Title: Greener Grasses
Genre: Slash, h/c, humor
Characters: John, Rodney, and Jeannie
Word count: ~ 15,000
Spoilers: anything up through season 5
Author Notes: Marla asked for an Earth fic with John, Rodney and Jeannie and a bank robbery. This is what I came up with. Sorry, it took longer than I had hoped it would. *G* Thanks, as always, to Koschka for the beta.
Summary: You would think being a hostage in a bank robbery would be the biggest surprise of your day, but if you're Jeannie Miller and your brother comes to visit, you'd be wrong.
"Daddy says McDonald’s is responsible for killing the trees in the Rainforest and the little kids in China losing their cultural identity."
Jeannie Miller wasn’t exactly sure when things had shifted in her life, but over the past year or so, they definitely had. With a sigh of frustration at the political commentary from the backseat of her car, Jeannie inched the Prius a little closer to the large menu board. Sometimes being a heartless conservative and eating a Big Mac whenever the urge struck her would be sooooo much easier than the life she’d chosen.
"I know, sweetie, but today they are also responsible for getting you to school on time with something to eat."
She knew Kaleb was right about their accountability to the world community, and she was definitely losing karma points on this one. But given the night she’d had and the fact that her brother and his friend were descending on her for a week, surely the universe could cut her a little slack this time...
"Like it did last week?" Madison inquired innocently.
… and all the other times she’d ended up this situation.
Maybe coming back as an earthworm wouldn’t be so bad as far as karma was concerned. After all, they didn’t have to deal with broken waterlines and getting their kids to school on time in order to go pick up their brothers from the airport.
"Yes, Madison, just like last week."
The car in front of hers pulled forward, and Jeannie quickly turned off Madison’s Kidz Bop CD and flipped through the radio stations for something appropriately cool to be playing when she pulled up to the window. It was ridiculous, really, to be so concerned with impressing the college kid working the drive thru, but it didn’t stop her from wishing she’d brought one of Kaleb’s old Dead Kennedys tapes when she saw it was the guy with the piercing through his eyebrow.
"Can I help you?" he asked, the bored tone showing he wasn’t that impressed by the alternative station she had landed on.
"Yes, two Egg McMuffins, no meat, please. Oh, and two orange juices." The teenager pushed the buttons on the screen in front of him and stopped with an irritated sigh when Jeannie modified, "Actually, make that one orange juice and a coffee instead." With Mer coming, she’d definitely need coffee.
Jeannie checked her watch and quickly passed Madison’s food back to her when the woman at the next window handed her the bag. Traffic to the airport was going to be a mess this time of morning, but Mer and Colonel Sheppard could just wait. She’d just be happy if she managed to get Madison to school before the last bell rang, which she did with about thirty seconds to spare.
Jeannie had never regretted her decision to be a stay at home mom. Madison was still the first priority in her known world and Jeannie loved being there to see her daughter’s sleepy smiles in the morning and rambunctious ones as Madison crossed the school yard to greet her mother in the afternoon with her Tinkerbell backpack bouncing on her small shoulders as she ran. When they returned home, Jeannie would listen eagerly as Madison told her about her day at school as Jeannie prepared a snack in the kitchen, then settle down to help her daughter with her homework before starting dinner in preparation for Kaleb returning home from his afternoon lectures. It was a good life, a fulfilling life, one Jeannie would never think twice about… except, lately, she was.
Maybe it was having Madison gone to school for most of the day and the resulting free time. She had thought that with six hours a day she’d be able to use that time to return to her research, possibly write a paper. The problem was that without the backing of a grant or University research possibilities were extremely limited. Even if she could obtain funding, she didn’t have access to laboratory facilities, which limited her to purely theoretical research. Considering that the only theoretical work she’d been able to accomplish since Madison had been born had been classified by the SGC, not to mention gotten her kidnapped and injected with nanites, that didn’t seem like the brightest idea. It had also been absconded by another scientist and nearly resulted in the destruction of the world, at least that’s what Meredith had told her, if you could believe anything her brother said. Although, having seen the world Mer lived in, that sort of apocalyptic outcome was always a possibility. But that just meant there was the chance to step and play the hero and Meredith never passed up the chance to be the center of attention. Having helped out a couple of times now with the hero work, Jeannie could definitely see the appeal.
Apparently, the only good that had come out of the bridge theory she had developed was that it had allowed her to reconnect with her brother. Some might see that as just one more negative, but Jeannie tried to put a positive spin on things. Mer could be trying, there was no doubt, but since his time on Atlantis, Jeannie had seen a real change in him. He seemed to value family more than he ever had in his life, and for the first time since their falling out, he seemed to understand why she had made the choices she had. In fact, he had actually seemed interested in doing the same with his life. Things hadn’t worked out with Katie Brown, which was unfortunate, although in a way, not surprising. But by the time Mer started his relationship with Dr. Keller, he had definitely matured even more.
Mer had actually brought Jennifer up to meet Jeannie and her family when Atlantis had been trapped on Earth for several months the year before. Jeannie had thought maybe, just maybe, this would be the one for him. Although, Mer had been excessively attentive and doting and nothing like Jeannie had ever seen with her brother, as if he was afraid Jennifer would sneak out the back door while he wasn’t looking. Jennifer, however, seemed to have no problem with the attention and Jeannie wrote it off to that new relationship giddiness that overtakes some couples. She remembered those days with Kaleb, back when they would meet between classes for a quick make-out session in a secluded corner of the library, or if they had more time, a trip to his apartment to make love on his futon while Kaleb recited poetry he’d composed for her between gasps and thrusts that had the meditation beads dangling from the corner of the headboard clanking rhythmically.
Kaleb had always been eclectically romantic, the type who could quote the Ramones as easily as Keats, and the exact opposite of her father, which was probably why Jeannie had been so smitten with him from the day she met him. He was the one who introduced her to vegetarianism and meditation and the Kama Sutra, although, these days, the meatless diet was all that had made it past the post-doc stage of their lives. Not that there was anything wrong with that, because things changed when you had a child, and when you suddenly had to worry about a mortgage and car payment and whether or not your husband would make tenure so you could continue to make the mortgage and car payment while also managing to put some savings away for Madison’s future college expenses. Things changed, not necessarily for the better or worse, just… different.
They had changed for Mer over the past year, too. When Atlantis returned to Pegasus, Jennifer decided to stay behind on Earth. Her father was getting older and having a few health problems, and, according to Mer’s email telling Jeannie they’d broken off the relationship, she had never intended to stay on Atlantis more than two years anyway. Carson’s death and her subsequent promotion to Chief Medical Officer had drawn that out to four years, but Carson was back, in one form or another, and when the call came to leave Earth, Jennifer couldn’t bring herself to do it. Meredith, however, couldn’t stay behind. Couldn’t or wouldn’t… Jeannie honestly didn’t know with him. Even though he seemed to be in love with Jennifer, his first love would always be physics.
As much as he supposedly wanted to settle down and get married, until Mer could find a way to put someone before his love of almighty science, Jeannie knew he’d never find the happiness with another person he claimed to be seeking. Besides, Atlantis was full of life or death adventures, and as much as Mer complained about the constant danger, Jeannie could tell he relished playing the hero even more. Jeannie decided she’d take Mer aside during his visit this week and discuss it with him, although, honestly, Jeannie was starting to appreciate the draw of that constant adrenaline rush. As happy as Jeannie was to return home after her trips to Atlantis, there was a part of her that was a little bit jealous that Meredith was out saving the galaxy while she made chocolate chip cookies, that Mer was stepping onto different planets on a daily basis while she had a set routine that was so familiar that she could do it with her eyes closed most days.
Mer and Colonel Sheppard were arriving in less than half an hour−a fact that he had only let her in on two days before. Jeannie understood that her brother’s job involved a great deal of secrecy and last minute planning was par for the course, but surely he could give more than forty-eight hours notice before showing up on Jeannie’s doorstep, and with a guest no less. Of course, the fact that practically every hotel in the area was sold out because of a high school soccer tournament may have been why they were staying with her instead of getting rooms with real beds instead of the futons Mer complained about every night he’d slept on one. But two houseguests had meant cleaning out the office enough to unfold the futon in the corner so that everyone had a place to sleep, washing the spare sheets for the bed that hadn’t been pulled out in over two years, and giving the house an overall scrubbing. If it was just Mer visiting, a general tidying would have been enough, as he rarely noticed that sort of thing anyway. However, John warranted the full-blown deep cleaning, regardless of the fact that he would be polite enough not to say anything even if he did notice it. Although, why John Sheppard would want to come to Vancouver for his vacation instead of someplace more exotic was a mystery.
Of course, the shower in the master bath decided to develop a leak and flood the entire bathroom and half their bedroom last night. They had been up until three a.m. mopping and attempting a repair that proved to be beyond both her and Kaleb’s capabilities. The whole ordeal had resulted in Jeannie being exhausted and sleeping through her alarm that morning. She’d had enough time to get Madison into some clothes, throw on some jeans and a sweatshirt herself, and head out the door in search of a drive-thru for breakfast, then immediately to the airport.
Her cell phone rang and Jeannie figured it was Mer demanding to know where she was. To her relief she saw it was Kaleb’s office number. "Hey."
"So, you don’t sound too exasperated," her husband observed on the other end of the line. "I take it you haven’t picked up your brother yet."
"I’m on my way now," Jeannie told him. "We were running a little late this morning thanks to the shower."
"I thought you might be busy, so I called the plumber to schedule an appointment when I got in to school."
Jeannie smiled at the thought that it was one less thing she had to deal with this morning. "My knight in shining armor."
"I try my best. The good news is that he has an opening this morning. The bad news is that it’s in an hour."
The smile vanished from Jeannie’s face. "An hour? I’m still ten minutes from the airport. I’m not going to be able to make it back by then."
"It’s that or Tuesday," Kaleb informed her.
"We can’t go four days without our shower, not with two more adults in the house," Jeannie sighed. "All right, tell him I’ll be there just as soon as I can." Her phone beeped indicating another incoming call. "I’ve got another call. I’ll call you a little later."
Disconnecting from her husband’s pleasant, "love you," Jeannie was greeted by a less affectionate tone.
"We’re in baggage claim. Where are you?"
Jeannie rolled her eyes. "I’m on my way. I hit some traffic."
"Traffic?" Mer demanded as if it was the most absurd thing he’d ever heard in his life.
"Yes, Mer, traffic," she explained with exaggerated simplicity. "It’s an Earth-based phenomenon us lowly humans have to deal with on a regular basis."
"Well, hurry up. We’re starving."
Jeannie glanced over at the bag from McDonald’s that contained her own breakfast she hadn’t even had a chance to eat yet. "I’ll be there as soon as I can."
"We’ll be waiting at passenger pickup. McKay out."
The phone clicked off and Jeannie had to wonder if her brother’s phone etiquette had always been that bad or he’d just been using radio communications for so long that he forgot complex concepts like saying hello and goodbye. His greetings in person weren’t much better.
"It’s about time," he grumbled, picking up the duffle bag sitting beside his foot and moving to the trunk to look impatiently at his sister to open it.
Jeannie crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows as she prompted, "Hello, Jeannie, it’s wonderful to see you. Don’t you look lovely? Thanks so much for coming to pick us up and giving us a place to stay."
Mer rolled his eyes and waved an arm at her general appearance. "The lovely thing might be pushing it, but it is good to see you."
"I guess that’ll have to do." Opening her arms, she pulled her brother into a hug that he returned somewhat reluctantly, but with Mer you had to learn to take what you could get.
John stood a few steps back, apparently letting the siblings have their reunion, but he returned Jeannie’s smile when she greeted him. "Well, I think you look great."
John Sheppard always made Jeannie feel a little awkward. He’d always been exceptionally nice and pleasant and welcoming and maybe even a little flirtatious whenever she saw him, but she had the distinct impression that he was always on guard and certain things like hugging were completely off limits with him. A mere handshake, however, seemed belittling after all they’d been through together. She covered the discomfort by reaching for the duffle bag he carried.
"Thanks, John. I’m so glad you could come along with Mer; it’s a nice change of pace to see you under less bizarre circumstances than our last couple of visits."
John glanced over at Mer, but the breezy smile stayed firmly, if a little forcibly, in place. "Yeah, that would be something else, wouldn’t it?"
He gave up the bag with some reluctance that Meredith didn’t miss. "Why are you taking his bag but not mine?"
"Is something wrong that you can’t lift your bag?" Jeannie challenged.
"No, but the fact remains, you didn’t even offer to take mine and you had to practically wrestle Sheppard’s away from him."
"I’m simply returning the favor and being polite," she argued. "Something you might want to take note of for future reference."
John stepped in between them then and took both bags and placed them into the trunk. "There, problem solved."
She and Mer both looked at John with a slightly boggled expression that he would do that, but Jeannie recovered quickly. "Thank you, John. So, are we ready to go?"
As Jeannie moved back to the driver’s seat, she heard John mumble to her brother, "Play nice."
"I am playing nice," Mer countered. "I’m not playing favorites, but I’m playing nice."
"Rodney," John warned, and to Jeannie’s surprise, Mer fell silent.
Jeannie had always been somewhat amazed by the odd connection between John and Meredith. From the first time she’d met John, she’d been aware of how much Mer wanted to have John’s approval. At first she thought it was a respect thing, that her brother had finally found someone who impressed him enough and saved his life enough times that Mer actually felt admiration and gratitude. It didn’t take long, though, before Jeannie realized John felt the same way about Mer. Each time she saw them together, it just became more and more obvious the two genuinely liked each other and Mer’s dependence on John during his illness, not to mention John’s obvious distress over the thought that Mer might die, just went to show how much their friendship had grown over the years. Apparently, it wasn’t enough to have Mer sharing the food he stole from his sister.
"Oh, thank God, I’m starving," Mer announced as soon as he saw the bag of food on the passenger seat.
"Hey, that’s mine!"
Meredith ignored Jeannie’s assertion and took a large bite then screwed his face in disgust. "Where’s the back bacon?"
Only Mer would have the audacity to complain about the food he pilfered to the person he stole it from. "What part of vegetarian do you not understand?"
"Pretty much the entire concept is a mystery to me," he told her with a disgusted look at the sandwich in his hand, but it didn’t stop him from taking another bite.
Jeannie shook her head in exasperation but looked in the rearview mirror at John, who sat in the backseat, before she pulled back out into the airport traffic. "I’m sure you’re more than familiar with my brother’s extreme stinginess when it comes to food. I’d offer you something, but seeing as he’s eating my breakfast, I don’t really have anything to give."
"I’m good," John assured her. "I even let Rodney finish off my meal on the plane. Not that it was any great loss on my part."
Mer was taking a long drink from her coffee. "I don’t know what you’re complaining about; I thought the muffin was excellent."
"Oh, yeah? What flavor was it?" John asked incredulously.
Mer stopped to think for a second. "You know, I’m not really sure."
"My point exactly," John concluded.
Jeannie smiled at John in the mirror. "I’ll make us something to eat once we get home."
With a shake of his head, Mer spoke around the last bite of the McMuffin. "We need to go to the bank first."
"Mer, I have a repairman coming to the house in about forty-five minutes," Jeannie explained.
"My credit card expired and I need a new one," Mer justified. "It’ll take me ten minutes to have one reissued and then I’m done."
"You can go after you drop me at the house," Jeannie countered. "Once we’re there, you can take the car and go to the bank, or anyplace else you want to go, while I stay with the plumber. I just need the car back before three so I can pick up Madison from school."
"But that’s twenty minutes back this way when we need to go on the opposite side of town after the bank."
"There are other branches in town, Mer."
"I don’t know where those are, and I sure don’t have time to go searching for them if you want us back before three."
John spoke up then to stop the argument. "We can just wait until tomorrow, Rodney."
"Tomorrow’s Saturday, Sheppard," Mer pointed out irritably. "The government offices will be closed. It’s now or we wait until Monday. And I don’t see what the big deal is since the bank is right there when we exit the freeway to go to Jeannie’s house."
Jeannie had reached the end of her rope. Her brother had been there all of ten minutes and he’d already managed to drive her over the edge. "The big deal, Meredith, is that I have responsibilities. Sure, they may not be as grandiose as shutting down energy bridges between alternate realities, or stopping a Wraith invasion of Earth, but in my world, in my grand scheme of things, where my family is concerned, having a shower that works is important. And if you had any concept of what family means, you would understand that and stop being such a selfish jerk about things." Then is sunk in what Mer had said about where else he needed to go. "Besides, why do you need to go to a government office anyway?"
Mer was frowning at her, obviously waiting for her little rant to come to an end before he dove into what was sure to be a much longer and more scathing diatribe. But when he finally spoke, it was short and to the point.
"Sheppard and I need to apply for a marriage license."
"For who?" she demanded with a snort.
"For the two of us."
Jeannie laughed at the notion. "Mer, that’s absurd. If you can’t tell me because it’s classified, then just say…"
"It’s true, Jeannie," Meredith told her with unnerving sincerity. "We’re here in Canada to get married."
Jeannie laughed again, this time with less conviction than before, and the surety that Mer was yanking her chain disappeared entirely when she glanced in the rearview mirror to see the strained look on John’s face.
"What? Seriously?" she demanded of the man in the backseat.
John grimaced and shrugged. "Remember what you said about circumstances being less bizarre this time around? You may have spoken too soon."
That’s when Jeannie realized her life had just shifted a little more.
* * * *
Jeannie wasn’t entirely sure what annoyed her more−the fact that her brother made her stop at the bank and possibly miss the repairman, or the fact that her brother had kept something this huge from her for so long. Yeah, okay, actually she was sure.
"I can’t believe you would wait until now and just spring something like this one me," she snapped at him in a lowered voice as the three of them stood waiting in front of the array of desks for the next bank associate to help them.
"Which part?" Mer asked in genuine curiosity. John had stepped back a few feet, apparently leaving the discussion to the two siblings.
"All of it!" When a couple of people standing in the teller line turned to stare at them, John suddenly seemed very interested in the silk ficus in the corner. Jeannie lowered her voice to a harsh whisper to continue the conversation. "I mean, how long have you and John been together."
"About a month after the city…" Mer used his hands with a sort of rocket sound to mimic the Ancient city rising from the Pacific.
Jeannie frowned at the playacting, not really as interested in it or Mer’s answer to her original question as she was about her next one. "For that matter, since when have you been interested in men?"
"What? Do you want an exact date?" Meredith crossed his arms and used that superior tone that just pissed her off.
"I would just like to know if this is something new for you." Or something you’ve been hiding from me all my life, she added silently.
"Yes, I hit forty and decide to change my sexual orientation," Mer snorted acerbically. "It’s all a big mid-life crisis."
"You don’t have to be defensive about it," she countered to his sarcasm.
"Apparently, I do." Mer spread his arms. "If that were really the case… that it was just a phase and you could just wait it out a few years and it’ll pass… would it make you feel better?"
"Mer, look at my life. I’m a vegetarian, hybrid-driving, wife of an English lit professor; I’m about as liberal as they come. I am more than willing to accept that you are in a same-sex relationship. I just wish you had opened up to me about this earlier."
"Exactly when did you want me to start talking with you about this? Did you want the details about my adolescent dreams involving spandex-clad superheroes when you were in elementary school?"
Jeannie opened her mouth in shock, unable to respond to the comment. John now looked like he might be attempting to hide behind the potted plant.
Finally regaining some composure, Jeannie took a deep breath. "I’m just trying to understand why you kept such an important part of your life from me for so long? I mean, I can understand about not saying anything when Mom and Dad were alive, but why not when we were older?"
"Well, for one thing, it’s really none of your business. For another, I’ve never been exclusively with men, as you well know. And probably most importantly, I’ve spent most of my adult life working with the United States military. It’s not like I could exactly come out and tell you that I had a massive crush on my team leader during one of my emails home to you knowing that they go through the military classification officers before you see them."
Jeannie could sympathize with the challenges Mer must have faced during his time working with the Stargate Progam. Relationships developed with men in that position wouldn’t exactly be of the nature where you brought the guy home to meet your family, it wasn’t like that sort of thing was exactly welcomed in that military-run environment. Maybe he had been involved with men before and never told her because of the risk to the other man’s career, which brought up a very big question in regards to Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, who was not only here openly with Meredith, but was also planning to marry him.
Jeannie, however, decided that was a conversation for someplace other than a bank waiting area. All of this conversation should probably wait, but she couldn’t seem to stop herself from demanding, "But married?"
"You were the one who was telling me before that I should consider marriage," Mer countered matter-of-factly.
"A year ago you were thinking of marrying Jennifer, a year before that it was Katie, and now John? I never said for you to try to marry every person who stops to give you the time of day!"
The expression on Meredith’s face went from irritated to infuriated in a flash and he glanced quickly at where John was standing. That’s when Jeannie realized she had said something in her exasperation with her brother that she shouldn’t have. Not that she wasn’t seriously thinking it, but because the look on John’s face made it clear he had had those same thoughts, those same doubts, about himself. He no longer looked like he wanted to disappear into the artificial tree; he looked like he wished he wasn’t there at all. Meredith, on the other hand, looked like he could throttle her where she stood for bring those doubts to the surface again.
"Oh… John… I didn’t mean to suggest you were…"
Her apology was cut short when the front doors to the bank flew open and five men wearing ski masks and carrying a variety of guns came through the door.
"What the…?" Mer started as soon as he saw the men, but he went silent as soon as John stepped in close and gripped Mer’s bicep the same time he pulled Jeannie back behind them.
Jeannie’s eyes widened in shock, but she managed not to scream like a couple of other women had, although she did cower and cover her head when one of the men fired his shotgun into the ceiling. It really didn’t make her feel any better that both John and Mer, men very accustomed to gunfire, cringed away as well, especially when both of their hands went to their thighs for a sidearm that wasn’t there.
"May I have your attention please," the man in the lead announced loudly as the other men in his band gathered around him pointing handguns and even a couple of automatic weapons at the people in the bank. "We’ll be robbing this bank today. If everyone remains quiet and calm and does exactly what we say, we’ll be out of your hair and on our way in a few minutes and no one will get hurt. If anyone decides to try anything, we will shoot you dead. Thank you for your time."
Jeannie’s heart was pounding in her chest as she dared to peek over her brother’s shoulder. John still held tight to Mer with one hand while his other arm was fencing Jeannie in on one side, keeping her behind them in a motion that was reminiscent of how Jeannie would stop Madison from running into traffic at a busy intersection. Protective− John was always protective of those around him. It was a trait Jeannie had always admired about him.
The robbers had kicked over chairs and stanchions with retractable nylon rope to clear a space in the center of the room and were moving the bank patrons and employees to sit in a group as they collected cell phones along with any valuables that caught their eyes. One of the men grabbed Mer’s other arm and pulled him roughly free of John’s grip, practically pushing him onto the floor toward the others. Jeannie gasped, hand to her mouth when John instinctively lurched toward him and the robber pointed his handgun into John’s chest.
"Easy," John coaxed. "We’re not going to try anything."
"Shut up!" the man ordered, his words muffled slightly by the ski mask he wore.
Mer was staring back at them from the floor, eyes wide in worry, watching as the man still held the gun pointed squarely at John and Jeannie behind him. "Look," he tried to reason, "just let them come over here…"
The gun swung to point at Meredith and fire two shots into the floor a few inches from him. "I said, shut the fuck up!"
This time Jeannie did squeal along with several other people who were apparently convinced her brother had pushed the guy too far. By the way Mer was squeezing his eyes shut and using his open hands as a flimsy shield against the next onslaught of bullets, he was evidently worried about the same thing.
John made a guttural sound in the back of his throat, a denial of what appeared to be coming, even as he lunged forward to tackle the gunman. Meredith was backpedaling out of the way as John and the robber hit the marble floor, the gun trapped between their two bodies. The other bank robbers didn’t even had time to take more than a couple of steps in their direction to break up the scuffle before the gun went off, the sound muffled by their bodies.
Mer flinched visibly at the sound, and if possible, his eyes went wider, as he called an anguished, "John!"
For a second, neither man moved, then John groaned and rolled off the gunman with a hand to his abdomen.
"Sheppard?" Meredith was already crawling toward him and trying to pull John’s hand away as soon as he reached his side. "Oh God, that son of a bitch shot you."
John’s face was screwed tight in pain. "Shit."
"Why the hell would you do something so utterly stupid?" Mer accused, still trying to move John’s hand.
"Was… going… to shoot…you," John grunted out in explanation.
"So you let him shoot you instead?" With little more than a glance at where the gunman lay motionless on the floor, Meredith mumbled, "Well, he’s not going to shoot anyone else." The spreading wet patch across the man’s black shirt showed where the bullet had entered his chest.
When John still wouldn’t move his hand, Mer wrapped his fingers around his wrist. "John, listen to me; you have to let me see."
John finally relented, and Mer tugged up the bottom of the blood-stained shirt. It had the colonel grimacing in pain, but Mer exhaled in relief at what he found. "It’s not deep, maybe just a powder burn."
John didn’t seem to believe it, because he lifted his head from the floor in an attempt to look down his body to see for himself.
That relief was short lived, however, when the man in charge reached them, pushed Meredith out of the way, to make room to kick John violently in the side. John sucked in a harsh breath and curled into a ball, but not before another kick was delivered, followed quickly by others, each accentuating his words.
"That was my fucking vault man!"
Jeannie found herself backing into a desk, trying to get away from the violence. Mer, however, did just the opposite.
"Stop it!" he yelled, throwing himself between John and the booted foot, taking a kick himself but practically covering John’s body with his own. "Can… fix it," he grunted in his own pain.
"You can bring him back to life?" the head thug demanded incredulously, preparing to deliver another kick.
"No, I can open the vault," Mer told him through gritted teeth.
Mer prepared for another kick, but the foot stopped. "You can open a bank vault?"
The thief didn’t seem to believe Meredith, and from the warning way John ground out, "Rodney," the robber wasn’t the only one.
Mer, however, was just as self-assured as always. "Yes, I can open it. Everything is done with computers these days. Let me on the manager’s computer and I can hack the system and get you in. It’ll just take a little time."
"Shit." The approaching sound of sirens had the robbers looking toward the door. "Looks like we’re not going anywhere anytime soon."
When the man seemed to be weighing his options, Mer promised once more. "I’ll get it open. Just don’t hurt anybody." With the man still straddling the fence on his decision to let Meredith help, Mer appealed to Jeannie. "Tell him. Tell him I can open it."
"He…" Jeannie cleared her throat to keep her voice from cracking from fear. "He can do it. He has multiple PhD’s in physics and mathematics."
Apparently, Jeannie’s endorsement worked.
"Get him up," the leader ordered one of his men, who yanked Mer to his feet.
"Wait…" John started to follow, pushing himself up with unsteady arms, only to find himself right back down on the floor when the head thug used the butt of his shotgun to hit him in the head.
"What the fuck?" Mer demanded, fighting against the man holding him to get back to John.
John lay still on the floor, blood already streaming from the injury to his head, which just made Meredith struggle harder to reach him.
The gun in Mer’s face, however, stilled him. "I don’t think you understand exactly what’s happening here. I’m the one robbing this bank, which means I’m the one who says what does or doesn’t happen here."
Mer ignored the threat, offering one of his own. "You can’t rob anything until I open the damn vault. You touch him again, you get nothing."
The two men stared each other down, neither looking to back down. Finally, the man holding Mer pushed the issue with his boss. "Make up your mind before the cops make their move."
The leader gave another shove to Mer, this time toward the offices at the far end of the bank. "Bring those two," he ordered his other men. "In case the professor here needs motivation to work a little faster."
"I’m not a professor," Meredith started to correct, but was cut off with a yelp when the man twisted Mer’s arm behind his back and kept him moving toward the office marked D. Marsh, Manager.
Jeannie had a gun waved to move her along, but she tried to keep an eye on John who was more out than in at this point and was being practically dragged along by the man motioning her forward.
Guns. Jeannie hated guns, even more so since she’d been taken from her own bed by gun point by thugs working for a desperate man. These men were just as desperate as Wallace had been, although for much less forgivable reasons. Still, at least this time, she didn’t have to worry about what the gunmen might do to Kaleb or Madison. Now she just had to worry if she’d ever get to see them again.
Don’t think like that, she chastised herself silently. She’d see them again, although Kaleb had no clue she was in this situation, and if it went long, no one would be there to meet Madison after school. That had only happened once before when she’d had a flat tire on the way to pick her up, and Madison had been devastated to come out and not see a familiar face waiting. And now it might happen again, not to mention the repairman who would be waiting…
The sound of John mumbling her brother’s name in his less-than-lucid state brought Jeannie out of her thoughts and back to the here and now. He was still bleeding from the gash on his head, and she wouldn’t be surprised if he had a couple of broken ribs from the beating, all because John had simply tried to protect Mer. And now Mer was going to crack open a bank vault in an attempt to protect both John and Jeannie.
Suddenly, a broken shower didn’t seem that important any more.
* * * *
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