Jeannie had always hated being second.
Really. That summed up much of her life, until she had taken the reins for herself so definitively by marrying Caleb. She had loved Meredith, but God she had hated being second. Second in age, second in experience, second in intelligence (though she still thought that one was more a draw). She wanted to be first, damn it. In everything, with everyone.
She'd succeeded in being first with their parents, though given their dislike of their brilliant, flawed son it wasn't very hard. Really, it was too easy to count.
Maybe if he'd been less confident, less assured about always being in the lead; maybe then she wouldn't have cared. He didn't even have the decency to crow about it when he was better than her at something. No, instead, he would show her where she went wrong, like it was a given that she wouldn't know and he would. Infuriating!
By the time she turned fifteen, Meredith was in university with boys older than both of them. Big, good looking, full grown men were her brother's friends, and Jeannie had bloomed early enough to get an idea of the potential effect of breasts and hips on the opposite sex. She loved meeting Meredith's friends, loved flipping her hair and flirting and taking their attention. She might be second to meet them, but she was pretty successful at being more popular than he was. She chose not to think about how she made that happen, instead enjoying all the things her newfound power had to offer. Caleb had been a departure for her, and a revelation.
It had shamed her a little, how much she'd enjoyed telling Meredith that she was married first, how she was pregnant first, how she was leaving school to be with her family. Logically she knew that this was her life: It wasn't a competition. She loved Caleb, and she already loved the little life inside her, and she knew that her decision was the right one. That didn't stop the small thrill of victory that went through her at the sight of Meredith's face, white with rage at her perceived abandonment. She knew in her heart that part of his fury was because she'd done it first, had beaten him to the punch, and it felt wonderful. She hadn't expected him to disappear for years without a word. She hadn't expected to miss him so much.
Those years were wonderful ones in so many ways, and she'd been proud of how she had left that other self behind.
Maybe that blank time, time where she'd grown everywhere else but had been stuck in an emotional stasis regarding her brother, explained why she'd fallen so quickly into old habits. It had started on the Daedalus, when she'd spent most of her time poking fun at Meredith's expense to the enjoyment of everyone around. It seemed that Meredith's ability to piss people off just by being was completely intact, and she played off that as flawlessly as if she'd spent their time apart practicing. At the same time, she gloried in the challenge of it all, and remembered how wonderful it felt to be thinking along with other minds for whom 'brilliant' was such a pale description. She'd expanded, filled up, and felt freer than she could remember being ever. Home was such a very long way away, and her familiar frustration and irritation with her brother seemed so very, very close.
They beamed down from the Daedalus and met Meredith's friends on the platform. Her stomach was still tumbling from the teleportation when John had stepped forward and introduced himself, the beat of his personality sliding along her skin. Then Meredith had snapped at him, and everything had whipped into hyperfocus for an instant.
John - meant something to Meredith. And Meredith meant something to John.
The smile and heat in his eyes when he spoke to her again told her that John played the game with her brother as thoroughly as she ever had, and she felt an answering spark in her chest. Warmth spread through her, and she looked away to speak to Elizabeth but couldn't resist another quick glance, which he met directly, with a crooked smile.
When he'd come to find her, to show her around, it all fell into place with a frightening simplicity. He was Meredith's friend, and so she wanted him for herself.
It had been a long time, but the seduction was a dance she'd followed many times before, and John already knew all the steps.
She only realised that John's motivation might have been different from hers when he'd shown her the video Meredith had made when he'd thought he'd been about to die. By then it didn't matter. By then, it was too late.
By the time she left they'd been lovers for days.
He came to see her in the hospital, after her abduction, before returning to Pegasus, and his eyes were relieved and full of things she didn't want to see, just as they'd been when he burst through the door of Wallace's lab. He'd been careful then, though he'd raked her over once, fast, when the urgency in Meredith's voice had gotten through. Now, though, he held her hand, and squeezed it hard, as if he could ensure her safety through the strength of his grip. It told her even more clearly that she'd misread him badly, before.
"It's time for me to go," he said, and she heard all the other things that he didn't say. Things like 'I met your husband,' and 'Madison is beautiful and she has your eyes,' and 'this was a mistake from the beginning'. She nodded, speechless and a little bereft, because she didn't realise until he didn't say those things that she'd misjudged herself too.
He stared at her, eyes intent in his too-strained face. She stared back, unable to break free. When he stood, she expected him to drop her hand and leave. He surprised her again. "I'll see you next time I'm back," he said, abrupt, and for a moment stole her breath. Another squeeze of her hand and he was at the door.
"John," she said, as his hand hit the door handle. He stopped, his shoulders tight, and didn't look. Her throat was tight with all the things she didn't say, things like 'I love my husband', and 'Madison is my world', and 'we can't do this again'. She choked on the words, and found herself saying something else instead.
"I'll be waiting," she said.