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Fanfiction: Crossroads - Part III

For author's note and disclaimer see Part I.  Back to Part II.

They drink up, pay their bill and catch a cab to the hotel. It's early evening but Jennifer follows Shelley's instructions to change into her nightshirt and pads down the corridor in her dressing gown to Shelley's room. Shelley's in blue silk pyjamas. Jennifer feels like she's fifteen again and on a sleep over.

They sit on the massive bed with bowls of ice-cream and glasses of wine. The wine is probably not a good idea on top of the cocktails but Jennifer ignores the sensible voice of caution in her head and drinks anyway.

She's licking ice-cream off her spoon when Shelley raises the subject again.

"Did it ever occur to you that you didn't have to choose either of them?" Shelley asks.

Jennifer gapes at her.

"Well, that answers that." Shelley says dryly. She sweeps a strand of dark hair back over her shoulder.

Jennifer rallies. "Oh, come on, Shelley," she says, "if you had two guys interested in you, would you walk away from both of them?"

"I'd probably try them both out." Shelley jokes. "Anyway, we're talking about you not me." There's a flicker of pain that floats across her expressive face and Jennifer has a pang of guilt that she's monopolising the night with her problems and maybe Shelley has some of her own.

"Well, it didn't occur to me and I…I wanted to go out with Rodney." Jennifer says. "I wanted him to say he loved me and not have a brain parasite in his head when he said it. I wanted to go on a real date with him and not a fruit cup thing that he'd asked me when he wasn't himself."

Shelley grins at her. "So now we're getting somewhere."

"We are?" Jennifer asks surprised.

"You wanted to try things with Rodney. You felt safe with him. There were very logical, practical reasons to back-up your choice." Shelley lists on her fingers. "None of these is a bad reason to date someone."

Jennifer feels something unknot. She had wanted Rodney. She feels relieved about that. The question is, she realises, does she still want Rodney?

"You said you started having doubts when you arrived home?" Shelley prompts, looking at the empty bowl forlornly.

Jennifer pushes her own bowl over. "Like I said, Ronon's recently found someone else." She sips her wine. "She's lovely; they make a great couple; and I'm happy that he's found someone."

"Uh-huh."

Shelley's disbelieving snort has Jennifer giggling; it's possible she's had too much alcohol.

"OK," Jennifer admits, "I was…I am a little jealous and disappointed I guess." She raises her wine glass. "But it's OK, right, because I'm with Rodney and he told me that he has me so he doesn't need anything else."

Shelley looks at her kindly. "But you realising Ronon was seeing someone else, and that Rodney's very serious about you, has you second-guessing everything, right?"

"It's possible, sub-consciously I mean, that that's when it begun." Jennifer allows, letting that sink into her own befuddled mind.

Because maybe subconsciously she'd held onto the idea that if things didn't work out with Rodney, there was Ronon and that was gone; that while she'd wanted to be with Rodney, marriage and kids were still an abstract 'some day' for her, and she'd suddenly understood that maybe they weren't quite so abstract for Rodney.

Maybe that's why she hadn't wanted to discuss her leave with Rodney. She'd known that he'd want to do the family visits and she…she wasn't there yet. And maybe she'd been subconsciously distancing herself ever since; focusing on Rodney's flaws to cover for her own insecurity.

"Cold feet." Shelley states with the air of a lawyer determining guilt. "This is a panic attack over finding yourself in a serious relationship."

"I think you're right." Jennifer agrees faintly. She takes a sip of her wine glass. "I'm having a panic attack." She can deal with a panic attack. She's a doctor. She starts giggling.

Shelley pokes Jennifer's leg. "Why are you laughing?" There's laughter in her voice.

"Because I'm having a panic attack about Rodney!" Jennifer manages to splutter out between giggles. Rodney who has panic attacks about citrus and blood sugar and Wraith and idiots and everything else in between…not that Shelley knows that.

Shelley gives in and joins her; for a while there is the two of them laughing and nothing else.

Jennifer wipes her eyes and collects herself. "Well, it certainly explains everything."

"So?" Shelley asks.

She knows there's more thinking to do and tells Shelley that. Her panic attack has raised the serious question of whether she can truly accept Rodney for who he is in the same way his team do; accept the arrogant and irritating genius which goes along with the sweetly loyal and brave guy who has saved her from death a few times.

Carson had been right to tell her not to expect him to change. But she knows if she can accept Rodney in all his Rodney-ness then she's in it for the long haul; it would be just a question of working out the schedule, compromising somehow. She has no idea where her job offer fits in. A job offer that Rodney knows nothing about, she reminds herself guiltily.

"Thanks, Shelley." Jennifer hugs her somewhat awkwardly in the middle of the bed. "So," she says determinedly, "what about you?"

Shelley's smile turns brittle. "Brad's seeing someone else." Her eyes are already beginning to water; too much emotion and alcohol.

"Oh, Shelley." Jennifer reaches over and hugs her again. "You know what this calls for?"

"For you to fix me up with Colonel Cutie-pie?" Shelley says.

Jennifer hopes Shelley's joking because she's fairly certain John would kill her if she tried to match-make him anyone. "Well, how about more ice-cream for right now?"

Shelley laughs and nods; she reaches for the phone to call room service.

o-O-o

Jennifer is in hell.

Her head hurts so much that every strand of her hair aches. Her muscles feel jellified. Her mouth tastes like something crawled in there and died. She smells of booze. She wakes in Shelley's oversized bed, vague memories of deciding it was too much effort to make it to her own room. She sees the time and swears because she's missed the car the SGC had organised for her and her puddle jumper ride back to Atlantis. She staggers out of the door, after roughly waking Shelley and reminding her Shelley will miss her flight if she doesn't leave for the airport somewhere in the next hour.

The corridor is too bright and too loud.

She stumbles into her own room, dry swallows two painkillers, and strips off her nightdress. She stands in her shower under a warm spray of water and hopes for a quick death. Or stronger painkillers than the ones she had stowed in her travel bag.

Her head is pounding.

She'll have to call the SGC arrange another car because there's no way she can take a cab to the remote warehouse the SGC is using as the jumper terminal. She'll have to call Atlantis and ask for another puddle jumper. She can't remember the last time she was so unprofessional and irresponsible and…

And it occurs to her that the pounding isn't just in her head. She staggers out of the shower, wrapping a towel around her hurriedly and heads for the door. She gets it open and stares into the astonished faces of Rodney, John and a hotel manager.

"Oh thank God, you're alive!" Rodney says.

Jennifer winces. She raises one hand to her temple while the other keeps a firm grip on her towel. "Rodney, please. Not so loud." She's vaguely aware that John is putting his gun in a shoulder holster under his very civilian looking black leather blazer and looking anywhere but at her.

She blushes, belatedly remembering she's only in a towel.

"Good to see you're OK, Doc." John motions down the corridor. "I'll wait for you guys downstairs."

Jennifer turns around and walks inside knowing Rodney will follow her. She hears him shut the door.

"Are you OK?" Rodney asks, concerned. He's hovering. He's dressed similarly to John; khakis instead of jeans though, the leather jacket he wore when they took him to the shrine and an old t-shirt imprinted with the Doctor Who logo.

Jennifer nods and regrets it when it triggers a rush of nausea through her gut. She can feel the bile at the back of her throat and runs back into the bathroom. She ignores the toilet and heads straight for the sink.

A moment later, Rodney is there, tutting quietly under his breath, but one of his large hands is rubbing circles into her back and the other is helping to hold her damp hair away from her vomit. She stops heaving finally.

Rodney reaches around her, tears open one of the plastic wrapped plastic glasses and fills it with water. He hands it to her and she rinses her mouth out before handing it back. He fills it for a second time and she swallows the whole glass down before she hands it back to him again, avoiding his eyes.

"I'm going back in the shower." She says calmly. She pushes him gently but firmly out of the bathroom when he questions whether that's a good idea. She's warmed by his care; embarrassed that he's seen her so disgraced by her own lack of judgement.

She cleans up the sink and steps back into the shower, washing her hair and body thoroughly. She refuses to think about anything. Her head hurts too much. She gets out, brushes her teeth for several long minutes until her teeth are smooth under her tongue and the taste of the wine and bile is obliterated.

She wraps herself in another towel and heads back into the bedroom to dress. Rodney hands her a mug of coffee silently.

"Uh, do you need painkillers or have you…"

"I've had some." Jennifer tells him. She sips the coffee, ignoring the way her hands are beginning to shake, and is grateful for the immediate shot of caffeine to her system. "I may have had a little too much to drink." Her cheeks flame with the admission.

Rodney smiles crookedly at her. "Good night, huh?"

Jennifer's not sure how she responds to that. She sidesteps him and reaches for her clothes. "What are you doing here anyway?"

"You missed your ride and you weren't answering your phones. Atlantis called John to report you were missing." Rodney states succinctly. He leans one hip against the desk. "We were, uh, already downtown so…"

"You were downtown?" Jennifer frowns at that.

"Shopping." Rodney's chin goes up. "Sheppard wanted my opinion on…something."

Jennifer would roll her eyes at the blatant lie but her eyes hurt too much. She takes another gulp of her coffee. Oh God. John had been called; they thought she was missing; all because she got drunk and slept in. She sits down suddenly on the edge of the bed, an unhappy heap of misery.

"Hey, what's the matter?" Rodney says, walking over and sitting beside her. "Do you, uh, need to be sick again?"

"No. It's just…" Jennifer flushes. "What's John going to think?"

"John?" Rodney frowns. "You're worried about how John's going to react?"

"I have to work with him, Rodney." Jennifer says tersely. "How's he supposed to respect me professionally if I act so irresponsibly?"

"You think John hasn't gotten drunk and missed a ride home in his life ever? Because I can tell you, well, I can't tell you anything with certainty but there was that one time on M6X985 although we all got, well, never mind that, but I know I have, you know, in the past, gotten drunk and missed a ride, and either way I'm pretty sure John's not going to hold it against you."

She can barely keep up with the flood of words but she gets the clumsy intent of reassurance and nods. "And you?" She asks. "Are you going to hold it against me?" She's sure that having to hold his dream girl's hair while they vomit post a drinking binge has never featured in one of Rodney's fantasies.

"Oh, forever," Rodney assures her with an amused grin, "or until I do something equally moronic that you can toss back at me." He bumps her shoulder ever so gently with his.

Jennifer isn't sure what it says about her that Rodney calling what she's done moronic is comforting in its own weirdly brutally honest way. She still raises her eyebrows. "Moronic?"

Rodney flushes. "Uh, not that you're a moron at all but…"

"I know what you meant, Rodney." Jennifer says, cutting him off. She gives him a pained smile. "Look, why don't you go and wait downstairs in the lobby with John. I need to get dressed, packed and round up Shelley so…"

Rodney springs up quickly. "Yes, yes, I'll just…" he points towards the door and backs out of the room.

Jennifer rubs her head. She's queasy but she doesn't think she'll throw up again. She focuses on getting organised.

Shelley is chipper in the elevator on the way down; all brightness and sparkly energy. Jennifer hates her.

They check out of the hotel and make their way over to the uncomfortable looking stuffed sofa where John and Rodney are waiting. Both men rise at their approach.

Jennifer clears her throat and gestures at Shelley. "Rodney, this is Shelley. Shelley, Rodney."

"Doctor Rodney McKay." Rodney immediately corrects even as he's holding out his hand for Shelley to shake. Jennifer swallows her irritation.

"Oh, I know." Shelley smiles widely. "Jennifer's told me all about you. Genius, right?" She winks at him but her eyes are already flitting to John. "And you must be Colonel…"

"Sheppard." Jennifer interjects before Shelley can call him Cutie-Pie or something more embarrassing. "Colonel Sheppard."

John shoots her a startled look but he returns his gaze immediately to Shelley and shakes her outstretched hand. "Pleased to meet you."

"The pleasure's mine." Shelley says, coyly. "It's really nice of you to come with Rodney to check that Jennifer was OK."

John smiles back, an easy charming smile that Jennifer's seen him use on missions and with the IOA reps. "It's no problem."

"Don't blame Jenn. It was really my fault." Shelley says with more genuine contrition. She turns away from John and back to Rodney. "I hope you don't mind that your girlfriend woke up in my bed this morning." She teases.

"Shelley!" Jennifer protests. Her head twinges badly.

Rodney's blue eyes widen. "Seriously? That's why you didn't answer your phone? You were with her?" He looks at Jennifer wildly. "Oh my God, that's so…hot!"

"Rodney!" Jennifer snaps.

"Maybe I should wait over there." John undoubtedly senses a scene and points to the outside as he starts inching away.

"Nothing happened!" Jennifer states furiously, shooting an angry glare at Shelley. "We were drunk. We fell asleep."

"She's right." Shelley says apologetically. "I swear; I didn't take advantage of her." She winks again at Rodney. "Sorry to ruin the fantasy."

"Don't you have a flight to catch?" Jennifer says tightly, wondering if her day can get any worse.

"I do." Shelley admits.

"We can give you a ride to the airport." John offers graciously.

"Thank you," Shelley says, "but I'm going to crash sometime in the next ten minutes with the worst hangover ever, and as I'd like to leave you with the impression that I'm a somewhat coherent and attractive woman, I think it's best I get a cab."

John offers her another smile; more like the ones Jennifer has seen him give people he genuinely likes. "Let me help you with your bags."

Rodney mouths "Kirk" at him but John simply grins back as he takes hold of Shelley's wheeled suitcase. Shelley falls into step beside John and Jennifer overhears her asking him how long he's been in the Air Force as they exit the hotel. She and Rodney walk behind them in an uncomfortable silence. By the time they get outside, John is handing over Shelley's bag to a cab driver.

"Nice to meet you." John says, shaking Shelley's hand in farewell. He steps back.

Rodney gives Shelley a shy wave. "'Bye."

Shelley nods and turns to Jennifer. She sweeps her up in a hug. "Thank you."

"It should be me thanking you." Jennifer says quietly, hugging her back and forgiving her for the morning's antics. "Have a safe flight."

"Call me." Shelley orders and gets in the cab.

They all watch as the cab pulls away and John motions for their car to approach. A moment later, Jennifer subsides into the comfortable leather of the limo's back seats, grateful for the tinted windows. Rodney climbs in beside her and John takes the bench opposite. The limo sets off and Jennifer lets her eyes drift shut.

She dozes and it's the soft murmur of voices that rouse her slightly. She tunes in to the conversation but keeps her eyes closed; she can't deal with the world beyond her headache.

"Look, you asked for my opinion, and all I'm saying is that maybe you should just apologise."

Guy talk. She knows she should say something to alert them that she's awake but she's too curious about what they're going to say.

"Oh, please; like your mind didn't go to the exact same place as mine. Two hot women in bed together. That's hot, right?"

"Even if I thought it was hot, Rodney, and I'm not saying I did because you know one of the women is your girlfriend, but if I did, I know better than to say it out loud."

"Hmmm. Jennifer's always saying I need to think before I speak."

Jennifer cringes. She does tell Rodney that; it's encouragement for the change he wants to make. She hates how downhearted he sounds.

"Is that even possible with you, McKay?"

John shifts to snarking at Rodney so quickly, Jennifer's almost startled into saying something.

"Oh, yes, I see you're going with the mocking, very mature."

But Rodney already sounds happier, Jennifer realises with astonishment.

"Although now that you mention it, no, not really. I mean I've never seen the point of not saying what you're thinking unless of course it leads to people shooting at us." Rodney comments.

"Really. I haven't noticed."

"Asshole."

She's never understood why guys equate insults with professions of fondness. She's sure Kate Heightmeyer would have had some kind of gender study explaining it all.

"Now, now, Rodney. Think before you speak." John's voice is warm and affectionate, and Jennifer knows he doesn't mean the admonishment. So does Rodney apparently because there's rich amusement in his voice when he answers.

"Believe me, I did."

She was right, Jennifer thinks wearily; the guys have a weird and bizarre friendship. She lets herself drift away again.

o-O-o

Jennifer turns around with her breakfast tray and hesitates when she sees only Ronon and John at their usual table. She hasn't seen John since the end of the puddle jumper ride home the day before. Rodney had walked her to her quarters and she'd climbed into bed and stayed there. Rodney had checked back in with her a couple of times to make sure she was OK; had brought her some dinner from the mess in the evening. She can't believe that she wasted a whole day sleeping. She hasn't decided what she's going to do about the job offer. She's a little clearer on her Rodney issue now she knows that she's mostly been freaking out.

She pins on a smile and walks over. Hopefully Rodney or Teyla will join them. She slides her tray onto the table and sits down next to John.

"Good morning." She says brightly, and does a double take at Ronon now she has an unobstructed view. He's missing his dreadlocks. "Oh my God."

"Something wrong?" Ronon says.

"No, no." Jennifer waves her cutlery. "Just…you cut your hair?"

Ronon sweeps a hand over the buzz cut. He shrugs as though to underscore how meaningless it all is despite his eyes saying something different. "Teal'c said it was time for a change."

"I like it." John proclaims, motioning with his mug.

"Maybe you should get the same." Ronon says deadpan.

Jennifer hides her smile.

"Yeah," John drawls, "I don't think so." He picks up his apple and checks his watch. "Well, I have to run." He slides out of his seat and picks up his tray.

Jennifer quickly swallows and waves at him to remain for a moment. "Colonel, about yesterday…"

"Don't worry about it, Doc." John says kindly, shooting her an easy smile. "If you can't cut loose once in a while when you're young, when can you?"

The worldly wise and experienced tone makes her feel incredibly young in response but he walks away before she can respond.

Jennifer finds Ronon smirking at her across the table. "I guess you've heard about yesterday?"

Ronon makes a non-committal noise. Jennifer tries not to feel defensive as she concentrates on her breakfast.

"You fix whatever's been bothering you?" Ronon asks bluntly.

She looks up at him surprised.

He lifts a shoulder. "You've been distracted."

Jennifer can't help the small glow that he cares enough about her regardless of their history (or lack thereof) to notice. "The weekend helped."

"Good." Ronon says.

"How are things with you?" Jennifer asks, determined to get things back to normal with them at least.

"Good." Ronon says again. His eyes are alight with mischief as though he knows his duplicate reply will irritate her.

Rodney plonks his tray down and sits down in the seat John had vacated. "You won't believe the idiotic thing Ellison did this morning…"

Jennifer opens her mouth to chide him – for the lack of greeting, the rant he's about to begin, for berating his staff in public – and snaps her mouth shut again. Does she always do that, she considers. She recalls Rodney's downcast tone at recalling her encouragement to think about what he says, and wonders if he thinks of it as encouragement or criticism. It takes her a moment to work out that Rodney has stopped talking, and both he and Ronon are regarding her with almost identical concern.

"Are you OK?" Rodney asks.

"Fine." Jennifer covers with a smile. "Just thought of something."

Rodney looks at her expectantly.

Jennifer puts her cutlery down and jumps on the first thing that comes to mind. "You really want me to go into the intricacies of anti-viral medications?"

"Uh, if you want to?" Rodney replies, waving his knife at her. Apparently, he's not happy but willing it seems to let her talk if she needs to talk. He's trying to be sensitive to her, Jennifer realises.

"That's OK, Rodney." Jennifer says magnanimously. "I should get to my office."

"Oh hey!" Rodney says. "Dinner? Tonight? My quarters?"

"Sounds nice." Jennifer agrees despite wanting an evening alone to consider things more. She picks up her tray, leans over and kisses Rodney's cheek. "Eight?"

"Eight it is." Rodney beams at her.

Jennifer leaves the mess. Her morning is filled with a schedule of annual physicals of returning personnel and Jennifer is grateful for the distraction. She escapes to her office for lunch and picks at a sandwich while she considers Rodney and her job offer.

She has four options. One, she takes the job and continues a long distance relationship with Rodney, if Rodney is willing to accept that. Two, she takes the job and doesn't continue her relationship with Rodney. Three, she stays on Atlantis and continues her relationship with Rodney. Or four, she stays on Atlantis and doesn't continue her relationship with Rodney.

Maybe, Jennifer thinks, she needs to make a determination about Rodney. After all, it would be much easier if she's going to break up with him if she's going to be somewhere else for the aftermath – and that is such a bad reason for taking a job that she doesn't what could beat it.

She doesn't think much of flipping the decision and determining her future with Rodney on whether she decides to leave or stay on Atlantis; that seems equally silly.

Jennifer blows out a frustrated breath. One at a time then; job first as she knows Carolyn and Woolsey are waiting on her decision, then she can decide about Rodney. But her mind slips back to breakfast and how she had almost chastised him.

The good news, she thinks, is that she's no longer panicking about her relationship. The bad news is that she's still not sure whether she can accept Rodney for who he is and not for the Rodney she wants him to be.

Her mind drifts back to their first date. She tries to take off the rose-coloured glasses of Rodney saving her life and tries to remember the entirety of their first date. The plane ride there had been neat; Rodney had hated it, claiming Tunney had done it to rub Rodney's face in his success. She had been disappointed at Rodney's bad mood. She had asked – told – Rodney effectively to enjoy the date; to try to be humble. She'd stood by while he had tried to stop the disaster, half convinced that he was wrong, just being competitive and his usual arrogant self – the same abrasive self that the other physicists had poked fun at. But Tunney had stolen Rodney's work, everything had gone to hell and Rodney had left others to execute his plan to save the world so he could save her life.

It's that moment she most thinks about when remembering their date; waking up with Rodney holding her, the knowledge that he had saved her life, his relief, want and need for her shining in his eyes. And so she'd told him she loved him because she had right at that moment.

In the plane on the way home, he had been complaining about Tunney getting credit for the solution when it had been his idea, and when she had postulated that it didn't matter, he had informed her that it mattered to him. In hindsight she realises he had been telling her to accept him for who he was. Her lips twisted. She had offered him sex to stop him complaining, and he had agreed to stop complaining in favour of fooling around.

It suddenly seems like such an ugly statement on their relationship: she's using sex and affection to get him to be the Rodney she wants, and he's trying to be the Rodney she wants so he can be with her – his dream girl.

She rejects that thought violently. There's more to their relationship than that. Jennifer's brief concern that Rodney might only want her because she complies with his ideal which had appeared after Jeannie's visit, has dissipated with his care of her the previous day when she was hung-over. He hasn't changed his behaviour to her; hasn't run for the hills because he's discovered she's not perfect.

She feels a wash of shame because she can't say the same, can she? She's effectively been trying to eradicate the Rodney she doesn't like to get the Rodney she does. Maybe Rodney had confided how he was trying to change certain things about himself to her but maybe her answer should have been that he didn't have to change, not to assume that she could help him. She chews her lip thoughtfully.

Well, it stops. But, can she accept Rodney for all he is? Others do.

Carson and Radek have the same approach to Rodney's ego; they argue back and sometimes they win, sometimes they don't. It irritates and annoys them but they forgive him and continue to be his friend. A lot like she does herself with Shelley, Jennifer muses; a lot like she did herself with Rodney before they started dating.

His team accept Rodney the most. Ronon might only tolerate Rodney's arrogance and panic – he deflates the worst with threats to shoot him – but she knows he cares about Rodney. Teyla loves Rodney like a brother and handles Rodney's bluster and worry with well-timed soothing touches and words of wisdom. Teyla's approach is a world away from John who snarks back at Rodney and engages him; gets Rodney to laugh with him about his behaviour, and leaves Rodney nowhere to focus but on the problem at hand in his panic.

She doesn't think she can go back to her own previous way of handling Rodney when they were nothing more than friends because it'll lead to a more tempestuous relationship that she's not sure will make either of them happy. She also knows what works for Rodney's male team-mates will not work for her; she doesn't have Ronon's capability to intimidate Rodney, and she doesn't have John's deft surety and knowledge of Rodney to know exactly which button to press the way John does – and she really doesn't want the numerous near death experiences that probably gave John that knowledge in the first place. But maybe she could learn Teyla's patience. Maybe she owes it to Rodney and herself to at least try.

Because Jennifer's Rodney does exist; the one who loves her, who saved her when she fell through a hole, when she almost died of hypothermia. He's maybe not the guy who offered her a fruit cup but he is the guy who held her hair when she threw-up and reassured her she was still respected; who offered to talk about anti-viral medications with her over breakfast because he thought it was important to her.

If Rodney really wants to improve the rest, she can be supportive of his efforts without acting like his Mom. Or like Jeannie for that matter although Jeannie probably has some dispensation on calling Rodney on his bad behaviour being a sibling and all. As an only child, Jennifer's never quite got how that worked.

The knock on her door startles her.

Woolsey stands awkwardly in the open doorway. "Am I interrupting?"

"No, no." Jennifer looks down at her untouched lunch and the screensaver of the Atlantis logo endlessly swivelling on her monitor. For a second, she remembers she hasn't seen or talked to him since getting drunk and missing her ride, and presumably he's there to administer the proper "please don't do it again" chastisement that Rodney and John have failed to give her.

"Forgive the intrusion but I noticed you still haven't responded to Doctor Lam and as an interested party, I was wondering if you would appreciate a sounding board?" Woolsey smiles kindly.

Jennifer tries to smile back. "A sounding board sounds good." She says diplomatically and waves him into a chair. He closes the door and sits. His hands rest awkwardly on each knee.

They sit for a moment in uncomfortable silence.

"Perhaps I should begin?" Woolsey says eventually.

Jennifer nods eagerly.

"Firstly, I would like to apologise for not informing you of the official discussions that took place regarding your relationship with Doctor McKay."

Jennifer blushes bright red.

"Doctor Lam mentioned that it was a surprise to you and if I had known I would also have kept you in the loop." Woolsey says. "However, I want to assure you that the exclusion was not so much deliberate as it was a belief that you were already aware of your own conflict of interest as a medical professional."

Jennifer frowns. "Then why…"

"There was concern that Doctor McKay might not be so cognisant of the potential issues." Woolsey says smoothly. "Not in regards to his medical care but in regards to making critical decisions should your life be endangered."

"Ah." Jennifer sighs. "You're worried that if the choice was Rodney saving Atlantis and saving me, he'd choose me."

"We were worried that Doctor McKay would be placed in that untenable predicament, yes." Woolsey corrects. "There are many things about military that I don't agree with, but their fraternisation regulations are there for a reason. Now, Atlantis is a civilian expedition and, apart from our military command, not subject to those regulations and I can't enforce them. I'm also aware that Atlantis is a closed community for the most part and bonds form between people, but ideally, I would prefer not to have anyone forced to choose between saving the lives of many and saving the life of someone with whom they have a romantic involvement. Colonel Sheppard helped to modify a few of our protocols to ensure Doctor McKay hopefully will never have to make such a choice."

"I should thank you and Colonel Sheppard for your support to date." Jennifer says. "But I'm guessing that it would be easier for you if I accepted Doctor Lam's offer?"

Woolsey waves. "I won't deny that it removes one risk from our daily quota."

Jennifer brushes a strand of hair back of over her shoulder and tries not to be disappointed at the honest answer.

"I would also like to say that you would be missed if you decide to accept Doctor Lam's offer."

"Thank you." Jennifer sighs.

"I take it you haven't come to any conclusion?" Woolsey probes tentatively.

"No." Jennifer admits, sagging a little; one hand traces the edge of her desk. "I honestly don't know what to do. I wasn't expecting a job offer so…" she tries another half-hearted smile. "I know there are a lot of people who would love to have my problem, huh?"

Woolsey smiles at her again. "May I ask; is the unexpected nature of the offer the only obstacle preventing you from accepting?"

"No…" Jennifer shakes her head. "It's just that…I've only just gotten used to doing this job and I'm not sure I'm ready to take on something else, and honestly, I haven't…I haven't considering leaving Atlantis for some time."

"But you used to?" Woolsey picks up on what she hasn't said like the consummate investigator he used to be.

"Every day for the whole first year." Jennifer admits sheepishly. "It's not that I hated it here but…I missed Earth, and suddenly being in charge on top of that was…was kinda overwhelming."

"I understand." Woolsey says and she thinks he really does.

"And now, I was looking forward to going back to Pegasus and hopefully having a cure for the Hoffan virus. I enjoy my work here. I like the people." Jennifer says. "It's …it's not that the job at the SGC isn't something I would want one day, and I know it has the benefit of being Earth based so I can see my Dad more, it's just something I've never actively wanted or pursued." She gives a small smile. "I've never been the type of person to career plan."

"That's probably wise; I've learned plans do tend to go awry around Stargates." Woolsey says dryly.

She laughs appreciating attempt at his humour.

"So if I may summarise," Woolsey says, "you're happy here in Atlantis and this new role will be a challenge you're not sure you're ready to attempt at this point. But the role itself and the return to Earth is something you would want to do eventually."

"That's a good summary." Jennifer admits. She fidgets for a moment. "What do you think I should do?"

Woolsey shifts forward. "Forgive me if I'm being presumptuous but I get the impression that on a personal level the two choices have an equal number of pros and cons, your relationship with Doctor McKay notwithstanding?"

"I'm trying to make a decision about my career without referencing my relationship with Rodney." Jennifer says, avoiding his eyes.

"Very sensible." Woolsey says approvingly. "Then, your dilemma comes down to the professional challenge of the new role versus the relative comfort zone of your existing position."

Jennifer's lips twist at the business-speak but the essence of it is right. "I guess that's true." She says slowly.

"I don't think I need to tell you that the challenge of this new position is well within your grasp and that after a few months, you'll find your feet and begin to feel confident once more." Woolsey continues. "After all, you've already had a similar experience in taking on your current role."

"I have." Jennifer says. He's right; she'd felt the same about the Atlantis position as she did about the new role – that she wasn't ready for it, that she didn't necessarily want it. Yet she'd conquered the Atlantis role and both her bosses seem to think she will be able to conquer her new role.

"So the sticking point is really your comfort zone and your willingness to step out of it." Woolsey says firmly.

"It's not like my job here on Atlantis is boring." Jennifer says defensively. "There are always new challenges."

"There are," Woolsey agrees, "and if you decide to stay you'll have my full support…"

"But?" Jennifer pre-empts his next word.

He smiles. "But I think you should consider that you may not get the same opportunity to control the terms of your next position again."

It's a valid point. While Jennifer knows Carolyn won't blacklist her from future openings and transfer requests, the offer represents Jennifer's best chance of controlling her return to Earth; having some say in how she does it, negotiating beneficial terms such as staying in consultation with Atlantis for one.

Woolsey stands. "Well, I'll leave you to it."

"Thank you." Jennifer says genuinely grateful for his advice. She watches him leave and turns back to her computer. She taps the desk absently.

She's talked to her Dad and Shelley in vague terms about the job offer; her Dad has stated that he will support whatever decision she makes but she could hear his hope that she'd be closer; Shelley has baldly told her to take what amounts to a promotion.

It occurs to her that apart from Woolsey she hasn't talked to anyone else on Atlantis about the job offer. She hasn't even told them there is an offer. She deep down thinks she knows what the advice will be: a mixture of 'you must do what is right for you' and 'you will be missed' and, in Rodney's case, she assumes 'don't go.' But she also knows she hasn't approached her friends in Atlantis not because she thinks they don't care, but because on some level she thinks they'll care more about what her decision would mean for Rodney. It's an unfair indictment of her Atlantis friends but it's how she feels. She recalls how isolated she felt in her room when she'd been struggling with her issues over Carson and Kho…and Rodney.

To stay or not to stay that is the question…

She turns back to her computer and brings up her email. She composes her reply to Carolyn and copies Woolsey. She presses send. Her heart is hammering in her chest and she feels sweaty. She takes one deep breath and then another. The decision is made for better or worse.

She thinks Rodney will be upset because she didn't discuss it with him especially after their fight about the family visits, and she knows it's a valid criticism; they are a couple, they are supposed to share these things, they are supposed to discuss them.

Jennifer presses her lips together unhappily. She needs to tell Rodney everything, she realises; not just about the job but about them. She should have really talked with him when he had asked her if there was a problem the night they'd had hot chocolate, cookies and comfort sex. She should have told him about her doubts, about her fears that they were getting serious too fast.

But a part of her believes she had to work things out in her own head first, and she's glad that she's had the time to do it without Rodney. She'll tell him everything at dinner, Jennifer determines; they can decide together whether they break-up or whether they continue on as a couple once Rodney hears her confession.

o-O-o

Jennifer's nervous as she makes her way to Rodney's quarters. Her palms are sweaty; her heart is tripping over in her chest and her mouth is dry. She's been a mess since she'd made her decision at lunch. She's spent the afternoon alternating between trying to forget by immersing herself in her research and practicing what she's going to say to Rodney – how much of a confession she's going to make to Rodney.

The first part is easy: the job offer and her decision. She predicts he won't be pleased she's kept it from him and hasn't discussed it with him. He'll be hurt but not terribly because, fundamentally, it's her career and Rodney will get how important it is for her to make the decision probably more so than many men.

The second part is not so easy: her freak-out about the seriousness of their relationship. But the job offer and her decision are a good segue into that. That she wants time, that marriage and kids are a couple of years down the track for her, needs to be said. Rodney needs to understand that and accept it. There's a frisson of worry that he won't. Their age gap weighs on Jennifer's mind because Rodney isn't getting any younger and she can understand he may want to move forward more quickly. But she's hopeful that she means something more to him than simply the realisation of his dream of a wife and kids; hopeful that his comment to Jeannie about not being pushed into rushing things will hold true. This part she knows could be a difficult discussion; it could be easy. It depends on Rodney's expectations and wants. Again, he'll be hurt that she's kept it from him but hopefully not hurt that she wants to move at a slower pace.

The third part is the one she's debated telling him anything at all about: the doubts she has about whether they're right for each other. She knows telling him that his flaws annoy her is very hurtful. Telling him she knows he's trying to change but he can't guarantee that he's really going to, and she doesn't know whether she can live with him if he doesn't, is very hurtful. The fact that she's willing to try and accept Rodney for all that he is, probably isn't enough to counter the hurt she would cause. She'd be devastated if he said it to her; angry. She doesn't want to hurt him. She's finally settled on not telling him. Depending on the outcome of the first and second part, if they're still together once those have been discussed, she can try to accept him without his knowing. If he doesn't change and she ultimately can't live with Rodney as he is, it's her failure not his.

She's suddenly at Rodney's door. She wipes her hands on her denim clad thighs and brushes down the pretty blue cotton blouse she's wearing with its printed pattern of tiny flowers that trail over the material. She pushes her loose hair back over a shoulder and swipes her arm at the chimes.

The door sweeps open.

The first thing that hits her is the candlelight. There are candles everywhere, a vast variety covering all the flat surfaces. The overheads are muted and the flickering play of shadows and fire across the walls makes the almost sterile room cosy. The floor by the bed has been cleared and there's a blanket spread out with a picnic basket. She can smell strawberries; her eyes alight on the champagne in its cooler. Rodney has gone all out for romance and a panicky feeling stirs in Jennifer's belly.

She takes a deep breath.

It's probably not what she's thinking. Rodney does sometimes make an effort. It's probably an over-the-top apology for his commenting out loud about her and Shelley in a bed equalling hot, Jennifer surmises. That's all it is. And he really didn't need to go to so much effort; she's over being upset at his remark. In hindsight, it's amusing and very Rodney.

Rodney comes out of the bathroom and pauses. "Oh hey, you're early." His eyes dart around nervously as though checking everything before he walks over and kisses her lightly on the lips.

"Hi." Jennifer untangles her fingers and gestures at the scene. "This is…different."

"Good different?" Rodney's eyebrows rise in hopeful expectation.

She cocks her head. "That depends. Is this an apology because you…"

"No, no, not an apology." Rodney jumps in. He stops suddenly. "Although I probably owe you an apology for, uh, yesterday and the thing. In fairness, I was going to apologise but I forgot because of…well, because I was busy saving us from Bill Lee's lack of understanding of the star drive, so this is me apologising now but this," his hands fly towards the blanket, "isn't me apologising at all because I don't want you to think that has anything to do with this but well…" he stumbles to a halt. "I, uh, thought, um, well, we haven't had much time together since we arrived on Earth with the repairs and everything so…"

"It's lovely, Rodney." And it is. Jennifer relaxes a touch. Maybe this will all be OK. She steps forward and kisses him. She squeezes his hand and moves to sit on the blanket, using the bed as a back-rest.

He joins her a moment later, kneeling while he opens the champagne and pours out two glasses. He hands one to her.

"To, uh, us?" Rodney says as he sits beside her.

They clink glasses and Jennifer swallows a mouthful of crisp, dry bubbles. It tastes exquisite and expensive. Her eyes flicker to the label on the bottle and widen. She's no connoisseur but she recognises the name.

"Wow." Jennifer says. "You went all out." The panicky feeling comes back tenfold.

Rodney looks momentarily discomfited. "Sheppard might have helped, uh, pick it out when we were, um, shopping."

Jennifer smiles. "You've been planning this since yesterday? That's why you were in town?"

Rodney offers her the bowl of strawberries. "You know he used to live here before Atlantis? I mean, San Francisco here. Had an apartment and everything."

"Really?" Jennifer isn't too interested in where John used to live. She chooses a large strawberry and bites down. The sweet taste floods her mouth and she savours it before chewing and swallowing. "These are great. Have one."

"Uh, no." Rodney shakes his head. "Still can't stand them."

Jennifer pauses in eating a second strawberry. "Then why…?" Annoyance seeps into her tone and she winces.

Rodney doesn't notice. "Because you like them," he replies matter-of-factly, "and we had strawberries on our first date so…" he's looking distinctly discomfited again but nudges the picnic basket. "We have other food too?"

Jennifer nods and Rodney smiles happily. A moment later the platter of sandwiches, chips and dip is laid out at her feet. All from the mess which reassures her. She spots a chocolate cream pie for dessert similar to the one he'd served at the dinner with Jeannie.

Jennifer accepts a plate and picks at the sandwich. She debates whether she should wait until after dinner or start in on her confession over food. She looks up and finds Rodney staring at his own plate in a similar fashion.

"Rodney?" She places a hand on his arm. "Are you OK?"

Rodney looks up at her as though he's just remembering that she's sat beside him. "I don't think I can do this."

Jennifer freezes; her mind skips through what he means; them, the romantic dinner, a reason she doesn't want to acknowledge. "Do what, Rodney?"

"I don't mean," Rodney waves at the two of them with his filled plate, "or the…because I'm not doing what I did with Katie and the whole taking it back thing because I'm not, but I can't do this," the plate is thrust in an arcing gesture around the room and his sandwich comes precariously close to being airborne, "the candlelight and picnic and…I know it's supposed to be special but…I think I may throw-up if I just don't get it over with."

The panicky feeling has settled into Jennifer's bones. Her mouth goes dry and she reaches for her champagne as Rodney shifts, setting the plate down and reaching into his pants' pocket. Please don't propose, she thinks wildly; please don't.

Rodney gazes at her with a shy, hopeful expression. He stretches out his hand and there, nestled in the palm of his hand, is a small velvet box.

Jennifer's finger convulse around the fragile stem of the glass.

"I know when Jeannie was here, I said I didn't want to rush things but I don't think I am this time." Rodney says. "I think I'm ready."

He opens the box. He takes a deep breath and she wants to stop him but can't get the words out; she's frozen in horrified realisation; shocked beyond ability to move a muscle.

"Will you Jennifer Keller marry, uh, me?" Rodney asks tentatively. He hands her the ring box.

It's a beautiful ring. White gold inset with three square-cut diamonds that sit flush with the metal. It's pretty but practical for her line of work. It's the first time anyone has proposed to her and Jennifer can't help the note of glee, of appreciation that sneaks in under the panic. She can't help but be touched by the gesture; flattered. Rodney's gone to a lot of effort; the picnic, the champagne and strawberries…

And yet she's annoyed because Rodney has been planning to marry her all through the days when she's been questioning them. He hasn't noticed anything wrong with their relationship, with her; has considered his readiness but not hers.

Touched and annoyed. Again.

She's vaguely aware that he's talking about having the wedding while they're on Earth before they head back to Pegasus; that he's sure they can put something together in a few weeks.

Jennifer stares at the ring. It changes nothing; it changes everything. She considers everything she had wanted to talk to Rodney about; everything she had decided not to talk to Rodney about.

Rodney finally runs out of words. He clears his throat nervously and uncertainty has entered his blue eyes. His chin is up. "I think you're supposed to say something now." He tries to smile, but he can't maintain the slope of his lips in the right direction. He squirms under her regard.

Jennifer closes the ring box carefully. Its weight is heavy in her hands for such a small box. "Rodney," she says gently, "we need to talk."

fin.

Author's End Note: Yes, yes, I am evil but this is where the story naturally ends for me. Did Jennifer take the job or did she stay in Atlantis?  Did she break up with Rodney or did they work things out?  Well, I'll let the individual reader decide that for themselves... 

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
sholio
Dec. 25th, 2010 07:49 am (UTC)
Oh, I really loved this story! I like them as a couple, it's true, but I'm generally not interested in fluffy romance (regardless of fandom or pairing), and I think you did a great job of presenting them as a believable couple with the sort of realistic problems that you do get in a relationship when both people are kind of new to it and neither of them are good at communicating. (I think at least half the things Jennifer does here are things I've also done ...) Also, I love the problems that Jennifer has with people in the medical department taking their problems to Carson, because I've been in offices where a former supervisor came back in a non-supervisor role, and YES. THIS. EXACTLY. :D And I really love all the other little details of life in the Stargate 'verse -- working towards a solution to the Wraith problem, restructuring the SGC, the characters playing together off-duty, the SGC's concerns about fraternization, Jennifer's friendship with Shelley ... there's just a lot of very spot-on observation of human behavior. And I liked how Jennifer worked through a lot of her issues and started getting a better handle on her own end of the relationship during the course of the story, regardless of how it turns out for them in the end.
rachel500
Dec. 25th, 2010 10:18 am (UTC)
I think you just made my Christmas! I wasn't sure how this fic was going to go down with people at all so thank you for the feedback. :)

It was that realistic edge that I was going for and to have Jennifer make the journey from being a little blind to the issues in her relationship, to seeing them and then attempting to address them.

Anyway, I'm so glad you liked it. Thanks again for commenting. :)

helenkacan
Dec. 27th, 2010 01:02 am (UTC)
Arrgghh. LJ ated my comment (and it had been a long one, too). So, I'll try to recreate it ... again. ::sighs::

Normally, I can't stand McKeller as a ship, especially if it's a fluffy one. But I really enjoyed reading this from the standpoint of working backwards from all of teh stoopid TPTB had saddled the character and the relationship with. Aka, of course, we'll make the new CMO a young blonde (because, of course, there's nobody else qualified, right???). And, of course, she'll have long hair (because TPTB have a permanent hard-on for long hair). And, of course, we won't force her to wear that long, glorious, mmmmmm ... oh, what ... (I did say hard-on, right?) hair down, despite the fact that it over-emphasizes her youth, undermines her presumption of professional authority and is downright unsanitary in a medical/hospital environment. [I just about screamed when I saw Vegas-Keller push her bangs out of the way with her gloved hand before resuming her autopsy. Arrgghh. Can you say "contamination"?]

So, despite the fact that I neither like the character nor the relationship, I'm always fascinated to read what someone has written (as long as it's not the twu wuv kind which is so icky, even if it's a relationship I'm into).

I'm glad she had a close friend with whom she could confide and share her worries. And I loved all of the Sex and the City references (even if I'm not a fan of the show). Also, it was interesting to see the inside of her emotions concerning her having been the "prize" between Ronon and Rodney and that she'd kept Ronon in abeyance (as an alternate should her thing with Rodney not work out); too bad that Ronon shot that one to pieces by getting serious with Amelia.

I'm glad she had the opportunity to do a lot of reflecting and soul-searching of what she wanted in a man ... in a relationship though, once again, that was ONLY her third boyfriend. Also, she was forced to confront that perhaps her focus on "nice" wasn't necessarily the right thing for Rodney or for anyone. If she had been older (ha! as if, considering how most roles go to younger actresses), then she would have been more likely to notice something else (as she finally did): how Rodney reacted when he wasn't being criticized for every little (or big) personality fault.

And I liked the way you bookmarked the way Rodney reacted to her independent decision about the leave ... and continuing to the way they both then made decisions on their own to a rather awkward conclusion. Because, yeah, they're both guilty or being oblivious and awkward. Is that any recipe for a successful relationship?

Speaking of conclusions, yes, you are definitely evil. So, I'd be interested to see if you might look at this in one year's time and decide how you would end it ,,, AND let us know; whether your own perceptions have changed over time.
rachel500
Dec. 27th, 2010 10:13 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately, as much as I like her, I do think the character of Jennifer Keller wasn't the most consistently characterised by TPTB. I think she had a lot of unexplored potential around the issues of her youth and professional insecurity that they never utilised because they focused on putting her in the love triangle in S5.

Ultimately though I think Jennifer's main failing in regards to issues of romance (both with Ronon and Rodney) comes down to the fact that she's young and still has some maturing to do on a personal level (I came up with Rodney as boyfriend no3 because she doesn't come across as that experienced really) - which hopefully she starts to do within the parameters of the story in that she begins to realise the issues with her relationship with Rodney, and determines to address them.

I actually do think she and Rodney truly care for each other but neither of them really understands or is secure about how to be in a relationship so hence miscommunication at every turn even when the opportunity for communicating with each other honestly is there (like with the moment with the cookies when Rodney realises something *is* wrong). But poor communication and relationship naivety are not insurmountable issues - they could get over them and still build a good relationship.

Ah, the ending. I know in my head what I think the characters do next and one day I may share. :)

Thank you very much for the feedback. I'm glad you enjoyed it.
cantarina1
Dec. 31st, 2010 05:12 am (UTC)
Really lovely, thoughtful, interesting read. I like to think that she took the job, but it's a lot harder to get a bead on what might happen with Rodney. Thanks for the fantastic scenes with Woolsey and especially Lam, and Jennifer's Earth-based support network.
rachel500
Dec. 31st, 2010 08:44 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the feedback! I'm glad you liked it. It's interesting to hear your thoughts on what next, including that it's difficult to see what might happen with Rodney because admittedly that might have been part of the reason why I stopped where I did! Happy New Year!
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