Jeannie loves her brother. Granted, they’re family, so she’s sort of required to love him, even when she wishes she could just whack him over the head and bury him in a ditch somewhere.
She knows how difficult life was for Mer, growing up. She was there for it. But it wasn’t exactly easy on her either. She was the go-between when Mer and Father clashed, the one who had to mediate when they wouldn’t speak to each other, the one who had to listen to Mer’s endless whining complaints about the unfairness of life and Father’s condescending rants about all the people who weren’t worth his time, his own family among them.
Mer might have been the one who always had to take the brunt of Father’s displeasure, but he was her big brother. He was supposed to look after her, not the other way around. Jeannie grew up resenting him almost as much as Father, and after she moved out and went to college, she purposefully didn’t speak to him for years.
Jeannie didn’t forgive her brother entirely until she met Caleb and they got pregnant and she got her own taste of how absolutely vile Father could be when he wanted to. She’d always been his favourite, and somehow she’d thought that he would support her life choices. When she announced that she had decided to put her career on hold and start a family, she found out exactly how wrong she’d been.
Mer was the one who walked with her down the aisle. Not to give her away, because they both agreed that it was a stupid, outdated tradition, but he walked beside her every step of the way, with a proud smile all over his face. When it really counted, he was there for her, took her side and defended her. So yes, she loves Mer and not only because he’s her brother.
He does have the most awful timing though.
The doorbell rings on a Friday evening in the middle of February and Jeannie goes to open the door, wondering who it might be. Maddie is spending the night at a friends’ house and Caleb’s just gone out to the grocery store to get a pint of the soy mocha ice cream they both like. It’s not often they get to spend an evening together, just the two of them, and they’ve planned to make the most of it.
Jeannie’s carefully crafted plans fall through all at once when she opens the front door and finds Mer outside, pale and hollow-eyed, panting like he’s well on his way to a full-blown panic attack.
“I left him,” Mer manages to get out, in between gasps. “I left John. Oh god, oh god, what have I done?”
“You did what?”
Jeannie can’t believe her ears, so shocked that she doesn’t even have the presence of mind to step aside and let him in. She must have heard him wrong, or else this has to be a dream, because there is no possible way even Mer could be so stupid.
“I left John,” Mer repeats, reaching out to steady himself against the door jamb. He’s shivering; it’s well below zero outside and his clothes are more suited for the winter climate in Sacramento than Canada.
Jeannie takes him by the elbow and drags him inside, closing the door behind him. “Why on Earth would you do that, Mer? Some genius you are! What did you do?”
Mer drops his overnight bag on the hall floor and glares at her while he shrugs out of his coat. “Why do you automatically assume it was something I did?”
“Because I know you, stupid,” Jeannie growls. She’s not being entirely fair. Mer doesn’t exactly have a history of making smart decisions when it comes to relationships, but he’s not completely hopeless and since he met John, he’s made a real effort to make it work. Still, he’s her brother and he’s just turned up unannounced and dropped this bomb on her. She thinks she has the right to chew him out, no matter who’s to blame.
“Well, for your information, it’s not my fault this time.” Mer leaves the bag on the floor and walks past her into the living room.
Jeannie follows him. The movie she and Caleb were watching before they decided they needed ice cream is still paused on the TV screen and Jeannie grabs the remote to turn it off. She doubts they’ll get the chance to finish it tonight.
“All right,” she says, crossing her arms over her chest. “Spill. What happened? When we saw you guys at Christmas, everything was fine. Wasn’t it?”
Mer starts pacing in uneven circles around the sofa, running his hands through his hair. “We had a fight, okay?”
“You fight all the time,” Jeannie sighs. “It’s your default mode of communication.”
“Not like this.” Mer keeps moving, weaving back and forth a little. He looks like he’s aged ten years since the last time Jeannie saw him, washed out and grey in the face. “This time, it’s bad - really really bad - and I’ve tried and I’ve tried but he just doesn’t get it! I mean, I know he has all sorts of issues and I think I’ve been very patient, really, you ought to be proud of me, but this is important!”
His hands are all over the place, waving around so much that Jeannie is beginning to fear for her furniture. “Mer, calm down and take it from the beginning, you’re not making any sense. When did this start?”
“I don’t know. Three weeks ago?” Mer makes another lap around the room. “And just for the record, he’s being completely unreasonable. I mean, it’s a simple enough question, isn’t it? But then he has to go and complicate everything and before I know it, it’s turned into a fight, and it just grew and grew until it turned into this huge, all-encompassing monster of a fight, and we just couldn’t stop fighting, and, and, he said things, and I said things, and I just had enough and I left and I...” He takes a deep breath and stops, leaning against the back of the sofa, head bowed and shoulders heaving. When he looks up again, he looks more miserable than Jeannie has ever seen him before. “I can’t go back. I just can’t. If I do, he’ll think I’ve caved, and I will not, I’m deadly serious about this!”
The explanation might make perfect sense to Mer, but it’s completely lost on Jeannie. She fights down the urge to go over there and shake him by the shoulders until his teeth are rattling in his skull. Instead, she takes a closer look at him. Pale face, trembling hands, leaning against the sofa like it’s all that’s keeping him upright. Now that she’s listening more carefully, she can hear that he’s slurring his words a little bit. Oh. Okay. She knows what this is.
“Mer.” Jeannie waves her hand in his face. “Mer! Hey, stupid, look at me!”
He does, blinking owlishly, like he’s having some trouble focusing. “What?”
“When was the last time you ate?”
Another blink. “I’m... not sure? Today, I think. I ate today. Didn’t I?”
“All right.” She takes him by the shoulders and leads him around the sofa to sit down. “Get off your feet before you faint. I’ll go get you something.”
Mer collapses on the sofa, leaning forward with his head buried in his hands. “Not going to faint.” There’s a pathetic little pause, and then he mumbles, “I don’t feel very good.”
“Because you let your blood sugar drop too low, idiot. Stay here, I’ll be right back.”
Jeannie hurries into the kitchen to pour him a glass of apple juice and put together a quick sandwich. Mer’s still sitting crumpled on the sofa when she returns. She has to help him hold the glass steady, his hands are shaking so badly.
While Mer eats, Jeannie ducks around a corner to try to get hold of John. She only gets his voicemail, so she sends a text to Laura Cadman instead. SOS! What’s going on?
Two minutes later, Laura calls her back. “Is he with you?” she asks before Jeannie even has time to say hello. “Thank God, that’s one of them accounted for at least.”
“What happened?” Jeannie asks.
“I have absolutely no idea. They’ve been at each others’ throats for weeks now and then Rodney just up and disappeared without a trace this morning. Is he okay?”
Jeannie peers around the corner. Mer has finished his sandwich and is sitting sprawled on the sofa, rubbing the bridge of his nose. He must have one hell of a headache, but it looks like he’s out of danger. “He just had an episode but I’ve fed him and he’s all right now, I think. What about John?”
“He’s gone. I went by the house earlier but it was empty, and I’ve called all his friends, no one knows where he is. I just hope he hasn’t done something stupid, Rodney would never forgive himself.” Laura sighs and Jeannie can hear exactly how very worried she is. When this is over, she’s going to strangle Mer.
“I’ll try to get the story out of him,” Jeannie says. “Please call me if you find John.”
One day soon, she’s going to call Laura and have a long nice chat about something, anything other than Mer. Once the current crisis is dealt with.
The front door opens and Jeannie hurriedly says goodbye to Laura and hangs up. She’d almost forgotten about Caleb and the ice cream. She goes out into the hall to meet him and finds him standing there, looking at Mer’s bag with a confused expression. He looks up at her, questioning. “Honey?”
“Emergency,” Jeannie explains. “Apparently my idiot brother left John. I’m still trying to make sense of it.”
“Are you kidding me?” Caleb hangs his jacket up. “Because if you are, it’s not funny.”
“No joke, I’m afraid.” She steps up close to him to wrap her arms around his waist and place a kiss on his cheek. “I’m so sorry about this. I know he didn’t mean to ruin our movie night, but...”
“It’s okay.” Caleb kisses her back. “I’ll go put the ice cream away.”
He disappears into the kitchen and Jeannie goes back to the living room to check on Mer. He’s still sitting on the sofa, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees, turning something over and over in his hands. When Jeannie gets closer, she can see that it’s his keychain, the one John got him for Christmas. It’s a small metal plate with a chart of the solar system, an arrow with the words ‘you are here’ pointing to the tiny picture of Earth.
“Feeling better?” Jeannie asks. There’s more colour in his cheeks and he doesn’t look like he’s going to fall over anymore, so that’s probably a good sign.
Mer looks up from his hands. “I’m going to have to go back for Newton,” he says, a tone of endless hopelessness in his voice. “What if he doesn’t want to come with me? I’ve always suspected he likes John better than me. And what are we going to do with the house? I know I was the one who talked him into buying it, and he can’t afford the mortgage on his own, but he rebuilt it, and he can’t keep the mutt in an apartment, she’d tear the whole place down, and...”
Something twists in Jeannie’s stomach. When Mer first showed up, she’d thought he was overreacting, or that it was all a ridiculous misunderstanding, but now it sounds like he’s beginning to make plans for a very real break up. She doesn’t like the thought of that. Despite everything, all she wants for her brother is for him to be happy, and she’s never seen him happier than he’s been since he met John Sheppard.
She sits down beside him on the sofa and reaches for his hands, holding them in hers. The key chain falls to the floor. “Mer, take it from the beginning and tell me what happened. What is it you’ve been fighting about?”
Just as Mer is about to open his mouth, the doorbell rings again and Jeannie looks up. What is this, Pacific Central Station?
“I’ll get it, honey!” Caleb shouts from the kitchen. Jeannie closes her eyes and sighs. What is it now? One of the neighbours? Did something happen to Maddie? Please, don’t let anything have happened to Maddie.
There’s a gust of cold air when Caleb opens the door. Jeannie can hear low voices coming from the hall, and then the door closes again. She feels Mer tense up beside her, listening hard to hear what’s being said out there. A minute later, Caleb comes into the living room with their new guest in tow.
John is wearing a too-thin jacket and he’s limping a little more heavily than usual. He looks as bad as Mer, if not worse. Jeannie has seen John Sheppard sulking, she’s seen him in pain, she’s seen him worried, but she’s never before seen him terrified out of his mind. It’s not a good look on him.
Mer’s mouth falls open and he swallows convulsively. “John,” he breathes. He looks like he’s seen a ghost.
John’s face goes carefully blank for a split moment, and then the fear that was there a moment ago is immediately replaced with anger.
“We have a disagreement and you decide to run off to Canada, is that it? I swear, McKay, if this is your way of proving a point...”
Mer jumps to his feet, his index finger stabbing the air in time with his words. “It’s not, it’s so not that. I’m Canadian, in case you hadn’t noticed!”
John spreads his hands wide in a gesture he must’ve borrowed from Mer. “Well, I’m not, how hard is that for you to understand?”
“I understand! I understand perfectly well, thank you very much. My far more civilized country is not good enough for you, I think you’ve made that clear already!”
“How many times do I have to tell you...”
Caleb warily sneaks around the two of them and joins Jeannie on the sofa. “Are they seriously having this argument?” he mouths at her, both eyebrows raised in disbelief.
Jeannie can only shake her head. She’s fairly certain she’s seen this episode of How I Met Your Mother. She also has to admit that she wouldn’t completely put it past Mer and John to actually break up over a fight about whose country is the superior one.
But no. That would be too stupid, even for them. It has to be something else.
She texts Laura again while she waits for the worst shouting to pass. John is here. Will send updates.
The answer comes immediately. Good! Please bang their heads together for me.
“Should we... do something?” Caleb whispers. Jeannie hesitates. The part of her that secretly enjoys watching Ricki Lake and Jerry Springer and couples who fight in public kind of wants to go and get a bowl of popcorn. But that probably wouldn’t be a very sisterly thing to do.
She has to be a little impressed. When Mer and John fight, they really fight.
“It’s been six years!” Mer shouts, in the tone of voice of someone who has been repeating the same phrase over and over for far too many days. “You have commitment issues, I get that, but I think you’ve had enough time to make up your mind now to...”
“It’s not that!” John interrupts. “I’ve told you, it’s the principle, but if you’re too selfish to care about what other people...”
“Excuse me, I’m selfish now? I want one thing, just one, and that makes me selfish? Well, I guess I am selfish then!”
Mer is trying his best to hide how hurt he is behind his usual bluster, but the end of the sentence comes out a little choked, like has to fight back tears. John seems to pick up on that, at least, because he backs down a bit, turns his back and takes a few deep breaths. When he turns around to face Mer again, his shoulders are slumped and he looks so tired and dejected that it’s painful to see.
“All right, I give up. If it’s really that important to you, I’ll do it.”
“Why?” Mer asks, the corners of his mouth turned down in a bitter grimace. “Why would you change your mind now when you’ve already made it clear that you don’t want to?”
“Because I don’t! How many times do I have to repeat this, Rodney? I don’t want to get married as long as I’m not allowed to do it in my own damn home state!”
Oh. So that’s what it’s all about. Jeannie fights the urge to bang her forehead against the sofa table a few times. She can’t think of any other couple who could manage to screw up a proposal like this.
Mer’s chin falls down and he stands there gaping like a fish while realisation dawns on his face. “Well, why didn’t you say so?”
John rolls his eyes. “I did, McKay! I told you, over and over, but you wouldn’t listen.”
Jeannie can see where all this must have gone wrong. She knows John well enough by now to know that talking about his feelings doesn’t come easy to him. And then Mer and his deep-seated fear of rejection must have latched onto the first part of the statement and completely failed to hear the rest.
“So what you’re saying is that you do want to...” Mer trails off, cautiously hopeful.
John sighs, that deep, long-suffering sigh that Mer so often inspires in people. “Yes, Rodney, I want to marry you. It just... it would feel wrong to do it in Canada when we can’t do it in Sacramento. It would be like... like admitting defeat. Maybe it’s stupid, but I’d rather wait.”
“I don’t think it’s stupid,” Caleb chimes in. Jeannie elbows him in the side to shut him up. If they interrupt Mer and John now that they’ve finally stopped shouting and started listening to each other, they might get sidetracked enough to keep fighting.
Mer starts pacing again, a lot more bounce in his step this time. Jeannie knows that look on his face. That’s the expression he gets when he’s been presented with a problem that needs to be solved.
“All right. So, where do we start? Do we contact our representative? Who is our representative? There has to be some kind of activist group we can join. Are there protest marches? There should be protest marches. I’ll ask my students, they always keep track of things like that. I know, I’ll write an editorial! I’m sure someone would want to publish it...”
Jeannie can feel what is undoubtedly a very sappy smile start spreading over her face. Her brother might be a little slow on the uptake now and then, but when he gets it, he gets it.
John just stands there in the middle of the room, a bewildered expression on his face. Jeannie doesn’t envy him. He looks exhausted and being confronted with Mer’s post-sugar crash mood swings, on top of the weeks he must have had, would throw anyone for a loop.
Eventually, he seems to find his words again and steps in to interrupt Mer’s impromptu planning session. “McKay, will you shut up and come here? Jesus, you scared the hell out of me. Don’t ever disappear like that again.”
Mer stops dead in his tracks, makes a meeping little noise, and sort of melts into John’s arms. “I won’t, I promise. For the record, I am very, very sorry.”
They stand like that for a little while, eyes closed and foreheads pressed together, and Jeannie begins to look for an escape route, because this moment seems a little too intimate to be witnessed.
“How did you know where to find me?” Mer asks. “I didn’t even know I was going here.”
John somehow manages to shrug without letting go of him. “Your phone has GPS. I called in a favour.”
“Seriously? Are you telling me that you asked the United States Air Force to track my cell?”
“No, I asked the Sac PD to track your cell.”
“Oh.” Mer lets his head fall onto John’s shoulder and groans. “Garcia will be insufferable after this, won’t she?”
After that, it descends into kissing. Jeannie tries her best not to blush. ‘Cute’ is not a word she’s ever associated with Mer, but the closet romantic in her has to admit that they are.
“I’ll just go make the bed in the guest room, shall I?” Caleb says and gets to his feet with a smile.
Jeannie slips her hand into his and sneaks out of the room with him. She heads for the kitchen and the ice cream in the freezer while he goes to find fresh sheets. After all this, they deserve to celebrate.
While she waits for Caleb to get the guest room in order and Mer and John to get the make-up kissing over with, Jeannie sends Laura another text.
All clear. My brother has just decided to wage war on Prop 8.
Laura sends back a long row of widely grinning smilies, and Jeannie has to smile a bit herself. Mer can be a self-absorbed, socially incompetent jerk, but he’s her brother. He stood beside her on her wedding day, and Jeannie wants to do the same for him. Hopefully they won’t have to wait too long.
- fin -