Disclaimer:Not my characters; not my worlds
Summary:The English major at home.
( Kaleb Miller and the Green Knight - Part 1 of 2 )
Jeannie found him in the maze of curtained-off rooms beyond the ER. She wrapped her arms around his head with gentle care and ruffled his curls the way she did, her hand as light as a feather.
"Where's Madison?" Kaleb asked. "Is she all right?"
"She's fine, sweetheart. She's in the waiting room with a babysitter, right outside."
"A babysitter? Who--?"
Jeannie smiled like she did when she was trying not to cry. "Everything's OK. How are you feeling?"
"I'm all right. Nothing happened to me."
"I'm so glad." Jeannie laid her face against his, and suddenly Kaleb was on the verge of tears. He held her hand tightly and focused on the blue curtain.
"Mer is going to be all right," Kaleb managed at last. It was important to say everything out loud. "His sternum is cracked, but his doctor is hopeful there's no damage to his heart or lungs. The kid who attacked him had a center punch. It's a little spring-loaded device," he insisted, concentrating fiercely on getting out the words. "Firemen use it to break windows. And, uh, thieves to smash car windows, obviously. When it went off against Mer's chest, we both thought it was a gunshot. Oh, god, Jeannie."
Just like that, his fragile control was gone again. He clung to Jeannie, dry-eyed but shaking like a leaf. "Don't let Madison see me like this."
"Hey, sweetheart. Easy, easy." She held him, rocking gently. When he closed his eyes, he was back in their darkened bedroom, infrared dots climbing the walls. He gasped and forced his eyes open. "I'm so sorry," he whispered. "Mer is the one who broke his chest on a trip to the bookstore, and I'm sitting here losing it. Why can't I get a grip?"
"Oh, babe." Jeannie's arms were so careful around his shoulders. "Don't ever tell my brother I said this, but his job, what he does on a daily basis out there, he's like some kind of ridiculous superhero. He survived a lobotomy in a cave with a battery-operated drill!" Her trill of laughter was on the verge of hysteria. "How can ordinary people compete with that?"
"You're right," Kaleb said weakly. He was hollow inside. "I can't."
"I don't want you to. I don't want me, to. And as soon as Meredith gets better, I'm going to break his chest all over again for getting you into this."
Kaleb shook his head "Not his fault. Not by any stretch."
"I know, I guess. I was just so angry and scared, and I'd really like someone to yell at."
Kaleb managed a wan smile. "That's the McKay in you."
Jeannie laughed ruefully. She was so beautiful, Kaleb had to cup her cheek with his palm.
"Are you ready to get out of here?" she asked.
He dropped his hand reluctantly and nodded.
Madison's babysitter was a woman Kaleb had never seen before. She was short and lean, with auburn hair pulled back in a careless ponytail, and she had a lovely smile as she listened intently to Madison. From across the waiting room Kaleb couldn't make out the words, just the high-pitched piping of his daughter's happy voice. It didn't touch the hollow ache inside, but it seemed in that moment, at least not utterly unendurable.
"Who is that?" Kaleb whispered. The woman looked up and saw him and Jeannie, touched Madison's shoulder and pointed them out to her as well.
"That's Teyla," Jeannie said quietly.
"Teyla? That Teyla? From--?" Kaleb pointed vaguely towards the ceiling as Madison came running to them.
"From Mer's team, that's right," Jeannie said as Madison reached them and flung her arms around Kaleb's legs. He felt too shaky to scoop her into his arms, but he stroked her shoulders, and took comfort from the beating of her fierce little heart against his knee.
"Are they all here?" he asked Jeannie weakly, before leaning over to tell Madison, "Your Uncle Mer and I are both very sorry you had to leave summer camp early today."
"The whole kit and kaboodle are here," Jeannie said, as Madison confirmed mournfully, "I didn't get to finish his potholder."
"And you have told me you will be able to finish Rodney's ...potholder?...tomorrow. By then he will be well enough to appreciate it," Teyla reminded her gravely. "You must be Madison's father, Jeannie's husband, Kaleb."
"I'm Kaleb. Jeannie tells me you're Teyla."
"This is Teyla Emmagen," Madison interrupted importantly. "She's Uncle Rodney's friend, and now she's my friend, too. She said so!"
"Teyla is a very kind and patient person," Jeannie said. "The paperwork is finished for now, so I'd like to take my family home."
"Of course," Teyla bowed her head slightly. Kaleb couldn't help feeling he was being granted an audience with royalty, and wasn't sure if it was just Teyla's manner, or if Jeannie had once told him that she was really was some kind of queen. "Ronon will accompany you."
"Oh there's no need for that--" Jeannie started to say, but Kaleb thought it was an excellent idea. The world was a hopelessly dangerous place. The bigger the guards around his family, the better.
"I need to see Mer before we go," he said. "Have they moved him to a room upstairs yet?"
"The last I saw, they were still waiting," Teyla said.
Kaleb unwrapped Madison from around his knees and bent to kiss the top of her head. "You look after your mother. I'll be right back." And before anyone could stop him, he slipped back around the reception desk and found the tiny treatment room where Mer had been almost since their arrival.
The little room felt even smaller now. Ronon Dex stood in the corner, behind the stainless steel cabinet with gauze and cotton balls, his massive arms crossed over his chest. John Sheppard was sitting in the room's single chair, his splinted leg propped on the plastic trash can labeled 'medical waste.'
Meredith lay on the examination table. His eyes were closed, a blanket pulled up as far as his bare white shoulders and an oxygen mask over his face. An automatic cuff around his arm was wheezing slightly as it measured his blood pressure, and red dots blinked across banks of equipment.
Darkness crept in from the edges.
"Kaleb," John was saying with his lazy smile. "Good to see you again. Lousy circumstances. I guess the circumstances were lousy last time, too, come to think of it."
"Hey." Suddenly Ronon was right in front of Kaleb, though he hadn't noticed him moving. "You in there?"
"I'm fine," Kaleb lied, stumbling back.
"Are you sure you're ready leave?" John asked, sounding dubious.
"I wanted to see how Meredith was doing."
The silence went on for too long. Ronon finally said, "He's getting whiny. He'll be okay."
"The doctors want to do another MRI of his chest," John said. "Then they'll take him up to a room."
"He is lying right here," Meredith said, but his voice was muffled by the oxygen mask. Kaleb locked his knees and stared very hard at the wall.
"Come on," Ronon said. "We're going home. Did Teyla tell you I'm staying with you folks for now?" he asked as he herded Kaleb out of the room.
"She said," Kaleb confirmed.
Ronon nodded. "The men who sit behind the big desks think this was just a robbery, that nobody was targeting McKay. Could be they're right. On the other hand, we're going to make sure."
"You all came an awfully long way."
"Not so much," Ronon said mysteriously. By then they were back in the waiting room.
Teyla touched her head to Ronon's, told the rest of them that Rodney was sure to be fine, but that they would be contacted if anything changed, and that she would see them all tomorrow. On the way to the parking garage, Ronon bent down and asked Madison if she would like him to carry her. She seemed a little awed by him, but she lifted up her arms trustingly and allowed him to swing her up. Ronon didn't speak again until they stopped at a neighborhood pizza place to get take-out for dinner, and Jeannie asked him what he liked.
"Lots," was his answer.
Kaleb ordered him an extra large pepperoni with sliced zucchini. As he waited for the people behind the counter to box up his pizzas, he thought Meredith would consider it terribly unfair that he was buying processed pork for Ronon. His hands started to shake, and he shoved them deeply into the pockets of his jeans.
Madison was ecstatic over the pizza, which was a rare indulgence in their house. Ronon finished his entire pie with gusto, looked up and said, "Good," while wiping tomato sauce out of his goatee. Jeannie took Madison upstairs for a bath, and Kaleb was surprised to find that this horrible day really was almost over. It seemed to have lasted about a million years. That reminded him to ask Ronon, "So how did you and John and Teyla get here so fast?"
Ronon shrugged. "Sheppard was already here."
"Here? In Vancouver?"
"Here on earth. McKay wasn't the only one on medical leave. Then the Stargate was already open when news came through about McKay, so Carter just sent us through. She understands about team." For the first time Ronon looked slightly concerned. "Is it okay to talk about the Stargate with you?"
"It really isn't," Kaleb admitted. "But I won't tell anyone."
Ronon nodded, satisfied.
"So why is John angry at Mer?"
Ronon rolled his eyes. "Those two. They're like a couple of rats in a sack."
"Mission went bad. Sheppard messed up his ankle and couldn't walk, so McKay left him and surrendered himself to the mercenaries who were chasing 'em so they wouldn't find Sheppard."
"Mer did that?"
"Wasn't a bad plan," Ronon said. "McKay knows his own value, but he also knows Sheppard's dangerous. They might have decided to kill Sheppard on the spot. Problem was, it took us almost thirty-six hours to find McKay. By then he'd got sick from some tainted water, and for more than a day he'd been shitting himself white in that little room where they had him locked up."
"My god. Like cholera?" Kaleb started shaking again. "The dehydration could have killed him." He clenched his hands into fists to cover.
"Nearly did. Sheppard was ripshit over it. Then McKay starts to get better, expects Sheppard to thank him for being brave. You can imagine how that went over."
"I think so. Mer wears his heart on his sleeve."
"You do, too," Ronon said.
Kaleb sat back sharply. "What are you talking about?"
"'Heart on your sleeve.' Does it mean your feelings are out there in the open?"
"That's what it means," Kaleb agreed warily.
"Well, yeah, then. You're upset over what happened to you and McKay this morning. You look stupid trying to hide it. Just makes everyone around you uncomfortable."
Kaleb turned his face away, trying to get himself under control. Then he wondered why he was bothering and turned back. He noticed, vaguely, that Ronon made their couch look child-sized.
"My brother-in-law was attacked this morning. He might have been killed. He was hurt, begging for help, and I couldn't even get out my phone to call 9-1-1." Kaleb's voice shook. He felt on the verge of tears. "How would you suggest that I stop being upset about that?"
Ronon shrugged. "Your people like to talk everything to death. Try talking about it?" He scooped up the remotes on the coffee table with one big hand and held them out. "Wanna show me how to operate your television set?"
Madison didn't even protest when Kaleb went back to the stanzas about the boar hunt during her bedtime story, though she was fretful and obviously not listening very closely. Kaleb asked her if she wanted to hear "Goblin Market" instead, but she shook her head and just asked if Uncle Rodney would be home tomorrow.
"I hope so sweetheart," he said. Then he swept her into a hug so tight that she squirmed free, grumbling in protest.
Jeannie asked how he was feeling when he came to bed. He couldn't answer, so he held her tight, too. Then he tossed and turned, worrying about nightmares, for most of the night. He got up at one point to go to the sofa so he wouldn't bother Jeannie, but remembered that Ronon was there, their personal night guard. He couldn't even think of going to the guest bedroom. The idea of sleeping on Meredith's futon made him want to cry.
Ronon was right, he thought, looking up at the darkness of the bedroom ceiling. He was messed up.
Ronon didn't complain about oatmeal for breakfast, not even when Jeannie apologized for being out of maple syrup and served it with brown sugar and sliced apples instead. He didn't ask for coffee, drinking the same tea that Kaleb and Jeannie did with every indication of pleasure. Kaleb only half-listened to Jeannie and Ronon as they worked out the complicated carpooling schedule for the hospital and Madison's morning at summer camp. Ronon, Jeannie and Madison left together after breakfast. Apparently, no one was worried that yesterday's attack had been aimed at Kaleb, because they didn't mind leaving him alone in the house. That was fine with him, although Jeannie grabbed his hand on the way out the door and told him to remember she had her cell phone with her.
He washed the breakfast dishes and then started a marinade for tofu, which would keep if they ended up going out to dinner tonight. He minced garlic and grated ginger, and then he had no idea what to do with himself next. He even found himself wishing that Meredith would come home, just so they could talk.
Jeannie and Madison came home with Teyla around noon. Madison proudly presented a stack of stretchy, finger-woven potholders in garish colors. Teyla smiled. "I told her Rodney would be very pleased."
"I am sure he will be." Kaleb agreed, though he had trouble making himself smile back.
"I believe you promised to show me a math game on your computer," Teyla prompted gently.
"Yeah!" Madison shouted and took Teyla's hand to drag her to the living room.
Alone together for a moment, Jeannie asked carefully, "How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine. I'm not the one who got my sternum cracked yesterday." Then he couldn't believe he had said that out loud. Neither could Jeannie apparently, or maybe it was all too easy for her. She gave him a hug and didn't reproach him.
She checked on the marinade, pronounced it wonderful, and decided on the spot that they should have vegetable kebabs for dinner. It was too late for the Wednesday morning farmers' market, but they could probably find enough good vegetables at the produce stand in town. She went toget Madison and Teyla, and soon enough Kaleb was alone in the house again.
It was no easier this time. He was failing miserably in his attempt to settle down with the Bolaño novel, and was just about to get up and do laundry when a taxi pulled up outside. He walked to the front porch. Meredith and John Shepherd were both climbing painfully out of the back of the cab, Ronon watching the two of them with a smirk.
Kaleb met them halfway up the front walk. "They let you out. How are you feeling?"
"I'll feel better when they catch the idiot who did this to me," Meredith grumbled. He was moving with extreme caution, like a very old man. Next to him, John Shepperd was limping along gamely on his cast. They looked like they had just returned from the wars.
Actually, Kaleb supposed, in a way they had.
He got everyone inside and settled in the living room. "Does anyone want lunch?" he asked, taking refuge in his duties as a host.
John shook his head. "Rodney made sure we didn't leave the hospital before his meals. He's got a thing for institutional food."
"Well, yes, and I knew I wouldn't be getting pork chops once I was at Kaleb's House of Militant Vegetarians."
"Pepperoni is a vegetable?" Ronon asked innocently.
"What?" Meredith said. "No, pepperoni is not a vegetable. Why would you even ask that?"
"No reason," Ronon said more innocent than ever. "But I could do with a sandwich."
Kaleb wasn't sure if it was actually intended as blackmail, especially since he'd already offered to make lunch. Nevertheless, he got up with alacrity to make a stack of almond-butter and grape-jelly sandwiches. From the kitchen he could hear the murmur of the three men's voices. John was as taciturn as he had been when the three of them arrived after Jeannie's kidnapping. That thought brought back the shakes. Kaleb put down the bread knife before he dropped it.
Meredith and Ronon both had two sandwiches apiece, Meredith after being assured the almond butter was the creamy variety. "Yes," Kaleb promised, "It's smooth. Madison hasn't outgrown worrying about bumps in her food."
"Some kids never grow out of that," Ronon said, smirking at Mer.
As they were finishing, Jeannie arrived home with Madison and Teyla, carrying in bags brimming with fingerling potatoes, onions, carrots, zucchini and pattypan squash. Most of the household was immediately drafted into washing, peeling, chopping and blanching vegetables. Jeannie and Meredith, the latter looking very white and tired, disappeared upstairs together. John stopped cutting onions to watch them go.
After a time, Jeannie returned and caught Kaleb's elbow, where he was standing at the sink helping Madison scrub carrots.
"Why don't you make Meredith a cup of coffee?"
"Well, he probably needs to be resting."
"Yes, and coffee helps him relax."
So Kaleb plugged in the kettle. John was the only person who knew what measure of coffee grounds to put in the filter, although he didn't want a cup for himself.
Kaleb took the cup of fresh coffee upstairs, and was not terribly surprised to find Meredith sound asleep. He backed up carefully, but he must have made a sound, or just the smell of coffee was rousing enough, because Mer's eyes flew open.
"Is that coffee? Come back here."
"Jeannie thought you would like a cup."
"Sometimes Jeannie is smarter than she acts," Rodney said happily, reaching for the coffee. Then he saw Kaleb's face. "Although she usually acts smart! Very, very smart."
"Yes," Kaleb said flatly. "She does." It was hard to be too angry with Meredith. Jeannie had arranged a blizzard of pillows at one end of the futon, but Mer didn't look very comfortable. He held one shoulder a little higher than the other, and he'd split his lip at some point, probably when falling against the car, and today the edges of the cut were swollen and angry. His eyes darted back and forth as though he were working himself up to ask a difficult question.
Kaleb thought he probably didn't want to hear it, whatever it was, but he backed up to lean against the door frame and forced himself to ask, "Was there something else?"
"No," Mer said quickly. Then he amended himself almost as quickly. "Well, yes. Ronon told me something. Actually, Jeannie told me something too." He finally looked Kaleb in the face. "You're freaked out over the way you reacted when that stupid kid shot me in the chest."
Kaleb took a deep, unhappy breath. "I froze. I didn't do anything to help."
"Yeah? So? I was at the bookstore with my brother-in-law. I wasn't on a mission with Colonel John Shepherd and his crack team."
Kaleb leaned his head against the frame and closed his eyes. He could still see infrared dots in the darkness, but he knew they were just a memory, now. "Thank you," he said. "You're not the first person to make that point. And while you would think that my wife and everyone else making it absolutely clear to me that I'm no hero would make me feel better-–"
"Oh, don't be stupid," Meredith snapped. "How long have you been telling Madison that green knight story now? More than six years? Have you listened to a single word? Sir Gawain freaks because, oh my god, he actually flinched a little when the green knight swung an axe at him. And then Big Greenie has the nerve to act all superior. Even Madison understands the green knight is talking out his ass there. The green knight doesn't worry about being decapitated because he's fucking magic, and Gawain's not. It's not a fair basis of comparison."
At length Kaleb opened his eyes. He even felt an unwilling smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. "Madison is very big on fairness."
"Yeah, well, the world isn't, but it ought to be."
"So are you saying I shouldn't feel bad because I'm not magical?"
"It sounded better in my head," Meredith admitted, "I am saying you're Jeannie's husband and Madison's father, and you should give yourself some credit."
"And you are? Magic, I mean."
"I'm a scientist. That's even better."
"Well, maybe you should use some of that magic on John."
Meredith's face closed down.
"I'm sorry, Mer," Kaleb said, meaning it. "But you should've told us how sick you had been. Ronon says you nearly died."
Kaleb didn't even bother to answer that.
"Okay, no he doesn't. Forgive me for not wanting to share the details of the most undignified way to die ever. I thought being shot in the butt was pretty bad, but no, it turns out that a terminal case of the runs while locked in a room without plumbing is even worse."
"I can't imagine. John can, though. He probably can't stop seeing it. It's not fair, either, but he probably blames you a little bit for his nightmares."
Mer looked at him thoughtfully for a long minute. "Are your nightmares back?"
Kaleb jerked his head in a nod.
"Are they about Jeannie?"
"I've heard--from friends, that is--that a therapist can help you ground out dangerous currents." Mer waved his hands around in a way Kaleb assumed was supposed to indicate Electrical Engineering for English Majors. "They don't disappear, but you can keep them from shorting your critical systems."
"I've talked to a counselor for years," Kaleb said. "More about the stress of academic life than PTSD, though."
Mer shrugged, then groaned when his chest shifted. "Might want to bring it up. Maybe they can even suggest a literary metaphor for you."
Grilling dinner for seven people on Kaleb's tiny hibachi proved something of a logistical challenge, but they managed, cooking the blocks of marinated tofu first, then laying the kebobs across the coals four sticks at a time. If the last of the potatoes were a still a bit crunchy after being cooked over dying coals, no one complained except Meredith, and he gobbled down his helping of grilled tofu over rice without even stopping to ask if they had chicken to put on the grill.
Madison was ecstatic, in charge of everything and insisting loudly and repeatedly that everyone had to be quiet around Uncle Rodney, because he'd been in the hospital, and around John, because he had a broke foot. Whenever laughter and conversation around the table got a little too loud in Madison's judgment, she popped up to demand peace and quiet. When her demands finally became too draconian, Kaleb scooped her up and said goodnight to everyone. He invited Madison to do the same, but she was too busy wailing at the bitter unfairness of leaving the party first.
She sulked through her bath, but by the time Kaleb got her into her pajamas and tucked into bed, she had forgiven him enough to listen to the story, through Gawain's kisses.
"He þe haþel aboute þe halse and hendely hym kysses
and eftersones of þe same he serued hym þere..."
Kaleb kissed his daughter and pulled up the blankets as her eyes closed. When he got up and turned around, John was standing in the door. Kaleb followed him into the hall. "I'm glad you didn't fall on the stairs," Kaleb said with a glance at the splint on his leg.
John dismissed his concern. "McKay's getting tired. OK if he spends the night here?"
"What? Of course. We were expecting him to -- all of you, if you won't feel too crowded. I'm sure Jeannie meant to invite you."
"She did. I just thought --" John shrugged. "I thought you might like some peace and quiet after, you know. The full-bore Rodney McKay and company experience."
"Peace? Quiet? I wouldn't know what to do with it."
John smiled, an expression that actually reached his eyes, and he whacked Kaleb lightly on the arm. "You're a good man, Kaleb Miller. No matter what McKay says about you."
At the door to the guest room, Kaleb saw the futon had already been unfolded, and Meredith was stretched out with his eyes closed, the woven potholders gaudy around the foot of the bed. John sat down on the mattress next to him and picked up one of Mer's laptops. Meredith's eyes opened.
"Wha--?" he mumbled drowsily.
"Don't get up, genius." John put his hand on Mer's shoulder, and shot a wry, happy expression up at Kaleb. "We're sleeping here, tonight."