[14 Valentines] Lustrous (complete version)
Author’s Note: To everybody who’s been waiting for this, I’m truly sorry it’s taken me this long to post it completely somewhere.Â Blah blah blah real life, blah blah blah I’m an asshole, in conclusion — here we go.Â This site isn’t going to be locked and/or moved or changed in any way, so the links to remain good barring something taking down the talkoncorners domain entirely — I am still trying to get it up on my actual website, and will add a note here when that goes online.Â Happy reading.
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, â€œHello?â€
â€œHey, Jane,â€ 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. â€œI donâ€™t want to alarm you.â€
â€œOkay,â€ 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 — itâ€™s high school, and now itâ€™s high school with text messaging and Facebook.
â€œBut heâ€™s on his way,â€ Nell tells her, voice soft. â€œWe just called security, but we just wanted to let you know in case they donâ€™t…â€
She trails off, and Jane says, â€œWhat, intercept him in time?â€ Itâ€™s supposed to be a joke, but she hears urgent footsteps coming down the hallway and she knows itâ€™s not funny because itâ€™s true. â€œLook, Iâ€™ll be fine,â€ 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, â€œjust get security here as quickly as possible — my kids are taking a test.â€
â€œTheyâ€™re putting a rush on it,â€ Nell promises. â€œDo you want me to stay on the line?â€
â€œIâ€™ll be fine,â€ Jane says again, and hangs up the phone.
â€œMrs. McKay? Everything okay?â€ 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:
â€œEverythingâ€™s fine,â€ she tells him. â€œThe office just wanted to let me know something.â€
He scowls. â€œItâ€™s him again, isnâ€™t it?â€ he asks.
She arches a brow, but before she can start another (ultimately useless) conversation about how she wonâ€™t ever love Reed the way Reed loves her, thereâ€™s a furious clatter at the doorâ€”someone banging frantically on it and shouting, â€œSheppard! Sheppard! We have to talkâ€”oh, Jesus, do I look like a child molester to you people?â€
â€œYou look like youâ€™re violating a restraining order, buddy,â€ Steve the east campus cop says.
â€œRestrainingâ€”look, I donâ€™t know what happened in this universe, but in mineâ€”â€ the voice shouts, and Jane finds herself running to the door, unlocking it with shaking hands and jerking it open.
But itâ€™s the same old Rodney, all right: blue eyes and baby bird blond hair and color high in his cheeks, and she doesnâ€™t know why she got so excitedâ€”part of her still wants to want him, she guesses, how stupidâ€”but now sheâ€™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.
â€œAre youâ€”are you Sheppard?â€ the man asks, and she recognizes that look in his eyes, too: reasonless hope, desperation around the edges. Itâ€™s the name that keeps throwing her off; she hasnâ€™t been â€˜Sheppardâ€™ 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, â€œYesâ€”I am.â€
â€œCue the creepy, romantic music,â€ Steve mutters, and jerks Rodney up and away.
She letâ€™s her class out earlyâ€”the test is a wash anywayâ€”and gets in her car, snatches up her cellular phone and before she knows what sheâ€™s doing sheâ€™s calling Rodneyâ€™s lawyer. Not because sheâ€™s not sure he hasnâ€™t already called the slimeball, but because Markâ€™s clearly not explaining things correctly if Rodneyâ€™s not only violating a restraining orderâ€”but that now heâ€™s doing it on campus.
â€œJane, I swear to God,â€ Mark answers the phone, â€œwhen I told you my personal line, I didnâ€™t mean for you to randomly call me with new, imagined grievances every six minutes.â€
Her hands tighten on the steering wheel, and she sees her knuckles go white in rage. â€œImagined? Your fucking client showed up at my school today! Howâ€™s that for God damn imagined!â€
Thereâ€™s a long, long silence on the other end of the phone before Mark says, â€œHold onâ€”Iâ€™m calling him right now.â€ And before Jane can say, â€œWho do you think youâ€™re fooling hereâ€ heâ€™s gone, and then too-quickly back again, saying, â€œJaneâ€”I just called his office and his secretary confirms heâ€™s been locked up in development meetings all day.â€
She almost steers into a tree, but she manages to say, â€œWhich secretary?â€
â€œThe three that hate him,â€ Mark says, and sighing, says, â€œJaneâ€”I donâ€™t know what to tell you.â€
Jane stares into the traffic for a long time before she says, â€œIf he got arrested at Hollister High where would he be jailed?â€
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, â€œThis class is abysmal,â€ and â€œI could teach this with one eye and half a brainâ€”right or left lobe,â€ and also, â€œBeing that youâ€™re ridiculously pretty and smell good and seem to be carrying a 99 average in this classâ€”do you want to go to dinner with me? If the answer is no, just ignore this note because I know youâ€™re reading it (youâ€™re totally not subtle, by the way), and Iâ€™ll just go collect the pieces of my self-worth at the front of the room Wednesday.â€
She wrote back, on the corner, in purple ink, â€œSure. We should have Vietnamese food.â€
Rodneyâ€™s moved into her apartment by the end of the weekâ€”sheâ€™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. Itâ€™s still the happiest sheâ€™s ever been.
â€œOh thank God,â€ is the first thing Rodneyâ€”not Rodney?â€”says to her, rushing to his feet behind the jail cell bars. His hair is standing on end and he looks, red-eyed, crazy. â€œI thought you wouldnâ€™t comeâ€”and Iâ€”I donâ€™t have any phone numbers.â€
She swallows hard and stays three feet away from the bars, keeps her arms crossed over her chest.
â€œWho are you?â€ she asks. Heâ€™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 sureâ€”Markâ€™s right, this isnâ€™t Rodney. She canâ€™t remember the last time Rodney was shy about anything with her.
â€œIâ€™m, uh, not from around here,â€ he says.
Thereâ€™s a scar on his chin she doesnâ€™t remember, and she doesnâ€™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. â€œNo, you arenâ€™t, are you?â€ she asks, soft.
He stares at her, and after shock melts away he just looks tired, scared.
â€œI need your help,â€ he says, and because really, when it comes down to it, Janeâ€™s never been able to deny Rodney anything, she doesnâ€™t deny him this, either.
Jane gets some pretty spectacularly awful looks from the neighbors when she pulls into the drivewayâ€”a familiar face in the driverâ€™s side seat. Thereâ€™s too much shitâ€”Rodneyâ€™s shitâ€”in the garage for her to pull her car in, and she wishes she could, because the evil eye that sheâ€™s getting from Judy next door is making her skin crawl.
â€œOh my God,â€ the man moans, huddled close to her, afraidâ€”using her as a shield. Itâ€™s like looking at Rodney through a mirror from a Lewis Carroll story. Rodney never used her as a shield, although heâ€™d always liked having her an excuse, Jane thinks. â€œWhat did I do to your neighbors?â€
Jane flushes, fingers fumbling on her housekeys. â€œNothing,â€ she lies.
Itâ€™s been a long, ugly year, and the last time Judy saw Rodney he was drunk and sitting on the front porch saying it didnâ€™t mean anythingâ€”that he wasnâ€™t the slut in the relationship.
Snorting, McKayâ€”â€Just call me McKay,â€ heâ€™d said, getting into her car at the jailâ€”says, â€œFabulous, youâ€™re as a bad a liar in this universe as you are in mine.â€
She spent the entire time McKay was being processed for release on the phone with Bob at Rodneyâ€™s office, asking, â€œYouâ€™re sure? Heâ€™s really still in that meeting?â€ with Bob murmuring assurances, promising, â€œJane, I swear, heâ€™s in there. I hate the guy but I donâ€™t hate you.â€
The door finally unlocks, and Jane has a take a steadying breath before she says, â€œOkay. Come in.â€
Jane knowsâ€”and Rodney believedâ€”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 somebodyâ€™s orbit, he was home and he was good, and suddenly, he was her worst enemy. Sheâ€™s lying to herself if she says sheâ€™s not scared here, standing in her doorway watching McKay cross her threshold, but more than that sheâ€™s desperately hopeful.
â€œYou sure itâ€™s okay?â€ McKay asks her, but heâ€™s looking at her hands, how theyâ€™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 wristsâ€”and the knowledge of that feels almost as good as the warmth of a touch.
She digs up a smile for him and says, â€œYeah. I am.â€
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, â€œSure. We should have Vietnamese food at the wedding,â€ because Janeâ€™s kind of a punk, but also because the stars on her ceiling are still there, although now Rodneyâ€™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 whiteâ€”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 Rodneyâ€™s voice gets choked and his throat gets closed up like heâ€™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 receptionâ€”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 Rodneyâ€™s claims later, it never bruised.
â€œI hope I make you happy,â€ Rodney told her, hooking up their new VCR in their new house in their new neighborhood in Pasadena, â€œI never knew I could want that. For another person.â€
Jane remembers pressing a kiss to the back of Rodneyâ€™s neckâ€”sunburned from their week in Belizeâ€”and murmuring, close to his ear and absolutely certain it was true, â€œYou already have.â€
Jane comes back downstairsâ€”she went to call Rodneyâ€™s office one more time, just to be safe, just to be sureâ€”to find McKay holding the honeymoon photo sheâ€™s left on the fireplace mantel. Jane hasnâ€™t changed anything, put anything away. She doesnâ€™t know what to remove or what to keep, and what would make her sadder to have or leaveâ€”itâ€™s all been part of a whole so long she doesnâ€™t even know what to carve out of her life.
McKay looks up at her, and he looks angry, asks, â€œWhat did I do?â€
Jane stops on the staircase. â€œWhat are you talking about?â€ she asks, which is stupid because his brows furrow and his mouth turns down at the corner the way it always has. Sheâ€™s a terrible liar.
â€œWas I too demanding?â€ he asks, sounding philosophical about the whole thing. â€œWas I mean?â€
â€œYou were always mean and demanding,â€ she blurts out, forgetting for a minute who this is and how he hasnâ€™t lived their fights before. â€œYou just stopped trusting me.â€
McKay turns all kinds of white, and his knees seem to give out, stumbling back into the couch still clutching the photo. Itâ€™s one Rodney had somebody else on the beach take, their faces are almost obscured by the backlighting of the sunset, but itâ€™s unintentionally beautifulâ€”Jane and Rodney gilded by the orange light, too happy.
â€œItâ€™s no big deal,â€ Jane hears herself saying, and McKay gives her a look thatâ€™s possibly more foul than Judyâ€™s before.
â€œItâ€™s no bigâ€”God, I guess Iâ€™m lucky you were born a man in my world,â€ he says, disgusted, â€œyouâ€™re only like, three-quarters as laconic that way.â€
Jane blinks, suddenly distracted by the possibilities. â€œI was a man?â€
â€œYes, thatâ€™s the other genetic option,â€ Rodney says, and goes back to staring at the picture.
Frowning, Jane sits down in the love seat. â€œWhat was I like?â€
Rodney looks uncomfortable. He squirms and says, â€œUm. You know. You. But male.â€
Jane narrows her eyes at him.
â€œYouâ€™re equally hot but in very different ways,â€ Rodney tells her in a huff, blushing furiously. â€œIs that what you wanted?â€
â€œNo, not really,â€ Jane tells him, but she canâ€™t help but smile.
â€œStop laughing at me,â€ Rodney pouts, holding the picture frame to his chest like a shield.
Jane presses three fingers to her lips. â€œOkay,â€ she allows.
Demoralized, McKay wilts further into the couch, and after a long beat, asks, â€œDo you have any food?â€
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.
â€œYou do realize,â€ she says, pointing at McKay with a fork, â€œthat is because it is actually a good movie.â€
McKay tears at his hair, but heâ€™s not serious about it, and Jane grins at that, because that vanity, that receding hairline, itâ€™s been a part of him as long as Jane has known himâ€”one of him, anyway.
â€œIâ€™m so appalled the universe would allow the existence of two versions of you convinced that Back to the Future is a good movie,â€ 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 Rodneyâ€™s handwriting, grocery lists and receipts, photographs affixed with real estate agent magnets. Sheâ€™s glad heâ€™s here, even if the smell of the side of scrambled eggs heâ€™d made for himselfâ€”with real butter and real milk, no comments about heart disease and diabetes, for onceâ€”is making her gag a little.
Teasing, Jane says, â€œIn fact, I bet that every version of me in every one of the infinite mirror universes actually likes that movie.â€
â€œThere is no God,â€ McKay quips, but shoves another mouthful of egg in around his pancake, so Jane knows he canâ€™t be that upset.
â€œYou knew that anyway,â€ 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; sheâ€™s worn it so long sheâ€™s almost forgotten itâ€™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 heâ€™d slipped the ring onto her finger on a raining Thursday night, in the corner booth of their Vietnamese restaurant.
â€œYou can ask,â€ she tells McKay gently. It is, in a strange way, his life, too.
Itâ€™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 heâ€™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. â€œHow long? I meanâ€”how long were you married?â€
â€œTen years,â€ Jane tells him. â€œWell, technically, almost eleven. Heâ€™s refusing to sign the papers.â€
McKay sets down his fork and looks as queasy as Jane feels. â€œSo the restraining order.â€
â€œNo,â€ Jane says, smiling tightly. â€œThat was for hacking into my computer and reading all my email.â€
She doesnâ€™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 theyâ€™d gotten into a fight at the Museum of Natural History and heâ€™d grabbed her wrist so hard sheâ€™d had a bruise. Itâ€™d scared both of them, and theyâ€™d retreated to their corners for a few quiet monthsâ€”but thereâ€™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 romanticâ€”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 doesnâ€™t know any better way to ask it other than just to ask it, so she does, and says, â€œYour Sheppard. John. Are you two married?â€
â€œNot yet, but I have a plan that involves tricking him into going to Vancouver and massive amounts of alcohol,â€ McKay explains dismissively, adding, â€œHe has commitment issues. Problems with his Dad.â€
Maybe her father would have raised sons even worse, Jane thinks, and asks, â€œWaitâ€”does he even want to get married?â€ She feels protective; itâ€™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.
â€œIf heâ€™s willing to die for me, he better be willing to live with me,â€ 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 distressâ€”but that would make her the other woman in an odd way, and she doesnâ€™t want anyone to ever feel the way she has.
â€œYou shouldnâ€™t make him lonely,â€ she tells him.
She thinks it might give away too much, because the look McKay gives her after she says it certainly does. But itâ€™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. â€œJust try your best. Okay?â€ she asks, and he says, â€œI will, I promise,â€ and covers his face with one hand, tired.
The less her father had hated Rodney the more Jane hadâ€”and at first itâ€™d been irritation: the new car, the big house, the constant self-aggrandizement around his colleagues while sheâ€™d been clutched to his side, an accessory in pumps and a plunging neckline.
Rodney had chosen the dress, and when sheâ€™d flushed and told him there was no way, heâ€™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. Heâ€™d played herâ€”but he had good practice. Somewhere between his dirty lab and piles of papers, his childlike wonder of science and his multimillion dollar deals, heâ€™d gotten good as that.
â€œCan we go home?â€ she asked, close to Rodneyâ€™s ear and a little bit desperate. â€œRodney, Iâ€™m exhausted.â€
He had turned to give her a distracted smile. â€œI told you you could quit your job now.â€
Jane had glared. â€œThatâ€™s not the point,â€ and blushing, sheâ€™d said, â€œYou know I hate this kind of stuff.â€
â€œI hate it, too,â€ 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. Sheâ€™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.
â€œBut this is work,â€ he reminded her. â€œItâ€™s what I have to do to get funding.â€
Jane had glanced at the big clock on the wallâ€”9:30. â€œCan we leave at ten?â€ she begged. Her feet hurt and she was feeling nauseated, and all week she had been dead on her feet, half-asleep.
â€œSure,â€ Rodney promised.
Theyâ€™d left at 1 a.m., and Jane had cried all the way home and didnâ€™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 bedriddenâ€”heartbroken over something she hadnâ€™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, heâ€™s sorry, heâ€™s so sorry.
She fixes up the guest room for McKay, puts down fresh bedding and extra pillows, and as heâ€™s staring at the furniture and flowers in confusionâ€”the HEPA filter is already in there, and the room still looks lived-in. Jane hasnâ€™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.
â€œWow,â€ McKay says, sitting on the edge of the bed. â€œI got exiled, huh?â€
Jane sits next to him, twisting a fresh towel in her hands. â€œHe wanted his own space.â€
McKay fists his hands on his knees. â€œHeâ€™s an idiot.â€
â€œThings happen,â€ Jane recites, verbatim, from the lecture the marriage counselor had given her one afternoon, when sheâ€™d been sitting on a slick leather couch and scared. â€œThings change. People change. And sometimes, you fall out of love.â€ A pause. â€œHe fell out of love. I think.â€
But McKay gives her a look that cuts through all the psychoanalytical bullshit with the same eerie accuracy of one of Rodneyâ€™s incisive glaresâ€”the kind that had left her stinging in the middle of an argument, even after all her apologies.
â€œDid you fall out of love?â€ he asks.
Jane smirks at him, bitter. â€œThis would all be much easier if it was mutual, donâ€™t you think?â€
McKayâ€™s entire body slumps down, like after everything, this has done it, heâ€™s too exhausted to sit up straight anymore, now. And sheâ€™s sorry she brought him up hereâ€”she could have just as easily made up the couch, but before she can apologize, McKay is looking up at her, eyes fierce, saying, â€œYouâ€™re wrong thoughâ€”I bet Iâ€”he, still does. Love you.â€
â€œHe has someone new,â€ Jane says, and now sheâ€™s just being mean, so she says, trying to ease the horror off of McKayâ€™s face, â€œItâ€™s reallyâ€”I know you hate it, but itâ€™s not a big deal. Like, half of marriages end in divorce.â€
â€œOurs shouldnâ€™t,â€ he snaps, and lies back, pulls a pillow over his face. â€œIâ€™m tired now.â€
Jane pats McKayâ€™s knee comfortingly. She didnâ€™t think anybody in the world could take her divorce harder than herselfâ€”and she guesses sheâ€™s still right. After all, McKayâ€™s really not from around here.
She wakes up the next morning to Rodney, furious on the phone line.
â€œYouâ€™re not supposed to be calling,â€ she says, half-dumb with sleep. Sheâ€™d ended up passing out on top of the sheets, and she wakes up wrapped in a quilt Rodneyâ€™s sister had given them as a five year anniversary present. â€œThatâ€™s violating the restrainingâ€”â€
â€œFuck your restraining order,â€ Rodney snarls. â€œYou called my office 20 times yesterday.â€ Thereâ€™s a short, tense silence before he asks, â€œIs everything okay? I meanâ€”are you? All right?â€
Jane doesnâ€™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. Sheâ€™s always wanted Rodneyâ€”any Rodneyâ€”to be happy, so she takes a shaking breath before she says:
â€œActuallyâ€”I need your help.â€
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.
â€œLook,â€ she tries to explain, following him where heâ€™s storming around the house, â€œI donâ€™t have a military background and my father died almost six years ago. I didnâ€™t know who else to ask!â€
â€œYou shouldnâ€™t have talked to him!â€ McKay shouts, bright red and still in his t-shirt and boxers. â€œYouâ€”you have a restraining order out on him! And you invited him over here?â€
Jane sets her mouth in a severe frown. â€œI want to help you get home.â€
â€œOh,â€ Rodney yells, â€œand believe me, I want to get thereâ€”but not like this.â€
â€œWell, I didnâ€™t have any other choice!â€ she yells back.
â€œYou always have a choice!â€ Rodney shouts this time, slamming his hands on the kitchen counter.
Jane wraps her arms around her stomach and snaps back, â€œYeah, and Iâ€™ve always chosen you!â€
And in the profound silence after that, they hear a key turning in the door lock. â€œOh my God,â€ McKay says, sounding faintly sick, â€œyou never even got the locks changed.â€
Jane figures itâ€™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 doesnâ€™t get a chance anyway, because the door swings open and Rodneyâ€™s on the other side, in a sleek black shirt and silver-rim glasses, every inch the millionaire the man she married had become. Heâ€™s actually still on his cell phone, murmuring to somebody on the other lineâ€”Samantha, Jane thinks, she bets itâ€™s Samantha, reassuring her that nothingâ€™s going on, that itâ€™s just his crazy ex-wife againâ€”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:
â€œJane, I think itâ€™s time we talk aboutâ€”who the fuck is that?â€
Jane canâ€™t help it, the giggle wells up in her chest, and she gets a simultaneous scowl from both of the Rodneyâ€™sâ€”which only makes her laugh harder, clutching at her stomach and feeling her knees go soft. Itâ€™s all so ridiculousâ€”and whatâ€™s crazier still is that McKayâ€™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, â€œGod. Your sense of humor is rotten across dimensions.â€
Jane amuses herself with finding something in the kitchen to eatâ€”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.
â€œThat work is purely theoreticalâ€”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!â€ Rodney is shouting, waving his arms furiously.
And McKay is yelling back, â€œHave you not been listening? Highly classified and hush hush alien project! We didnâ€™t develop the power source, weâ€™ve just decoded itâ€”or do you need me to put this onto some sort of graphical representation for you to understand?â€
â€œMoreover,â€ Rodney yells, â€œwhat the hell are you doing in my wifeâ€™s houseâ€”â€
â€œEx-wife!â€ McKay reminds him.
â€œIâ€™ve seen it all before,â€ Jane tells McKay helpfully.
â€œâ€”andâ€”you stop leering at her this moment!â€ Rodney finishes, angry and sputtering.
â€œOh forâ€”how can you be jealous of yourself?â€ McKay demands, and sniffing, adds, â€œBesides, Iâ€™m gay.â€ He makes a dismissive handwave at Janeâ€™s chest. â€œBreasts donâ€™t interest me.â€
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 Rodneyâ€™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.
â€œI donâ€™t even have anything to say to that,â€ Rodney manages, making his migraine face and rubbing at his temples. â€œI just, I have nothing.â€
McKay, sensing weakness, purrs, â€œReally gay. Super gay all the time. I love cock, and it loves me.â€
â€œArgh,â€ Rodney says, head dropping into his hands.
Sighing, Jane says, â€œGuysâ€”can you focus?â€
McKay restricts himself to one last, lascivious moan of â€œdickâ€ before he says, â€œOkay, anyway, yes, because God knows I donâ€™t want to stay here and watch you ruin our lives.â€ Which makes Rodney open his mouth, red-faced and furious, so Jane interrupts, saying:
â€œOkay, you guys duke it out, Iâ€™m going to go grade some tests.â€
The second miscarriage hadnâ€™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. Sheâ€™d spent most of the three months terrified, and Rodney had all but bubble-wrapped her, drove her to and from work; theyâ€™d followed the doctorâ€™s advice to the letter and done everything rightâ€”but theyâ€™d still been afraid. Rodney didnâ€™t come up with massive lists of names, and Jane mostly just stared at her flat belly in worry. So when sheâ€™d woken up with lancing pains and cramps, blood trickling down her legs, sheâ€™d just laid in bed and cried while Rodney called the ambulance, choking on his own words.
They decided to stop trying. Rodney claimed theyâ€™d only fuck up any children, and Jane had agreed because sheâ€™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 recognizedâ€”hilariouslyâ€”in retrospect, was an old euphemism for a reason.
â€œYouâ€™ve been working a lot,â€ sheâ€™d said, passing him another beer, hockey on faint and far away in the background on
â€œYeah,â€ heâ€™d said, flushing, not meeting her eyes. â€œWe picked up a new government contract.â€
Sheâ€™d nodded and pulled a blanket up around her knees, curling next to him on the couch, because even when itâ€™d been bad, heâ€™d been good for her. And Rodney had put an arm around her shoulders instinctively, fingers curling in her hair.
â€œYour liaison riding you pretty hard?â€ sheâ€™d asked.
Rodney had coughed. â€œYeah,â€ heâ€™d managed later, looking sick. â€œSomething like that.â€
The thing that had been the most damning, Jane knows now, isnâ€™t that she hadnâ€™t known really, but that she sort of hadâ€”you always know, a little at least, she thinksâ€”but that it was easier that way. At least that way, when everything started to go totally to hell, it wasnâ€™t just her fault.
Itâ€™s almost midnight by the time Rodney and McKay stop shouting at each other, and the unnatural silence makes Jane worried theyâ€™ve killed one another. So she goes downstairs on tiptoes, wrapped up in the big quilt off her bed and rubbing at her cheekâ€”hoping the green pen she grades in hasnâ€™t rubbed off on her face since she fell asleep.
Sheâ€™s kind of expecting to see two dead bodies, but instead she finds Rodney asleep at the dining room tableâ€”a laptop abandoned by his hands and an empty coffee carafe next to him. McKayâ€™s still awake, bathed in a pool of orangey light, scribbling hastily on a yellow legal pad, and itâ€™s so jarring that her breath hitches, and the noise is enough to catch McKayâ€™s attention.
He looks up at her, eyes electric blue. â€œHey,â€ he whispers, hoarse. â€œI thought you were asleep.â€
Jane runs a hand through her hair, yawning as she says, â€œI wasâ€”but I was grading, and everybody kept you know, getting all the answers right and I fell asleep.â€
McKay makes a face at her. â€œI canâ€™t believe your class isnâ€™t filled with morons.â€
â€œOh, it is,â€ Jane reassures him. â€œBut in a different way.â€ 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, â€œTheyâ€™re all teenaged boys with extensive character sheets in tabletop RPGsâ€”I think I might be the closest thing to the love of a good woman theyâ€™ve ever known.â€
McKay slides into the stool next to her, hands cupped around a cooled coffee mug. â€œThanks for that absolutely awful mental image.â€
â€œHappy to help,â€ Jane says, and takes a long sip of water, reaching for a bright green apple.
â€œYou know,â€ McKay says, smiling at her fondly, â€œI donâ€™t think seen John eat this much food in all the time Iâ€™ve known himâ€”much less in one day.â€
â€œWell,â€ Jane says around the mouthful of apple, and she has no idea why sheâ€™s telling McKay when she hasnâ€™t even told Rodney, â€œI bet Johnâ€™s never been pregnant before.â€
McKay actually snorts, saying, â€œActually, thereâ€™s this hilarious story about this one time heâ€”â€ and then he derails, turns completely white, squeaking out â€œâ€”what? Youâ€™re what?â€
â€œKnocked up,â€ Jane says helpfully. She takes another big bite of apple. â€œYou know, in a family way.â€
â€œIs itâ€”I meanâ€”â€ 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. â€œItâ€™s one of my studentsâ€™â€”he said he needed tutoring.â€
â€œHe came over in the rain, crying about a test grade. I gave him a towel, he told me I had pretty hair,â€ she goes on. â€œIt all got kind of out of hand.â€
â€œUh,â€ McKay manages, looking sick.
â€œBut you canâ€™t tell anybody, McKay,â€ she says, mostly because she canâ€™t help herself. Itâ€™s like when she just met Rodney, all over again, when she felt safe teasing him, just to see him sputter angrily later, how heâ€™d sulk and snap and then finally crack, slide his arms around her waist late and night, and mutter, â€œBrat,â€ affectionately into her ear.
Raising a shaking first in solidarity, McKay says, â€œRight. Uhâ€”seriously? Really?â€
She rolls her eyes and takes another bite of apple. â€œNo. Jeez, McKay, do you believe everything?â€
â€œIâ€™m sorry, Iâ€™m pretty used to believing in you,â€ McKay says, snotty, and he canâ€™t possibly know how it feels to hear that Rodneyâ€™s voice and someone wearing Rodneyâ€™s face. But faltering, he says after a beat, â€œButâ€”the pregnancy thing, thatâ€™s real?â€
Jane smiles, rueful. â€œSurprise,â€ she murmurs.
â€œCan I?â€ McKay asks, and Jane figures it canâ€™t hurt, so she sets down the apple and takes McKayâ€™s hand, pulls aside the quilt and slides McKayâ€™s palm over her warm cotton of her t-shirt. She barely has a bump, and in her normal clothes, itâ€™s hidden completelyâ€”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.
â€œWow,â€ McKay whispers, eyes still huge, cheeks bright, â€œI think I can feel it move.â€
â€œYou canâ€™t feel it move yet,â€ Jane whispers back, but sheâ€™s smiling at she says it. Itâ€™s the first time sheâ€™s really been able to feel happy about the baby and it feels like cold water in her throat, sweet.
McKayâ€™s face falls. â€œReally?â€
â€œReally,â€ Jane tells him, but she closes a hand over McKayâ€™s, warm through the t-shirt, and reaches up to stroke her other palm over his cheek. â€œYou know, itâ€™s weird. But Iâ€™m glad youâ€™re here.â€
Jane didnâ€™t think McKay could get redder, but he does, and he slides his fingers in between hers as he says, â€œYou know you never tell me that kind of stuff when youâ€™re male, right?â€
She grins, and leans over to kiss him on the forehead. â€œI bet I mean it all the time, though,â€ she whispers, close to his ear, and stands up again, letâ€™s McKay pulls the quilt more tightly around her.
â€œDoes he know?â€ McKay asks, and makes it sound like a dirty word.
Jane glances over at Rodney, still slumped over in sleepâ€”his spine bent at an angle thatâ€™s going to have him near tears tomorrow morning. Jane knows sheâ€™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 canâ€™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, â€œNot yet.â€
McKay searches her face for something, but whatever it is, he must find it, and he leans over to press a kiss beneath her earâ€”and Jane canâ€™t help but feel her toes curl in pleasure at that, to have his mouth on her skin againâ€”and to say, â€œYou should go back to sleep.â€
â€œYeah,â€ Jane agrees, shuffling toward the stairs again, â€œIâ€™m snoozing for two now.â€
She hears McKayâ€™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 itâ€™s so wonderful she drifts downstairs in her bathrobe and bare feet without thinking about whatâ€™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.
â€œHey!â€ Rodney says, his glasses smudged from sleep. â€œI thought you didnâ€™t eat breakfast.â€
â€œThings change,â€ Jane says, and while heâ€™s distracted, s plate and loads it up with a fried egg, another piece of baconâ€”the first piece of French toast.
Rodney holds up the coffee. â€œYou want some?â€
Jane shakes her head, asks, â€œIs McKay up yet?â€
Rodneyâ€™s constipated face turns dark and he pours himself another mug. â€œNoâ€”and we need to talk about how he got the guest room and I got the dining room table.â€
Jane feels not at all sorry for him, and goes in search of juice, knowing full well that Rodney must have come upstairs after sheâ€™d gone to sleep, suspicious and searching, checking to make sure she and McKay werenâ€™t having hot, feral, sort-of-married-sex in the whirlpool tub. She still loves Rodney, in some sort of fucked up way, but itâ€™s not like she doesnâ€™t know the guy.
â€œYou know where the other guest rooms are,â€ 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 theyâ€™ve had in a season that hasnâ€™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 doesnâ€™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 werenâ€™t angry at each other yet.
â€œWell nobody woke me up,â€ 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. Itâ€™s hard to reconcile himâ€”hair sticking up crazilyâ€”with the man sheâ€™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. â€œLook,â€ he says, and it sounds like itâ€™s hard for him to form the syllables. â€œI wanted to apologize.â€
Jane cocks an eyebrow. â€œFor what,â€ she says flatly.
â€œI recognize,â€ Rodney says carefully, â€œafter extensive discussion and some consideration, that my behavior during the early part of our separation could be construed as somewhat questionable.â€
â€œWeird, huh,â€ Jane says, grinning hugely, â€œhearing yourself call you a jackass.â€
Cheeks heating, Rodney snaps, â€œOkay, I take back my apology.â€
â€œNo take backs,â€ 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, â€œRodneyâ€”I should tell you something.â€
Itâ€™s stupid when Jane thinks about what started the divorce proceedingsâ€”that after Rodney had fooled around on her and sheâ€™d stopped caring and theyâ€™d both suddenly lost interest in having any kind of sex at all, it was senior prom that that spelled their marriageâ€™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 couldnâ€™t take an evening out to do something with herâ€”for her; Rodney wanted to know why she still chose to keep her â€œjokeâ€ of a job, anyway. Then Jane had just wanted Rodney to go straight to hell and take the twelve-year-old, redheaded botanist heâ€™d been fucking at the office with him, so sheâ€™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 punchâ€”Aristocrat Vodka and red Kool Aid, drink of championsâ€”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 oneâ€”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.
â€œJesus fucking Christ, Jane,â€ Dan had said, and snubbed out a cigaretteâ€”kissed her and sheâ€™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 heâ€™d tried something with her at the faculty luncheon, sheâ€™d spread her legs so he could slide his knee between them.
Dan was big and broad-shouldered, and heâ€™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 pantiesâ€”and before the alarm bells even finished going off in her head, before Jane had managed to say, â€œWaitâ€”stopâ€”I donâ€™t think I mean this, really,â€ Rodney had been hauling Dan off of her, punching him hard enough to deck him, crumpling him on the ground.
â€œHow long have you been fucking him?â€ heâ€™d asked her, red-faced and suspiciously glassy-eyed.
â€œWhy do you care?â€ Jane had snapped back. Sheâ€™d known her bra was showingâ€”black lace, sheâ€™d been looking to start something, she thinksâ€”and she didnâ€™t care; Rodney didnâ€™t look anymore.
Except apparently he did, and heâ€™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 switchâ€”how sheâ€™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.
Heâ€™d been trying to rub a come stain out of his pants, later that nightâ€”after theyâ€™d driven home in silence, with Jane still slick and fucked out from the hotel alleyâ€”when sheâ€™d stopped in the laundry room doorway and said, â€œI donâ€™t think I want to be married to you anymore.â€
Because after almost fifteen years of knowing Rodney better than anybody, of knowing who she was in his context, she didnâ€™t know what to do anymore, or how to do it anymoreâ€”because there wasnâ€™t anything else she knew how to say.
Rodneyâ€™s first words after she managed to revive Rodney from where heâ€™d fainted dead away on the kitchen floor were, â€œHave you been to the doctors? What have they said? You should be on bed rest.â€
â€œYes,â€ Jane tells him, â€œI have. They said everythingâ€™s fine. And Iâ€™d rather die.â€
Rodney clenches a fist. â€œDonâ€™t say that.â€
Janeâ€™s silent for a moment before she murmurs, â€œSorry.â€
There was a clatter of footsteps, and McKay rushes in, bleary-eyed, shouting, â€œWhat! What! I heard thumping! I heard thumping and things fallingâ€”â€ and spying Jane over a prostrate Rodney on the floor he trails off â€œâ€”and I see youâ€™ve told him.â€
â€œYou told him first?â€ Rodney snarls, grabbing her wrist, and Jane shakes him off, pushes herself up again and takes a few steps back, glaring as she says:
â€œIâ€™m telling you now.â€
Rodney manages to get himself up to his feet, and Janeâ€™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 herâ€”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 itâ€™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 itâ€™s horrible to think that sheâ€™d trade scars and war stories for whatever is fluttering in her chest, but she would give anything to have this.
â€œYouâ€™re lucky sheâ€™s telling you at all,â€ McKay snaps.
Ignoring him, Rodney asks, â€œHow many months?â€
â€œFour,â€ 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, â€œIs it even mine?â€
So she feels entirely all right about McKayâ€™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, â€œCome onâ€”letâ€™s get the hell out of here,â€ 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.
â€œI really donâ€™t know why you want to know how my third grade ballet recitals went, McKay,â€ Jane says, dragging a fry through their communal pool of ketchup. â€œItâ€™s kind of useless information.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t understand,â€ McKay disagrees. â€œThe sheer, undiluted joy that youâ€™re providing by giving me proof positive thatâ€”if born a womanâ€”John would be the girliest girl that ever did girl ever is sending me into a near-orgasmic state.â€
Jane snorts. â€œGlad I could help. Did I mention I got an A++ in home ec?â€
McKay groans in delight.
They end up, despite McKayâ€™s ardent protests, at the county fairâ€”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 whiningâ€”Jane doesnâ€™t even want to think about why she bothers, she doesnâ€™t need McKayâ€™s permission for anythingâ€”before he capitulates under the promise of cheese fries and they ride the ferris wheel.
â€œWhat the hell do you two like so much about this thing anyway?â€ McKay mutters, keeping one hand in an iron grip on the safety bar and another on her wristâ€”it feels different when he does it.
Jane just grins at him, red-cheeked from the early evening cold. â€œItâ€™s like floating,â€ she says easily. â€œAnd if you look out instead of staring down at the ground, thereâ€™s usually a pretty spectacular view.â€
McKay glances into the darkness. â€œFantastic,â€ he says, â€œNowheresville, North County, California.â€
â€œWell,â€ Jane revises, â€œyou could always just look at the sky.â€
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.
â€œIâ€™d think thatâ€™d be too common for you,â€ Jane teases, turning on her side.
â€œAre you kidding?â€ Rodney says, and his lashes are long and fringed in light from the ring toss booth behind them. â€œThat was the first constellation I could recognizeâ€”I love that thing.â€
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 heâ€™d understand. She thinks that if their roles were reversed, sheâ€™d be happy to give John this, to give him something he neededâ€”neither of them would deny water to a man in the desert.
â€œWhat do you think I should do?â€ Jane asks McKay, mumbles into the cloth of his shirt. She doesnâ€™t have words for how fucked up all of this is. Sheâ€™s fisting her hands in the front of his jacket and breathing too hard. â€œI donâ€™t know what to do anymore.â€
McKay presses a kiss to her temple, murmurs horse-hushes into her ear, nonsense words and reassurance, lips soft against her skin. He doesnâ€™t have any answers, either, Jane knows, because heâ€™s the smartest man in two galaxiesâ€”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 sheâ€™s lying in the grass with a hologram, somebody imagined, out of phase. He shouldnâ€™t be here with her and she shouldnâ€™t be here with himâ€”but it must mean something that theyâ€™ve found each other in two realities, and she hopes thatâ€™s enough, that the universeâ€™s internal compass will point her in the right direction.
â€œI wish I could fix this for you,â€ 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 itâ€™s too terrible for her to say out loudâ€”itâ€™s not fair, itâ€™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 donâ€™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 beforeâ€”hair wild, a triumphant gleam in his eye. He meets them at the door, and whatever heâ€™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.
â€œI,â€ he manages after a beat, clearing his throat, â€œI figured it out.â€
McKay blinks, and they step over the threshold of the house. â€œHow long?â€ he asks.
â€œThree weeks,â€ Rodney admits. â€œAt least.â€
â€œFaster than humanly possible,â€ McKay gripes, â€œbut still slower than anticipated.â€
â€œYeah, something like that,â€ Rodney says, and gritting his teeth, â€œNow beat it, Iâ€™d like to talk to my wife alone.â€
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, â€œMcKayâ€”really, itâ€™s all right,â€ and she darts a look at Rodney before she adds, â€œYou would never hurt me.â€
Rodney rolls his eyes and locks the door. â€œFor Christâ€™s sake,â€ he mutters.
â€œI know how to shoot a gun!â€ 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 doesnâ€™t know what to do with his hands, and Jane doesnâ€™t blame him. The first time sheâ€™d told him they were pregnant, heâ€™d fainted.Â But after heâ€™d woken up, heâ€™d seized, clutched her tight and nearly spun her around the room before heâ€™d put her back down again, red-faced and surprised, saying, â€œWaitâ€”wait, we donâ€™t want to brain damage him or her.â€ The second time, heâ€™d been much gentler about it, pressed a hand over her abdomen and pulled her in, murmuring into her hair, â€œItâ€™ll be fine this time, youâ€™ll see.â€ Jane doesnâ€™t really know what she wants him to do with his hands, either.
â€œSo youâ€™re,â€ he starts, and motions at her midsection. â€œAgain.â€
Jane raises her eyebrows. â€œYes,â€ she tells him, voice flat.
He scowls. â€œWhen were you planning on telling me?â€
Jane scowls back at him. â€œMaybe I wasnâ€™t going to tell you at all,â€ she says, and Jane watches Rodneyâ€™s face go pale like the first blizzard of the year in Toronto.
She doesnâ€™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 herâ€”neither of them would be very proud of her right now. Then again, if her father had lived, itâ€™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, â€œTypical.â€
Sometimes, Jane decides, she really really misses her father.
â€œSo what do you want to do?â€ she asks, both hands on her stomach.
When sheâ€™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 Rodneyâ€™s allergies, what Jane would do if the baby ended up with her deranged hair.Â Jane knows where she wants her baby to go to school and how sheâ€™ll teach him or her to kick a stranger in the nuts, but she doesnâ€™t know if Rodney will be there anymore, if heâ€™ll want to set up audiovisual equipment at school plays and Christmas pageants, if heâ€™ll paper mache Halloween costumes with her nowâ€”heâ€™s moved on to bigger, blonder things, Jane thinks.
â€œWell,â€ Rodney says, looking hamstrung, â€œwe should probably call off the divorceâ€”I donâ€™t want our child to be all messed up from a broken home.â€
â€œYes,â€ Jane says, rote and disbelieving, â€œbecause the state of our marriage would be so much more conducive to a stable psychological profile.â€
Rodney makes a face.Â â€œWe could go back into counseling.â€
Jane doesnâ€™t even bother to dignify that one with a real answer, rolling her eyes elaborately at the suggestion.
Red-faced, Rodney yells, â€œThen what the hell do you want me to do, Jane!â€
â€œI donâ€™t know!â€ Jane yells back, because she doesnâ€™t.Â â€œI donâ€™t know what to do, okay?Â Maybe we canâ€™t make this work anymore!â€
And itâ€™s strange to think that itâ€™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, â€œYouâ€™re the only person Iâ€™ve everâ€”â€
He seems to run out of words, but Jane knows what he means.Â Sheâ€™s always known she was different to him, that Rodney didnâ€™t make compromises for anybody, that his three a.m. phone calls to tell her about things heâ€™d seen or places heâ€™d been were sincere despite his calling at three a.m.Â It is something unimaginably special to be the center of all of his attention, to have his unwavering focus, to be found delightfulâ€”but Rodney is always finding new things, and sheâ€™s amazed heâ€™s paid attention as long as he has.
Rodney wrings his hands.Â â€œI donâ€™t know what I would do if,â€ he starts, stops, looks away, â€œI didnâ€™t want it to be this way.â€
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.Â She knows what Rodney meansâ€”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, â€œOkay, letâ€™s try this again,â€ but Jane doesnâ€™t think she can do it.Â She thinks that maybe six months ago, maybe eight months ago, maybe at the end of last year, before sheâ€™d started to see Rodneyâ€™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.Â But sheâ€™s tired and sheâ€™s hurt and she doesnâ€™t think she can be strong enough to do this anymoreâ€”not right now, maybe never again.Â Maybe itâ€™s different for Rodney, but Jane feels like sheâ€™s just come home from war; he may want to hear her stories but she doesnâ€™t want to tell them.
â€œIâ€™m really sorry, Rodney,â€ she tells him, â€œIâ€™m so so sorry.â€
She means it, of course she means it, how could she not, watching Rodneyâ€™s face crumple and his mouth sag, tears making his eyes a little too brightâ€”like heâ€™s finally realized all of this is real, like heâ€™s finally understood what she meant when sheâ€™d told him she couldnâ€™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.Â Itâ€™s the oddest sense of cognitive dissonance, to be not have Rodney, to mourn his loss like heâ€™s died and sheâ€™ll never have him again, and fend off McKayâ€™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 doesnâ€™t get arrested for breaking the restraining order again.
â€œI cannot begin to tell you how weird that is to me,â€ 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.Â Jane stuffs most of it in her mouth before she tunes back into McKayâ€™s running conversation, just in time to hear him say:
â€œI mean, Iâ€™ve never really been fond of children, and I never thought Iâ€™d have any, but itâ€™s kind of touching to know that in some alternate universe, I doâ€”or, I mean, I willâ€”and that you are the father.Â Mother.Â Other parent.â€
â€œSeconds,â€ 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.Â It can only mean that for John, too, it is love, and she hopes (she thinks) that it will end well for himâ€”that it wonâ€™t end at all.
By midweek, sheâ€™s less charitable, and although she sees less and less of McKayâ€”he spends most of his time locked away in the study shouting at somebody in Colorado now, and Jane worries itâ€™s Rodneyâ€”sheâ€™s still seeing more of him than she had even at the earliest stages of her relationship with Rodney.
â€œMcKay, if you donâ€™t stop following me around, I will seriously kill you,â€ she shouts, because she can see the shadows of his feet outside of the bathroom door.Â â€œIâ€™m just taking a bathâ€”I promise Iâ€™m not like, drowning myself or anything.â€
Thereâ€™s a long, uncomfortable silence.Â â€œI would just feel better if I could monitor you,â€ McKay pleads.Â â€œWhat if you slip?Â What if you fall?â€
â€œThen Iâ€™ll die and you and Rodney can fight over who gets to have inappropriate relations with my corpse,â€ Jane mutters, but quietly enough that he canâ€™t hear her through the door.Â The last thing she needs is a panicked McKay on her hands.Â Sheâ€™d been in a car accident the third year she and Rodney were married, and she still has violent flashbacksâ€”not to the accident, but of Rodneyâ€™s wailing, as if he was one of those paid mourners at an Ancient Egyptian funeral.
She sighs, relents.Â â€œHow gay are you?â€ she asks, suspicious.
â€œIâ€™m redecorating your hall as we speak,â€ he tells her, annoyed, and after a pause, admits, â€œBut you should remember that Iâ€™m kind of in love with you.Â And Iâ€™m a Kinsey six, at best.â€
Maybe itâ€™s just been an age since sheâ€™s felt wanted, felt lovely, and for whatever terrible justifications, she says, â€œFineâ€”you can come in.â€
He does, and it doesnâ€™t feel sleazy or strange, and Rodneyâ€”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 bodyâ€”changingâ€”in the cloudy water.
â€œHi,â€ Jane manages to say, feeling shy again, suddenly.Â This Rodney doesnâ€™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.Â Sheâ€™d forgotten.
â€œHi,â€ McKay says back, and sits down on the toilet to watch her, intent for a minute before he clears his throat and says, â€œYou areâ€”itâ€™s so unfair.â€
Jane feels her face burn.Â â€œYou donâ€™t have to say it,â€ she snaps at him.
His John is probably beautiful, like those models out of the Abercrombie catalogs that her students readâ€”soft core porn beautiful, with a swimmerâ€™s build and ethereal lines and golden skin.Â Jane has always been too awkward as a woman.
â€œItâ€™s justâ€”itâ€™s just statistically unfair and completely improbable that youâ€™d both be so gorgeous,â€ McKay says, his eyes sweeping down her body.
The red of her cheeks deepens, Jane knows.Â â€œOh,â€ she says.
McKay smiles at her, indulgent, and Jane has missed this, this sense of reasonless adoration.Â â€œCome on,â€ he says, â€œlet me wash your hair for you,â€ and Jane does, closes her eyes and feels his fingers on her scalp, on the back of her neck, whisper over her shoulders.
â€œYou donâ€™t know how lucky you two were.â€Â Rodneyâ€™s voice is conversational.Â â€œHe could woo you, buy you flowers.â€
Jane twists round to look at him.Â â€œYou didnâ€™t â€˜wooâ€™ me, you just moved all your stuff into my apartment.â€
Rodney glares at her.Â â€œTurn around, Iâ€™m trying to make a point.â€
â€œHey, do you do that thing where you say you pile like, 30 pillows on your side of the bed in Atlantis, too?â€ Jane asks.Â â€œBecause thatâ€™s really annoying and I donâ€™t know if Johnâ€™s called you on that.â€
â€œI have a back problem,â€ McKay says to her, in a way that lets Jane know that he does, that John has, and that Rodney hasnâ€™t changed at all.
Jane makes a note to write a letter and tuck it into Rodneyâ€™s clothes as he leaves.Â Johnâ€™s all alone in another galaxy, there probably arenâ€™t that many people he can complain to and Jane thinks itâ€™s important that he knows Janeâ€™s on his side.Â Sheâ€™s started to think of him as a brother, a best friendâ€”she wants him to be happy, and in a moment of bittersweet clarity, she realizes sheâ€™s scared for somebody sheâ€™s never met before.Â She wants John to have Rodney, but Janeâ€™s living proof it doesnâ€™t always s work out.Â 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.
â€œAnyway,â€ McKay huffs, knuckling the base of her skull, and Jane hears herself mewl like a cat, â€œmy point is that youâ€”he was lucky.Â You know, Iâ€™ve never taken John on a date?â€
She looks up at that, but doesnâ€™t twist around: Rodneyâ€™s fingers are working their way along the curve of her skull, knowing, stroking, and she wants to moan at how good it feels.
â€œI donâ€™t even know what itâ€™s like to hold his hand, really.â€ Rodney sounds far away, all the way back in the Pegasus Galaxy, on Atlantis.Â â€œWhich, for the record, wow how unfair.â€Â He leans round to catch her eyes.Â â€œI finally bagged somebody as hot as you and I canâ€™t even show off.â€
Jane flinches.Â â€œEven if you can,â€ she says, quiet, â€œyou shouldnâ€™t.â€
McKay watches her, curious, until she murmurs, â€œI always hated itâ€”I donâ€™t think heâ€™d like it either.â€
Rodneyâ€™s quiet for a long moment before he reaches for a mug on the bathroom sink.Â He pulls out the toothbrushes and fills it with warm water from the tub, upending it over her hair, rinsing out the shampooâ€”fingers trailing down her back as he promises her, â€œThen I wonâ€™t.Â You were always my favorite secret anyway, you know.â€
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.Â â€œCome on, youâ€™re a good two inches taller than I am where I come from,â€ Rodney says, making what he probably thinks is his most adorable face, so Jane sighs, â€œFine, enjoy it while it lasts.â€
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.Â 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.
â€œIâ€™m rooting for the toasters,â€ Jane tells him.
He gives her a horrible look.Â â€œIâ€™ll try to love you in spite of that,â€ he says, and after a beat, says to her belly, â€œDonâ€™t let her get to you,â€ sympathetic with her fetusâ€™ plight.
Jane falls asleep like that and wakes up like that, too, when Rodneyâ€”her Rodney, the other Rodney, and oh God, sheâ€™d stopped calling Johnâ€™s Rodney McKayâ€”bursts into the house shouting, â€œGet up, you, you, you cross-dimensional adulterers!â€
Less than an hour later, theyâ€™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.Â Thereâ€™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 shirtâ€”as if sheâ€™s about to tip out of the helicopter and straight to her doom or something.
â€œYou guys can let go of me,â€ she calls over her shoulder.
â€œIn your dreams,â€ one of them says, she canâ€™t tell which.
The other adds, â€œAnd get away from that window!â€
Jane reaches over to peer over the shoulder of their pilotâ€”a baby zoomie who probably doesnâ€™t even shave yet, Jane thinks fondlyâ€”and watches his face turn bright pink as she asks, â€œHey, think I could get some lessons?Â Iâ€™ve always kind of wanted to learn how toâ€”â€
â€œNo,â€ 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.Â The third time McKay and Rodney try to get her to â€œwait outside,â€ 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.
â€œTry me,â€ she invites, and Rodney sighs and says, â€œFine, fine, letâ€™s go.â€
Theyâ€™re in what the nervous, Czech scientist claims is their â€œleast sensitive lab,â€ when Jane picks up a faded-looking brooch while her husband and Johnâ€™s boyfriend snarl at each other.Â Itâ€™s octagonal and in obvious disrepair, smudged, and she rubs her thumb over it and thinks that the stone looks green underneath all the dirtâ€”which of course is when it starts to glow from the inside out, humming faintly.
Rodney and the Czech scientist look like theyâ€™re having a heart attack.
â€œThis isnâ€™t radioactive, is it?â€ Jane asks, holding it up.
Rodney squeaks something incoherent.
â€œOh, right,â€ McKay says, snapping his fingers, â€œI forgot to mention that, didnâ€™t I?â€
â€œHoly Hannah!â€ somebody shouts from the doorway of the lab, and when Jane turns to look, itâ€™s a woman with high cheekbones and bright blue eyes, blond, pixie hair and a crazed smile, rushing toward her, extremely excited.Â â€œYou have the gene!Â Oh my Godâ€”who are you?Â Wait, hold on,â€ she says, ducking down to glance at Janeâ€™s guest badge before popping back up to laugh:
â€œJane?Â Youâ€™re Jane?Â Rodneyâ€™s Jane?â€
Jane, because she is, still, nods stupidly.Â â€œAnd, um, you are?â€
â€œOh!â€ the woman laughs.Â â€œColonel Samantha Carter, itâ€™s very nice toâ€”â€
Later, Jane will say that it was just some sort of bizarre reflex reaction.Â But thatâ€™s definitely a lie; sheâ€™s been wanting to punch S. CARTER in the face for almost a year now.
â€œI canâ€™t believe you punched her,â€ Rodney wails.
â€œI canâ€™t believe you punched her back,â€ McKay yells.Â â€œYou know sheâ€™s pregnant?Â With my baby!â€
â€œMy baby,â€ Rodney corrects, glowering.Â â€œYou had nothing to do with it, you giant queer!â€
â€œOkay, self-directed hate speech, weird,â€ Sam mutters, holding the ice pack to her nose and giving Jane a flat, dark stare.Â â€œYouâ€™re lucky I feel bad about hitting civilians,â€ she warned Jane.
â€œYouâ€™re lucky your boyfriendâ€™s here to pull me off of you,â€ Jane shoots back.
â€œAmazing, all we need is a lily pond,â€ Rodney sighs, before Janeâ€™s words seem to sink in and he does a rapid mental U-turn.Â â€œWaitâ€”excuse me?Â What did you say?â€
â€œNothing,â€ Jane says, spiteful.
She canâ€™t even blame Rodney.Â Samantha Carter is the type of magazine-cover beautiful sheâ€™d felt painfully jealous of as a teenager, when she was all bones, flat as the broad side of a truck.Â Jane has always known, from the way Rodneyâ€™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.Â â€œJane,â€ he says seriously, â€œit wasnâ€™t like that.â€
â€œWhat wasnâ€™t likeâ€”ohmiGod,â€ McKay starts to ask before catching on.Â â€œYou didnâ€™t!â€Â he says to Rodney.
â€œCan we not talk about this?â€ Jane begs.Â â€œCan we just do whatever physics mumbo jumbo we need to get Rodney home?â€
Itâ€™s humiliating enough without sharing it with the rest of the class, but all the memory of hurt she thought sheâ€™d put away when sheâ€™d changed the locks and contacted her lawyers is still there, apparently, just beneath her skin.Â Maybe itâ€™s her own fault, for discounting Katie as a post-miscarriage aberration, brought on by grief and bad decision making.Â Maybe itâ€™s her fault again for never calling him on his bullshit, the infidelity.Â It doesnâ€™t really matter anymore, except it makes her angry he still gets to her, that she lets him, and sheâ€™s mad at herself for letting it turn into this.
She shouldnâ€™t have come, but she misses McKay already, the way heâ€™s exactly the same and completely different from the man she still loves.
Rodney only continues to stare at her, despairing.Â â€œJaneâ€”â€
â€œMcKay,â€ Carter interrupts, her voice soft, â€œsheâ€™s right, letâ€™s get, uh, McKay squared away first.â€
Jane just closes her eyes tightlyâ€”she canâ€™t bring herself to feel grateful for that small mercy.Â This is Samantha Carter, and while itâ€™s not her fault that she and Rodney canâ€™t be married to one another anymore, sheâ€™s part of the problem, a symptom.Â Jane doesnâ€™t care if she seduced Rodney with kisses and skin or math and physicsâ€”itâ€™s all the same.Â Heâ€™d been her husband and heâ€™d blinked, swayed, looked away, and when heâ€™d looked back he hadnâ€™t liked what heâ€™d seen and she hadnâ€™t liked who sheâ€™d become.Â And now theyâ€™re stuck, trapped.
Itâ€™s too late, Jane realizes, and for the first time since this whole thing started, she really wants to cry.Â Itâ€™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.Â Rodney still looks guilty and McKay still looks brittle and Sam looks guilty; Jane imagines she still looks like shit.Â The morning sicknessâ€”or maybe thatâ€™s just self-awarenessâ€”is back with vengeance.
â€œSo what does this mean?â€ Jane asks, and Rodney just sputters at her until McKay sighs and says:
â€œIt means Iâ€™m going home tomorrow morningâ€”I donâ€™t know why I ever bother to think youâ€™re listening for anything more than bullet points.â€
Stargate Command (and Jane still isnâ€™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.Â 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, â€œCome in,â€ not worried at all.Â Her fatherâ€™s dead, sure, but heâ€™d come back for her, Jane knows.
â€œHey,â€ Rodneyâ€™s voice says, â€œitâ€™s me.â€
Jane props herself up.Â Rodneyâ€”McKay?â€”is haloed in the light from the hallway, and shutting the door, the room darkens again, until heâ€™s all shadows, just the outline of broad shoulders, thinning hair, strong arms sheâ€™s known so well so long.Â At this distance, without anybody for comparison, Jane thinks that Rodney and McKay look exactly alike, that she wouldnâ€™t be able to tell them apart at all, not even by touch.
â€œHi.â€Â After a moment of indecision, she flips back a corner of her covers.Â â€œYou want to come up?â€
The beat she waits to hear him say, â€œOkay, yes,â€ means it could be either of them, Rodney or McKay.
He slides into bed next to her and heâ€™s hot, huge next to her, the way heâ€™s always been, a solid counterweight to her and Jane doesnâ€™t hesitate to slide her arms around him, to put her face in his shoulder.Â Sheâ€™s far from home in unexplored territory and the promises she and Rodney made to one another all those years ago havenâ€™t been legally invalidated yet.Â She thinks maybe all she swore to himâ€”love, comfort, her best effortsâ€”will always be his, never to be revoked.Â Maybe you can only make a promise like that and mean it the way she does once.Â Maybe, Jane thinks, this was it for me.
Rodney clutches at her, desperate, longing, greedy, his breath damp on the side of her face.Â Jane feels his hands sliding underneath her shirt, fingers trailing up her sides, down again, to the swell her stomach, inquiring.Â And itâ€™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.Â Maybe itâ€™s a Saturday morning, the lazy kind.
Maybe sheâ€™s gone crazy from the loneliness, but Jane doesnâ€™t bother to question itâ€”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.Â His hands are big and hard and bruising on her hipâ€”a little harder than she likes, but maybe Rodneyâ€™s just forgotten, maybe Sam Carter likes it rough.Â (Maybe John does.)Â She pulls and pulls because she feels like sheâ€™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 itâ€™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.Â Jane lets herself have this, whatever it is, and if her fingers trace a scar on his chin she doesnâ€™t remember Rodney having, Jane lets herself forget that, too, to run her fingers through his hair instead.
â€œPlease,â€ she gasps, nails riding down his back.Â â€œPlease.â€
â€œYeah,â€ he tells her, and heâ€™s leaving fingerprints on her thighs, holding her too tight.Â â€œDo itâ€”come on.Â Justâ€”God, I love you so much.Â I love you,â€ he tells her, and thatâ€™s enough, thatâ€™s it, and Jane feels her entire body squeeze tight, a fist clenching around her chest for a perfect second.Â 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 heâ€™s not supposed to makeâ€”not to her.
Dear John, Jane writes in her letter, you and I have been, more than we deserve, lucky.
Thereâ€™s more, but Jane thinks John must know all of it, and moreover, that she didnâ€™t need to worry the way she had.Â McKay looks back before he goes, before he disappears into the ripples of the Stargate, but only at her.Â He wonâ€™t miss this Earth, this life, this road less traveled by; he ahs Atlantis and he has John.Â 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.Â 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 lifeâ€”as ridiculous as that isâ€”so Jane just watches him fade out of her life like a ghost.
When the Stargate powers down, after the wormhole closes, Rodneyâ€”her Rodney, the only one who will ever be able to live here with herâ€”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.
â€œOh, you have got to be fucking with me,â€ Jane says through gritted teeth, listening to the nurse count down her contraction.Â â€œGet that fucking thing away from me.â€
â€œThis is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,â€ Rodney says, zooming in on her.Â â€œDo you have any words for the son weâ€™re about to meet outside the womb for the first time?â€
She looks into the lens seriously.Â â€œKill your father, do it for me,â€ she tells him.
Rodneyâ€™s Sony high-definition camcorder, the bane of her existence, disappears after the first 8 hours, and by the time 20 rolls around, sheâ€™s only sobbing quietly, too tired to do anything but let Rodney cluck at her, pet her hair, cry with her when the baby wonâ€™t come.
â€œI canâ€™t,â€ she cries, tries to clutch at his shirt, when hour 24 comes and goes.Â â€œRodney, I canâ€™t anymore.â€
She knows that he would fix this for her if he could; he looks like he wants to.Â Heâ€™s yelled at everybody in the ward.Â Jane has to be dying.Â Sheâ€™ll die and theyâ€™ll cut the baby out of her and sheâ€™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.
â€œThat,â€ Rodney decides, eyes blazing, â€œis motherfucking it.Â Doctor!â€
Jane checks back in just in time to be told sheâ€™s checking out, en route to the OR.Â Itâ€™s been too long, the doctors are worried about the baby, theyâ€™re worried about her.Â Theyâ€™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 Rodneyâ€™s fingers in her own as he runs alongside her stretcher.
â€œItâ€™ll be fine,â€ he promises her.Â â€œYouâ€™ll be absolutely fine.â€
â€œOkay,â€ Jane agrees, slurring.Â â€œI believe you,â€ she says, realizing she means it.
Rodney gives her a look she hasnâ€™t seen in a long time.Â â€œOkay, okayâ€”I love you.â€
â€œI love you, too, Rodney,â€ Jane murmurs back, and tips over into the blackness.
Later, Rodney tells her that when Gabe came out screaming during hour 29, heâ€™d fainted (only a little, and from manly hunger and distress over her suffering).Â Their son has Rodneyâ€™s thin, baby-bird hair and Janeâ€™s gray-green eyes, ruddy pink cheeks.Â He is loved immediately, enormously.Â 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 sheâ€™s in Pasadena again, that sheâ€™s 25 and theyâ€™re still in love.
â€œGood morning,â€ Rodney says, grinning.Â â€œSleep well?â€
â€œNo,â€ Jane croaks, trying to see her son.Â She wants to hold him, needs to count his fingers and toes.Â â€œSome kid kept waking me up at night screaming.â€
â€œThatâ€™d be Gabe,â€ Rodney says with mock seriousness.Â â€œIâ€™ll have a talk with him.â€
Jane shakes her head.Â â€œNo, I got it.â€Â She reaches out her hands, pulls her baby close to her chest when Rodney passes him over, careful to support his neck.Â â€œSo this is the little punk, huh?â€
â€œYeah,â€ 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 Rodneyâ€™s empire building, his Fortune 500 company and their series of soap-opera miscarriages and missteps.Â They are not the Rodney McKay, Ph.D (singular) and Jane Sheppard (not a mom) that first met in the margins of Rodneyâ€™s notes all those years ago.Â 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, Gabeâ€™s parents together now, so Janeâ€”once sheâ€™s kissed Gabeâ€™s sleeping face, counted his fingers and kissed him againâ€”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.