The red phone underneath her desk rings halfway through the period, and half of her class looks up and around, trying to spot who forgot to put their cell phone on vibrate. She waves them back to their tests and picks up the receiver, turns to her whiteboard and says, "Hello?"
"Hey, Jane," Nell says, her voice a murmur layered over the sounds of the front office: fax machines and photocopiers, Principal Harrison talking in the background, sounding furious. "I don't want to alarm you."
"Okay," she allows, but she feels kind of sick already, and stretches the phone cord to its limit, shutting and locking the classroom door, peering down the hall through the window. Her students are looking at up her with worried eyes, and she knows they all know -- it's high school, and now it's high school with text messaging and Facebook.
"But he's on his way," Nell tells her, voice soft. "We just called security, but we just wanted to let you know in case they don't..."
She trails off, and Jane says, "What, intercept him in time?" It's supposed to be a joke, but she hears urgent footsteps coming down the hallway and she knows it's not funny because it's true. "Look, I'll be fine," she says, as softly as possible, and she can tell from the corner of her eye that Harry and Norm and Reed and Jackson -- her class is 95 percent male -- are all straining to hear her words, "just get security here as quickly as possible -- my kids are taking a test."
"They're putting a rush on it," Nell promises. "Do you want me to stay on the line?"
"I'll be fine," Jane says again, and hangs up the phone.
"Mrs. McKay? Everything okay?" Reed asks, and she feels kind of sorry for him. Reed has a jumpiness to him that makes her think of pound puppies -- all the same eager desperation for affection and tendency to shiver at loud noises, so Jane digs up a smile for him and ruffles his hair, saying:
"Everything's fine," she tells him. "The office just wanted to let me know something."
He scowls. "It's him again, isn't it?" he asks.
She arches a brow, but before she can start another (ultimately useless) conversation about how she won't ever love Reed the way Reed loves her, there's a furious clatter at the door-someone banging frantically on it and shouting, "Sheppard! Sheppard! We have to talk-oh, Jesus, do I look like a child molester to you people?"
"You look like you're violating a restraining order, buddy," Steve the east campus cop says.
"Restraining-look, I don't know what happened in this universe, but in mine-" the voice shouts, and Jane finds herself running to the door, unlocking it with shaking hands and jerking it open.
But it's the same old Rodney, all right: blue eyes and baby bird blond hair and color high in his cheeks, and she doesn't know why she got so excited-part of her still wants to want him, she guesses, how stupid-but now she's trapped, standing in the opened door of her classroom in the sudden silence. All of her students are crowded around her in the doorway now, and the combined power of their psychic hate for McKay is a little touching.
"Are you-are you Sheppard?" the man asks, and she recognizes that look in his eyes, too: reasonless hope, desperation around the edges. It's the name that keeps throwing her off; she hasn't been ‘Sheppard' in a really long time, and hearing those syllables in his mouth, in his voice, is jarring.
She stares at him for along minute, watches Steve scowl down at him, until she finally scrapes out of her throat, because she guesses she is now, "Yes-I am."
"Cue the creepy, romantic music," Steve mutters, and jerks Rodney up and away.
She let's her class out early-the test is a wash anyway-and gets in her car, snatches up her cellular phone and before she knows what she's doing she's calling Rodney's lawyer. Not because she's not sure he hasn't already called the slimeball, but because Mark's clearly not explaining things correctly if Rodney's not only violating a restraining order-but that now he's doing it on campus.
"Jane, I swear to God," Mark answers the phone, "when I told you my personal line, I didn't mean for you to randomly call me with new, imagined grievances every six minutes."
Her hands tighten on the steering wheel, and she sees her knuckles go white in rage. "Imagined? Your fucking client showed up at my school today! How's that for God damn imagined!"
There's a long, long silence on the other end of the phone before Mark says, "Hold on-I'm calling him right now." And before Jane can say, "Who do you think you're fooling here" he's gone, and then too-quickly back again, saying, "Jane-I just called his office and his secretary confirms he's been locked up in development meetings all day."
She almost steers into a tree, but she manages to say, "Which secretary?"
"The three that hate him," Mark says, and sighing, says, "Jane-I don't know what to tell you."
Jane stares into the traffic for a long time before she says, "If he got arrested at Hollister High where would he be jailed?"
Jane met Rodney in a college physics class. She sat in the back left corner and he sat next to her, doodling daleks on a yellow legal pad and writing notes like, "This class is abysmal," and "I could teach this with one eye and half a brain-right or left lobe," and also, "Being that you're ridiculously pretty and smell good and seem to be carrying a 99 average in this class-do you want to go to dinner with me? If the answer is no, just ignore this note because I know you're reading it (you're totally not subtle, by the way), and I'll just go collect the pieces of my self-worth at the front of the room Wednesday."
She wrote back, on the corner, in purple ink, "Sure. We should have Vietnamese food."
Rodney's moved into her apartment by the end of the week-she'd be angry about the encroaching behavior, but he sticks glow-in-the-dark stars in constellations all over her bedroom ceiling, and at night, she can feel his nose in her hair and watch Pegasus swing dizzily overhead. It's still the happiest she's ever been.
"Oh thank God," is the first thing Rodney-not Rodney?-says to her, rushing to his feet behind the jail cell bars. His hair is standing on end and he looks, red-eyed, crazy. "I thought you wouldn't come-and I-I don't have any phone numbers."
She swallows hard and stays three feet away from the bars, keeps her arms crossed over her chest.
"Who are you?" she asks. He's wearing a tan uniform with a Canadian flag sewn onto the shoulder; he looks thinner than she remembers from the last time she saw him across a lawyers table.
He ducks his head and flushes, and so Jane knows for sure-Mark's right, this isn't Rodney. She can't remember the last time Rodney was shy about anything with her.
"I'm, uh, not from around here," he says.
There's a scar on his chin she doesn't remember, and she doesn't know how it happens, but she gravitates toward the bars, and her fingers are stroking over his stubbly chin, the blond whiskers rough on her palm. "No, you aren't, are you?" she asks, soft.
He stares at her, and after shock melts away he just looks tired, scared.
"I need your help," he says, and because really, when it comes down to it, Jane's never been able to deny Rodney anything, she doesn't deny him this, either.
Jane gets some pretty spectacularly awful looks from the neighbors when she pulls into the driveway-a familiar face in the driver's side seat. There's too much shit-Rodney's shit-in the garage for her to pull her car in, and she wishes she could, because the evil eye that she's getting from Judy next door is making her skin crawl.
"Oh my God," the man moans, huddled close to her, afraid-using her as a shield. It's like looking at Rodney through a mirror from a Lewis Carroll story. Rodney never used her as a shield, although he'd always liked having her an excuse, Jane thinks. "What did I do to your neighbors?"
Jane flushes, fingers fumbling on her housekeys. "Nothing," she lies.
It's been a long, ugly year, and the last time Judy saw Rodney he was drunk and sitting on the front porch saying it didn't mean anything-that he wasn't the slut in the relationship.
Snorting, McKay-"Just call me McKay," he'd said, getting into her car at the jail-says, "Fabulous, you're as a bad a liar in this universe as you are in mine."
She spent the entire time McKay was being processed for release on the phone with Bob at Rodney's office, asking, "You're sure? He's really still in that meeting?" with Bob murmuring assurances, promising, "Jane, I swear, he's in there. I hate the guy but I don't hate you."
The door finally unlocks, and Jane has a take a steadying breath before she says, "Okay. Come in."
Jane knows-and Rodney believed-in the possibility of infinite universes, but Jane thinks she probably believes McKay because she wants to believe him so badly. For more than a decade she had locked into somebody's orbit, he was home and he was good, and suddenly, he was her worst enemy. She's lying to herself if she says she's not scared here, standing in her doorway watching McKay cross her threshold, but more than that she's desperately hopeful.
"You sure it's okay?" McKay asks her, but he's looking at her hands, how they're shaking. She thinks that whoever they are to one another wherever McKay comes from, he must know her well enough to want to close his own fingers over her wrists-and the knowledge of that feels almost as good as the warmth of a touch.
She digs up a smile for him and says, "Yeah. I am."
Rodney had asked her to marry him from the SALT observatory, over the crackling phone line and sounding like he was a hyperventilating half to death. She says, "Sure. We should have Vietnamese food at the wedding," because Jane's kind of a punk, but also because the stars on her ceiling are still there, although now Rodney's clothes have migrated to mix in with her own, their lives intertwined like vines, four years since Rodney made himself at home in her third-floor walk-up.
The wedding, because Rodney is terrified of Colonel Sheppard, is enormous and embarrassing and very classically white-rose settings and damask tablecloths, a string quartet. Jane feels silly in her dress, after a lifetime in blue jeans and t-shirts, to change it all out for silk and organza and a kiss of lace at a too-tight bodice, but Rodney's voice gets choked and his throat gets closed up like he's just tasted the sunshine sweet of lemonade, so she just blushes and takes his hand at the alter.
Her father cries copiously and is the first one drunk at the reception-but he manages to restrict his death threat for Rodney to a very reasonable three minutes, and even claps McKay on the shoulder at the end of it. Despite Rodney's claims later, it never bruised.
"I hope I make you happy," Rodney told her, hooking up their new VCR in their new house in their new neighborhood in Pasadena, "I never knew I could want that. For another person."
Jane remembers pressing a kiss to the back of Rodney's neck-sunburned from their week in Belize-and murmuring, close to his ear and absolutely certain it was true, "You already have."
Jane comes back downstairs-she went to call Rodney's office one more time, just to be safe, just to be sure-to find McKay holding the honeymoon photo she's left on the fireplace mantel. Jane hasn't changed anything, put anything away. She doesn't know what to remove or what to keep, and what would make her sadder to have or leave-it's all been part of a whole so long she doesn't even know what to carve out of her life.
McKay looks up at her, and he looks angry, asks, "What did I do?"
Jane stops on the staircase. "What are you talking about?" she asks, which is stupid because his brows furrow and his mouth turns down at the corner the way it always has. She's a terrible liar.
"Was I too demanding?" he asks, sounding philosophical about the whole thing. "Was I mean?"
"You were always mean and demanding," she blurts out, forgetting for a minute who this is and how he hasn't lived their fights before. "You just stopped trusting me."
McKay turns all kinds of white, and his knees seem to give out, stumbling back into the couch still clutching the photo. It's one Rodney had somebody else on the beach take, their faces are almost obscured by the backlighting of the sunset, but it's unintentionally beautiful-Jane and Rodney gilded by the orange light, too happy.
"It's no big deal," Jane hears herself saying, and McKay gives her a look that's possibly more foul than Judy's before.
"It's no big-God, I guess I'm lucky you were born a man in my world," he says, disgusted, "you're only like, three-quarters as laconic that way."
Jane blinks, suddenly distracted by the possibilities. "I was a man?"
"Yes, that's the other genetic option," Rodney says, and goes back to staring at the picture.
Frowning, Jane sits down in the love seat. "What was I like?"
Rodney looks uncomfortable. He squirms and says, "Um. You know. You. But male."
Jane narrows her eyes at him.
"You're equally hot but in very different ways," Rodney tells her in a huff, blushing furiously. "Is that what you wanted?"
"No, not really," Jane tells him, but she can't help but smile.
"Stop laughing at me," Rodney pouts, holding the picture frame to his chest like a shield.
Jane presses three fingers to her lips. "Okay," she allows.
Demoralized, McKay wilts further into the couch, and after a long beat, asks, "Do you have any food?"
After she stops laughing and wiping her eyes, Jane waves McKay into the kitchen, pulls the mace out of her pocket and sets it away on top of the microwave. McKay gives her a dirty look, but settles at one of the bar stools waiting, and Jane starts taking things out of the fridge.
"You do realize," she says, pointing at McKay with a fork, "that is because it is actually a good movie."
McKay tears at his hair, but he's not serious about it, and Jane grins at that, because that vanity, that receding hairline, it's been a part of him as long as Jane has known him-one of him, anyway.
"I'm so appalled the universe would allow the existence of two versions of you convinced that Back to the Future is a good movie," he moans and goes back to his pancakes, drowning his sorrow in breakfast food.
The kitchen is warm orange, bathed in the overhead light, and behind where McKay is sitting at the tiled counter she can see photographs on the refrigerator, notes with Rodney's handwriting, grocery lists and receipts, photographs affixed with real estate agent magnets. She's glad he's here, even if the smell of the side of scrambled eggs he'd made for himself-with real butter and real milk, no comments about heart disease and diabetes, for once-is making her gag a little.
Teasing, Jane says, "In fact, I bet that every version of me in every one of the infinite mirror universes actually likes that movie."
"There is no God," McKay quips, but shoves another mouthful of egg in around his pancake, so Jane knows he can't be that upset.
"You knew that anyway," she tells him.
McKay keeps looking at her ring finger, at the enormous brilliant cut diamond and the two baguettes that flank it on the platinum band; she's worn it so long she's almost forgotten it's there. Nothing but the best for her, Rodney had declared, still brimming with smugness over his genius award, at being tapped as a forerunner for a Nobel. He was flush in research offers and working out the details of leaving a career in academia behind, and he'd slipped the ring onto her finger on a raining Thursday night, in the corner booth of their Vietnamese restaurant.
"You can ask," she tells McKay gently. It is, in a strange way, his life, too.
It's disconnected moments like these she misses her father the most, wishes she could call the Colonel and have him tell her stories about soaring high above the clouds, take her flying in his Socata, fishing behind the cabin. Her father never knew exactly how to raise a daughter, so he'd defaulted to loving her as well as possible, and hoping the rest worked itself out along the way; Jane thinks it did.
He swallows hard. "How long? I mean-how long were you married?"
"Ten years," Jane tells him. "Well, technically, almost eleven. He's refusing to sign the papers."
McKay sets down his fork and looks as queasy as Jane feels. "So the restraining order."
"No," Jane says, smiling tightly. "That was for hacking into my computer and reading all my email."
She doesn't tell McKay about Rodney showing up at the house angry and still-drunk and smelling like somebody else. About how his constructed jealousy had gotten bigger like their houses and paychecks and the benefits to which they were invited, and how two years ago they'd gotten into a fight at the Museum of Natural History and he'd grabbed her wrist so hard she'd had a bruise. It'd scared both of them, and they'd retreated to their corners for a few quiet months-but there're always new people and new ways for Rodney to convince himself that the Jane who fell for a shitty first date request and a far-shittier proposal would fall for somebody else.
And the way McKay blushes makes Jane think that the email business is probably the type of behavior any Sheppard associated with any McKay regardless of gender or situation can expect, and she tries not to find that romantic-to know that their lives are inextricably linked even through the fabric of universes, into the complex weave of alternate dimensions.
She sets her own fork down and tears at her napkin. She doesn't know any better way to ask it other than just to ask it, so she does, and says, "Your Sheppard. John. Are you two married?"
"Not yet, but I have a plan that involves tricking him into going to Vancouver and massive amounts of alcohol," McKay explains dismissively, adding, "He has commitment issues. Problems with his Dad."
Maybe her father would have raised sons even worse, Jane thinks, and asks, "Wait-does he even want to get married?" She feels protective; it's sort of her virtue, in a way, and she knows how Rodney is: going in balls to the wall in any and all situations, Jane still feels bulldozed.
"If he's willing to die for me, he better be willing to live with me," McKay says, too-quietly.
Jane watches him, the delicate flutter of his eyelashes and the pink of his mouth, and wishes she could kiss away his distress-but that would make her the other woman in an odd way, and she doesn't want anyone to ever feel the way she has.
"You shouldn't make him lonely," she tells him.
She thinks it might give away too much, because the look McKay gives her after she says it certainly does. But it's the only good advice he can think for McKay, the only thing she knows he might do hurtfully, and over and over again, and never manage to change. "Just try your best. Okay?" she asks, and he says, "I will, I promise," and covers his face with one hand, tired.
The less her father had hated Rodney the more Jane had-and at first it'd been irritation: the new car, the big house, the constant self-aggrandizement around his colleagues while she'd been clutched to his side, an accessory in pumps and a plunging neckline.
Rodney had chosen the dress, and when she'd flushed and told him there was no way, he'd seduced her into it, sucking hot, wet kisses down the column of her neck, along the teardrop curve of her breasts, slid his hand up her thigh and ground the heel of his palm into her. He'd played her-but he had good practice. Somewhere between his dirty lab and piles of papers, his childlike wonder of science and his multimillion dollar deals, he'd gotten good as that.
"Can we go home?" she asked, close to Rodney's ear and a little bit desperate. "Rodney, I'm exhausted."
He had turned to give her a distracted smile. "I told you you could quit your job now."
Jane had glared. "That's not the point," and blushing, she'd said, "You know I hate this kind of stuff."
"I hate it, too," Rodney had reassured her, curving one large palm over the small of her back, possessively around the curve of her hip. Jane has always felt so safe with him, curled up next to his bulk. She's always been too skinny and delicate-looking, with too-fine features and too-pale skin, washed out next to her dark curls, green-gray eyes enormous on her thin face.
"But this is work," he reminded her. "It's what I have to do to get funding."
Jane had glanced at the big clock on the wall-9:30. "Can we leave at ten?" she begged. Her feet hurt and she was feeling nauseated, and all week she had been dead on her feet, half-asleep.
"Sure," Rodney promised.
They'd left at 1 a.m., and Jane had cried all the way home and didn't know why.
The first miscarriage was bad, but it had changed things at home for the better at least, and Rodney was Rodney again, attentive and funny and sweet and kind during the aftermath, when Jane was bloodless and bedridden-heartbroken over something she hadn't know she could love. He had taken three weeks off from work and shouted at anybody who tried to call him, spent entire days curled up with her in bed, stroking in long, thick fingers through her hair and murmuring apologies, how much he loved her. That they could try again, if they wanted, but always, he's sorry, he's so sorry.
She fixes up the guest room for McKay, puts down fresh bedding and extra pillows, and as he's staring at the furniture and flowers in confusion-the HEPA filter is already in there, and the room still looks lived-in. Jane hasn't changed anything since Rodney moved out permanently three months ago, and this is airing out more of their dirty laundry than she really has a right to.
"Wow," McKay says, sitting on the edge of the bed. "I got exiled, huh?"
Jane sits next to him, twisting a fresh towel in her hands. "He wanted his own space."
McKay fists his hands on his knees. "He's an idiot."
"Things happen," Jane recites, verbatim, from the lecture the marriage counselor had given her one afternoon, when she'd been sitting on a slick leather couch and scared. "Things change. People change. And sometimes, you fall out of love." A pause. "He fell out of love. I think."
But McKay gives her a look that cuts through all the psychoanalytical bullshit with the same eerie accuracy of one of Rodney's incisive glares-the kind that had left her stinging in the middle of an argument, even after all her apologies.
"Did you fall out of love?" he asks.
Jane smirks at him, bitter. "This would all be much easier if it was mutual, don't you think?"
McKay's entire body slumps down, like after everything, this has done it, he's too exhausted to sit up straight anymore, now. And she's sorry she brought him up here-she could have just as easily made up the couch, but before she can apologize, McKay is looking up at her, eyes fierce, saying, "You're wrong though-I bet I-he, still does. Love you."
"He has someone new," Jane says, and now she's just being mean, so she says, trying to ease the horror off of McKay's face, "It's really-I know you hate it, but it's not a big deal. Like, half of marriages end in divorce."
"Ours shouldn't," he snaps, and lies back, pulls a pillow over his face. "I'm tired now."
Jane pats McKay's knee comfortingly. She didn't think anybody in the world could take her divorce harder than herself-and she guesses she's still right. After all, McKay's really not from around here.
She wakes up the next morning to Rodney, furious on the phone line.
"You're not supposed to be calling," she says, half-dumb with sleep. She'd ended up passing out on top of the sheets, and she wakes up wrapped in a quilt Rodney's sister had given them as a five year anniversary present. "That's violating the restraining-"
"Fuck your restraining order," Rodney snarls. "You called my office 20 times yesterday." There's a short, tense silence before he asks, "Is everything okay? I mean-are you? All right?"
Jane doesn't actually know what to say to that, other than to think about McKay and his John Sheppard and how he must hate it here, so far away and in the middle of a nightmare. She's always wanted Rodney-any Rodney-to be happy, so she takes a shaking breath before she says:
"Actually-I need your help."
McKay is 500 percent angrier about it than Jane thought he would be, and that was already accounting for his being 100 percent angrier than a normal human being.
"Look," she tries to explain, following him where he's storming around the house, "I don't have a military background and my father died almost six years ago. I didn't know who else to ask!"
"You shouldn't have talked to him!" McKay shouts, bright red and still in his t-shirt and boxers. "You-you have a restraining order out on him! And you invited him over here?"
Jane sets her mouth in a severe frown. "I want to help you get home."
"Oh," Rodney yells, "and believe me, I want to get there-but not like this."
"Well, I didn't have any other choice!" she yells back.
"You always have a choice!" Rodney shouts this time, slamming his hands on the kitchen counter.
Jane wraps her arms around her stomach and snaps back, "Yeah, and I've always chosen you!"
And in the profound silence after that, they hear a key turning in the door lock. "Oh my God," McKay says, sounding faintly sick, "you never even got the locks changed."
Jane figures it's pointless to say that she did, three separate times, and that was what had started precipitating the restraining order to begin with. And she doesn't get a chance anyway, because the door swings open and Rodney's on the other side, in a sleek black shirt and silver-rim glasses, every inch the millionaire the man she married had become. He's actually still on his cell phone, murmuring to somebody on the other line-Samantha, Jane thinks, she bets it's Samantha, reassuring her that nothing's going on, that it's just his crazy ex-wife again-as he shuts the door behind him. And as he starts to slip the phone, too-casually into his pocket, he looks up to say:
"Jane, I think it's time we talk about-who the fuck is that?"
Jane can't help it, the giggle wells up in her chest, and she gets a simultaneous scowl from both of the Rodney's-which only makes her laugh harder, clutching at her stomach and feeling her knees go soft. It's all so ridiculous-and what's crazier still is that McKay's the one who grudgingly comes to help her up, takes her arm and sets her down on a kitchen stool, mutters, long-suffering and affectionate in her ear, "God. Your sense of humor is rotten across dimensions."
Jane amuses herself with finding something in the kitchen to eat-food, for the last four months, has mostly been divided into two camps: food that makes her puke, and food that she must have immediately right now and also in mass quantities. This morning, everything in her refrigerator makes her want to die just looking at it, so she grabs a container of raw quick oats out of the pantry and a spoon, trying to ignore the way Rodney and McKay are shouting at each other behind her.
"That work is purely theoretical-even if we had the mathematical model it would be decades before we could even imagine a power source strong enough to start the reaction!" Rodney is shouting, waving his arms furiously.
And McKay is yelling back, "Have you not been listening? Highly classified and hush hush alien project! We didn't develop the power source, we've just decoded it-or do you need me to put this onto some sort of graphical representation for you to understand?"
"Moreover," Rodney yells, "what the hell are you doing in my wife's house-"
"Ex-wife!" McKay reminds him.
"I've seen it all before," Jane tells McKay helpfully.
"-and-you stop leering at her this moment!" Rodney finishes, angry and sputtering.
"Oh for-how can you be jealous of yourself?" McKay demands, and sniffing, adds, "Besides, I'm gay." He makes a dismissive handwave at Jane's chest. "Breasts don't interest me."
Rodney has a minor aneurysm, Jane can tell, and she nearly chokes on a mouthful of oatmeal; this is partly because McKay had spent most of the night before staring at her and blushing, and partly because Rodney's such an appallingly bad liar of course he could only ever fool himself. While Rodney and McKay stare each other down, Jane finds a jar of half-eaten olives and starts digging out the pimentos, popping them into her mouth and eating them whole.
"I don't even have anything to say to that," Rodney manages, making his migraine face and rubbing at his temples. "I just, I have nothing."
McKay, sensing weakness, purrs, "Really gay. Super gay all the time. I love cock, and it loves me."
"Argh," Rodney says, head dropping into his hands.
Sighing, Jane says, "Guys-can you focus?"
McKay restricts himself to one last, lascivious moan of "dick" before he says, "Okay, anyway, yes, because God knows I don't want to stay here and watch you ruin our lives." Which makes Rodney open his mouth, red-faced and furious, so Jane interrupts, saying:
"Okay, you guys duke it out, I'm going to go grade some tests."
The second miscarriage hadn't been a surprise like the first, at least not the same way. The first pregnancy had been an accident; the second the product of another year of trying. She'd spent most of the three months terrified, and Rodney had all but bubble-wrapped her, drove her to and from work; they'd followed the doctor's advice to the letter and done everything right-but they'd still been afraid. Rodney didn't come up with massive lists of names, and Jane mostly just stared at her flat belly in worry. So when she'd woken up with lancing pains and cramps, blood trickling down her legs, she'd just laid in bed and cried while Rodney called the ambulance, choking on his own words.
They decided to stop trying. Rodney claimed they'd only fuck up any children, and Jane had agreed because she'd been too scared to do anything otherwise.
Jane failed half her algebra II class. Rodney started to work more, and longer, and meaner. He went through three secretaries in six months and stopped eating at home, which Jane recognized-hilariously-in retrospect, was an old euphemism for a reason.
"You've been working a lot," she'd said, passing him another beer, hockey on faint and far away in the background on
"Yeah," he'd said, flushing, not meeting her eyes. "We picked up a new government contract."
She'd nodded and pulled a blanket up around her knees, curling next to him on the couch, because even when it'd been bad, he'd been good for her. And Rodney had put an arm around her shoulders instinctively, fingers curling in her hair.
"Your liaison riding you pretty hard?" she'd asked.
Rodney had coughed. "Yeah," he'd managed later, looking sick. "Something like that."
The thing that had been the most damning, Jane knows now, isn't that she hadn't known really, but that she sort of had-you always know, a little at least, she thinks-but that it was easier that way. At least that way, when everything started to go totally to hell, it wasn't just her fault.
It's almost midnight by the time Rodney and McKay stop shouting at each other, and the unnatural silence makes Jane worried they've killed one another. So she goes downstairs on tiptoes, wrapped up in the big quilt off her bed and rubbing at her cheek-hoping the green pen she grades in hasn't rubbed off on her face since she fell asleep.
She's kind of expecting to see two dead bodies, but instead she finds Rodney asleep at the dining room table-a laptop abandoned by his hands and an empty coffee carafe next to him. McKay's still awake, bathed in a pool of orangey light, scribbling hastily on a yellow legal pad, and it's so jarring that her breath hitches, and the noise is enough to catch McKay's attention.
He looks up at her, eyes electric blue. "Hey," he whispers, hoarse. "I thought you were asleep."
Jane runs a hand through her hair, yawning as she says, "I was-but I was grading, and everybody kept you know, getting all the answers right and I fell asleep."
McKay makes a face at her. "I can't believe your class isn't filled with morons."
"Oh, it is," Jane reassures him. "But in a different way." She winks and pads, barefoot, to the refrigerator, pulls out a bottle of Perrier huddles over to sit at one of the kitchen stools, grinning as she says, "They're all teenaged boys with extensive character sheets in tabletop RPGs-I think I might be the closest thing to the love of a good woman they've ever known."
McKay slides into the stool next to her, hands cupped around a cooled coffee mug. "Thanks for that absolutely awful mental image."
"Happy to help," Jane says, and takes a long sip of water, reaching for a bright green apple.
"You know," McKay says, smiling at her fondly, "I don't think seen John eat this much food in all the time I've known him-much less in one day."
"Well," Jane says around the mouthful of apple, and she has no idea why she's telling McKay when she hasn't even told Rodney, "I bet John's never been pregnant before."
McKay actually snorts, saying, "Actually, there's this hilarious story about this one time he-" and then he derails, turns completely white, squeaking out "-what? You're what?"
"Knocked up," Jane says helpfully. She takes another big bite of apple. "You know, in a family way."
"Is it-I mean-" McKay says, in obvious pain, eyes big as plates and now staring roughly where her stomach would be, underneath the quilt.
Jane schools her face into a serious expression. "It's one of my students'-he said he needed tutoring."
"He came over in the rain, crying about a test grade. I gave him a towel, he told me I had pretty hair," she goes on. "It all got kind of out of hand."
"Uh," McKay manages, looking sick.
"But you can't tell anybody, McKay," she says, mostly because she can't help herself. It's like when she just met Rodney, all over again, when she felt safe teasing him, just to see him sputter angrily later, how he'd sulk and snap and then finally crack, slide his arms around her waist late and night, and mutter, "Brat," affectionately into her ear.
Raising a shaking first in solidarity, McKay says, "Right. Uh-seriously? Really?"
She rolls her eyes and takes another bite of apple. "No. Jeez, McKay, do you believe everything?"
"I'm sorry, I'm pretty used to believing in you," McKay says, snotty, and he can't possibly know how it feels to hear that Rodney's voice and someone wearing Rodney's face. But faltering, he says after a beat, "But-the pregnancy thing, that's real?"
Jane smiles, rueful. "Surprise," she murmurs.
"Can I?" McKay asks, and Jane figures it can't hurt, so she sets down the apple and takes McKay's hand, pulls aside the quilt and slides McKay's palm over her warm cotton of her t-shirt. She barely has a bump, and in her normal clothes, it's hidden completely-but this close, she knows McKay can feel it, the tightness underneath her skin.
And she can tell that once McKay clues in on her lack of waistline, the other details filter in, too. Her face has gotten rounder, her skin feels brighter, pinker.
"Wow," McKay whispers, eyes still huge, cheeks bright, "I think I can feel it move."
"You can't feel it move yet," Jane whispers back, but she's smiling at she says it. It's the first time she's really been able to feel happy about the baby and it feels like cold water in her throat, sweet.
McKay's face falls. "Really?"
"Really," Jane tells him, but she closes a hand over McKay's, warm through the t-shirt, and reaches up to stroke her other palm over his cheek. "You know, it's weird. But I'm glad you're here."
Jane didn't think McKay could get redder, but he does, and he slides his fingers in between hers as he says, "You know you never tell me that kind of stuff when you're male, right?"
She grins, and leans over to kiss him on the forehead. "I bet I mean it all the time, though," she whispers, close to his ear, and stands up again, let's McKay pulls the quilt more tightly around her.
"Does he know?" McKay asks, and makes it sound like a dirty word.
Jane glances over at Rodney, still slumped over in sleep-his spine bent at an angle that's going to have him near tears tomorrow morning. Jane knows she's going to have to tell Rodney eventually, and that will lead to more fights and shouting and hair-pulling, complicated meetings with their lawyers; Jane can't decide if Rodney would want the kid all to himself or not want anything to do with the baby at all, and both hurt the same amount of bad.
Hesitating, she says, "Not yet."
McKay searches her face for something, but whatever it is, he must find it, and he leans over to press a kiss beneath her ear-and Jane can't help but feel her toes curl in pleasure at that, to have his mouth on her skin again-and to say, "You should go back to sleep."
"Yeah," Jane agrees, shuffling toward the stairs again, "I'm snoozing for two now."
She hears McKay's footsteps on the stairs a few minutes later, the creak of his weight entering the guest room, the springs of the bed.
In the morning she wakes up to the smell of bacon and eggs and French toast, and it's so wonderful she drifts downstairs in her bathrobe and bare feet without thinking about what's waiting for her down there.
Rodney is whistling Bach and turning the toast in a cast iron griddle, and Jane comes up behind him to snatch a piece of bacon from a serving platter, pulls her hand just out of the way before he can snap her on the wrist with the spatula.
"Hey!" Rodney says, his glasses smudged from sleep. "I thought you didn't eat breakfast."
"Things change," Jane says, and while he's distracted, s plate and loads it up with a fried egg, another piece of bacon-the first piece of French toast.
Rodney holds up the coffee. "You want some?"
Jane shakes her head, asks, "Is McKay up yet?"
Rodney's constipated face turns dark and he pours himself another mug. "No-and we need to talk about how he got the guest room and I got the dining room table."
Jane feels not at all sorry for him, and goes in search of juice, knowing full well that Rodney must have come upstairs after she'd gone to sleep, suspicious and searching, checking to make sure she and McKay weren't having hot, feral, sort-of-married-sex in the whirlpool tub. She still loves Rodney, in some sort of fucked up way, but it's not like she doesn't know the guy.
"You know where the other guest rooms are," she says airily, piercing the yolk of the egg; Rodney still knows how to fry them just the way she likes them.
This is the first conversation they've had in a season that hasn't degenerated into yelling, into Rodney brandishing his newly-acquired housekey for her newly-installed locks, into her slapping him with a restraining order. He doesn't seem scary right now, wrinkled and red-faced, standing in socked feet making breakfast in their kitchen. It feels like a memory from years ago, when they weren't angry at each other yet.
"Well nobody woke me up," Rodney says, sullen, and contrary to his earlier theatrics, gives her another egg and another two slices of bacon, tips them over onto her plate indulgently. It's hard to reconcile him-hair sticking up crazily-with the man she's been fighting with for so long.
Rodney spares a minute to look uncomfortable, fiddling with the spatula, but eventually, he sets it down and turns off the range, shifts the skillet off the fire. "Look," he says, and it sounds like it's hard for him to form the syllables. "I wanted to apologize."
Jane cocks an eyebrow. "For what," she says flatly.
"I recognize," Rodney says carefully, "after extensive discussion and some consideration, that my behavior during the early part of our separation could be construed as somewhat questionable."
"Weird, huh," Jane says, grinning hugely, "hearing yourself call you a jackass."
Cheeks heating, Rodney snaps, "Okay, I take back my apology."
"No take backs," Jane crows, and Rodney spitefully takes back a strip of her bacon.
Even though the sense of growing hope she feels is probably false, but she figures she owes him, so Jane sets down her fork and takes a deep breath, says, "Rodney-I should tell you something."
It's stupid when Jane thinks about what started the divorce proceedings-that after Rodney had fooled around on her and she'd stopped caring and they'd both suddenly lost interest in having any kind of sex at all, it was senior prom that that spelled their marriage's demise.
But Jane had gotten the short straw to chaperon, and somehow it had spawned into one of those fights that started in the kitchen and paused long enough for dinner, then blossomed again in the bathroom, that led to slamming doors and thrown crystal and Rodney spending the night in his office.
Jane wanted him to go to prom with her, just as a token gesture of marriage or something; Rodney wanted her to put that thought right out of her mind. Jane wanted to know why he couldn't take an evening out to do something with her-for her; Rodney wanted to know why she still chose to keep her "joke" of a job, anyway. Then Jane had just wanted Rodney to go straight to hell and take the twelve-year-old, redheaded botanist he'd been fucking at the office with him, so she'd asked him, loudly, and stormed out the door in kitten heels and a black dress.
So by the time she and Coach Murphy had confiscated the heavily-spiked punch-Aristocrat Vodka and red Kool Aid, drink of champions-she was feeling mean and unwanted, ugly inside. And it had seemed to make sense to sneak out behind the hotel with the punch bowl and polish it off with Dan, who was hilarious and had managed to turn their losing team into a winning one-to bum cigarettes off of him and stand too close, to turn the diamond on her ring into her palm for the appearance of propriety.
"Jesus fucking Christ, Jane," Dan had said, and snubbed out a cigarette-kissed her and she'd tasted red and sugar and the bitter burn of cheap liquor, and instead of pushing him away the way she had the last time he'd tried something with her at the faculty luncheon, she'd spread her legs so he could slide his knee between them.
Dan was big and broad-shouldered, and he'd slid his hands up her sides, cupped her small breasts and then palmed the backs of her thighs, fingers trailing up to tug at her panties-and before the alarm bells even finished going off in her head, before Jane had managed to say, "Wait-stop-I don't think I mean this, really," Rodney had been hauling Dan off of her, punching him hard enough to deck him, crumpling him on the ground.
"How long have you been fucking him?" he'd asked her, red-faced and suspiciously glassy-eyed.
"Why do you care?" Jane had snapped back. She'd known her bra was showing-black lace, she'd been looking to start something, she thinks-and she didn't care; Rodney didn't look anymore.
Except apparently he did, and he'd come right up in her face, close enough that she could feel his breath hot against her mouth, and Jane had hated the shiver of arousal that had trailed up her spine, the way that had turned her on like a switch-how she'd been hot and wet and ready and wanting when he hitched up her skirt and unzipped his slacks, fucked her into wall, vicious and jealous and desperate.
He'd been trying to rub a come stain out of his pants, later that night-after they'd driven home in silence, with Jane still slick and fucked out from the hotel alley-when she'd stopped in the laundry room doorway and said, "I don't think I want to be married to you anymore."
Because after almost fifteen years of knowing Rodney better than anybody, of knowing who she was in his context, she didn't know what to do anymore, or how to do it anymore-because there wasn't anything else she knew how to say.
Rodney's first words after she managed to revive Rodney from where he'd fainted dead away on the kitchen floor were, "Have you been to the doctors? What have they said? You should be on bed rest."
"Yes," Jane tells him, "I have. They said everything's fine. And I'd rather die."
Rodney clenches a fist. "Don't say that."
Jane's silent for a moment before she murmurs, "Sorry."
There was a clatter of footsteps, and McKay rushes in, bleary-eyed, shouting, "What! What! I heard thumping! I heard thumping and things falling-" and spying Jane over a prostrate Rodney on the floor he trails off "-and I see you've told him."
"You told him first?" Rodney snarls, grabbing her wrist, and Jane shakes him off, pushes herself up again and takes a few steps back, glaring as she says:
"I'm telling you now."
Rodney manages to get himself up to his feet, and Jane's eyes widen as she feels McKay put a hand on her elbow, to push her carefully back and put a shoulder in front of her-protective.
McKay told her about John teaching him how to fire a gun, how to throw a punch, and Jane knows that McKay learned those things so he could fire a gun for John, to throw a punch to save his skin. But it's still strange to see it manifest, to feel his hands warm and on her skin, to watch his mouth turn down into a frown, stepping in front of her. She thinks she knows exactly how the Pegasus Galaxy has written on McKay, how it would have written on Rodney, and it's horrible to think that she'd trade scars and war stories for whatever is fluttering in her chest, but she would give anything to have this.
"You're lucky she's telling you at all," McKay snaps.
Ignoring him, Rodney asks, "How many months?"
"Four," Jane tells him.
And she can tell Rodney regrets saying it even as he says it, the way his eyes go just a fraction wider and his skin goes just a touch redder, but he says it anyway, asks, "Is it even mine?"
So she feels entirely all right about McKay's right hook, how it flattens Rodney out on his back on the cold tile of the kitchen floor, and she follows, wordless, when McKay takes her hand and mutters, "Come on-let's get the hell out of here," and drags her upstairs to change.
They drive around for hours, McKay at the wheel and Jane lying across the backseat. It starts raining near noon, and they pull into a diner and snag a corner booth, order malted milkshakes and burgers and fries, and McKay asks her questions about her whole life, eating it up.
"I really don't know why you want to know how my third grade ballet recitals went, McKay," Jane says, dragging a fry through their communal pool of ketchup. "It's kind of useless information."
"You don't understand," McKay disagrees. "The sheer, undiluted joy that you're providing by giving me proof positive that-if born a woman-John would be the girliest girl that ever did girl ever is sending me into a near-orgasmic state."
Jane snorts. "Glad I could help. Did I mention I got an A++ in home ec?"
McKay groans in delight.
They end up, despite McKay's ardent protests, at the county fair-a podunk affair with a tiny midway and just a few rickety wooden rides. They eat fried Twinkies and Jane has a piece of frozen banana cream pie, dipped in chocolate, and only gets to eat half of it before McKay bogarts the rest. They share a giant turkey leg and McKay loses $30 of her money trying to win a giant monkey for her. It takes another hour of begging and whining-Jane doesn't even want to think about why she bothers, she doesn't need McKay's permission for anything-before he capitulates under the promise of cheese fries and they ride the ferris wheel.
"What the hell do you two like so much about this thing anyway?" McKay mutters, keeping one hand in an iron grip on the safety bar and another on her wrist-it feels different when he does it.
Jane just grins at him, red-cheeked from the early evening cold. "It's like floating," she says easily. "And if you look out instead of staring down at the ground, there's usually a pretty spectacular view."
McKay glances into the darkness. "Fantastic," he says, "Nowheresville, North County, California."
"Well," Jane revises, "you could always just look at the sky."
Even with the fairground lights, the constellations are vivid in the sky, and McKay retrieves a blanket out of her car so they can lie out and he can point out all of his favorites to her: Virgo, Cassiopeia, the Big Dipper.
"I'd think that'd be too common for you," Jane teases, turning on her side.
"Are you kidding?" Rodney says, and his lashes are long and fringed in light from the ring toss booth behind them. "That was the first constellation I could recognize-I love that thing."
Jane closes her eyes. She feels tired and sore all over. She curves one hand over her belly and listens to McKay shuffle on the picnic blanket, swallows the words she wants to say out loud in favor of putting her face in his shoulder. Sorry, John, Jane thinks to herself, but she hopes he'd understand. She thinks that if their roles were reversed, she'd be happy to give John this, to give him something he needed-neither of them would deny water to a man in the desert.
"What do you think I should do?" Jane asks McKay, mumbles into the cloth of his shirt. She doesn't have words for how fucked up all of this is. She's fisting her hands in the front of his jacket and breathing too hard. "I don't know what to do anymore."
McKay presses a kiss to her temple, murmurs horse-hushes into her ear, nonsense words and reassurance, lips soft against her skin. He doesn't have any answers, either, Jane knows, because he's the smartest man in two galaxies-and Rodney hates him enough by now to have independently solved the answer of how to send him home. Jane knows all of this is an illusion, that she's lying in the grass with a hologram, somebody imagined, out of phase. He shouldn't be here with her and she shouldn't be here with him-but it must mean something that they've found each other in two realities, and she hopes that's enough, that the universe's internal compass will point her in the right direction.
"I wish I could fix this for you," McKay tells her, and he sounds wounded, short of breath as he says it.
Jane shuts her eyes even more tightly. She thinks you could, and send Rodney back, and stay, but it's too terrible for her to say out loud-it's not fair, it's stealing, and she could never do that to John. Jane knows what losing Rodney has done to her.
But she can think it, and hold it tight to her chest and never tell.
They don't make it back to the house until night is tipping over into morning, and as predicted, Rodney is still there, looking more manic than before-hair wild, a triumphant gleam in his eye. He meets them at the door, and whatever he's going to say in self-righteous praise melts away into awkward silence when he sees Jane huddled behind McKay, their hands still linked together.
"I," he manages after a beat, clearing his throat, "I figured it out."
McKay blinks, and they step over the threshold of the house. "How long?" he asks.
"Three weeks," Rodney admits. "At least."
"Faster than humanly possible," McKay gripes, "but still slower than anticipated."
"Yeah, something like that," Rodney says, and gritting his teeth, "Now beat it, I'd like to talk to my wife alone."
McKay leaves under heavy protest and a good deal of shoving, and only lets Rodney shut the door to the study entirely after Jane says, voice soft, "McKay-really, it's all right," and she darts a look at Rodney before she adds, "You would never hurt me."
Rodney rolls his eyes and locks the door. "For Christ's sake," he mutters.
"I know how to shoot a gun!" McKay shouts at him through the wood, banging twice.
Rodney only turns around, back to the heavy double-doors, crossing his arms over his chest.
He only does that when he doesn't know what to do with his hands, and Jane doesn't blame him. The first time she'd told him they were pregnant, he'd fainted. But after he'd woken up, he'd seized, clutched her tight and nearly spun her around the room before he'd put her back down again, red-faced and surprised, saying, "Wait-wait, we don't want to brain damage him or her." The second time, he'd been much gentler about it, pressed a hand over her abdomen and pulled her in, murmuring into her hair, "It'll be fine this time, you'll see." Jane doesn't really know what she wants him to do with his hands, either.
"So you're," he starts, and motions at her midsection. "Again."
Jane raises her eyebrows. "Yes," she tells him, voice flat.
He scowls. "When were you planning on telling me?"
Jane scowls back at him. "Maybe I wasn't going to tell you at all," she says, and Jane watches Rodney's face go pale like the first blizzard of the year in Toronto.
She doesn't know why he brings out the deliberately cruel side of her so well or why she always gives in; her father raised her to be a better woman than this, and she likes to think her mother would be proud of her-neither of them would be very proud of her right now. Then again, if her father had lived, it'd be a moot point: Colonel Sheppard probably would have personally shot Rodney in the face and had a new zoomie bury his body somewhere never to be found months ago.
Rodney recovers himself, though, enough to sneer at her, "Typical."
Sometimes, Jane decides, she really really misses her father.
"So what do you want to do?" she asks, both hands on her stomach.
When she'd found out she was pregnant the first time, she lost so much sleep to fantasizing about what their baby would be like, if it wold be a boy or a girl, if there would be little league baseball or swim lessons, would he or she get Rodney's allergies, what Jane would do if the baby ended up with her deranged hair. Jane knows where she wants her baby to go to school and how she'll teach him or her to kick a stranger in the nuts, but she doesn't know if Rodney will be there anymore, if he'll want to set up audiovisual equipment at school plays and Christmas pageants, if he'll paper mache Halloween costumes with her now-he's moved on to bigger, blonder things, Jane thinks.
"Well," Rodney says, looking hamstrung, "we should probably call off the divorce-I don't want our child to be all messed up from a broken home."
"Yes," Jane says, rote and disbelieving, "because the state of our marriage would be so much more conducive to a stable psychological profile."
Rodney makes a face. "We could go back into counseling."
Jane doesn't even bother to dignify that one with a real answer, rolling her eyes elaborately at the suggestion.
Red-faced, Rodney yells, "Then what the hell do you want me to do, Jane!"
"I don't know!" Jane yells back, because she doesn't. "I don't know what to do, okay? Maybe we can't make this work anymore!"
And it's strange to think that it's she and Rodney, in the end, and not their cars or finances or even the torn fabric of the cosmos, that cannot be fixed.
Rodney goes pale and wide-eyed for a beat before he tells her, swallowing hard and scraping the words out of his throat, "You're the only person I've ever-"
He seems to run out of words, but Jane knows what he means. She's always known she was different to him, that Rodney didn't make compromises for anybody, that his three a.m. phone calls to tell her about things he'd seen or places he'd been were sincere despite his calling at three a.m. It is something unimaginably special to be the center of all of his attention, to have his unwavering focus, to be found delightful-but Rodney is always finding new things, and she's amazed he's paid attention as long as he has.
Rodney wrings his hands. "I don't know what I would do if," he starts, stops, looks away, "I didn't want it to be this way."
Jane has cried and been depressed and stopped eating and laid on the living room floor, staring at the ceiling fan and waiting to die. She knows what Rodney means-that in all of her life he has been the only person she has loved as well, loved so well, and it should be easy to say, "Okay, let's try this again," but Jane doesn't think she can do it. She thinks that maybe six months ago, maybe eight months ago, maybe at the end of last year, before she'd started to see Rodney's cell phone buzzing in the middle of the night with S. CARTER as the caller ID, she might have been able to take a deep breath and push aside all the ugly history and try again. But she's tired and she's hurt and she doesn't think she can be strong enough to do this anymore-not right now, maybe never again. Maybe it's different for Rodney, but Jane feels like she's just come home from war; he may want to hear her stories but she doesn't want to tell them.
"I'm really sorry, Rodney," she tells him, "I'm so so sorry."
She means it, of course she means it, how could she not, watching Rodney's face crumple and his mouth sag, tears making his eyes a little too bright-like he's finally realized all of this is real, like he's finally understood what she meant when she'd told him she couldn't be married to him anymore, standing in the doorway so many months ago.
The next two days are weird, since Rodney is giving her a wide berth (read: by choosing to reside in another state) and McKay keeps hovering around her like a crazy person. It's the oddest sense of cognitive dissonance, to be not have Rodney, to mourn his loss like he's died and she'll never have him again, and fend off McKay's psychotic protectiveness, the way he trails her around the house, insists on driving her to and from her classes until he realizes he has to let her out of the car four blocks away from campus so he doesn't get arrested for breaking the restraining order again.
"I cannot begin to tell you how weird that is to me," McKay says one night, sighing as he hands her a plate of fresh-baked ziti, lush with fontina and mozzarella and handful after handful of parmesan, torn leaves of basil dotting the pink sauce. Jane stuffs most of it in her mouth before she tunes back into McKay's running conversation, just in time to hear him say:
"I mean, I've never really been fond of children, and I never thought I'd have any, but it's kind of touching to know that in some alternate universe, I do-or, I mean, I will-and that you are the father. Mother. Other parent."
"Seconds," Jane says, holding out her plate and giving him her most dazzling smile.
She is glad at the way McKay blushes fondly at her at that. It can only mean that for John, too, it is love, and she hopes (she thinks) that it will end well for him-that it won't end at all.
By midweek, she's less charitable, and although she sees less and less of McKay-he spends most of his time locked away in the study shouting at somebody in Colorado now, and Jane worries it's Rodney-she's still seeing more of him than she had even at the earliest stages of her relationship with Rodney.
"McKay, if you don't stop following me around, I will seriously kill you," she shouts, because she can see the shadows of his feet outside of the bathroom door. "I'm just taking a bath-I promise I'm not like, drowning myself or anything."
There's a long, uncomfortable silence. "I would just feel better if I could monitor you," McKay pleads. "What if you slip? What if you fall?"
"Then I'll die and you and Rodney can fight over who gets to have inappropriate relations with my corpse," Jane mutters, but quietly enough that he can't hear her through the door. The last thing she needs is a panicked McKay on her hands. She'd been in a car accident the third year she and Rodney were married, and she still has violent flashbacks-not to the accident, but of Rodney's wailing, as if he was one of those paid mourners at an Ancient Egyptian funeral.
She sighs, relents. "How gay are you?" she asks, suspicious.
"I'm redecorating your hall as we speak," he tells her, annoyed, and after a pause, admits, "But you should remember that I'm kind of in love with you. And I'm a Kinsey six, at best."
Maybe it's just been an age since she's felt wanted, felt lovely, and for whatever terrible justifications, she says, "Fine-you can come in."
He does, and it doesn't feel sleazy or strange, and Rodney-McKay stands in the doorway and startles a moment, staring at her neck, her flushed skin, after his eyes graze the dark buds of her nipples, her breasts already growing fuller, her body-changing-in the cloudy water.
"Hi," Jane manages to say, feeling shy again, suddenly. This Rodney doesn't know her, about her bony hips or the extra skin here and there, the ugly wrinkles and imperfections, already more imperfect from the baby bump she cannot stop touching. She'd forgotten.
"Hi," McKay says back, and sits down on the toilet to watch her, intent for a minute before he clears his throat and says, "You are-it's so unfair."
Jane feels her face burn. "You don't have to say it," she snaps at him.
His John is probably beautiful, like those models out of the Abercrombie catalogs that her students read-soft core porn beautiful, with a swimmer's build and ethereal lines and golden skin. Jane has always been too awkward as a woman.
"It's just-it's just statistically unfair and completely improbable that you'd both be so gorgeous," McKay says, his eyes sweeping down her body.
The red of her cheeks deepens, Jane knows. "Oh," she says.
McKay smiles at her, indulgent, and Jane has missed this, this sense of reasonless adoration. "Come on," he says, "let me wash your hair for you," and Jane does, closes her eyes and feels his fingers on her scalp, on the back of her neck, whisper over her shoulders.
"You don't know how lucky you two were." Rodney's voice is conversational. "He could woo you, buy you flowers."
Jane twists round to look at him. "You didn't ‘woo' me, you just moved all your stuff into my apartment."
Rodney glares at her. "Turn around, I'm trying to make a point."
"Hey, do you do that thing where you say you pile like, 30 pillows on your side of the bed in Atlantis, too?" Jane asks. "Because that's really annoying and I don't know if John's called you on that."
"I have a back problem," McKay says to her, in a way that lets Jane know that he does, that John has, and that Rodney hasn't changed at all.
Jane makes a note to write a letter and tuck it into Rodney's clothes as he leaves. John's all alone in another galaxy, there probably aren't that many people he can complain to and Jane thinks it's important that he knows Jane's on his side. She's started to think of him as a brother, a best friend-she wants him to be happy, and in a moment of bittersweet clarity, she realizes she's scared for somebody she's never met before. She wants John to have Rodney, but Jane's living proof it doesn't always s work out. She puts her face in her knees, pulls her legs up to her chest, and feels Rodney running his fingers through her hair, suds running soft and slick down the knobbed curve of her spine.
"Anyway," McKay huffs, knuckling the base of her skull, and Jane hears herself mewl like a cat, "my point is that you-he was lucky. You know, I've never taken John on a date?"
She looks up at that, but doesn't twist around: Rodney's fingers are working their way along the curve of her skull, knowing, stroking, and she wants to moan at how good it feels.
"I don't even know what it's like to hold his hand, really." Rodney sounds far away, all the way back in the Pegasus Galaxy, on Atlantis. "Which, for the record, wow how unfair." He leans round to catch her eyes. "I finally bagged somebody as hot as you and I can't even show off."
Jane flinches. "Even if you can," she says, quiet, "you shouldn't."
McKay watches her, curious, until she murmurs, "I always hated it-I don't think he'd like it either."
Rodney's quiet for a long moment before he reaches for a mug on the bathroom sink. He pulls out the toothbrushes and fills it with warm water from the tub, upending it over her hair, rinsing out the shampoo-fingers trailing down her back as he promises her, "Then I won't. You were always my favorite secret anyway, you know."
He wraps her in a towel when she gets out of the water and pats her dry, pulls his arms tight around her until she makes a face. "Come on, you're a good two inches taller than I am where I come from," Rodney says, making what he probably thinks is his most adorable face, so Jane sighs, "Fine, enjoy it while it lasts."
She manages to keep him away from the study for the rest of the night, bribe him with Chunky Monkey and a Battlestar Galactica marathon running on the SciFi channel. At half past nine, he absently pulls the quilt off the back of the couch and drapes it over their laps, his arm going around her shoulders, and Jane feels herself sink into the solid warmth of him.
"I'm rooting for the toasters," Jane tells him.
He gives her a horrible look. "I'll try to love you in spite of that," he says, and after a beat, says to her belly, "Don't let her get to you," sympathetic with her fetus' plight.
Jane falls asleep like that and wakes up like that, too, when Rodney-her Rodney, the other Rodney, and oh God, she'd stopped calling John's Rodney McKay-bursts into the house shouting, "Get up, you, you, you cross-dimensional adulterers!"
Less than an hour later, they're in a helicopter winging over the Rockies, headed toward Colorado, the NORAD complex in Cheyenne Mountain, and both her Rodneys are yelling at each other over the sound of the blades. There's so much math and masochism in their work, Jane thinks, fond, pressed to the plexiglass and peering out at the trees and mountains underneath, feeling two male hands fisted in the back of her shirt-as if she's about to tip out of the helicopter and straight to her doom or something.
"You guys can let go of me," she calls over her shoulder.
"In your dreams," one of them says, she can't tell which.
The other adds, "And get away from that window!"
Jane reaches over to peer over the shoulder of their pilot-a baby zoomie who probably doesn't even shave yet, Jane thinks fondly-and watches his face turn bright pink as she asks, "Hey, think I could get some lessons? I've always kind of wanted to learn how to-"
"No," both the Rodneys say.
Jane credits a childhood of hopscotching through Air Force bases for how well she tolerates the paternalism that confronts her once they get into the complex. The third time McKay and Rodney try to get her to "wait outside," she flattens them both with a glare that could strip paint, slaps her freshly-printed minimum-level security badge out of an airman's hands and clips it to her jeans defiantly.
"Try me," she invites, and Rodney sighs and says, "Fine, fine, let's go."
They're in what the nervous, Czech scientist claims is their "least sensitive lab," when Jane picks up a faded-looking brooch while her husband and John's boyfriend snarl at each other. It's octagonal and in obvious disrepair, smudged, and she rubs her thumb over it and thinks that the stone looks green underneath all the dirt-which of course is when it starts to glow from the inside out, humming faintly.
Rodney and the Czech scientist look like they're having a heart attack.
"This isn't radioactive, is it?" Jane asks, holding it up.
Rodney squeaks something incoherent.
"Oh, right," McKay says, snapping his fingers, "I forgot to mention that, didn't I?"
"Holy Hannah!" somebody shouts from the doorway of the lab, and when Jane turns to look, it's a woman with high cheekbones and bright blue eyes, blond, pixie hair and a crazed smile, rushing toward her, extremely excited. "You have the gene! Oh my God-who are you? Wait, hold on," she says, ducking down to glance at Jane's guest badge before popping back up to laugh:
"Jane? You're Jane? Rodney's Jane?"
Jane, because she is, still, nods stupidly. "And, um, you are?"
"Oh!" the woman laughs. "Colonel Samantha Carter, it's very nice to-"
Later, Jane will say that it was just some sort of bizarre reflex reaction. But that's definitely a lie; she's been wanting to punch S. CARTER in the face for almost a year now.
"I can't believe you punched her," Rodney wails.
"I can't believe you punched her back," McKay yells. "You know she's pregnant? With my baby!"
"My baby," Rodney corrects, glowering. "You had nothing to do with it, you giant queer!"
"Okay, self-directed hate speech, weird," Sam mutters, holding the ice pack to her nose and giving Jane a flat, dark stare. "You're lucky I feel bad about hitting civilians," she warned Jane.
"You're lucky your boyfriend's here to pull me off of you," Jane shoots back.
"Amazing, all we need is a lily pond," Rodney sighs, before Jane's words seem to sink in and he does a rapid mental U-turn. "Wait-excuse me? What did you say?"
"Nothing," Jane says, spiteful.
She can't even blame Rodney. Samantha Carter is the type of magazine-cover beautiful she'd felt painfully jealous of as a teenager, when she was all bones, flat as the broad side of a truck. Jane has always known, from the way Rodney's eyes wandered when they were out together, from his vast collection of appallingly degrading pornography, that he favors blonds, buxom ones, with lush breasts and pale skin.
Rodney goes white in the face. "Jane," he says seriously, "it wasn't like that."
"What wasn't like-ohmiGod," McKay starts to ask before catching on. "You didn't!" he says to Rodney.
"Can we not talk about this?" Jane begs. "Can we just do whatever physics mumbo jumbo we need to get Rodney home?"
It's humiliating enough without sharing it with the rest of the class, but all the memory of hurt she thought she'd put away when she'd changed the locks and contacted her lawyers is still there, apparently, just beneath her skin. Maybe it's her own fault, for discounting Katie as a post-miscarriage aberration, brought on by grief and bad decision making. Maybe it's her fault again for never calling him on his bullshit, the infidelity. It doesn't really matter anymore, except it makes her angry he still gets to her, that she lets him, and she's mad at herself for letting it turn into this.
She shouldn't have come, but she misses McKay already, the way he's exactly the same and completely different from the man she still loves.
Rodney only continues to stare at her, despairing. "Jane-"
"McKay," Carter interrupts, her voice soft, "she's right, let's get, uh, McKay squared away first."
Jane just closes her eyes tightly-she can't bring herself to feel grateful for that small mercy. This is Samantha Carter, and while it's not her fault that she and Rodney can't be married to one another anymore, she's part of the problem, a symptom. Jane doesn't care if she seduced Rodney with kisses and skin or math and physics-it's all the same. He'd been her husband and he'd blinked, swayed, looked away, and when he'd looked back he hadn't liked what he'd seen and she hadn't liked who she'd become. And now they're stuck, trapped.
It's too late, Jane realizes, and for the first time since this whole thing started, she really wants to cry. It's too late to fix this, too late to try again, and the thought gives her such vertigo all she can do is put her hands over her face and breathe in and out, shuddering.
It takes them two weeks to draw McKay a map home.
They give her an explanation when she makes the red-eye out to Colorado again, but mostly all Jane hears is a babble of physics beyond her comprehension, math like a foreign language. Rodney still looks guilty and McKay still looks brittle and Sam looks guilty; Jane imagines she still looks like shit. The morning sickness-or maybe that's just self-awareness-is back with vengeance.
"So what does this mean?" Jane asks, and Rodney just sputters at her until McKay sighs and says:
"It means I'm going home tomorrow morning-I don't know why I ever bother to think you're listening for anything more than bullet points."
Stargate Command (and Jane still isn't over that) arranges rooms for them to spend the night, and Jane has only been lying on her drab and too-stiff mattress for fifteen minutes before she hears a knock at her door. Everybody from the airmen to the NCOs to the jarheads in the mountain had found out her father was Lieutenant General John William Sheppard within the first half hour she was there, and she mumbles, "Come in," not worried at all. Her father's dead, sure, but he'd come back for her, Jane knows.
"Hey," Rodney's voice says, "it's me."
Jane props herself up. Rodney-McKay?-is haloed in the light from the hallway, and shutting the door, the room darkens again, until he's all shadows, just the outline of broad shoulders, thinning hair, strong arms she's known so well so long. At this distance, without anybody for comparison, Jane thinks that Rodney and McKay look exactly alike, that she wouldn't be able to tell them apart at all, not even by touch.
"Hi." After a moment of indecision, she flips back a corner of her covers. "You want to come up?"
The beat she waits to hear him say, "Okay, yes," means it could be either of them, Rodney or McKay.
He slides into bed next to her and he's hot, huge next to her, the way he's always been, a solid counterweight to her and Jane doesn't hesitate to slide her arms around him, to put her face in his shoulder. She's far from home in unexplored territory and the promises she and Rodney made to one another all those years ago haven't been legally invalidated yet. She thinks maybe all she swore to him-love, comfort, her best efforts-will always be his, never to be revoked. Maybe you can only make a promise like that and mean it the way she does once. Maybe, Jane thinks, this was it for me.
Rodney clutches at her, desperate, longing, greedy, his breath damp on the side of her face. Jane feels his hands sliding underneath her shirt, fingers trailing up her sides, down again, to the swell her stomach, inquiring. And it's easy to pretend that everything is all right, to ignore the cold cement walls and scratchy military-issue sheets, to see the inside of their bedroom in California, to imagine rain outside instead of the hum of hydraulics. Maybe it's a Saturday morning, the lazy kind.
Maybe she's gone crazy from the loneliness, but Jane doesn't bother to question it-she just jerks him down, pulls his lips to her own.
And then it all speeds up, a rush, a blur of his mouth along the curve of her jaw, his teeth scratching down the tendon of her neck, hands jerking at her panties, stripping them down her legs. His hands are big and hard and bruising on her hip-a little harder than she likes, but maybe Rodney's just forgotten, maybe Sam Carter likes it rough. (Maybe John does.) She pulls and pulls because she feels like she's starving, drowning, blacking out from lack of him, and when he finally slides inside her she could cry in gratitude: this at least is the same, as good as it's always been.
She legs him drag her down the length of the mattress, pull her thighs flush to his chest, lets him lean over her and press his face between her small breasts, lets him work himself over and over into her. Jane lets herself have this, whatever it is, and if her fingers trace a scar on his chin she doesn't remember Rodney having, Jane lets herself forget that, too, to run her fingers through his hair instead.
"Please," she gasps, nails riding down his back. "Please."
"Yeah," he tells her, and he's leaving fingerprints on her thighs, holding her too tight. "Do it-come on. Just-God, I love you so much. I love you," he tells her, and that's enough, that's it, and Jane feels her entire body squeeze tight, a fist clenching around her chest for a perfect second. Her eyes flutter shut and all her breath goes out of her, and in the distance she can hear him coming, too, still singing promises to her she knows he's not supposed to make-not to her.
Dear John, Jane writes in her letter, you and I have been, more than we deserve, lucky.
There's more, but Jane thinks John must know all of it, and moreover, that she didn't need to worry the way she had. McKay looks back before he goes, before he disappears into the ripples of the Stargate, but only at her. He won't miss this Earth, this life, this road less traveled by; he ahs Atlantis and he has John. She gives him her best, bravest smile and sees the dark bruise of a kiss on the inside of his collar when he lifts an arm to wave to her goodbye. She thinks that in movies, this would be where she rushes to him, to kiss him desperately, to beg to go with him, but this is real life-as ridiculous as that is-so Jane just watches him fade out of her life like a ghost.
When the Stargate powers down, after the wormhole closes, Rodney-her Rodney, the only one who will ever be able to live here with her-touches her cheek, and Jane realizes her face is wet with tears.
Jane goes into labor on a Thursday afternoon; an hour later, fresh off of a flight in from New York, Rodney bursts into her private room, camera rolling.
"Oh, you have got to be fucking with me," Jane says through gritted teeth, listening to the nurse count down her contraction. "Get that fucking thing away from me."
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Rodney says, zooming in on her. "Do you have any words for the son we're about to meet outside the womb for the first time?"
She looks into the lens seriously. "Kill your father, do it for me," she tells him.
Rodney's Sony high-definition camcorder, the bane of her existence, disappears after the first 8 hours, and by the time 20 rolls around, she's only sobbing quietly, too tired to do anything but let Rodney cluck at her, pet her hair, cry with her when the baby won't come.
"I can't," she cries, tries to clutch at his shirt, when hour 24 comes and goes. "Rodney, I can't anymore."
She knows that he would fix this for her if he could; he looks like he wants to. He's yelled at everybody in the ward. Jane has to be dying. She'll die and they'll cut the baby out of her and she'll never meet him or hold his hand or kiss his face and before the unfairness can sink in another contraction rips through her and whatever Rodney is saying is eclipsed by her scream.
"That," Rodney decides, eyes blazing, "is motherfucking it. Doctor!"
Jane checks back in just in time to be told she's checking out, en route to the OR. It's been too long, the doctors are worried about the baby, they're worried about her. They've shot her up with something good, something that hazes out all the edges, so all Jane does is nod and agree and reach out to feel Rodney's fingers in her own as he runs alongside her stretcher.
"It'll be fine," he promises her. "You'll be absolutely fine."
"Okay," Jane agrees, slurring. "I believe you," she says, realizing she means it.
Rodney gives her a look she hasn't seen in a long time. "Okay, okay-I love you."
"I love you, too, Rodney," Jane murmurs back, and tips over into the blackness.
Later, Rodney tells her that when Gabe came out screaming during hour 29, he'd fainted (only a little, and from manly hunger and distress over her suffering). Their son has Rodney's thin, baby-bird hair and Jane's gray-green eyes, ruddy pink cheeks. He is loved immediately, enormously. And when Jane wakes up from the anesthesia, Rodney is the first person she sees, hovering at her bedside and holding their son, his smile so bright she thinks she's in Pasadena again, that she's 25 and they're still in love.
"Good morning," Rodney says, grinning. "Sleep well?"
"No," Jane croaks, trying to see her son. She wants to hold him, needs to count his fingers and toes. "Some kid kept waking me up at night screaming."
"That'd be Gabe," Rodney says with mock seriousness. "I'll have a talk with him."
Jane shakes her head. "No, I got it." She reaches out her hands, pulls her baby close to her chest when Rodney passes him over, careful to support his neck. "So this is the little punk, huh?"
"Yeah," Rodney whispers.
Jane is closer to 35 than 25 these days, and they traded in Pasadena for a palace in North County, for her teaching job and Rodney's empire building, his Fortune 500 company and their series of soap-opera miscarriages and missteps. They are not the Rodney McKay, Ph.D (singular) and Jane Sheppard (not a mom) that first met in the margins of Rodney's notes all those years ago. In fact, Rodney traded her in, if not for a newer model, than for newer math, in pursuit of his ambition, and Jane had let him go.
But they are, if nothing else, Gabe's parents together now, so Jane-once she's kissed Gabe's sleeping face, counted his fingers and kissed him again-pulls Rodney near enough to kiss him, sweet, on the mouth.
Thank you, she thinks, thank you for this.
Even if they are never anything to one another again, if they were never anything to one another at all, You and I, Rodney, Jane thinks, have been luckier than we deserve.