It's Madison's favorite story--she once asked for it before bedtime every night for three weeks until Jeannie finally snapped, just a little, and threatened to start telling embarrassing stories about Madison next. Jeannie's secretly pretty sure the reason her daughter likes it so much is because it never fails to give Evelyn the giggles, which leads to the hiccups, which leads to an indeterminate state Jeannie can only call the snorts, and it takes an extra half-hour to get Evelyn to sleep. That's not the kind of theory you can share with a bright ten-year-old like Madison if you'd like to be allowed to tell a different story ever, so Jeannie usually just smiles and launches in. She likes it when Evelyn giggles too.
When Jeannie was four, she tells them, dancing was her favorite thing in the world (Evelyn always snorts here--sounding so much like Meredith it makes Jeannie catch her breath--because she's four and she loves race cars). It was Meredith's job to take Jeannie to her ballet lesson after school every Thursday. He used to complain every time, because he was eleven and had better things to do, like calculus. He'd sit in the back with his books and his walkman while Jeannie was up on stage pretending to be a swan or a butterfly.
The night of the recital, Jimmy Saint-Pierre--the only boy in the Fort McMurray Little Danseurs Ballet School--keeled over with acute appendicitis twenty minutes before the show. He was the elf in Jeannie's flower dance. Madame Lavoie knew that Meredith had sat through every rehearsal and had the part memorized, however unwillingly. She also knew better than to ask Meredith for a favor directly. Instead she appealed to their parents, who informed Meredith that he would be performing in the show.
Meredith yelled and complained and even tried to run away, but their father gave a direct order, and the next thing anybody knew, there Mer was, in tights and a little pointy hat, on stage with Jeannie's ballet class. It was the first time Jeannie had ever seen anyone's face get that red outside of a cartoon.
The best part of the story was that Meredith had turned out to be good. Their parents, always on the lookout for activities that would get Mer away from his textbooks, made him take lessons for three more years. He was way better than Jeannie by the time he quit.
Jeannie still has a picture of Mer in his elf costume, and whenever they hear the story the girls beg to see it. Jeannie usually pulls it out, even though the photo always makes Evelyn giggle so hard she can't fall asleep for an hour.
Jeannie doesn't always put the picture back in the drawer right away. It make her smile too. Some days she needs that.
Evelyn always wants to hear about Atlantis.
Atlantis, Jeannie tells her,was the most beautiful place in the universe, with glass spires that touched the sky like a castle. It was made of blues, and greens, and coppers, and no matter how high you went up in the towers, somehow you could always smell the sea. Do you remember?
Most young children would say yes, Jeannie knows. Evelyn has heard about Atlantis so many times her memories must be mixed up with the stories to the point where they all seem real.
But Evelyn takes the time to consider the question. "I'm not sure," she says finally.
Evelyn likes all the stories equally, so Jeannie picks one of her own favorites.
After John and Meredith--who was calling himself Rodney by then, even though it was not his real name--had been in Atlantis for a few months, John decided that Meredith--Rodney--needed to learn how to fly the puddle jumpers. Every day they would spend an hour flying. Rodney even got to be pretty good, though he would never be a real pilot like John. (This was always Evelyn's cue to pipe up, "Or me." She loved the sky as much as John ever had.)
Because John was efficient, he liked to combine flying lessons with missions when he could. Picking up a consignment of lhea grain from M7D-837 didn't really require the talents of Atlantis's head scientist and military commander, but John enjoyed spending the time with Rodney--even if Rodney still liked complaining just as much as he had when he'd been eleven.
It was a surprise to both of them when the formerly peaceful Eliani started shooting at them with missiles the Atlanteans hadn't even known they possessed. John managed to keep the jumper in the air long enough to clear the worst of the Elianian forest before they crashed hard into the side of what Rodney called a mountain and John called a hill.
John didn't remember much after that--he'd hit his head in the crash--but he was aware of Rodney shooting at people and yelling, and dragging him through the forest. John always liked listening to Rodney yell, as long as he wasn't yelling at him. That suddenly seemed like something Rodney ought to know.
"Oh my God," Rodney said to him in reply. "You're concussed. How many fingers do you see?"
"Quit it." John batted Rodney's hand away from his face.
Exasperated, Rodney told John if he was a good little major and kept moving away from the people that were trying to shoot them, he'd make sure to yell at someone every day just for him. That sounded good to John, and they made their way quickly through the forest.
When they got to the gate they found it guarded by four enormous men with very large guns. John had been starting to feel pretty useless, so he created a diversion by wandering into the open and drawing their fire. Rodney thought he was insane, but it totally worked, and it wasn't until they were through the wormhole to Atlantis that Rodney collapsed.
The infirmary in Atlantis was not quite as magnificent to look at as the rest of the city, but it was still lovelier than any place on Earth, especially if you took into account all of the beautiful Ancient equipment keeping Rodney alive. He'd been shot in the stomach by the Eliani, but John knew that Atlantis would not let him die.
John stayed there all night, even though his head soon felt better, and he could have gone back to his own room. In the morning Rodney opened his eyes blearily at John, muttered something about majors with hero-complexes, and promptly went back to sleep. John stared at him a while longer, realized that there was nowhere in the universe he'd rather be, and knew he was in love.
If Madison is listening to the story, Jeannie leaves out that last part--Madison's going through a stage where stories about love (and princesses, and fairies) make her squinch up her face--but Evelyn always likes to hear it.
Jeannie grew up with everything she needed, except the conviction that her parents loved her no matter what. It was a long time ago--Jeannie's pretty over it, but when she had a child, she was determined that above all Madison should know deep in her bones how much she was cherished.
Now she needs that for Evelyn, too. It's important that Evelyn knows she'll always have Jeannie and Kaleb, that she belongs to them, and they to her, but Jeannie wants her to understand how much Meredith and John loved her too.
Evelyn and Madison both know where Evelyn came from--they think Ancient technology is a much better way to have a baby than the way people do it on Earth. Jeannie remembers twenty-three hours in labor and can't say she completely disagrees. The story of her origins is one of the last stories Evelyn can remember her fathers telling her. When Jeannie tells it, she sometimes tries to call the misadventure with the Ancient baby machine a "surprise," but Evelyn won't have any of it. "Accident" is how her father put it, so accident it is. Jeannie doesn't have to ask which father said that.
That's not the story Evelyn wants tonight. Tonight she wants to hear about the time she got locked in the puddle jumper.
"When you weren't even a month old, you were in the passenger seat of Jumper One," Jeannie begins.
"That's not how it starts," Evelyn says, so Jeannie tries again.
"When you were first born, the SGC wanted you to come live on Earth. They'd never seen a baby made with an Ancient machine before, and they wanted to look you over. 'Dissect you,' your father Meredith said."
"It's Rodney," Evelyn says. "You're telling an Atlantis story."
"So I am," Jeannie agrees, and begins the story in earnest.
Rodney didn't really think they would dissect the baby, and he was sure it would have a better life on Earth. Atlantis was no place for a kid. Sure there was Torren, but he had Teyla, after all. Poor Evelyn would be stuck with him and John.
John wasn't saying much one way or the other, so who knew what was going on in that pointy-haired head of his? Rodney had given up trying to figure out Sheppard years ago. He had this way of looking at Rodney sometimes with a weird intense expression on his face like he had a stomach ache. Rodney always thought for sure he was about to say something important, finally, but nothing ever came of it.
So Evelyn was going back to Earth. Rodney had already started the arrangements.
And then she got stuck in a puddle jumper.
The first thing Rodney knew about it was when John called him on the radio, and said that it wasn't a big deal, really, no need to worry, but there was a very, very minor emergency with Evelyn in the jumper bay.
When Rodney got there, out of breath from running the whole way, he found John standing sheepishly outside his favorite jumper, which was closed up tight. Zelenka was already there running a diagnostic, and two techs were firing up blowtorches.
Rodney looked into the windshield, saw the baby sleeping peacefully in its special chair, and turned to John.
"Do I even want to know?" he asked.
John's ears turned red. "I was just about to take Evelyn for a ride when Zelenka called me out to look at something he'd noticed on the engine pod--"
"Do not blame this on me, Colonel," Zelenka said. "I am no father."
"It was only going to take a second and I didn't want to wake her, and then the hatch slammed shut and now it won't open."
Rodney rolled his eyes and took over the diagnostic, muttering all the while about Child Protective Services and over-enthusiastic fathers.
"Hey," John said, trying to smile in a way he probably thought was reassuring. "It's not like a car at the mall. Climate control's working fine. It's not going to get hot or run out of air or anything. Right?"
Rodney could tell John felt bad, so he didn't say half the things he would have if someone else had dared to get his only daughter locked in a jumper. He just chased away the engineers with blowtorches, and later a marine with C-4 ("Are you insane?"), and got to work.
Half-an-hour later he called back the guys with the blowtorches. The baby was still quietly asleep. Of course they couldn't cut through the Ancient alloy the jumpers were made of. It showed how uneasy Rodney was starting to get that he even let them try.
An hour after that, Rodney was stating to feel a little frantic. There was a short in the locking mechanism, he explained to John. The problem was, the crystal array he needed to get to was inside the jumper, which was brilliant designing on the part of the Ancients.
"What about the windshield?" John asked.
"We're not jacking a car," Rodney said. "The jumpers are designed to go into space. We don't have anything capable of generating enough pressure to break the window. It's not actually glass."
"What about that time you crashed into the ocean? The pressure broke the windshield then, didn't it?"
"It's not--yes, okay fine. An ocean might exert enough pressure to crack it. Did you happen to bring one?"
Rodney looked through the window. Incredibly, the kid was still sleeping. But she was bound to wake up soon. And need to eat, or whatever it was that babies did. And she'd be all alone.
"She's so small." Rodney suddenly found he was unable to take his eyes off Evelyn.
John got that funny stomach-ache look on his face and put his hand on Rodney's shoulder. His hand was warm, and for a moment Rodney almost felt better.
He got back to work, but it wasn't like he could actually do anything. He knew which crystal was at fault, knew where it was located, knew the workaround--he just couldn't get to it. John disappeared somewhere, which was just as well--Rodney couldn't take the pacing much longer.
Rodney was just about to give up and call for some C-4--it was dangerous, but what else could he do? He'd shield the blast with his body if he had to--when John suddenly reappeared with a cart from the infirmary. Medical equipment? Did Rodney look that bad?
But a moment later Rodney could have kissed John, because on the med-cart was a piece of equipment the Medical Department had just acquired from Janus's lab. Rodney hadn't paid any attention at the time, but it was a drill--a laser drill far more powerful than anything they had on Earth, more powerful than anything they'd seen even on Atlantis. Keller theorized its purpose might be to cut into the bones or bodies of non-human races, something Rodney had absolutely no interest in, except that it was the most beautiful drill ever, because this might work.
Five minutes later they were pushing into the jumper. Before Rodney could think about it, he was clutching Evelyn and kissing her forehead and promising her she was never leaving Atlantis until she matriculated into MIT. John was laughing.
Rodney turned to him and saw that look again. And then he did kiss him, for the first time, with their daughter held between them.
Madison doesn't like stories about love, but she likes the one about the wedding, mostly because it makes her mother look silly.
When Jeannie and Kaleb had gotten married, they hadn't had any money, or support from their families, so they'd walked into the registrar's office one morning and had it done. They ate lunch at Tim Hortons after. Jeannie threw up halfway through her bowl of chili--she was three months pregnant at the time.
It had been a great day, even with the puking. Jeannie had never wanted anything more. So when Meredith asked her to plan his wedding, she honestly doesn't know what happened.
It started, Jeannie tells Madison and Evelyn, like this--
Meredith emailed the big news. Jeannie would never have believed it if he hadn't included pictorial proof. She was so boggled and thrilled that her brother had reproduced--with John Sheppard!--that she didn't even mind (much) that the baby was almost six months old before anyone bothered to tell her.
Not only had Meredith and John somehow produced a gorgeous daughter--with messy blonde hair and hazel eyes who they had named Evelyn after John's mother--they wanted to get married. In Canada. In three days.
It wasn't a big deal, Mer told her. He was justifiably concerned about Evelyn's future--not paranoid, no matter what Sheppard said--and hoped a marriage would help cement the legal status of their "mutant semi-alien miracle baby." It was the prudent thing to do. Could she get the paperwork done and arrange something at City Hall or somewhere?
Jeannie could read between the lines. She thought back to the looks she'd seen passing between her brother and the colonel after she'd been kidnapped and rescued. It suddenly all made sense. This was no marriage of convenience. Meredith and John. She couldn't keep the giddy smile off her face for more than a few seconds at a time.
Okay, so Mer didn't want bells and whistles. She could understand that. But she had to do something for him and John. A cake--Mer would like a big cake. It was easy to visit Paulson's Bakery while she was out that afternoon, and if you were going to get a big fancy chocolate-raspberry-truffle cake, it was just dumb not to get the two grooms on top.
Since they were going to have a cake anyway, there was no reason not to order a few flowers--after all, this was John's wedding too. She'd seen the sparkly curtains in his quarters in Atlantis. Orchids. Definitely.
And if she happened to pick up a couple of bridal magazines when she was doing the grocery shopping, that was between her and her God.
Two days later she was sketching hypothetical seating charts and wondering if the Calgary McKay cousins could sit together without a fistfight breaking out. Kaleb kept shooting her disapproving looks, but it wasn't as if she was actually going to invite anyone, she just wanted to have options available to present to Meredith when he got there. If she'd been quietly investigating caterers, that was her business.
Jeannie is sure she would have pulled out of the wedding fugue on her own before anything serious went down, but she wasn't given the opportunity. Mer and John beamed down from the Daedalus--Evelyn had been left on Atlantis, to Jeannie's disappointment--and had only the briefest time to discuss plans--Mer did not think the Calgary cousins could behave themselves--before they were overcome by exhaustion and went up to bed.
The next morning they went out for breakfast and never returned. Later Jeannie was informed by Madison that Uncle Mer had paid her ten dollars to wait exactly four hours, then tell her mother that he and John had eloped to Vancouver and would be back when she was sane.
Jeannie knows their wedding was a lot more romantic than Meredith liked to pretend. Later John mailed her an orchid.
She still has it, with the rest of the things they left behind.
This is not a bedtime story.
But it's a part of Evelyn, and she deserves to know. It's part of Madison too, and Jeannie will not lie to either of her children.
It was Radek Zelenka who told Jeannie the story. Jeannie tells the story to her girls. Someday, she hopes, they will tell the story to their own children.
She hopes they will tell all the stories of Atlantis.
It was when the Wraith were defeated--only a handful of hives remained, slouching toward one another with nothing left but to cast their fortunes together. The Wraith were finished, but no one expected them to go quietly.
There was warning before Atlantis fell. Her people gated to safe planets, spreading across the galaxy until Atlantis's own gate failed, brought down by the same virus that had destroyed their weapons system and weakened their shield.
The only place left for the remaining Atlanteans to go was the mainland, but that wasn't safe--not as long as the last five Wraith hive ships in the galaxy were coming for Atlantis.
Radek knew what John and Rodney were planning, long before John scooped up Evelyn and placed the toddler in his arms. She trembled, but did not cry.
"Keep her safe," John said.
"No," Radek said. "Rodney, I will do it."
"Believe me, I wish you could," Rodney said with a humorless laugh. "But it has to be John and me."
"There's no time to argue. You don't know the guidance system like I do."
"Make Johnson keep the jumper cloaked until it's over." Sheppard was all military. "The Apollo should be able to pick you up in two weeks. There's enough supplies on the mainland to last everyone until then."
"You will fly us there. Drop us off, turn around. At least then you will have a puddle jumper left on Atlantis, if the chance comes to escape."
He could see he'd pushed Sheppard too far. He turned to the other man. "Rodney--one of you must evacuate for your daughter's sake. She will need--"
Rodney was suddenly close, stroking Evelyn's small shoulder where Radek held her, running his thumb tenderly across her cheek. He kissed her once, quickly. "When she's older--tell her I--we--oh, let Jeannie decide what to tell her. Get out of here. Now!"
The hive ships were too close for Radek to argue any longer. John and Rodney would need what time he could give them. Radek turned and walked briskly away.
He looked back--just once--and saw John place his hand on Rodney's shoulder. He knew he wouldn't forget the look on their faces as they watched him walk away with Evelyn in his arms.
Radek would have liked to watch John and Rodney implement their plan, but he didn't think Evelyn should see, so he sat in the back of the cloaked jumper with her as the marine pilot angled to get a better view.
So he only heard the star-drive power up, heard the grinding of the engines as Atlantis lifted off the planet.
It wasn't long before the pilot spoke. "They're away."
And a moment later, "Looks like Colonel Sheppard was right. The hive ships are following Atlantis."
Atlantis was nearly out of visual range now. The marine watched the display. Radek tensed himself, waiting for the next update, but it didn't come. Then suddenly the marine went very still.
"They did it," he said. "Five kills. Nothing left but debris. The Wraith are gone."
Radek thought about the great explosion Atlantis's self-destruct must have caused. He thought of the city bursting apart, obliterating her enemies in a single flare of light and destruction, and imagined he could feel the jumper shake from the shockwave. He gathered Evelyn in his arms and held her tight.
Jeannie wonders what it would be like to have been born in another galaxy. Will Evelyn remember the far-off worlds she's seen? Will she want to go back someday?
For now she is a child of Earth. She's happy, most of the time, and strong. Jeannie thinks Meredith and John would have been proud. Are proud, maybe, somewhere--though she knows Mer didn't believe in that kind of thing. She wonders what John believed.
She's the smartest kid in her kindergarten--in the whole school, Mer would have said--and maybe the bravest. She cheerfully tells anyone who will listen that she's from another galaxy.
Then--when Jeannie is almost out of stories--there is suddenly another one.
There's a knock on her door one afternoon, just after Jeannie's brought the girls home from school. It's Samantha Carter. She won't say anything, but she's vibrating with excitement, and Jeannie doesn't seem to have a choice about grabbing Evelyn and Madison and accompanying her first aboard the Daedalus, and then down into Cheyenne Mountain.
Jeannie's never been in their gate room before, and Madison's never seen a gate at all. Only Evelyn seems calm.
"We had an unscheduled offworld activation a few hours ago," Carter tells her. "And, well, you'll see."
Jeannie is about to demand some answers when the wormhole vortex swooshes to life. "Colonel Sheppard's IDC," she hears someone say, and has to sit down. On the floor, as it happens.
When they help her up, Meredith and John are just stepping through the gate. They're too thin, and they look bruised around the eyes. Meredith has a beard, which would be almost funny if he didn't look so ill, and a fading scar across his forehead. John's arm is in a sling.
Jeannie doesn't think she's ever seen any two people look so happy.
She has to revise that a moment later when Evelyn hurls herself across the room. She doesn't bother choosing either one of them to grab, just knocks herself into both their legs and holds on tight. John drops to his knees and gathers her in. Meredith follows a moment later, slipping a hand into Evelyn's hair, and giving John a look over her head so full of love that it takes Jeannie's breath away.
Madison evidently thinks they've had a long enough reunion, because she's joining the hug a moment later and Jeannie follows. Her heart's so full she can barely see straight, but she can feel Mer's bones, which is wrong. She'll have to do something about that when she gets them home.
It's been more than a year since Atlantis fell. A year since John and Meredith ran out of time and options and self-destructed their beautiful city, dying in the catastrophic explosion. Except now they've walked through the SGC gate, unsteady and hurt. They've been through something, obviously, probably many things, but looking into Meredith's eyes, Jeannie doesn't think she's going to be getting the story anytime soon.
That's all right. It's not her story. It belongs to John, and Meredith, and Evelyn. Jeannie will hear it eventually, she knows, when they're ready to tell her. She can wait.