game, card falling from his hand. "Colonel. Ronon. What are you doing here?"

"Looking for you," John replies. He takes off his jacket, then holds it away from him, as though uncertain what to do with it.

Jeannie takes it from him, and turns to put it in the hallway closet.

Ronon has collapsed into an armchair, pizza box on his lap. "What are you playing?"

"Chicken Cha Cha," Maddie supplies.

John smirks. "Hungry Hippos too intellectual for you, McKay?"

"Too violent," Jeannie explains.


"You always look at me," McKay complains, shooting daggers at Jeannie. "What are you doing here?"

"Looking for you."

Madison, who has pressed herself against her uncle, points at the pizza box on Ronon's knee. "What's that?"

"Food." Ronon turns the box around and opens it to show Maddie the contents. A strong smell of pepperoni wafts across the room.

Kaleb winces. "Jeannie?"

She takes the box from Ronon, making the excuse of getting plates. It is left to Mer to do the introductions. Jeannie can hear them from the kitchen.

"Kaleb, meet Ronon Dex and Colonel John Sheppard. Ronon, Colonel - Kaleb, my brother-in-law. You know Jeannie. And this…" there is a pause, as though Meredith has to struggle to remember his niece's name. "this is Madison."

There is a slight pause, and then Jeannie hears her daughter ask: "Did you bring me a present?"

"We brought pizza," Ronon rumbles.

"Okay." Another pause. "Do you want to play?"

Jeannie grins, then turns her attention back to her task. She takes the plates from the dish rack and dries them quickly before putting them onto a tray. Then she takes two bottles of beer from the fridge, opens the lids, and places them beside the plates.

Carrying the tray back to the living room, she returns to find Ronon sitting on the floor, picking up the board game pieces in turn while Maddie explains the purpose of each one. John is sitting in the vacated armchair, in conversation with Kaleb - formalities and small talk as stilted as Meredith was when he first arrived.

She takes pity on both her husband and John, and bustles in with the tray. "Plates," she announces, putting the tray onto the table, "and a couple of beers. I hope that's okay."

"Great," Ronon says, grabbing one of the beers enthusiastically.

Jeannie glances at Maddie, then looks at Kaleb. "We should take her to bed."

Kaleb blinks, frowning. "I'll do it if…"

"We'll both go," she interrupts, lacing her words with meaning. She isn't naïve, and John's earlier words did not go unnoticed.

'What are you doing here?'

'Looking for you…'

Kaleb seems to finally understand, because he gets up from his seat and stretches out his arms to Madison. "Come on, Mad. Time for bed."

Their daughter moans softly, pouting, but she obediently puts down the card and allows her father to pick her up. "No cheating," she tells Meredith sharply.

Mer scowls. "As if I'm going to cheat at Chicken Cha Cha!"

"Wouldn't be the first time," Jeannie points out. She moves to follow Kaleb, aware of Ronon getting up off the floor and dropping into the couch.

They leave the three men in the living room and troop upstairs. With the word 'bed' Maddie has started to flag, drooping over Kaleb's shoulder and yawning widely.

"It's been a long day," Jeannie says, patting her daughter briefly on the head.

"Very long," Kaleb agrees. He glances at her. "John and Ronin…"

"Ronon," she corrects.

"They're friends of your brother's?"

"They work with him." She hesitates, thinking of Mer's words to her over lunch. "And they're friends, yes."

"You're still not going to tell me what happened to bring him here?"

"He wanted to visit."

Kaleb frowns, but doesn't question her response.

Jeannie feels suddenly guilty. She is responsible for pulling Kaleb and Madison into this situation - if she had never agreed to the confidentiality agreement she would never have become involved in her brother's work, never met his friends or gone to Atlantis.

Then, she and her brother would never have begun to rebuild their relationship either.

She told Kaleb the part she had played because she wanted to be honest with him. This time she wanted to protect her brother's feelings by keeping the details hidden from her husband; he had respected that and she loved him for it - but the arrival of John and Ronon has changed things.

Kaleb deserved to know. The situation was too awkward if he didn't.

"Can you put Maddie to bed?" she asks. "I'll tell you… well, I'll explain, after."

Kaleb hesitates, then nods. Jeannie leans in and kisses him, then kisses her daughter, and watches the both of them disappear into Madison's bedroom. Then she walks to her own room, and leaving the door open, prepares to get ready for sleep.

She can hear the conversation downstairs.

"You couldn't have called, Sheppard? It's fairly inconvenient for my sister, you two just turning up here."

As though Mer had ever given a thought to her being inconvenienced. Jeannie grimaces.

"We tried to call, McKay. Your cell was switched off."

"I'm on leave."

"We all are. Doesn't mean you don't keep in touch."

"Well it wasn't hard," McKay snaps. "It's not like I have many places to go."

"We tried your apartment," Ronon says. His voice is gruff, and partially obscured by what Jeannie assumes is pizza.

"You went to my apartment?!"

"Well you didn't give us a whole lot of choice," John accuses.

Her brother's voice is raised and heated. "I didn't realise I had to keep you updated as to my whereabouts, Colonel!"

"Not me, McKay. The SGC. Do you not bother to read the small print?"

"Not usually." Mer's voice deflates. "Anyway, you found me, didn't you?"

"Yes. Eventually." Jeannie hears someone moving, the creak of the couch. "I shouldn't have had to search. When you came back from Scotland I assumed you'd go back to the SGC."

"We're on leave, Colonel. And I still have twenty four hours left."

"Eighteen," Ronon says.

"Whatever! I can spend it how I like."

"Sure," John says. "But you could have mentioned it. Left a note."

"You're not my babysitter."

Jeannie winces. Not wise, Mer, she thinks.

"No." John's voice is low and dangerous. "I'm not. But we're your friends - at least, I thought we were. And we were concerned."

"He was," Ronon put in. "I knew you'd turn up."

"Well, thank you for the vote of confidence." Mer pauses. "Look, you and Ronon were busy. Radek had plans. I… I didn't think it would matter."

John sighs; a low, soft release of air. "Okay. Fine. Let's just forget it." He pauses. "How was Scotland?"

"How do you think?" Mer snipes. Jeannie flinches at the sound of the pain in her brother's voice.


"Sorry. It… it went fine. As well as could be expected. It doesn't need to be talked about."

"Okay." There is an awkward silence. "So… what have you been up to here?"

Behind her, Kaleb reappears from Maddie's room. Taking this as her cue, Jeannie gets to her feet and gestures at her husband to close the door.

"Maddie get to sleep alright?"

"Her eyes closed as soon as her head hit the pillow. She'll probably sleep through most of tomorrow morning." Kaleb takes her hand, and sits down beside her on the bed. "So? What's going on, Jeannie? Why is there a Lieutenant Colonel in our living room? What's your brother done?"

"Nothing," Jeannie answers. She squeezes his hand and leans forward, resting her head against her husband's shoulder. Kaleb wraps his other arm around her. "Someone died."

He hugs her gently. "Someone close to your brother?"

"A friend. A friend of John and Ronon's as well." She hesitates, deciding on the detail of her explanation. "It was an accident, but I think Mer blames himself a little. He went to tell his friend's family, went to the family funeral. Then he came here."

"Oh." Kaleb is silent for a moment. "It's good that he came here."

She smiles, secure in her husband's warmth. "I know. I just wish he'd thought to tell John first."

After twenty minutes Jeannie risks opening the bedroom door. She cannot hear any sound from the living room and, worried, she heads downstairs.

She doubts the argument ended in bloodshed - although silence can only mean her brother is sleeping or unconscious, and since she doubt it's the former that only leaves the latter. Not that she would necessarily blame them - Jeannie will admit to having hit her brother enough times in the past to know that with the way Mer handles relationships, he presents himself as an easy target. If John was responsible, Jeannie decides she doesn't need to worry - he has never appeared as a careless man. If Ronon was the perpetrator, she fully expects to find the living room window broken and an unconscious Meredith lying on the grass outside.

What Jeannie does not expect is to see all three men huddled on the floor, Sheppard leaning against the couch with a grin on his face, Mer scowling, and Ronon with an intense look of concentration on his face.

"Will you just pick already?!"

"I'm thinking," Ronon retorts.

"I know, I can hear the cogs whirring!"

Sheppard's grin widens.

As Jeannie watches, Ronon reaches out and selects a card from the centre of the board. His face falls in disappointment.

"Your memory is lousy," Rodney declares. "Even my niece could beat you."

"She could not," Ronon argues.

"She's very intelligent. We could recruit her to the SGC one day."

"Must get it from her mother," Sheppard says, leaning over to take his turn.

Jeannie decides it is time to make her entrance, and she drops down from the final step and walks into the living room. "I'll take that as a compliment," Jeannie says, slipping into the room.

John looks up from the game and smiles, boyish and charming. "Sorry. We've invaded your house."

"Don't worry about it. Actually, it's nice to have you here. My trip to Atlantis was beginning to feel like a dream," she admits.

"We'll get a hotel room…"

"We've got two couches. Besides," she shrugs, "the hotels here aren't that great."

"Better than a bunk at the SGC," John replies. "It's not a problem…"

"Neither is staying here." Jeannie grimaces ruefully. "I'll try and keep Madison from waking you early."

"Pokemon?" John guesses.


Ronon frowns. "What's a Spongebob?"

"Good question," Mer mutters, playing with one of the game pieces, rolling it about in one hand.

"I'll just get you some bedding," she offers, turning back toward the hallway.

"You should stay." John gestures at the game. "Play against McKay?"

She laughs and shakes her head. "No, thank you. Chicken Cha Cha isn't really my forte." She leaves the living room and goes to fetch more bedding. With three guests in the house supplies are running low, so Jeannie grabs everything - including the furry pink blanket she had been so fond of during her last weeks of pregnancy - and carries it into the living room. The bedding is piled so high she cannot see in front of her, and she is taken by surprise when two hands suddenly reach out and take half the load.


"No problem," John says. He turns away before Jeannie can see his face clearly, too preoccupied with catching a runaway pillow - but she glimpses emotions she doesn't understand - respect, and pain, and something warmer. She wonders whether he has any family of his own, and what being here means for him.

"I'm glad you came," she says, impulsively.

John looks at her, forehead creased.

"You know…" she hesitates, then fumbles, "for Mer." But she is as bad a liar as her brother, and Jeannie knows it, and pushes past John before he has chance to reply.

Her brother is still sitting on the floor, and she has to step over him to reach the couch and dump the bedding, ignoring his protests.

"I hope this is okay. If you want anything else from the kitchen then Mer knows his way around, so he can show you. Bathroom's up the stairs and to the left." She pauses, stifling a yawn with one hand. "Don't worry about making too much noise - the walls are thick and we can sleep through anything."

"Sorry for keeping you up," John says, sheepishly.

"Stop apologising." Jeannie steps back, surveying the room and deciding the men are well supplied. "Good night, then."

Ronon lifts one hand from the floor in a half wave. "Night."

She smiles and turns, heading for bed, leaving her brother and his friends to their game.

Jeannie dreams during the night, dark and unpleasant thoughts. She is walking through the zoo, one hand clutching Madison's, the other held tight and warm in Kaleb's grip. Maddie is laughing, skipping, pink shoes slapping against the ground. Then suddenly Maddie falls quiet, and a shadow falls over the sun, and when Jeannie shades her eyes and looks up she sees a shape. Not a ship, but something else, something black and alien, that fills her sleeping mind with dread. When she looks down, Kaleb and Maddie and the zoo are gone, and she is standing on a balcony in Atlantis while around her the city burns.

The next morning Jeannie again wakes early. She opens her eyes to the sensation that all is not right, the same niggling worry she experienced the day before. The only difference is that yesterday it was her brother she found brooding in the kitchen, and today it is John, slouching by the back door and looking outside at the yard.

In bare feet, Jeannie is certain she makes no sound, so she jumps when John turns. It is easy to forget, with his nonchalant attitude and easy grin, how dangerous this man could be if pushed. He is a soldier, and Jeannie sees the paradox.

"I woke you."

"No," she lies. "I was already awake."

If he hears her, he pays her reply no attention. "I thought I'd kept quiet. McKay's still in his room and Ronon is asleep."

"Just you and me, then?" She goes to the counter, her eyes still scratchy from sleep. "Coffee?"

"Already made some." He indicates the pot on the side.

"Oh." Jeannie goes through the motions of making herself a drink, pouring the bitter dark liquid into a mug, adding sugar and milk, while behind her John stands silently and watches. As a younger woman she was never good at mornings - the birth of Maddie shifted her entire world, including her level of communication during the early hours. Still, the intense activity of the weekend has left her drained and fuzzy.

She is not so fuddled by sleep as to be ignorant of John's attention on her. The silence preceding a question, as he thinks about his words and whether to speak.

"Is he okay?" The words tumble over each other, merging into one: isheokay?


"McKay. I guess he told you about…" he trails off.

"He's told me the basics." Jeannie looks down at her coffee cup, thinking about the answer. "It's… it's difficult. He and I aren't… well, you know."

"I know," he says, because he was the one to show Jeannie the video message her brother recorded for her, and that means something.

"He's okay. Grieving."

John nods. Jeannie glances at him.

"It's healthy."

"Oh." There is relief in John's voice. "Good. It - just, don't tell your brother, but I was worried."

"My lips are sealed." She frowns, glancing sideways at her guest. "What about you?"

He stares at her, confused. "Me?"

"I'm right in thinking Carson was your friend too?" Jeannie hesitates, afraid of crossing the line between honesty and brutality. "Sorry. It's just…"

"It's different," he interrupts, savagely. "I'm the military."

Jeannie presses her lips together, swallowing a retort. She wants to tell him it doesn't matter, that everyone loses people, and for all the trauma of war there are those on the front line who don't carry guns. Arrogance, she thinks, then corrects herself - mistaken naivety, perhaps, and denial, and her anger fades. "You've lost people before. But you've spent three years in Atlantis, John. You honestly expect me to believe this is the first death?"

John turns away, back to the window, as though somehow he can hide from her. "No. Of course not."

"Carson was a friend of yours." She uses the name deliberately, to provoke a reaction. "So what? How is it different for you? Or is it that it hurts less each time?" She bites back any additional words, questions about whether experience brings quicker closure, whether John counts the number of dead. It is cruel, but she is afraid - afraid for her brother and the people he has come to count as family.

"It doesn't…" He takes a breath, then turns to face her. "I know that it gets easier. Eventually." His shoulders bow as though beneath an immense weight.

Jeannie softens, breathing out slowly. "You're lying."

"Yes," he says, simply.

For a few minutes there is silence. Jeannie takes her coffee to the table, and eventually John joins her, slouching back in the chair awkwardly.

"When do you go back?" she asks, making small talk.

"This afternoon." He plays with the coffee mug, swirling the dark liquid around. "The SGC want us to go through a circus of medical checks, debriefs, paperwork. The usual. Should have done it when we arrived but," he shrugs, "we weren't in the mood."

"Paperwork," she agrees. "I remember the amount they sent me after coming back. Non-disclosure agreements, secrecy acts - I'm still amazed they never asked for Madison's signature."

"Yeah." He grins. "I'm not looking forward to telling Ronon. According to Carter, the SGC were threatening to ban SG-1 from bringing aliens through the 'gate. Too much bureaucracy."

She laughs. "I'm amazed Doctor Weir gave you all permission for leave."

She realises her mistake a second too late. John's face drops, and he turns away, covering up the move by stretching out his legs.

"Elizabeth thought it would be better if we weren't around for the clean up."

The air turns chilly, John's face carefully expressionless and neutral, while Jeannie stares at her coffee and wishes she could undo the last thirty seconds.

"He asked me to go fishing with him," John says, dully. "I said no."

"Rodney told me the same." Jeannie wonders when she has become the counsellor, the listener, the priest. She swallows, a lump in her throat. "You can't second-guess yourself."

"Yes. You can. It just doesn't help." He drains the coffee mug, and in that one simple action his entire demeanour changes back to the easy going persona of before. Relaxed posture, shadows disappearing. It doesn't entirely work. "Teyla went to the mainland. I invited her to Earth, but she wanted to be with her people."

"She's never been to Earth?"

"No. Well…" he frowns, "not the real Earth."

"That sounds like there's a story."

"A long story." John leans forward, arms on the table, and tells her about encountering a species of non-corporeal life-forms, and being tricked into believing a virtual environment. How they were divided, except for him and Teyla, how she had been the only real thing in the entire fictional world. "Shopping malls," he mutters, shaking his head. "Shoes and dresses and bags and more shoes - and this is Teyla! I though she was too, y'know, warrior-ly to be interested in all of that!"

Jeannie grins. "Every woman is," she advises, "it's just our levels of resistance that vary."

"What are you talking about?"

She turns, and sees Ronon in the kitchen doorway, leaning against the door, looking awkward in the Earth clothes provided for him.

"A mission," John says, then adds apologetically: "Before your time."

"Hmph." Ronon shakes his head dismissively. He wanders across to the coffee pot, sniffs the contents, then puts it down sharply.

"Not a coffee drinker?" Jeannie asks.


"There's juice in the fridge."

"Never managed to get him hooked," John says, jokingly. "I think McKay's addiction put him off."

"All the scientists are the same," Ronon says, dumping the carton of orange juice and - Jeannie is relieved to see - a glass onto the table. "Even Beckett."

Jeannie starts, lifting her head. John hasn't moved, his expression unchanging. Ronon says the name casually, without looking at either of them, drinking the glass of orange juice in one long draught.

She pauses, thinking for a moment, choosing a side. Secrecy, or honesty, and forcing the situation forward. She sees the way John's shoulders slump, and suddenly realises that perhaps her brother is not the one failing to cope. "He drank coffee?"

"Said something about betraying his heritage. That his mother would disapprove because he had been a tea drinker all his life, until he started working for the SGC." Ronon shrugs. "I don't see how a drink can be that important."

"Tea is the national drink of the United Kingdom. Largely responsible for the size of the British Empire." Mer steps into the kitchen and crosses to the coffee pot. He is dishevelled, t-shirt crinkled and hair mussed. "And Carson drank the stuff all the time. He only drank coffee when he was harassed."

"Usually because of you?" Jeannie asks, teasingly. "You've always been a hypochondriac, Mer."

"No," he retorts, churlishly, "not because of me. Not always. Sheppard was often the cause."

Ronon snorts. "Pea soup."

"Pea soup?"

"Post mission medical check." Ronon grins. "Beckett was with McKay."

"I didn't know what was going on!" Mer protests. "I was innocent!"

"You were a good distraction." Ronon leans back on his chair. "Sheppard comes in with this bag of pea soup under his shirt."

"Stomach cramps," John says, succinctly.


"Caron thought you were dying," Mer says, frowning. "Clutching your stomach and moaning - overacting, as usual."

"You bought it," John retorts.

"So?" Jeannie presses. "What happened?"

The soldier shrugs. "I thump my chest, out spurts all this pea soup, all over the bed…"

"And then I eat it," Ronon finishes. His eyes glint with amusement.

Jeannie groans, while beside the counter Mer makes a fake gagging noise.

"It was disgusting."

"Yup," Ronon says, sounding pleased with himself.

"What did Carson do?" Jeannie asks, interested.

"Decided we were all due for a round of inoculations." John grimaces. "Was it five needles?"

"Six," Mer mutters, rubbing his elbow as though in memory. "Idiots. I couldn't use my arm for the next month - and I had nothing to do with it!"

"You screamed like a little girl."

"That I can believe," she says, smiling at John.

He grins back, the first honest emotion Jeannie has seen in him since he arrived.

The morning passes too quickly for Jeannie's liking. Maddie sleeps late, exhausted by the events of the previous day, and both Jeannie and John have to stop Ronon from going in and waking her. By the time her daughter rises it is eleven o'clock, and the weather is already hot and muggy. The adults sit outside in what passes for a garden - neither she nor Kaleb are green fingered. They talk about the changes that have taken place on Earth while John and Meredith have been away; music and television and movies, avoiding the thorny topics of politics and war. John asks her for more stories on her brother, but this time Jeannie restrains herself - mostly - in an attempt to protect Mer's dignity. Ronon talks to Kaleb about Maddie, asking about schooling and playground games and the culture of American children. Mer diverts his attention between the two conversations and his niece, who has not given up her fascination with him.

He crouches by Madison's sandbox, trying to find the perfect mix of sand and water for castle-building. Jeannie chats to John, but can't stop her gaze from wandering. There is a sick, acidic feeling building in her stomach, and as the day progresses the feeling gets worse.

"So Lucius gives Elizabeth this ugly thing - some shrivelled up vegetable, with a candle stuck in the top - and she ends up worshipping it as a reverent object. Teyla and Ronon too, as though it's the most amazing thing they've ever seen. Gourds!"

Jeannie laughs, and smiles, and nods in the right places. Usually she would love hearing stories about Atlantis, and the more surreal adventures her brother and his friends have experienced. She feels privileged to be in a position of trust, allowed into the inner sanctum, into a mass conspiracy involving international secrets and alien agendas. But today all she can think of are the stories John isn't telling her. The ones where people are injured, or killed. The brutal stories of dangers she cannot imagine.

"Apparently Cadman decided to go for a run - without McKay knowing, of course. Just a little run, around the east wing and back, but the way he carried on about it…"

Jeannie wonders if this is how the families of soldiers feel, before their son or daughter are deployed in a war zone. Although at least, if he were in Iraq or Afghanistan, she would know where he was and what dangers he faced. The Pegasus galaxy is a giant unknown quantity and she is terrified if she even begins to think about what might be lurking there.

"Ronon just stares at them both, and I'm starting to get a little concerned, you know, after what he said about how he was going to be the one to take down the Wraith…" John pauses, staring at her. "Are you okay?"

"Hmm?" She meets his gaze, then looks away, getting up out of her seat. "Yes, I'm fine. It's just, time's getting on. I should start making lunch."

"Need some help?" Kaleb asks.

She shakes her head. Walking back indoors, Jeannie stops in the kitchen, and leans on the table, spreading her palms out flat on its surface. She takes several long breaths, and tries to concentrate on what ingredients she has for a salad, and not the myriad of unpleasant thoughts the past few days have provoked.

She hears the back door click as someone pulls it closed, and when she turns she isn't surprised to see the intruder is John.

"I thought I should give you a hand."

"I'm fine." Her reply is a little too quick, too sharp.

"I'm sorry. We shouldn't have come…"

"No." Jeannie straightens, and turns to face him. "I'm glad you came. We all are. It's just - it's me. All of this, Atlantis, the SGC… it's still overwhelming. I know I've been there and it shouldn't be, not anymore, but I can't help it. And with…" she hesitates, uncertain, "with everything that has happened, I guess I'm still a little shocked at it all."

"This is about this morning," Sheppard says, and grimaces. "Look, what I said before, about it getting easier…"

"It's not that," she interrupts. "I mean, it wasn't the most reassuring conversation I've ever had, but I think… I think it was just symptomatic of something bigger."

"Want to talk about it?"

Jeannie snorts, and turns away. "No offence, John, but I think you're the one person I shouldn't talk to about this."

He frowns, folding his arms. "Why?"

"Because you'll lie to me."

He stares at her. "Lie? About what?"

She swallows, and looks away. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brought this up."

John takes a step forward, into her line of sight, refusing to leave. "I promise, no lies."

Jeannie stares into his dark eyes, and realises that John is the only one who can answer her question, the only one who will understand her need to know the truth. "You're going back this afternoon. You, Ronon and my brother."

"Yes." He frowns. "Jeannie, what is this about?"

"Can you promise me you'll keep him safe?"


"Because I couldn't, not as his little sister. Not when we were kids, and not now." She turns her face up to him. "So? Are you going to lie to me, John?"

There is a long moment of silence, tense and painful, but Jeannie will not look away.

"No," John replies, sombrely.

She breathes out, long and low. "It's dangerous?"

It's a rhetorical question, but John answers anyway. "Yes. People have died. Scientists and soldiers."

There is grief and anger and hurt in his voice, and Jeannie forces herself to hold his gaze, to listen to his words, and face her fears.

"My brother and I might have a lousy relationship, but he's the only brother I have. I don't want to lose him."

"I promise I…"

She takes a step forward, stilling his words. "Don't. Don't make promises you can't keep."

His gaze is deep and searching, the silence long. "Alright."

"So tell me the truth."

"The truth is, I can't keep him safe. I can't keep any of them safe."

Jeannie drops her head, and moves back, hugging her chest. She wanted the truth, demanded it, and she hates herself for bringing them to this point.

But I need to know, she thinks. I needed to hear it from him.

And now, thanks to her questions, she has forced John to admit a truth she is certain he rarely admits to himself. The heart-breaking confession that no matter how hard he tries, he will continue to lose people, that death is part of the life they choose to live.

She nods slowly, and again raises her eyes to meet his gaze. "But you'll try?" she asks, simply.

His dark eyes flash at her. "Of course - I'd do anything - I'd risk my life - for McKay, for Ronon, Teyla - I'd have given it for Carson if…" Then he breaks off.

The pain in his voice hurts, physically, and Jeannie looks away, closing her eyes. "I'm sorry. I'm not being fair."

She hears him take a step toward her. "No, it's… I understand…"

"He's a grown man." She turns to look at him. "He's not your responsibility. Meredith can take care of himself."

"Not always," John replies, dryly. "And besides, it is my responsibility."

She opens her mouth to protest, but John interrupts her, reaching out to put a hand on her arm.

"It's my job," he states, firmly. "Seriously. Atlantis is the scientists' mission. The military are there to protect them. And," he drops his hand and shrugs, ruefully, "I'm also there to switch things on."

She frowns. "What?"

"The Ancient gene."

"Oh. Mer uses you as a guinea pig?" she guesses.

"Not that often. He doesn't like having to admit that my gene is stronger than his. I'm Zelenka's go-to."

"Ah." Jeannie smiles. "So which unlucky person is my brother's lackey?"

John grimaces. "That would be Carson," he says, quietly.

Jeannie falls silent, but instead of his earlier reticence and defensiveness John seems relaxed. Still hurting, still too quiet, but able to speak without hesitation. It must be easy, she thinks, to run away, to seek the refuge of denial. She told John that Meredith's grief was healthy, but what she only now realises is how hard it has been for John to reach the same state of acceptance.

"He hated it. Ancient technology. Loved the medical stuff but anything else terrified him." John's voice is soft, but warm, speaking of his friend with fondness. "He always complained but McKay just ignored him. You know what he's like. Had to force Carson to sit in the weapons chair. He refused to - not that I blame him, not after what happened the first time."

"What happened?" Jeannie asks, gently.

"He accidentally released a drone that almost destroyed the chopper General O'Neill and I were in." His smile widens. "It was because of that drone that I ended up on Atlantis."

"Now that sounds like a story worth telling in full," she says.

"Maybe next time." He glances toward the back door. "I think McKay and Ronon will riot if they miss a meal. What can I do to help?"

She smiles, and gestures at the kitchen work surface. "How are you at chopping vegetables?"

"Five diamonds."

"There's a knife in the drawer to your left, and a board by the sink." Jeannie fetches vegetables from the fridge and leaves them in John's care while she tends to the cheese and bread. Sounds from outside filter through the back door - Madison laughing, Meredith grumbling, Ronon's bass overwhelming Kaleb's voice.

"Have I thanked you yet?"

She glances at John. "Thanked me for what?"

"Putting us up. Putting up with McKay."

"He's my brother. I didn't have much of a choice," she jokes.

"Yes," he says, very seriously. "You did."

Jeannie pauses, thinking about the four years of silence, and the hurt she still feels when she thinks of how her brother rejected her husband and daughter. "Maybe."

"He needed this." John shrugs, loose-limbed and awkward. "I think we all did."

She tries to concentrate on slicing cheese, and not look toward him, to allow him some sense of privacy. "You don't have any family?"


"Well…" she thinks for a moment, then says the words which seem most natural. "Consider yourself an honorary member of this one. Ronon too. Given that Mer sees you as family and I'm related to him - well, that's good enough."

Then she looks up and sees an enormous smile break out across John's face.

"Cool," he says, simply.

The cab is late, and despite Meredith's complaints this turns out to be a good thing, because they are running late, and the goodbyes take longer than anyone expected.

Ronon carries Maddie on his shoulders, and at this height Jeannie's daughter says goodbye to her three uncles, even forcing Mer to say the same words to Squeak, bouncing from one hand. Kaleb shakes hands with John and Mer, and is subjected to a painful-sounding slap on the back from Ronon.

"Bruises?" Jeannie whispers, standing close by, her hand clasped in his.

Her husband's voice is tight. "Uh, yeah. Just a little."

She squeezes his hand comfortingly, and he smiles at her. Then she turns to Ronon, and pulls a face at Madison, still riding happily on the large man's shoulders.

"Come on, honey. Time to get down."

Ronon crouches, allowing a disappointed Maddie to clamber down from his shoulders.

"Be good," he tells the girl, sternly.

She gives a solemn nod. "You too."

Meredith snorts, derisively. "I'm not sure that's possible."

Then it is her turn, Ronon stepping up to hug her, once again lifting her off the ground.

"Thanks," he says, gruffly.

She wraps her arms around his back, though in comparison her effort seems pitiful. Ronon puts her back down, then grins widely.

John is next. He stands in front of her, looking awkward, and Jeannie is the one who has to make the first move, leaning forward to put her arms around him. "Come back soon," she tells him, fiercely, and she feels him return the hug, her layered meaning seemingly translated.

There is the sound of a car horn outside, and John pulls away, turning to Ronon and raising one eyebrow. "We'd best start putting out bags in the cab."

The hint is unsubtle. Ronon glances at Meredith, frowning.


"I'll see you out." Kaleb bends down and picks up Madison, carrying his daughter in his arms. "Let's go say goodbye outside, okay sweetie?"

She nods, waving at Meredith and her mother as she leaves the living room.

Now alone with her brother, Jeannie finds Mer staring at his shoes, face scrunched into a frown.

"So, I suppose…" he falters, then shrugs, sloppily. "I'll write."

"Don't say something if it isn't true," she warns him.

His protest comes quickly, automatically. "Hey, I've been writing, haven't I?! And I'm very busy saving the universe!"

"And don't exaggerate either." She softens a fraction. "Look - I'm not expecting an essay every fortnight. But a few lines every six months isn't too much to ask."

He sighs, as though put upon. "I suppose." Then he steps forward and, hesitantly, the two siblings hug, Meredith wrapping his arms around his sister and Jeannie pressing her face into his shoulder.

Their embrace lingers for a moment, Jeannie desperately trying not to think of the hundreds of ways this could become the last time she sees her brother. After four years of indifferent silence she had found closure, assuming her brother was alive and well, if an arrogant ass. This time is different, this time there is a relationship to miss, if a highly dysfunctional one.

"Take care of yourself," she tells him, her words muffled.

"Don't worry," he tells her, archly. "I have a well-developed sense of self-protection."

"Cowardice," she tells him, jokingly.

"Saving the universe here!" he repeats, indignantly.

Reluctantly, Jeannie breaks the embrace. "Madison's birthday is in the August," she says, clearing her throat with a cough. "Try and remember it."

"She's very demanding." Mer glares at her. "Must get that from her mother."

"Runs in the family," she points out.

There is a knock, and brother and sister turn to see John, hovering in the doorway, hand still cocked against the wall. "We've got to go," he says, apologetically.

"Right." Mer glances from John to his sister. "Look, ah…"

"Thanks," she finishes for him, "and I'll write soon."

"Um… yes. All of that."

She follows them out to the cab. Ronon is already in the front seat, in deep discussion with the driver. Kaleb moves to stand beside her on the kerb, still carrying Madison. Meredith gets into the back of the vehicle, John using the opposite door, and Jeannie hears the sound of the engine start.

"Are you alright?" Kaleb asks her, quietly.

She nods. "I'm fine."

Madison waves at the cab. Jeannie smiles, and feels Kaleb's hand close around hers once more.

"How are you? Are you happy? Are you okay?"

Her smile widens as the cab pulls away from the kerb.

"Yes, Mer. I am. I really am."

"You think they'll be okay?" Kaleb asks.

He isn't asking about their physical safety. Jeannie takes a deep breath, pushing her fears down inside her, and answers the question asked of her.

"Yes. I'm sure of it."

In the end, only three months pass before Jeannie hears from her brother again.

She is at the kitchen table with Madison, helping her paint, while behind her Kaleb stands at the sink to finish the washing up. Maddie hears the thump from the front door first, and before either parent can stop her she has leapt up from her seat and is running through the hall.

"Hold on!" Kaleb protests, following her, grabbing a towel. "You're covered in paint, Madison! Don't touch…"

Jeannie hears his voice falter, and she grimaces, and starts to get up. "I'll get a damp cloth," she offers, "the wallpaper can be wiped down…"

She doesn't hear the response she expects. Kaleb reappears in kitchen, Madison beside him, proudly holding up a large brown parcel in both hands. There are smears of blue paint on the packaging.

"It's a present for you."

"It's from Colorado," Kaleb says, eyebrows raised.

Jeannie stares at him, then slowly reaches out to take the packet from her daughter. She uses Madison's play scissors to open the package, and empties the contents out onto the table. There are several letters in different hands, a few photos held together with an elastic band, a DVD, and a chunky bracelet small enough for Madison's wrist.

She passes the jewellery to her daughter, who squeals delightedly. "A present from Uncle Rodney!"

"You'll have to write him a thank you note," Kaleb tells her.

Jeannie pushes the letters to one side, for later reading. She has already guessed that one is from John, and one from Ronon. The third, she thinks, is probably Zelenka, and the fourth - the smallest, bearing a familiar scribble - is from her brother. The photos too are left until later, although she catches a glimpse of close-up faces, any scenery obscured. Security, she supposes.

Jeannie picks up the DVD. Its surface is blank, but there is a post-it stuck to the case.

I should have sent you this a couple of years ago. Sorry. It didn't feel right then. But now…

… and then something is scribbled out, heavily, in black pen.

just watch it. If you want. Rodney.

"What is it?" Kaleb asks.

She doesn't answer, although Jeannie suspects she already knows. Getting up, she walks to the living room, and crouches down by the television, putting the disc into the dvd player. Behind her she hears Kaleb and Maddie follow, but she doesn't acknowledge them, her heart beating hard in her chest.

The dvd player whirs. Jeannie presses the power button on the television, and waits as the screen flickers to life.

There is only one file on the disc. She selects it, and presses play.

Her brother appears onscreen. The image is fuzzy, as though the file has been compressed before being burned onto the disc.

She has seen this before.

"Jeannie? This is your brother, Rodney… obviously…"

Jeannie hugs her arms across her body, eyes stinging.

Madison crouches beside her, hand on her mother's knee. "Mom?"

Jeannie reaches out and hugs Maddie with one arm, tightly. "I'm okay."

"I want to say something. Uh… family is important."

She remembers the way John showed her the DVD, slightly sheepish and hesitant, watching her reaction whilst trying to make his attention seem less obvious.

A tape made when her brother was certain he was going to die. A last message recorded and never passed on.

"Now, I know what you're thinking…"

Kaleb's hand settles on her shoulder, his thumb kneading the back of her neck gently.

She misses her brother, Jeannie realises, startled by the thought. For the first time in many years, she wishes he were here.

"I'm sorry we weren't closer. Perhaps, if by chance I make it out of this, perhaps one day we can be, and I would like that."

He misses her too, Jeannie thinks, warmth settling around her shoulders and chest. They were close, once, and Meredith - Rodney - hasn't forgotten, and neither as she - as much as they might have once pretended to.

Family is important. She feels safer, knowing her brother has his around him. John, Ronon, Teyla, Elizabeth.

"Jeannie?" Kaleb asks, softly.

She thinks aloud, her voice a whisper. "I wonder if Carson…" And then she breaks off, because she knows the answer.

The DVD stops, returning to the menu screen.

He knew. They all know, even if they never admit it, how much they mean to each other. A surrogate family, Meredith called it.

She misses him.

The DVD ejects itself from the player. Jeannie picks it up, putting it back into the flimsy plastic case, then gets up.

"Come on," she says, to Madison and Kaleb, taking her daughter's hand. "Let's see what else your uncle sent us."

Tis the end. Reviews welcome.