story of my life

Title: Story of My Life (for artword Challenge 013)
Author: busaikko
Cover Artist: highonstargate (comment on art here
Betas: keefaq and emeraldsword
Pairing: McKay/Keller
Rating: PG
Summary: Bravery doesn't always come in action-hero packaging. (Or, my take on the end of S5 *cue evil laughter*)
Spoilers: through The Shrine (some quotes taken verbatim from Quarantine and The Shrine)


DEX: I had you wrong. When you first came here, I thought you were weak — that you didn't belong.
KELLER: It's the story of my life.



On their first date, Rodney brings Jennifer to Colonel Sheppard's room to mooch beer and DVDs. He tries to kick the Colonel out so that he can make out with her on the Colonel's bed.

Ohmygod she tells Sam the next day, when she drops in on the other Colonel to mooch beer and bitch. Never again, okay? It was a disaster.

McKay's an acquired taste, Sam says. She's on pain medication for her broken leg and has the unfocused look of someone slightly stoned. Whatever you do, always keep your clothes on around him.

Huh, Jennifer says, okay, and she's nodding, as if these are words to live by.

*

When the crisis is over, Rodney takes her down to the place where all the Marines practice shooting and puts a gun in her hands. Jennifer nearly drops it, trying to hold on with just the very tips of her fingers, thinking that she is a doctor, she is a civilian, she's only twenty-six, she's drowning in responsibility and only just getting over having nearly mutated into a hive ship.

You've shot people before Rodney snaps. He's looking at her with impatience; finally, he's looking at her like he isn't using x-ray specs to strip away her clothes. It's a get-with-the-program look. It's how he looks at the people in his lab and on his team and anyone who's on the spectrum of possibly being worthy of his professional attention.

She figures out quickly enough how to rip the paper targets apart. In its own way, it's satisfying. Possibly habit-forming. It puts her in the same trance-like state she has during her sessions with Teyla. She's always suspected that Teyla takes it easy on her, treating her like a pitiable backward child. But maybe even a child can learn to kick ass.

When they're done, Rodney badgers one of the Marines into producing two MREs, which they eat sitting in the stairwell. The steps have been badly swept; there are still swirls of millenia-old dust in the corners.

I guess I'm a cheap date Jennifer says. A slow feeling of sadness is creeping over her, either the chicken settling badly in her stomach or just coming off the buzz of being competent and strong and settling back into being Jenny, the girl who gets homesick and is afraid of heights and who had an undergraduate degree before her first dating disaster.

Rodney sighs, and pats her arm. And I used to think tentacle porn was hot he offers, and that's it, Jennifer's laughing so hard she collapses into his side. He grins down at her, elbows her in the side, and then drags them both upright. Come on, Sheppard should be asleep, let's go steal his DS. He reaches out to grab the crumpled-up packages, and then pulls his hand back. He leans forward and kisses Jennifer in the most awkwardly premeditated way ever, and then gets up fast, looking away.

It's Jennifer's idea to leave a ransom note for the game, words cut out of the copy of The Weekly World News that always eludes the recycling bin. They pin it to Sheppard's pillow, gesturing frantically at each other and tip-toeing out of the infirmary before the giggles hit again. Jennifer clobbers Rodney at True Swing Golf. He stands up as if he's going to kiss her again when she pushes off the floor to head back to her quarters, but she pretends she doesn't notice. She waves, trying for perky, probably succeeding at dorky.

She has no idea what she's doing.

*

Jeannie McKay Miller loves her brother with an unconditional, blood-deep love. She crosses the universe for him when they tell her he is dying: to fight for him, advocate for him, and wipe his chin without batting an eyelash when his pudding goes astray.

Jennifer wanted to like her. All the women she's met in the SGC and in Atlantis are wonderful: complex and intelligent, like the sisters and friends she's dreamed of having all her life. Jeannie's even more than that: she's Rodney's sister.

She's Rodney's sister, and Jennifer loathes her: knee-jerk, deep-down, reflexive hate.

She sits in her office, with her videos and her clumsy translations of Ancient files and Michael's research, and tries to find a way to keep Rodney alive and sane. Jeannie walks in on her when she's watching Day 6, and says, I'm kind of one of those people who needs all the information they can get.

Something in Jennifer is always distracted when she rewatches Day 6. She plays the name game in her head, Jennifer, Jenny, Jeannie. Jeannie's good at what she does, personally, professionally. Jenny feels like a fraud: the harder she tries to do things right, the more obvious her shortcomings are. Jennifer watches Jeannie, and knows she's probably just the lo-cal replacement for the real thing. She's furious with herself for letting things get this far. She's had Marie Wu style her hair (and it doesn't look like Jeannie's, it wasn't meant to), and bought overpriced eyeliner and foundation from the seismologist who's the first Avon rep in Pegasus. She let herself dream, and like Rodney's sudden decay into niceness, that's turned out to be the symptom of something wrong.

All of this is information, and Jennifer's too off-balance to hide it very well. Jeannie asks cut-the-bullshit questions about Rodney: When was he infected? Why him? Why did you tell me you didn't recognise the symptoms in time? She asks whether Ronon's legend is a viable option. But Jennifer is double-plus-positive that Jeannie's collecting information on her as well on the parasite, and that Jeannie's classifying her as part of the problem to be overcome, not part of the solution.

Nothing personal she imagines Jeannie saying. I'm just one of those people who kind of wants to know if you're competent, which you could prove by, oh I don't know, saving his life?

Jennifer has always been an outsider wanting in, watching from a distance, always awkward and strange. She'd thought she had found her place. Maybe she had. But she can't measure up. She's failed.

How long have you been at it? Jeannie asks. Weeks? And how many days does he have left? Two, at most? Jeannie has the empathy and the efficiency of an expert manager, Jennifer thinks as she prepares Rodney for travel. But all the empathy in the world doesn't ease the burn of being found incompetent and relieved of responsibility.

*

So what did I do to screw us up? Rodney asks, dropping down behind the console to reload his weapon. Was it the Black and Decker thing, or before that?

Jennifer is bloody to the elbows. Rodney has rotten timing. She tells him so, and also makes him give her patient the morphine injection that will hopefully stop the screaming. The room is lit only by the dim emergency lights — and the fires, of course, although those seem to be dying down now that the invasion has begun.

I figure we're going to die Rodney says. There's no hubris in him, not after the last frantic 72 hours. He says it like it's plain fact. Jennifer has been thinking the same thing as she tends to the injured: what is she saving them for? Captivity, torture, mutilation, death? Hope in Atlantis died when the 'gate cracked and crumbled; the last radio broadcast by Colonel Sheppard said something about taking as many of the bastards with us when we go. And something about being proud to have known them all.

I loved you, too she says, putting an inadequate bandage on a terrible head wound because she can do nothing else. I loved you, but I'm scared all the time, I'm, I was. Terrified. Not good enough. Not strong enough she concludes, and stares up at him, feeling ridiculous, inept and broken. I don't want to die she adds, scrubbing her face with the inside of her elbow. I'm too young to die.

So am I Rodney says. His face freezes for a moment, and then he grabs her jacket to haul her back into the makeshift supply closet. He shoves her up against the wall, not touching the door, using the shadows for cover. Jennifer can hear gunfire, the percussion of grenades, her own heart, Rodney's breathing, the sharp rabble of bootheels as a patrol sweeps the room, kills the woman Jennifer had been trying to save, and moves on. We could have been scared together Rodney says, when the Wraith have gone, and then gives her a wickedly slanted smile. We still could, although admittedly with less emphasis on sweat and orgasms and more emphasis on bringing down those hiveships.

Jennifer feels it then, the anger curling in her that tastes like hot playground asphalt. You get knocked down, you get up her father said every single time, and it's just as true in Pegasus as it was twenty years ago in Chippewa Falls.

I have a bone to pick with hiveships she says. Rodney kisses her, one hand on her face, wet and hungry and final, and then shoves a gun into her hand.

Watch my back Rodney tells her. And try not to die.

Geeks in love out to save the world Jennifer says, and Rodney raises his eyebrows at her.

Why the hell not? he asks. We've earned our day, don't you think?

Yes Jennifer says, and she thinks, if they survive, she just might propose to this man.

* end *


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2 thoughts on “story of my life”

  1. Normally people write Jennifer Keller as a one-dimensional witch- probably because the writers of SGA seemed to want to shove her down our throats or as some kind of wish-fulfillment issue. You, however, have made her a fully fleshed out person with fears and needs and wants and not just as the golden, perky girl that she can sometimes come across as. I think you've taken what the writers could have/should have done and run with it to something really good. Thanks!

    admin reply on June 6th, 2010:

    Thank you! I have to admit to selfish motivations: I really loved Keller when she was first introduced, because back in Season 4 the main characters were so comfortable in Pegasus. Jennifer gave us a newcomer's eyes on a lot of the pressures and fears and strangeness. But then the writers did horrible things with her characterization…. I am glad that this story worked for you!

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