John’s eyes cracked open as Jeannie pressed the handkerchief against the gash on his head. Jeannie gave him what she hoped was a reassuring smile as he looked at her in confusion, obviously expecting someone besides her to be caring for him.
Jeannie cut off his question and his attempt to straighten from where he was lying on the couch in the bank manager’s office. "It’s okay, John. Just lie still."
Lifting the corner of John’s shirt, Jeannie checked the small golf towel with the bank’s logo they had found in the office to use as a dressing for the powder burn on John’s side. Fortunately the bleeding had practically stopped from that wound, she just wished she could say the same for the cut on his head.
Meredith looked up anxiously from the computer at the sound of Jeannie’s lowered voice. "Sheppard?"
"Work." The gunman who had been left to guard them gave Mer a less-than-friendly reminder as he nudged him with his gun. "You can have your reunion later… if you can open the safe."
"I’m all right, McKay," John promised, even though he couldn’t hide the slur.
Meredith frowned when John dropped his head back down, obviously unable to focus on where Mer stood across the room.
The robber swung his gun to where Jeannie and John were on the couch. "Do I need to permanently remove the distraction, or are you going to get your ass back to work?"
"It’s a biometric lockout; I need the manager," Mer announced. "I need his password and probably his fingerprint."
"I thought you said you could hack into the system," their captor argued.
"I can, but that takes time. It won’t be long before the cops kill the power in here, so every bit of time I can save gets me closer to opening the vault door for you." Picking up a framed picture on the desk, Meredith tapped an impatient finger at the older man in the photo standing with his wife and what was probably a son who was wearing a college graduation gown. "This man can save me time, time you’re wasting by arguing with me." He crossed his arms when the guard didn’t move. "Go tell your boss I need the manager, and I need him alive."
The gunman looked through the glass wall to where his boss was talking on the phone in the next office. The man didn’t look happy, at all. The phone had rang a few minutes before and Jeannie assumed it was the police starting their negotiations for the release of the hostages. Odd how she could think that with such detachment, like she wasn’t one herself.
When the man still didn’t move, Mer elaborated. "Sooner rather than later would be good."
Finally deciding he should at least let the guy in charge know about the problem, their guard left the room. It wasn’t like they could go anywhere anyway what with a room full of armed men between them and the only exits.
Mer, however, took advantage of the situation to move to where John lay on the couch and quickly claimed John’s hand. Jeannie stood from where she was sitting to make room for him.
"Hey, how’re you doing?" Meredith asked the question, but the way his eyes scanned across John, it was obvious he would make his own decision.
"Would be better if you weren’t aiding and abetting felons," John admitted with a sigh, pulling their linked hands down to rest on his chest as he gave up on keeping his eyes open and let them drift closed again. "Does the Canadian prison system allow for conjugal visits?"
"Don’t worry about that," Mer assured. "Even if there was a way to open a vault door remotely, I have no fucking clue how to do it."
"What?" Jeannie demanded in an outraged whisper. "You’ve been lying this entire time?"
A gunshot in the lobby had John snagging Mer’s shirtfront and pulling him down the same time Jeannie ducked beside him to squat on the floor.
"Will the bank manager please introduce himself?" the leader of the band of thieves requested loudly.
Meredith dared to raise his head when there were no more shots. "I had to say something or he was going to kill John." Jeannie couldn’t really argue the point because she’d been convinced the man was going to beat John to death out of anger alone.
John, however, asked the question behind Jeannie’s outburst a little more clearly. "What the hell are you up to, Rodney?"
"I’m going to try to contact the SGC. The Daedalus is in orbit, and with our transponders they can beam us out."
"What about all the other people in there?" Jeannie tilted her head toward the bank lobby and the two dozen or so hostages sitting on the floor. One of the men, the manager Jeannie assumed, was being pulled to his feet.
"What happened to the whole concentrate on your family concept you were espousing a few minutes ago?" Meredith wondered in disbelief that Jeannie expected him to help the others, too.
John’s tone was chastising, enough so that Meredith rolled his eyes and mumbled, "Fine, fine, I’ll see what I can do to save the masses."
"Just don’t do anything stupid," John advised.
"Rousing pep talk, Sheppard. You really missed your calling as a motivational speaker."
Mer started to stand but John held tight to his hand and the grip he held on Meredith’s shirt, although he was blinking to bring Mer back into focus. "How about don’t do anything that will get you killed before our honeymoon? Is that motivation enough?"
Meredith’s face softened at the comment in a way Jeannie had rarely seen, and he leaned down to murmur quietly, "You were the one I always wanted to give me the time of day. You know that, right? Just you."
John used Mer’s shirtfront to pull him even closer and exchange a quick, soft kiss. Jeannie was actually surprised at how normal it seemed to see them do that, like it was a natural extension of how she’d seen them interact a thousand times before. That’s when she realized she’d been wrong earlier. Meredith hadn’t settled for John after things didn’t work out with Katie and Jennifer, he’d been settling for them when he thought he’d never get what he really wanted.
"You can bitch to me again about taking my sweet time after we’re out of this mess," John told Mer, finally releasing his hold on him. Jeannie could hear the unspoken threat that Mer damn well better be there to do the bitching.
Meredith stood when the leader entered the room with the bank manager in tow. The manager was tall, wearing a stylish navy blue, double-breasted suite, and… young. No wrinkles, not a single gray hair; he looked like he wasn’t even thirty years old. When did they start letting people younger than Jeannie manage banks? He looked like he should have been in the drive-thru window at McDonald’s being impressed with her alternative music selection instead of sitting behind a mahogany desk with muzak versions of popular old songs being piped through the PA system. And exactly when did Duran Duran become old enough to qualify for covers by instrumental orchestras?
Mer must have been thinking the same things as Jeannie. "You’re the manager?" He looked more closely at the photo, realizing that the manager had been the one graduating.
The man nodded nervously. "Douglas Marsh, branch manager."
"Douglas?" With an unimpressed shake of his head, Mer moved back to the computer. "Give me your password, Doogie."
"Password?" Douglas looked nervously between the men with the guns and Meredith. "I can’t do that," he told them with a nervous laugh. "I’ll lose my job."
A handgun was put to the young manager’s temple by the leader. "Or you can lose your life."
"Oh, Jesus," Douglas whimpered, squeezing his eyes tight at the press of metal against his head.
Jeannie felt John tense beside her and she unconsciously moved her hand to grip his.
"Hey," Mer was saying, doing his best to ignore the gun, "we need him alive."
"Only if he’s willing to give up the password," the robber challenged, pressing the barrel of the handgun harder against the managers head.
Giving up on reasoning with the gunman, Meredith turned his attention to the manager. "Look, I understand all about jobs that require you to put your life on the line. Believe me, in my line of work, I’ve done it more times than I care to think about. But bank manager isn’t one of those life-on-the-line jobs."
It only took a few seconds for Douglas to decide Mer was right. "It’s a biometric lock on the computer, it needs my thumbprint. I’ll open it."
The phone in the adjacent office range again, the one the robbers had been using to negotiate with the police. The leader lowered his gun, ordering the other gunman to watch them as he went to answer the phone next door. The bank manager exhaled and closed his eyes in relief that he no longer had a gun literally to his head before Mer took him by the arm and dragged him over to the computer.
"Unlock it," Meredith ordered tensely.
This was his chance. With the computer open and the leader occupied and not hanging over his shoulder, Mer could possibly have time to contact the SGC, but it was going to be a small window of opportunity to say the least.
Douglas bent over the keyboard and unlocked the computer. As soon as he finished, Mer elbowed him out of the way and started typing. The young manager, however, stayed close, and Jeannie could hear him inquire quietly. "Who are you? CSIS? Mounties?"
"What?" Mer asked through his distraction of working.
"You said you’d put your life on the line in your job, so you must be law enforcement or maybe military." There was hope behind the words, hope that Mer would be able to save them all because he had the knowledge and experience to do just that.
"Please," Meredith scoffed with an insulted tone. "I’m an astrophysicist."
Or he could dash the glimmer of optimism the bank manager had found on the stereotypical images of pocket protectors and protractors that came to mind with Meredith’s chosen occupation. John actually snorted lightly at the look on the poor manager’s face to find out that he was placing all of his hopes on the kind of guy he probably gave wedgies to in elementary school. Little did he know that particular astrophysicist was probably more competent and had a better chance of getting them all out of this alive than an entire regimen of Royal Mounted Police could ever hope to.
That was until the lights went out.
"Oh, you have got to be kidding me," Meredith exclaimed to the room, the cosmos, and whoever else was within earshot.
Through the glass walls of the adjacent office, Jeannie could hear more than see the head gunman banging the phone on the desk, screaming expletives until the device shattered into an unrecognizable mass of wires and circuits and plastic bits. It seemed the negotiations hadn’t gone as well as he had hoped.
Storming back into the manager’s office, he peeled the ski mask off his face and walked deliberately up to Mer to grab a fistful of his shirt and yank him forward. "You’re coming with me."
John pushed himself up from where he lay on the couch. "The hell he is."
Jeannie fell back when the man turned the pistol on John, fell back from the look on the gunman’s face as much as from the line of fire.
"You do not want to push my fucking buttons right now," the criminal warned. Dark hair stood on end from where he’d removed the mask to reveal even darker eyes in the gloomy light that was seeping in from the front doors and windows of the bank. Desperate. The man was beyond desperate and at a point where he didn’t care who saw his face. If possible, that just made him even more dangerous than he had been before.
The thing was, the thought of him taking Meredith to God only knew where had John looking nearly as desperate and dangerous and not the least bit scared of the gun in his face.
"I’ll go," Mer offered in order to break up the stalemate the two men had found themselves in. "Just let them come with…"
"They can’t open the goddamn vault," the man told Mer as he shoved him through the door. "You said you can."
"But that was when I had a computer," Mer argued, waving an arm to encompass the dark room. "If you haven’t noticed, there’s no power."
"Would you rather I just shot you now?" the robber offered.
"Yes, that would be very productive and beneficial to your undertaking," Meredith snapped.
The gun shifted back to point at John. "Or maybe your boyfriend here, Mr. Tough Guy. He’s had it coming since I walked into this damn place." The eyes narrowed, seriously contemplating pulling the trigger, before he suddenly shifted again and pressed the gun against Jeannie’s forehead. "Or maybe her brains on the woodwork will get your attention? Who is she to you? Somebody special?"
Jeannie couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, couldn’t stop the tears from silently flowing, couldn’t do anything but tremble where she knelt on the floor with cold metal pressed against her skin and John’s knee pressed against her shoulder. But what could John do? Nothing. As much as she knew he wanted to help, there was absolutely nothing he could do to stop the man if he really wanted to prove a point.
The gunman looked back to Mer and then at Jeannie once more. "I’m going to go with sister. She looks like you a little; I can see it around the eyes." He tilted his head in contemplation, a small knowing smile curving the corners of his mouth, even though his hand never wavered as it held the gun firmly against Jeannie’s head.
"I’ll go," Mer repeated, this time a little quieter. He spoke louder when the man kept staring at Jeannie with that eerie smirk on his face. "I said I’ll go with you."
"Damn straight you’ll go with me," the gunman responded, still staring at Jeannie with a touch of amusement capped with a wink. "Don’t worry, Sis. If he finds a way into the vault for me, you’ll all be just fine."
He finally lowered the gun and Jeannie collapsed back against the couch, fighting to hold back the terrified sob that was threatening to burst out now that she could suck in a breath. John was trying to stand, and for a split second, Jeannie was scared he was going to leave her there alone.
Before the man could threaten John again, Meredith spoke up. "Stay with Jeannie. I need you to do that for me." When John just tried to push to his feet again, Mer pleaded, "Please, John; Sam will never speak to me again if something were to happen to her."
Sam. Not Kaleb. Sam, as in Colonel Samantha Carter at the SGC. Mer had managed to get a message out, and now he was trying to let them know it was just a matter of time before help arrived.
John eased back down to his seat on the couch, his arm wrapping around Jeannie’s shoulder where she leaned against his leg. It wasn’t exactly the hug of welcome he had skipped at the airport, but it was more comfort than she wanted to admit that she needed at the moment. That was saying a lot considering the way John’s hand bit into her arm with the same steely tension as his voice when he threatened the gunman.
"Anything happens to him and you are dead."
The gunman’s lips curled to mirror the taunting smile he’d had when he’d had a gun on Jeannie. "That’s tempting enough that I think I’ll let you live just to see what you plan to do."
With another shove, he had Mer moving toward the door. Jeannie watched Meredith go, watched the way his eyes never left John’s until a second push had him glaring at the robber with the gun, then vanishing down the hall.
"John?" She looked up at the Colonel when her brother was out of sight.
John, however, was still staring after him. "He got a message off the SGC," he told her, finally pulling his eyes away from the door and trying for an encouraging expression.
Jeannie forced a weak smile through the tears that continued to flow, because even she knew sending a message and it being received was two different things entirely.
* * * *
Douglas, the bank manager, had volunteered a bottle of cold water from his mini-fridge, and Jeannie gently rested it against the lump on John’s head. She wiped at the dampness still on her face and took a deep breath before willing her voice to stay steady as she tried her best to find a way to erase the feel of the gun on her head.
"Do you want to hear something funny?"
John opened his eyes at Jeannie’s question, taking in her fragile mental state that had to be written all over her face, but he didn’t raise his head from where it lay against the back of the sofa. "You’re not going to try to tell a joke are you? Because if your skills are anywhere near as crappy as Rodney’s in that area…"
With a small smile at the memory of how true John’s observation was about her brother, Jeannie shook her head. "No, nothing like that, not unless you’re interested in some really great knock knock jokes Madison came home with last week. But I was planning on letting her be the one to share those."
"Best not to ruin the punch lines then," John agreed.
He was trying, just as Jeannie was, to pretend that things weren’t as bad as they seemed, to deny that anything bad might happen to Mer. It was a nice delusion they’d bought into together, and Jeannie was more than happy to play along.
"No, I was just thinking last night, as I was sopping up water with every towel in the linen closet, that it’s pretty pathetic when the most excitement I have in my life is a busted pipe. And I thought about how you guys get to go out and do amazing things in even more amazing places every day while I’m back here mopping. You two are out saving lives and the biggest challenge I’ve faced in months is saving the wood flooring in my bedroom. Of course, you guys come into town, and one trip to the bank completely leaves my busted waterline in the dust."
"You know what I was thinking yesterday?" John asked without waiting for an answer. "That Rodney and I were just going to get to be normal for a few days. I mean, thousands of people apply for marriage licenses every day. Right? Just a normal, run of the mill, thing to do. No guns or tac vests required… unless you’re John Sheppard and Rodney McKay." John rolled his eyes and shook his head in frustration.
"Yes, it seems all I need is a few days with my brother to remind me that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the…" she started to say universe, but stopped herself seeing as Douglas was still within earshot in the office and she decided to stick with the traditional, "…the fence."
She’d never thought that maybe all Meredith wanted in his life was a little normalcy and that John would want the same. That those mundane routines she had found herself in would seem foreign and exotic to those two, while their lifestyle seemed much more interesting to the outsider looking in. Greener grasses. Apparently everyone thought they existed somewhere. Who would have thought her brother, of all people, would go looking for them in a Vancouver wedding chapel with an officer in the Unites States Air Force? And, seriously, how did he manage to hook someone like John in the first place? She had once told Mer he was no John Sheppard; evidently that didn’t mean he wasn’t capable of sleeping with one.
Yeah, Meredith ends up with a guy like John and she couldn’t even get the kid at a fast food restaurant to smile at her. Talk about your greener grasses.
Sighing herself, she confessed ruefully. "Unfortunately, I still feel the need to tune the radio to the college station when I go through the McDonald’s drive thru."
Douglas spoke up from where he sat pivoting back and forth in the office chair behind his desk. "If it’s any consolation, I think you’re MILF material."
John did lift his head at that. "Did you just call her a MILF?"
"A MILF?" Jeannie asked in surprise.
Douglas apparently took her question as confusion. "Yeah, you know, a Mother I’d Like to…"
"I am more than aware of what it means, Mr. Marsh," Jeannie assured him.
John seemed more offended on her behalf than she was herself. "You’re the bank manager, for Christ’s sake."
"I’m sorry!" Douglas insisted, quickly concluding he should have just kept that thought to himself.
John, however, didn’t seem to be buying the apology. "You don’t say things like that to one of your customers. Hell, you don’t say that to a woman, period."
"I know! I’m sorry!" Douglas reiterated. "I don’t know why I would say that. It’s just… the robbery, and I’m probably going to lose my job for giving them the password, and she seemed so down…" When John just glared at him in disapproval, he mumbled, "It was meant to be a compliment."
"That is a compliment?" John demanded.
"It’s okay, John," Jeannie told him as he sat up straighter. "I can see how he might think that… in an odd and crude sort of way."
"Well, I don’t like people being odd and crude with my future sister-in-law," John grumped, placing the water bottle back on his head as he leaned back once more, although he continued to glare at the bank manager.
Jeannie couldn’t help the small smile that threatened at the corners of her mouth, and it only had a little to do with the fact that being a MILF was actually a bit of a compliment. After all, she’d heard Angelina Jolie was a MILF and she was beautiful and charitable.
John noted her amusement with a frown. "What?"
"Nothing. It’s just, that was very sweet of you. Especially considering my brother is odd and crude with me the majority of the time."
John tilted his head in acquiescence. "Well, to be fair, he’s that way with everybody."
"Not you," Jeannie countered. "With you he was always a little…different. From the first time I met you, I knew he genuinely liked you. I guess I didn’t realize exactly how much he really liked you until today." She gave a small embarrassed laugh. "Obviously, since he plans to marry you."
"He wanted to tell you before, but it’s not something we could risk in an email or phone call."
"How are you going to risk it at all?" Jeannie asked curiously.
With a shrug, John explained, "Well, the way I figure it, if we got caught, I’d get the boot for what we’re doing now, whether we’re married or not." Lowering his voice, John admitted, "Although the bogus names that will be on the license won’t hurt to keep it a secret for as long as we can."
"Bogus names?" Jeannie laughed at the thought. "Seriously?"
"John Sherman and Rodney McCaine." Leaning in closer, John confessed, "Radek even helped make some fake I.D.s for us."
So, it wasn’t a complete secret on Atlantis. That thought made Jeannie feel a little better, that they weren’t totally alone in all this.
Settling back again, John continued. "And down the line, if the rules change or we leave for whatever reason, then we can have the clerical error fixed." He put air quotes around the ‘clerical error’ with his free hand. "Besides, the way I figured it, if I asked Rodney to marry me, then maybe he’d stop trying to ask other people to marry him."
Jeannie’s eyes widened in surprise. "You asked him?"
"You didn’t think you were the only one to notice his annual habits of declaring his love to pretty female doctors, did you?" John snorted.
The reminder of her comment earlier had Jeannie’s face warming. "John, what I said before… I didn’t mean to imply that you weren’t the one who was meant to be…"
He cut her off with a raised hand. "Hey, I get it. You were surprised and caught off guard and rightly so. And I did drag my feet… a little… when it came to letting Rodney know how I felt." He admitted the last with reluctance. "But since we both came clean with each other about that stuff, things have been good. Real good. Better than good. And neither of us plans to look back."
Jeannie studied John for a moment, trying to see him the way Mer must have, with more vulnerability than she’d ever noticed in him before, and the capacity to love someone. No, more than the capacity, it was a need and Mer was the one to fill it.
She smiled at what she saw. "Greener grasses?"
"The greenest," John agreed.
"He’s lucky to have you, John," she told him sincerely.
John shifted uncomfortably under the compliment, and he couldn’t stop the longing look toward the door of the office before he forced the mask of positive thoughts back into place. "Well, I may not be a MILF, but I do have my good qualities."
Their shared grins vanished, though, when a series of gunshots rang out. Even though the shots were muffled, both Jeannie and John looked out into the lobby area hoping against hope that the shots had come from there. But when they saw the gunmen out there looking at one another warily to hear the gunfire, it didn’t take Douglas to confirm their fears.
"That came from the vault downstairs."
Douglas hadn’t even finished his sentence when the water bottle fell to the floor as John went to his feet. The plastic bottle rolled under the couch, unnoticed and discarded by John, the same as the pretense that everything was going to be okay. John swayed enough that Jeannie reached out a hand to steady him, but he pulled away and walked with deliberate steps the short distance to the door where their guard was standing.
"Get back in the room," the masked man ordered.
John couldn’t have cared less about the gun the man had pointed at him. "I want to see McKay, and I want to see him now. Either you take me to him, or you bring him to me."
The guard scoffed at the threat. "You’ll see him when we let you see him. Now, sit down and shut the fuck up."
The gunman may not have been impressed with John, but Jeannie was fairly certain the bright flash and loud explosion that was quickly followed by a military strike force of black-clad men in body armor did make an impression.
By the time Jeannie peeled herself up off the floor and could start to see more than vague shapes in the low light, the lobby was enveloped in full chaos. The gunmen were being ordered to disarm and forced to the floor to have their hands secured behind their backs.
Douglas dared to peek out from behind his desk. "Is that the ETF team?"
"Yeah," John agreed readily, "must be ETF." But he shot Jeannie a questioning look at the name. "The F doesn’t stand for the same thing as the one in MILF does it?"
"Emergency Task Force," she clarified taking John’s offered hand. "Like the old S.W.A.T. television series. Mer loved that show."
"Why am I not surprised?" John pulled her up and started scanning the room for the team commander.
Jeannie, however, knew better than to think this was the ETF. The fact that Meredith’s message had been received by the SGC was confirmed when one of the men approached John.
"Colonel Sheppard, are you okay?" The soldier’s eyes went straight to the blood on John’s shirt and head.
"Fine, Captain," John dismissed quickly. "Did you secure the vault?"
"Negative, sir. After local law enforcement reported shots fired, we were beamed into the storeroom. Our orders were to secure the hostages then pull out before the cops make their move. Local PD gets to claim the kill on this one."
"Got it− you were never here." John put out a beckoning hand. "But McKay’s down in the vault with the mastermind behind this cluster and if you guys can’t stick around, I need to go get him."
The captain handed over his sidearm and an extra clip of ammunition as Jeannie asked, "Can’t you just… you know." She flittered her fingers to simulate a transporter beam.
"Sorry, ma’am, we’re under strict orders not to do anything to compromise program security."
And beaming a man away would definitely reveal some things the SGC didn’t want known, especially if the man being beamed away was standing next to a civilian, no matter how bad of a person that civilian may be.
The captain put a finger to his ear to better hear the radio transmission there. "Copy," he responded before calling, "Alpha Team fall back!" As the team started jogging back toward the storeroom, the captain took a second to apologize once more. "Sorry, Colonel, ETF is about to storm the building."
"I understand. Thanks for the help." John nodded as he checked the gun in his hand. "Give me a radio, too. If we need a medical extraction…" John seemed unable to finish the thought.
"And program security?" the Captain reminded, but he stopped one of his men to take his radio and hand it over.
"If McKay’s hurt, there won’t be anyone to see him being beamed out," John promised with steely determination as he fastened the radio to his belt.
The captain gave one sharp nod of understanding then turned to join his men. Shoving the extra clip in his back pocket, John started out at a trot toward the door that led down to the vault, slowing only when he realized Jeannie was following him.
"Look, Jeannie, why don’t you just wait here for the ETF to show up?"
"Why don’t you?" she challenged as she kept pace with John.
Her only saving grace was the same reason she wanted to go with him−Mer was down there where someone had fired a gun, and both of them were desperate to know if he was okay, desperate enough not to waste time arguing.
"You stay back behind me and do exactly what I say." When Jeannie nodded in understanding, John started toward the vault. "I’ll never hear the end of it if I let one of the few people who can buy us a wedding gift get killed."
Jeannie followed close behind him, keeping to herself her fears that they might be one groom short for the wedding.
* * * *
The crash of glass and sound of men storming the lobby upstairs was soon drowned out by the sound of yelling as Jeannie and John made their way down the stairs.
"Who the fuck did you call?" the robber was demanding when they pushed the door from the stairwell open quietly.
Mer’s voice was hovering between panic and annoyance as he yelled back, "Nobody! I’ve been down here with you this entire damn time."
Jeannie exhaled heavily in relief at the sound of Mer’s voice, and John’s shoulders slumped momentarily in what she was sure was the same emotion.
"That’s why you were so interested in that panel, wasn’t it? So you could call the cops."
John waved Jeannie back as he inched his way along the wall, but even from this distance, she could hear a zap and sputter that sounded like an electrical box on the fritz. There was the occasional flicker of red and blue sparks and a streak of light from a flashlight that showed that the hallway opened into the room that contained the bank vault where the two men were arguing.
"It’s an electrical supply box," Mer insisted. "How the hell was I supposed to call anyone from there? The only reason I was interested in it was because I thought I might be able to get some power back up and running. Of course you blew that plan to hell, literally."
That would explain the gunshots they’d heard, a temper tantrum of the deadliest kind. Of course, Mer couldn’t keep his mouth shut to stop the guy from doing the same to him, and Jeannie was sure the condescending tone wasn’t going to help matters.
"Besides, I’m not sure what you thought I’d tell the cops even if I could contact them. It’s not like they didn’t already have the place surrounded when we came down here. It was just a matter of time before they made their move like they did, like it’s just a matter of time before they come down here and find you."
"Yeah, but they haven’t yet."
"What?" Meredith asked in confusion.
"They haven’t come down here yet, even though Lover Boy up there would have told them where we were as soon as they busted in. Which makes me wonder, yet again, who did you call and what the fuck are you up to?"
"I didn’t call anyone," Mer insisted again.
The beam of light from the flashlight spun wildly to be followed by a pain-filled cry and a ragged gasp as Meredith demanded, "Are you… nuts?"
"Thanks to you, I’m awfully damn close," the robber admitted. "Now get your ass up."
"Let me… catch… my breath," Meredith panted tightly.
"I said now!"
The light whirled again, accompanied by another a grunt of pain from Mer, and John gave up on stealth altogether and broke into a run to reach the end of the hall. Jeannie followed at a brisk walk, lagging behind and out of harm’s way as John had instructed, but she jerked to a stop at the sound of another gunshot. She didn’t start moving again until the flashlight rolled to the opening of the room to shine the beam of light down the hallway.
Jogging the rest of the way, she scooped up the flashlight, her stomach twisting at the weight of it in her hand and the fact that it had been used as a weapon against her brother. "Mer?"
It was John, however, who answered, "Jeannie, stay back."
She was already shining the light into the corner where she heard a groan to see Meredith curled into a ball, a bruise already forming on the side of his face, but he was alive, so she was a little confused by why John was so adamant that she keep away. That was until she swung the flashlight around to see John with the barrel of his gun pressed to the bank robber’s forehead the same way the man had threatened Jeannie earlier… and John’s expression was chillingly familiar.
The criminal had his hand to his shoulder, blood staining his fingers red from where John had shot him moments before. It didn’t stop him from staring up at John with a small sneer of certainty. "You won’t do it."
"You’re dumber than I thought." John’s finger tightened minutely on the trigger.
"John," Jeannie called as calmly as she could. Behind her she could hear the sound of booted feet in the stairwell; apparently the ETF had heard the gunshot, too.
John, however, ignored both. "You threaten my family, you beat him, and you think I’ll just give you a goddamn pass?"
Jeannie had seen the caring side of John earlier, the worried and vulnerable persona that had made him desperate to help Mer. What she was witnessing now was the flip side of those emotions, still filled with desperation but twisted and dark and from a place of fear of what could have been lost. It was love turned inside out so that all the frayed ends and messy seams holding it together showed for anyone to see, if they were willing to look.
The way the confident smile faltered on the face of the bank robber suggested he’d finally taken the time to see what was right before him.
"John," Jeannie tried again. "You don’t have to do this. We’re safe. We’re all safe."
"The world could be safer," John responded, his aim not wavering. "You know, greener grasses."
"You already have the greenest, remember?" Jeannie countered as the door to the stairwell opened behind her. "You don’t want to ruin that over someone like him, do you?"
John seemed to be weighing his options for a second and Jeannie was worried she hadn’t gotten through to him, but then his finger eased on the trigger and she breathed a sigh of relief.
"Lower your weapon!" One of the officers behind them ordered. "Put down the gun!"
Jeannie turned, shielded her eyes against the lights on their guns, and raised her hands with the flashlight she held. "Don’t shoot! We’re hostages."
Although considering that the robber was the one being held at gunpoint, she could see where they might be a little confused.
John carefully placed the gun on the floor and stepped back with his hands raised so that the task force could see them. "We need paramedics down here." His eyes went to where Rodney still lay curled on the floor.
Armed men flowed around her and John to where the robber sat on the floor to secure him. One of the men stopped and lifted his helmet. "Don’t worry, Mrs. Miller. Mr. Marsh told us what happened."
Well, maybe being a MILF had paid off for her after all. Looking back, she saw John had dropped to his knees beside Meredith.
"Rodney?" he called, his hand brushing gently through Mer’s hair. "Rodney, can you hear me?" Blue eyes fluttered open at the hail and John smiled to see recognition in them as Meredith lifted his head. "No, lie still, the paramedics will be here soon."
"Jeannie?" he asked, disobeying the order and moving his head enough to lean it against John’s leg so that John could rest his hand on the back of Mer’s neck.
"I’m here, Mer," Jeannie assured, squatting beside John. "Everything’s going to be fine."
Mer didn’t open his eyes as he inquired, "SGC?"
"Here and gone," John informed him quietly, leaning down to whisper at his ear, "You did it, you sneaky son of a bitch."
" ‘Course I did," Mer snorted in hazy arrogance. "What’d ya’ ‘xpect?"
"A few less bruises would have been nice," John suggested.
"Ruin our wedding photos?" Meredith sighed in disappointment. He shifted with a groan and cradled his ribs.
"We’ll still be in them. After today, that’s more than enough for me," John promised, brushing his thumb gently along the bruise on Mer’s jaw.
Jeannie could just picture those photos now… black eyes, purple bruises, red-shot eyes, all overlaid in green. The greenest green of the greenest grasses either of them had ever seen.
* * * *
The exclamation came from the guest bedroom, and Jeannie almost stopped on her way down the hall to her own room to see if Mer was okay. She decided not to when John’s voice answered.
"Sorry. Do you want another ice pack?"
"I feel like a goddamn popsicle already, evidently grape flavored given the color of my bruises."
Through the door, Jeannie heard John easily maneuver around the complaints. "I like grape."
"Well, that’s good considering you’re even more purple than me," Mer grumped. "We can be one of those popsicles with two sticks in one wrapper. God, what were those things called?"
"Two-stick popsicles?" John offered.
"Yes, that’s it." Jeannie could just picture her brother’s blackened eyes rolling. "How could I have ever forgotten a brand name like that?"
"I have a mind like a steel trap," John informed him. "Could have been in MENSA."
The fact was, Jeannie was surprised either man even remembered his name, much less the name of a frozen confection. They had spent most of the day at the hospital… X-rays, CT scans, the full gamut of tests. The ER doctor wanted to admit them both, keep them for observation considering they both had concussions and busted ribs, but neither wanted to stay. The argument had been for privacy sake considering that the two were being hailed in the press as the men who had managed to subdue the mastermind behind the entire robbery attempt. Meredith had scoffed at the term, declaring him a mediocre-mind at most, and that was being gracious. But the fact remained that the press had been camped outside the hospital for the entire day.
Their only saving grace had been the fake I.D.s John had mentioned, and that Jeannie’s name had managed to stay out of the press as anything more than one of the hostages. There was no way anyone could tie either John Sherman or Rodney McCaine to Jeannie Miller, so that once they convinced the doctors to release them and they had been loaded up with pain killers, they had managed to sneak back to Jeannie’s house with a little help from an Asgard transporter beam. The SGC was more than happy to keep the head of military operations and the chief science officer for their top secret base in another galaxy out of the spotlight.
Jeannie had ignored the five calls from the plumber on her phone and called Kaleb as soon as the bank was secure and her cell phone was returned to her.
"Where have you been?" he’d demanded. "The plumber has been calling you for over an hour. He finally had to leave for another job."
"We had to stop at the bank," she told him, once again fighting to hold back the tears now that the danger was past.
"The bank?" Kaleb asked before his voice changed to wary denial. "Not the bank that’s been on the news all morning?" When Jeannie finally broke down and let that be her answer, Kaleb had asked a million questions to ascertain she and the others were okay, then he had sighed on the other end. "Hon, I know Meredith’s your brother, but I think it may be time we went back to not speaking to him again."
Jeannie had snorted wetly at the comment, sniffling enough to tell him, "Maybe after the wedding."
"Wedding?" Kaleb’s confusion had been obvious in his tone.
Jeannie had managed a laugh as she looked over to where John was holding Mer’s hand while the paramedics wheeled his gurney through the bank lobby then released it as they moved outside to where the press had been snapping pictures and shoving microphones in their faces.
"Believe it or not, being held hostage in a bank robbery wasn’t the biggest surprise of my day."
Jeannie still wasn’t sure Kaleb had actually believed her about Mer and John until the men dumped both of their bags in the guest bedroom and collapsed on the bed together. After seeing that, Kaleb had suddenly remembered he had some papers to grade.
"All right, MENSA boy," Meredith was saying as Jeannie stood eavesdropping…that was, passing by in the hallway. "From now on you can be the infallible genius who saves everyone’s lives with your quick thinking and keen intellect."
"And what will you be?"
John groaned and Jeannie leaned back slightly so she could see through the small crack of the door and watch as he rolled over with a wince to spoon up behind Mer.
"I’ll be the roguish flyboy who oozes bravado and reeks of hair gel." Mer tangled his fingers with John’s that rested against his chest.
"Reeks?" John demanded. "I don’t think your hair to gel ratio would allow for you to actual reek of the stuff."
Jeannie bit her lower lip to keep from laughing at the frown on Mer’s face at the comment.
"Behave yourself, Dr. Sheppard, or I’ll be forced to point out your aural features and their resemblance to a certain Vulcan science officer."
"So now I’m Spock? Does that make you Kirk, Major McKay?"
Mer lifted his head with a frown. "Major? Why the hell don’t I get to be at least a lieutenant colonel like you?"
"Because if you’re not a major, you can’t be a MILF." John’s grin was obscured by the way he kissed the nape of Mer’s neck.
"A MILF?" Mer seemed confused by the application of the term until he was finally able to substitute major for mother in the acronym and a slow grin spread across his face. "Ahhhh. Major McKay it is. Although the honeymoon has been delayed… yet again."
John shrugged and kissed Mer’s shoulder. "Just because the wedding has been delayed a few days doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate the honeymoon."
"I’m not exactly up on the whole wedding etiquette and protocol, but I’m pretty sure the correct order is wedding then honeymoon, Sheppard."
With a kiss to Mer’s ear, John challenged his conclusion. "Since when have you passed up eating dessert first when given the opportunity?"
Meredith seemed to consider the idea before rolling over gingerly. "True. But make it snappy before the pain meds wear off."
The deepening kiss they shared was more than enough of a cue for Jeannie to leave, and she actually took the time to silently close the door completely, just in case Madison, or any of them actually, wandered out of bed and down the hall at an inopportune time. Not that she wasn’t happy that her brother had finally found the one for him, but acknowledging Mer’s bliss and witnessing it were two very different things.
Continuing on her way to her own bedroom, Jeannie stopped to check on Madison, retrieving her stuffed dog that had dropped to the floor and tucking it under her small arm limp in sleep. Even with all the excitement of the day, Jeannie was disappointed she had missed picking up Madison from school. It was Friday, treasure box day for those kids who had been on their best behavior all week. It was almost funny to think that John and Mer had both almost been killed today because of a bad man had who wanted to break into a vault, and her daughter had been rewarded with a treasure box award for being good. Apparently, the criminals didn’t learn that lesson in elementary school.
Jeannie fingered Madison’s treasure box prize that still hung around her neck as she slept; a set of plastic Mardi Gras beads. Beads that were, no doubt, made in China by children working for substandard wages as they were having their cultural identity stripped because of the Egg McMuffin she’d ordered for breakfast. Jeannie actually did feel bad that a part of her didn’t care what the socioeconomic ramifications of metallic blue beads were as long as Madison was happy. But sometimes, concentrating on the green grass in your own front lawn was the best you could do, especially after a day like Jeannie had just had.
With a final kiss to Madison’s head, Jeannie made her way down the hall to her and Kaleb’s bedroom. Kaleb was propped up in bed with a stack of essays on his lap and he looked up when she walked in.
"Everybody settled in?" he asked, scooting slightly to make room for her in their bed.
"Looks that way." Jeannie yawned and sat on the edge of the bed. "What’s the name of that adjunct professor? The one whose husband works in the vital statistics office?"
"Yeah, that’s her. Do you think you might be able to call in a favor or something and have her husband open the office for a bit tomorrow?" When Kaleb looked at her in confusion, she continued. "For Mer and John to get their marriage license."
Kaleb studied her for a second as if he was a little surprised by the request and she threw up her hands defensively. "What? They’re heroes. They might as well take advantage of the fame to get a marriage license."
With a small quirk of his lips, Kaleb told her, "I’ll give her a call in the morning."
"Thank you," she replied, challenging him with a look that dared him to give her a hard time about it. His grin remained, but he turned back to his grading. Climbing under the covers, she glanced over at the top paper Kaleb was marking in red ink. "What’s the topic this week?"
"Whitman," he told her distractedly, circling another sentence and making a note in the margin of the essay.
At the top of the page, Jeannie read the quote the student had used for her paper.
I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars.
The poem Leaves of Grass was tough for anyone.
Jeannie remembered trudging through it her sophomore year and hating every second of it. Even when Kaleb was writing his dissertation on twentieth century poets and he tried to explain it, she’d never really understood most of the subtleties of the poem… until now. It was doubtful Walt Whitman had Meredith McKay in mind when he wrote that line, but after today, it seemed tailor made for him and John.
"Can you still quote it?" she asked, scooting a little closer.
Kaleb was intent on the paper. "Quote what?"
"The verses of Leaves of Grass you used to back when we first met."
Jeannie’s smile was soon mimicked by her husband as he caught on to what she was insinuating. "I think a few stanzas have stuck with me."
Sliding down to wrap an arm around her, Kaleb kissed her, then her neck and began to recite against her skin.
"I draw you close to me, you women
I cannot let you go, I would do you good,
I am for you, and you are for me, not only for our own sake, but for others' sakes,
Envelop'd in you sleep greater heroes and bards,
They refuse to awake at the touch of any man but me."
Jeannie Miller had seen her share of heroes and bards in her life, two of them currently right down the hall in her suburban home in Vancouver. She had seen greener grasses on the other side of the universe in a city that didn’t have any grass at all. But as Kaleb’s lips moved along her throat, Jeannie knew that she was more than enough of a hero and bard for her daughter, for her husband, and even for herself. She had seen the stars, just as Mer and John had, but more than that, she had found the joy in a leaf of grass, just as she hoped they would someday have their chance to experience. And after living through both, Jeannie decided her grasses right here at home were pretty darn green all on their own…
…although being a MILF didn’t hurt either.
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