"Miller's Crossing" tag, set between "This Mortal Coil" and "Be All My Sins Remember'd".

Gnine had the original idea around which this story is built. I've read several "Miller's Crossing" tags with a similar premise, but none of them were quite what we wanted. My interpretation of Jeannie is slightly different from others I've seen; I'm maybe a bit more sympathetic to her than some, and this story reflects my own take on her.

His Dinner with Jeannie

The IOA requested Dr. McKay, but it didn't take much for John to convince Colonel Carter to send him to give the intermediate report instead. He argued that he knew as much about the Pegasus Replicators and their programming as the committee would really care to hear, and McKay was still busy with rewriting the virus, and Ronon and Teyla could handle the evacuations for one day, and besides, he might not be an ambassador but at least he wasn't Rodney McKay, who maintained that diplomacy was something that applied to other, lesser minds, even when he wasn't averaging less than two hours of sleep a night.

What Sheppard didn't say was that the last thing Rodney needed at the moment was to stand in front of a board of bureaucrats and explain exactly how badly he had failed and was still failing. He didn't say it, but the measuring look Carter gave him made him think he wasn't fooling anyone; not her, at least. At any rate, she gave her consent, and two days later Sheppard walked through the Midway Station and found himself back on Earth for the second time in as many months.

He talked to the IOA committee for almost four hours, answered their questions and reassured them that sending both the Daedalus and the Apollo had been the right call--the ships were halfway to Pegasus, and it was hard to keep a lid on his anticipation, the only thing giving him the strength to get through the tedium of bureaucratic inquisition. One more week, and it was about damn time; finally they were going to act, go toe-to-toe with the bastard machines.

John glossed over the progress they were making with the Wraiths' shutdown code--the lack of progress. "We're getting there," Rodney had informed him, shortly before he had left, but he'd been looking at his laptop when he said it, not meeting John's eyes, short-tempered irritation covering a lack of confidence that didn't sit well with John. He was used to the rabbits McKay pulled out of his astrophysicist's hat with reliable regularity. Watching him work on the virus coding, running one failed simulation after another, was like watching a racecar driver accelerate straight into a brick wall again and again, wreck after wreck, stubbornly trying to smash through because there was no way to drive around it.

It was four in the afternoon when Sheppard left the briefing room, not even noon Atlantis time; he wasn't scheduled to return until late that evening. Hanging around the SGC was an option, but not a preferable one. He might not share Rodney's claustrophobia, but the bunker tunnels were uncomfortably narrow after Atlantis's open halls, and the metal bulkheads closed too tightly.

And down that corridor was the secured area where they incarcerated prisoners, and just around this corner were the computer labs, and John found himself in the elevator alone, hammering the button to go up to the surface, breathing hard. Two levels up the elevator stopped and a trio of off-duty servicemen boarded, noisily discussing their evening plans; John unclenched his fists, forced his breathing quiet and smiled an answer to their casual greeting.

He was planning to hitch a ride with them into town, get a couple hours of shopping in. He had a list; anyone who went through Midway tended to accumulate requests, those items that didn't make it to the Daedalus requisitions register in time. Someone on the listserve wanted Arsenic and Old Lace for movie night, and Lorne needed more Cadmium Red, and Rodney was almost out of his specialty toothpaste, and Teyla never minded more popcorn.

But instead the guard at the exit checkpoint waved John to the NORAD reception office, telling him he had a ride waiting. Uneasily wondering if General O'Neill might be down from Washington, Sheppard made his way to the indicated corridor, where a single person was sitting on the bench alongside the security post. Green skirt, blonde curls hanging down over the thick paperbacked volume she was reading, a physics journal by the diagrams interspaced between the small text.

John raised an eyebrow, surprised. "Uh, hello. Afternoon."

"John, hi," Jeannie Miller said, looking up and tucking the journal away in her handbag as she stood. She gave him a hug quick enough he didn't have to return it, and a small smile that was a little anxious, by John's guess; it would have been if Rodney had been making it, anyway.

"Hey, Jeannie, good to see you again," he said, smiling back to cover his confusion. "How are you, you're looking good." She definitely looked better than when he had last seen her, still a little pale and shaky from the drugged coma, decidedly not leaning on her brother's arm though he had been hovering only a couple inches away. "How's the family?"

"They're fine," Jeannie said. "How's Mer?"

"Same as usual. Uh, sorry he couldn't make it, he's been pretty busy these days, still working on the Replicator virus--you weren't expecting him, were you?" He couldn't see why else she would be here.

"No," Jeannie said, shaking her head. "He told me you were coming alone. I thought you might want a break, after talking to the IOA. Feel like dinner?"

"Sure, but," and John checked his watch, out of habit and to make the point, "I'm going back tonight, this was just a one-day trip."

"I know," Jeannie said. "I've got a redeye back to Vancouver tonight myself. We'll have a few hours, at least."

"Okay," John agreed, still confused.

Jeannie had never been into Colorado Springs proper, so John gave directions while she drove the rental Impala. The decent Italian place he had frequented during their involuntary leave last year was still open, and on a weekday night they didn't need reservations; the waiter immediately brought them to a table for two in a private corner.

It wasn't until after they were seated that he became awkwardly aware of the ambiance, warm low lightning and the dark damask tablecloth. Neither of them were especially dressed for the occasion, Jeannie in her plain skirt and sweater, and John hadn't bothered to change out of his black fatigues, since the city was used to servicemen out and about. Still, a man seated at a table with a woman who didn't look anything like his sister; and when the waiter came by John ended up sliding his left hand under the table, so it wasn't glaringly obvious that his finger lacked a match to the gold ring on Jeannie's hand.

With those appearances in mind he ordered a Coke instead of wine. Jeannie asked for a lemonade, though that wasn't out of any sort of embarrassment on her part. "Never really cared for wine myself," she said, wrinkling her nose in a cute way that was relievingly un-McKay-like, though Rodney wasn't much for wine, either.

When their drinks came, John watched her sip the lemonade with interest. "So you're not allergic?"

Jeannie shook her head. "Not to citrus. Chocolate, though..."

"You're kidding."

"Sadly, nope. And Mer goes on like he's got it rough."

"No chocolate. That sucks."

"Mer used to buy candy bars and wait until he got home just so he could eat them in front of me. So I'd throw lemon drops at him. Then there was the Christmas we both were given orange chocolates..."

The waiter returned for their orders and collected their menus. While they waited for their salads they stuffed themselves with bread and garlic oil and continued the conversation. Jeannie was as easy to talk to as her brother, and almost as eager to talk, and she had the same acerbic wit, though she was more self-conscious about it. Or self-aware, at least, able to laugh at herself in a way Rodney was only just managing to master.

John gradually relaxed, sat back and listened contentedly, throwing in a comment here and there to keep things going. It was the first time he had been alone with Jeannie since she had come to Atlantis the year before. He had visited her at her home a couple times, but always with Rodney. Here, apart from her brother and her husband and daughter, she was a little different, less responsible if still mature, not the wife or mother, not the teasing little sister, either, though most of what they talked about was Rodney, anecdotes of growing up McKay.

Though these stories were a little different, too, not as funny, the quieter sides of their childhoods; maybe because John wasn't with his teammates egging her on, and she wasn't trying to prove herself, as she had been then, trying to ingratiate herself with Meredith's friends because she had been having little luck getting close to her brother herself. A lot had changed in the last year between them, and for the better, John thought. When Jeannie talked about Rodney now, she didn't have that defensively bitter edge, the hurt she hadn't really been able to conceal, no better at hiding her feelings than her brother.

Except something else was there now, something uncomfortable, unhappy--the way she kept glancing at him sidelong when she reached for her lemonade glass or poked her fork in her salad. John knew that discomfited look; Rodney would occasionally get it, usually right before he opened his mouth and plunged into a disastrous social gaffe, such as explaining to a well-armed alien scientist exactly how wrong they were about bacteria or fission bombs. Jeannie was more cautious, but she was working herself up to something, John could tell.

When the waiter brought their pasta, Jeannie was asking him about the Replicator virus rewrite. "How is it going, really? Mer's answered most of my emails, but he hasn't mentioned much about it, not since..." and she trailed off.

John, understanding why Rodney was reluctant to discuss the finer points of nanite programming with his sister these days, shrugged. "It's going," he said. "They haven't had a breakthrough yet, but this is Rodney, it's just a matter of time. He's been pulling a lot of all-nighters on it."

"Yeah," Jeannie said, "he's always done that. There was this one time, right before he went to college, so I must have been about nine. I woke up in the middle of the night from a nightmare--don't remember what, I don't know if I remembered then. I went to get a glass of water, and the light in Meredith's room was on--by then Dad had stopped trying to enforce his bedtime, he'd just go to bed and let Mer stay up. I didn't think that was fair, but I was young enough I had to turn off the lights...

"Anyway, Mer was up working on his spaceship. I don't know if he's ever mentioned that to you, he spent a lot of his senior year in high school designing this ship. It wasn't really an engineering project, more a practical exercise in theoretical physics--artificial gravity, atmospheric controls, faster than light engines...ironic now, I guess, given what he's doing for a living.

"He heard me at the door, told me to stop bugging him with my fidgeting outside and come in. I told him I'd had a bad dream and couldn't sleep. So Mer showed off his spaceship designs to me--that was when I learned the theory of special relativity. I'd heard of Einstein by then, of course, but not spacetime, or Lorentz transformations...Mer went into the math with me, he never cared whether it would go over my head. And most of it didn't...that was the thing, back when we were kids. I could understand most of what he could teach me, but he had to teach it to me. He was that much older than me, that much further ahead, all while we were growing up."

John took a bite of chicken pesto that was nearly as good as he remembered, remarked, "He does like being the one who's ahead."

Jeannie gave him a wry smile. "The best part of being a big brother, for him, until I grew up. I went into higher mathematics instead of physics so I wouldn't be competing with him head-to-head--I wanted to learn from someone else, learn something he didn't know...which is an annoyingly small field, really. But when I was little, it was just so amazing to me, that my brother knew everything. And when I woke up the next morning, I was in his bed, he'd tucked me in and gone to sleep on the carpet, without a pillow, head on his textbook. Sometimes that's the clearest memory I have of Mer, snuggled warm in his bed with him snoring on the cold floor.

"When I was having nightmares my third year in college, after Dad died, I used to call Mer up--he pretty much always was awake, whatever time zone he was in. I'd ask him about Einsteinian mechanics, I'd say I was having trouble in my classes--which I never was, and he should've known that, but he'd always be up for a lecture, and I'd fall back to sleep still holding the receiver...racked up a couple terrible long-distance bills, like that." Jeannie's smile shifted, more wistful than wry. She twirled marinara-soaked linguini around her fork but didn't pick it up off the plate. "I did try calling him, a couple times, when I was pregnant...that was after he'd come back from Russia, but it always went to an anonymous voice-mail. I don't know if he ever got my messages, I don't know if it even was the right number."

"Probably was. Rodney's lousy about answering messages," John offered. "Especially when he's working on something important. I'll go down to the labs to talk to him in person, usually, because it's faster than trying to raise him on the radio."

"I guess everything he's working on these days is pretty important," Jeannie said. "And not just in a potential-Nobel-prize way. He told me it was before, but...Mer always thinks what he's doing is more significant than anything, ever. But the science he does now, he's probably right."

John shrugged. "Maybe not the most important thing in human history, whatever he'll tell you. But...yeah. He's saved us more than a couple times."

Jeannie looked at him. "Saved your lives, you mean."


Whatever she had been holding in, she was ready to release it now, he could see it in her gaze, straight and steady on him. "And he saved my life, too. Last month."

"Yes, he did," John answered, unsure where this was going, so sticking to the safe, basic facts.

"Meredith," Jeannie said, "and the Wraith."

She had never seen the Wraith, John knew; Rodney had made quite sure of that. It had been marched back through the gate before Jeannie had been awoken from the coma. But Rodney had told her what had happened, the basics, anyway, not quite arrogant enough to take credit for coding he'd had no hand in, especially when she probably would have recognized it as someone else's work anyway. "The Wraith did the reprogramming of the nanites. But Rodney was the one who convinced it to do it, for your sake."

"Convinced him how?" Jeannie asked, and the sudden sharpness to her tone could have been mistaken for anger. John, who knew Rodney, knew better; recognized that tight voice, the look in her eyes, as anxiety. Fear, even, disguised as ire.

Her blue eyes were too much like her brother's; to have those eyes looking at him, and looking afraid, made him go cold inside. "What do you mean?" John asked her, his voice even but dropped in pitch.

"I asked for the report," Jeannie said quietly, ducking her head to look away, across the small restaurant to the windows outside. She set down her fork, fiddled with the napkin in her lap. "The official report of the...incident. I have pretty high security clearance in the United States now, I didn't realize how high, actually. They wouldn't mail it to me, but I was allowed to go to the embassy and read an electronic copy. There were parts...there was a lot Meredith didn't tell me. Wouldn't tell me, even when I asked him. What happened to Henry Wallace, and... But that report..."

Jeannie pushed her hair back behind her ears, ran her fingers through the curls. The quick, nervous motion of her hands was just like Rodney's, though the gesture itself would be impossible for him; John found himself watching with some fascination, a needed distraction from her words. "You wrote that report, right, John? You signed it."

John nodded mechanically.

"I wanted to ask you--I need to know," Jeannie said, put down her hand and rested it on the table, but her fingers were curved together, the pad of her thumb rubbing along the knuckles. "Is it true? What you wrote about Henry Wallace and the Wraith. Is that really what happened? "

John leaned back in his chair. "What, do you think I falsify reports?" he asked, too lightly for it to be a challenge, just kidding.

He somehow was forgetting that Jeannie had been a McKay before she was a Miller. "Yeah," she said, not smiling back, mouth in the same flat slant her brother's got. "Maybe. Did you?"

"Jeannie, I..."

"Meredith's changed," Jeannie said before he got in any farther, all in a rush. "I knew that already, I saw that when I saw him on Atlantis, with all of you. And in the last year, the way he's been trying...he always cared, in his way, but he's really making the effort now. The emails, and coming to visit. Madison knows his name. He's getting a better idea of what effort to make. And I've been happy about that, but...

"I knew he'd changed, but I didn't understand, not until last month. When we were kidnapped, when we were being held prisoner, Mer... He wasn't scared. He was angry, and he was frightened for me, but he wasn't scared of Wallace. Not at all. I never really thought my brother was a coward...but a wuss, maybe. But the way he was then, the way he kept his head...I've seen him freak out about the dumbest things, but there we were in this crisis, this terrible situation, and Mer knew how to handle it. He'd been in situations like that before--in worse ones."

"Yeah," John had to agree, thinking of the various times Rodney had been abducted, held hostage, the Genii, Wraith vessels...an easy count; John always kept the running tally of his own failures.

"It really hit me then," Jeannie said, "what Mer does--what it's really like for all of you. And how I don't get it, really--I'm not there, I don't know. I don't understand what it can do to you, living like that. I knew my brother had changed, but maybe I didn't realize how much, that he's not the same Meredith I grew up with..."

She took a long breath, put her hands flat on the table and looked across their plates at John, blue eyes fixed on him. "The report," she said, quietly but very clear. "It says Henry Wallace was being shown the labs, and the Wraith was there, and attacked him without warning. It killed Wallace before it could be stopped. But the report also said that the Wraith wasn't being watched as closely because it had stopped working, because it was starving. And after it--" she swallowed--"after it fed, that's when it finished the nanite programming. The programming which saved me."

John nodded.

"And that's what happened?"

"That's what happened," John said, looking her in the eyes as he said it, because he always had been able to bluff.

Jeannie stared back at him, a frown established in the line between her brows, as if he were a math proof for her to solve. "But you're Mer's friend," she said. "A good friend, maybe better than he's had before. I don't know how close you are, but I know you are."

"He's on my team," John said, an apprehensive non-answer as he tried to figure out what she meant.

"My brother trusts you," Jeannie said. "And you...I think you'd lie for him." She reached her hand across the table to touch John's wrist, not grabbing, just a light, uncertain brush of her fingers over his wristband. "John, I need to know. What happened to Wallace--if it wasn't an accident, if it was deliberate--you said Mer saved my life. If Mer set up Wallace somehow, if my brother sent a man to his death, for revenge, or to save me--I have to know."

John watched her, not moving his arm, and she didn't take her hand away, didn't look away, her eyes wide and blue and pleading as he'd only seen Rodney look a couple times. I have never asked this of you before...trust me. Rodney's sister, and they'd been close once, John knew; he'd seen the family albums she'd kept, even if Rodney only had three pictures of her. "You really believe Rodney could do something like that?"

"I don't know," Jeannie said, sounding like she wanted to be hysterical and wasn't allowing herself that freedom, very soft and tightly calm. "I don't want to believe it, it didn't cross my mind, not at first. But reading that report--it doesn't make sense, it's incomplete, illogical. There's no way Wallace's murder could have been an accident. And I don't know my brother as well as I thought I did, I've realized that. I used to know him, but who he is now, in Pegasus...I don't anymore."

"It wasn't an accident," John told her. "But it wasn't a murder, either. It was..." He could see Wallace's face before his eyes, shriveled and contorted as he gasped his last, struggling to breathe as the Wraith stole the final years of his life. He'd reached for John in that moment, straining, far too late. Too desperate to call it a suicide, too pitiful and agonizing to be an honorable death. John wouldn't damn anyone to that end, not his worst enemy, and yet... "It was a solution."

"A solution..." Jeannie's eyes widened; he registered the sickened outrage there, but she kept her voice low, even as her fingers tightened around his wrist. "A man died--"

"Wallace volunteered," John said. "To make up for what he did; it was all he could do by then..." and then, because there was too much horror in her face for him to take it, he said, "I arranged it. Rodney--Meredith--didn't have anything to do with it. He didn't know, not until after it was done."

Jeannie let go of his wrist, yanked her hand back. "You..." Flash of relief, he saw it clearly, and then she was giving him that math-proof look again, but more warily. He could see her swallow, throat moving. "You arranged..."

"I talked to Wallace," John said. "I accompanied him to the lab, and I wrote the report afterwards. It's mostly accurate. But it wasn't an accident."

"It's what saved my life." Jeannie looked ill, greenish in the dim lighting. "If Wallace hadn't died, then I would have--that's the truth, isn't it. That wasn't in the report, but it was obvious. It was to save me."

"Rodney was going to be the one," John heard himself say, which he hadn't intended to; not his right to tell her, if Rodney hadn't. But he was telling her anyway. "The Wraith quit working, said it was starving. And Rodney was going to give himself to the damn thing, give it his life, if it would do the programming afterwards."

"My brother..." Jeannie stopped, blinked, started again, "Meredith. My brother. He." She shook her head, one hard shake. "He wouldn't, he--Mer told me what the Wraith do, how they feed, he'd seen..."

"He was going to let it feed on him," John said. "He would've done it, if I hadn't stopped him. I wouldn't let him. Rodney tried anyway, tried to go behind my back and break into the lab, the sneaky son of a bitch, but I'd gotten Wallace there first."

And that was something John knew he should regret, knew he should have regretted when he saw the body bag being zipped over Wallace's desiccated corpse; knew he should regret now, seeing the distress in Jeannie's eyes. But he couldn't. The guilt, that he could feel, an ache that would never go away, any more than the feeling of his finger on the trigger sending the bullet to kill Sumner, the sound of fifty-five soldiers impacting the gate shield. But not regret. Not any wish to have done it differently than he had.

When he looked back at her, Jeannie was gazing down at the tablecloth as if there were answers woven into the damask patterning. "Meredith...he really..."

"For you," John said, not sure if he meant it as explanation or accusation. "That's how far he was willing to go. Look, I didn't get to know Rodney until we were on Atlantis, so I don't really know what he was like before, growing up with you, or before you stopped talking. I've seen how he's changed since we came to Atlantis, so I can guess, but I don't actually know how different he is from what he used to be. But now, this is the kind of man he is."

"It's the kind he always was, maybe." Jeannie sighed, shakily. "It's strange. Mer's always liked being in charge, you know; he likes being able to tell everyone what they're doing wrong. And he always thinks he knows the right thing to do, but when something goes wrong...he holds himself responsible, and he won't let anyone take that from him. He's selfish like that, he won't acknowledge that anyone else is good enough to be responsible for something he couldn't manage himself."

"Yeah," John said. "He still does that."

"He was blaming himself, I knew that, but I didn't realize..." Jeannie closed her eyes. "One time when we were little--I don't remember when exactly, I must have been pretty young. I ate a chocolate kiss by mistake, when Mer was babysitting me. It wasn't too bad, I didn't have to go to the hospital, but he had to call Dad home from work, and I was sick for the rest of the day. Dad was furious. And Mer...he kept telling Dad it wasn't his fault, but the whole week after that, he didn't tease me at all, and he did whatever I asked, he kept bringing me candy--not chocolate, of course--and he bought me a My Little Pony, and he helped build me a stable for it, too."

"McKay. Built a stable for your My Little Pony," John repeated, just to get the facts straight.

Jeannie quirked a smile at him, a small sparkling glance that saw straight through him. "Out of empty detergent bottles and PVC piping. It was pink with a blue roof, and it probably could have survived a grenade blast. And this time I had him buy me a Prius," and like that her humor was gone, and she looked, not old, but too serious. "Because I knew he had to do something. It didn't matter if I blamed him or not, he was still going to feel guilty. Better to get it out in the open, otherwise he might've closed himself off--stopped talking to me again, and he'd say it was for my sake, for my safety. And we did need a new car, and he could afford it, and...I knew he was blaming himself, but I didn't think..."

Jeannie's face crumpled, and to John's horror he saw water trembling in her eyes, before she shut them and turned away. "Sorry," she mumbled, "excuse me," and tossing her napkin down on the table over her half-empty plate, she got up and went to the bathroom.

John asked for the check, paid it with a decent tip, collected Jeannie's coat from her chair and got up to wait for her in the foyer. In a few minutes Jeannie came out again, her face dry but splotched red. She hadn't been wearing makeup, so nothing was running, but her eyes were puffy and still damp. "Sorry," she said again, as she put on her coat and they walked out to the rental car. Night had fully fallen, the breeze crisp with a possible frost. Jeannie opened her handbag as they walked, rummaged for her wallet. "How much do I owe you?"

"I covered it, it's okay," John said. "Are you..."

"I'm fine," Jeannie said, too quickly, because a step later she stopped walking and amended, "No, I'm not. My brother--my stupid, selfish brother--if I'd woken up last month, and he hadn't been there, because he'd gone and..." She took a gulping breath, let it out again, shuddering, but at least there weren't more tears gathering in her eyes. "He doesn't think. He's so sure he's the smartest guy on the planet--or another planet, now--but he doesn't think when he does things, he just does them, because they seem like a good idea to him at the time."

"That's Rodney," John agreed, dryly.

"It took me a long time to understand that," Jeannie admitted. "That the things he does, they're not on purpose. He didn't mean to hurt me, he didn't want to hurt me, he just didn't realize it." She put her hands in her pockets. It was barely above freezing, and their breath made brief plumes of mist in the night air. "Growing up, I always thought Mer was smarter than anyone--smarter than me, smarter than our dad, smarter than all our teachers or doctors or anybody on TV. He was my big brother, and he was amazing to me. And then we grew up--I grew up, and started to see he wasn't right about everything after all, and we started to fight, more and more.

"But I think that somehow, inside, I never let go of my childhood perspective--however much I fought with Meredith, I still thought he must be smart enough to know the truth, and so the things he said to me, they must have been to make me angry, to deliberately hurt me. I couldn't imagine my brother being wrong, unless he was being wrong on purpose. Which was stupid and selfish and immature of me, because he's my brother, but he's still human. He's as fallible as any of us."

"Or more," John said, and he didn't have to pitch it too broadly for Jeannie to hear the joke anyway; she laughed the way Rodney did, a mostly silent huff of air.

"It's what makes Meredith Mer."

"Wouldn't want him any other way." And that he did say like a joke, but Jeannie didn't laugh this time.

She touched his arm instead, not holding on, but turning him to face her, her eyes intent, so clear they were almost transparent in the streetlight over the parking lot. "John, thank you," she told him, took a breath and forced out, not quite stuttering, "For what you did--for the report, for everything. I don't...I can't agree with all of it, I don't want to think about it, and don't think I'll be able to stop. And I can't imagine how it must be for you, I don't want to think about that, either. But if you hadn't... Thank you."

John had already been forced to accept this gratitude once; a second time was unbearable. "I didn't--you don't have to. What I did, it wasn't..."

"It wasn't for me," Jeannie said. "I know. But he's my brother, and I love him. So, thank you." She looked at him, consideringly, almost as if she were bracing herself; then, before he could predict it, she had latched onto his arm again, tipped up onto her toes to press her lips to his cheek.

He could have refused it; he could have denied it. But her eyes were the same shade as Rodney's, and had the same strength, the same will getting her through this, and he ended up saying to her, "Tell you what, you get me photographic evidence of that pony stable, and we'll call it even."

Jeannie laughed again, not as startled as she could be, and leaned forward conspiratorially. "Actually, I'll have to check, but I might still have it in the storage locker," she whispered. "I'll let you know."

They got in the car and she drove him back to Cheyenne Mountain, stopping at the local Target along the way to pick up a few items to appease his fellow Atlantians. Her ID gave her clearance through the main entrance, so rather than leaving him in the outside lot, she drove into the compound to drop him off at the NORAD complex's entryway, only a short walk to the elevators down to the SGC.

"Have a good flight," John told her. "Sorry there's no ships around for instant transport."

"You intergalactic travelers are pretty spoiled," Jeannie replied as he climbed out. "Have a good, um, walk back to Atlantis. You have all your bags?"

John counted to be sure. "Including the stuff for Teyla and Ronon and Radek, and Rodney's, too."

"Make sure you give him the orange chocolates first, before the real ones."

"Of course."

"And give everyone my love. Tell Mer I miss him. And that Madison can't wait to see him at Christmas. He promised her that Lego set."

"He'll remember, I'll make sure."

"Good." Jeannie nodded, then leaned across the passenger seat to look up at him through the window as he shut the door. "And you. Take care of yourself out there."

"Always do," John said. "And Meredith, too."

"I know." Jeannie hesitated. "John, you don't have to mention it him, that you told me. If he wants me to know, he can tell me himself. If he doesn't want to...well. It's his choice. So you don't have tell him."

"I won't, then."

She wasn't done; John could see that in the way she was biting her lower lip. He waited, elbow resting on the roof of the car, until she said, "John. My brother...we're both grown up now, and a lot's happened between us, but the truth is...in spite of all that, the truth is...he's still pretty amazing to me." She let out a soft chuckling breath. "But don't tell him that, either."

"Okay," John said.

And he didn't add, not even under his breath, "Me, too"--but he could tell by the way Jeannie smiled at him, quick and bright and understanding, that she heard it all the same.