AUTHOR: Wraithfodder
STATUS: Complete
CATEGORY: General / humor / a little angst and a dollop of holiday sap ;)

Copyright Disclaimer: The Stargate Atlantis characters, as presented on the series, belong to MGM, Sci Fi, and other registered copyright holders. No copyright infringement is meant or intended by the writing and posting of this material. I'm just borrowing the characters and the universe for a piece of non-profit 'fan fiction' and will return in one piece (well, usually). Please do not repost this fiction, in whole or in part, anywhere, without expression written permission of the author.

SUMMARY: Sheppard's team finds themselves stranded on another world on Christmas day..


A Stargate Atlantis Christmas tale

"We are going to freeze to death."

"McKay, will you just stop whining?" Sheppard's sharp remark just made the Canadian scientist frown even more as he huddled closer to the large fire. "You're going to end up with third degree burns if you keep that up," warned Sheppard. "Then you won't have to worry about frostbite."

"This mission is a disaster," continued McKay.

"I would not say that," interjected Teyla.

"And what part of it is good?" McKay glared at her. "Let's see, just six hours after we arrive the snowstorm of the century arrives and we're stuck in this puny hut, probably forever, with no food, just twigs to burn…"

"You must really be fun at parties." Sheppard just rubbed his hands together and put them closer toward the warming flames. McKay had been in a foul mood for the last few days due to a perplexing row of computer problems that had plagued the control room. While they were solved, the bulk of the stress and work had been placed on his shoulders, so he wasn't a happy person, to say the least. Of course it didn't help that the computer problems had been caused by human error.

"We are warm," pointed out Teyla. "We do not have food at this very moment but our hosts indicated that it will be here shortly. There is also ample indication that there will be more than twigs to burn to keep us warm…"

"And of course they can forecast that this storm is going to end before we're all buried under twenty meters of snow?" sniped McKay. "Puh-lease."

"Mr. Glass is Half Empty," Sheppard nodded knowingly at Teyla, who smiled back. "And, nobody has tried to string us up about the Wraith awakening, the culture isn't advanced enough to be making bombs because you're too eager to give them the 'Make an A-Bomb for Dummies' course, Rodney, and yes, they seem to have a good grip on their local weather forecast. We just happened to visit at the wrong time of the year."

"Well, you said that about the last mission and you got stabbed when the Wraith were brought up," reminded McKay.

"I was not stabbed." Sheppard rubbed absently at his shoulder. "I was punctured."

"And it was an accident," pointed out Ford. "Remember, Netta did trip."

"Just wish she'd been an inch off." The most memorable part of the entire accident had not been the fact that the ten-year-old girl who had been bringing in the food had tripped over a rock on the dirt floor and had run a red-hot skewer of freshly cooked rabbit straight through the top of his shoulder, or that he'd practically passed out from the pain, but that Netta had gotten so hysterical about nearly killing a visitor that it had taken half an hour to calm her down and he'd had to grin and bear it for an hour before they got back through the gate. And once Beckett had looked at the injury, he'd just shrugged and gone. "No damage, and look, it's already cauterized. Nothing I really need to do at all."

Sheppard cast a glance over at Ford, who was doing a very bad job of covering up a snicker. "You know, it's disrespectful of your commanding officer to laugh at him."

"Uh, sorry, sir," apologized Ford. "It's hard not to forget Dr. McKay complaining about how you wrecked the meal."

Sheppard narrowed his gaze and studied McKay, who was huddled another inch closer to the large fire. "Yeah, he was more concerned about cubes of cooked Bugs Bunny than my body."

"Major, I have no interest in your body," said McKay flatly.

Teyla let out a loud laugh, startling the men seated around her. "It was just the look on your faces when Dr. McKay said that," she explained.

"Well, he's not my type either," Sheppard smirked.

"Oh god, and we've only been stuck here for 20 minutes," McKay declared in a dismal tone. "I hate to think how bad the conversation is going to be two days from now."

The door to the hut suddenly swung open, letting in a hefty gale of freezing wind and far too many snowflakes.

"Argh! Cold!" complained McKay. "Shut the door!"

"Apologies." Svetsaf shut the door after several more of his people entered the room behind him. They all carried a variety of containers. The people, whom Sheppard and his team had learned called themselves Serians, had welcomed the team when they'd arrived at the small village, which they soon learned was just an outpost of sorts situated a few miles from the Stargate. Sheppard saw them as sort of a distant early warning system for their people against the Wraith and other possible intruders.

Svetsaf pulled off his heavy fur coat, depositing it on a long bench alongside the wall of the structure, which was by no means puny, as McKay had described it. Yes, it lacked the massiveness of some of the rooms at Atlantis but it was large enough to accommodate at least twenty adults, several pieces of furniture alongside the wall which would double either as benches or beds, and in the middle was a large fireplace of sorts which led up to a built-in flue in the ceiling that drew away any suffocating smoke. If they were back on Earth, it would be some getaway in the mountains that a real estate agent would no doubt charge an arm and leg to rent.

Leya, Svetsaf's wife, handed several large mugs to Sheppard, indicating he should pass them around. He decided to go counter-clockwise, guessing that McKay would probably drop them in his present bad mood. Yup, within the seconds it took for the hefty mugs to be passed around, McKay was staring into the depths of the empty container as if expecting some poisonous spider to crawl out of it.

"It is rare that we have visitors during the chilling time," Leya said. She removed her heavy coat, rubbing fat globs of snow from her thick blonde hair. She flashed a warm smile at the Atlantis team. "But we are always prepared for those who may be parted from their villages at this time, or visitors through the portal."

"We are most grateful," replied Teyla.

"I'll second that," said Sheppard. He'd hate to think of them struggling back to the gate in that blizzard. As if almost to hammer in that thought, a howling wind buffeted the walls surrounding them.

"This will be over tomorrow? How can you be so sure?" McKay studied Leya with the same regard he probably gave a bug under a microscope.

Leya laughed at his suspicious glare. "Doctor… McKay, is it? I have been through 24 chillings in my lifetime. This one is a mild one."

"Mild?" Ford said incredulously. "There's over a foot of snow out there already."

"Svetsaf, remember the chilling of four years ago?" said Leya.

"Indeed," the larger man replied with a knowing grin. "We had tunnels built between the homes, and in fact, throughout much of the village domain. The children enjoyed it immensely, and as they have an unlimited amount of energy, they were more than willing to dig up to the surface."

Sheppard laughed at McKay's horrified expression. "You're from Canada, Rodney. You should be used to snow by now."

"You know, that is a myth. M-Y-T-H," McKay replied, watching as more of the Serians shed their bulky outer clothing and began doing something with the containers they'd brought. "You're probably one of those silly Americans who think we all live in igloos. Well, I hate to disappoint you, but we don't get all that much snow, we live in condos and houses, and we even have mosquitoes in the Arctic."

"Really?" asked Ford.

"They'll suck you dry," said McKay. "Speaking of which, what are these mugs for?"

"The evening drink." Leya and another woman place a bar across the fire, positioning it on heavy Y-shaped stakes that were situated in various places around the flames. Declining Sheppard's and Ford's offer of assistance, they slid a large jug to hang off that bar into the flames. "It needs to simmer. As you have arrived in time for our evening meal, we hope that you will partake."

"That's very generous, thank you," replied Sheppard, noticing that McKay's frown vanished off his face instantly at the mention of food.

Sheppard knew that two hours had passed since the meal had started as he'd accidentally glanced at his watch while getting seconds poured on the delicious hot beverage, which was very similar to a hot toddy and just as soothing. It had been a long time since they'd had such a relaxing meal, with folks who had no ulterior motives but just enjoyed talking and getting to know one another. And nobody accidentally poking any holes through him with searing hot cooking implements made the situation a lot more enjoyable.

The only discouraging note was that the Serians had nothing really to offer in trade except their hospitality and a world for the Atlantis people to flee to should something catastrophic occur at the base. Their society, as was the case of many others in the Pegasus Galaxy, was perpetually knocked back to pre-industrial standards by the constant Wraith cullings, so the society at large had decided not to waste time in inventing machines that would require more of their time and instead, remained at the hunting/farming level that the Athosians maintained. A far simpler life, and they seemed to enjoy it and not regret their decision.

"Rodney, you doing okay?" Sheppard asked. The scientist was gazing wistfully into his mug as he waited for the hot drink to cool down.

"Oh, fine, just thinking about Christmas."

"It is your Christmas, is it not?" asked Teyla.

"Yup," agreed Sheppard. And here they were, in another galaxy, on another planet. He looked at his watch. "Well, by Earth standards, it will be in a few hours."

"What is this Christmas of which you speak?" Leya studied Sheppard curiously.

"Ah, well…." Sheppard paused. He'd never been good at explaining religions to different cultures, and remembered how quickly he'd had to change topics from the Virgin Mary to Ferris wheels when Teyla had asked him about it. Pilot yes, theologian, no.

"It's a day commemorating the birth of Christ," spoke up Ford. Sheppard nodded gratefully in acknowledgement at the lieutenant as the young man continued. "We come from another world with many different religions, or beliefs, and one of them is based around the birth of a man called Christ. Each year we celebrate that birth in a day called Christmas."

Sheppard leaned back easily against one of several supporting beams in the structure. Ford was a good storyteller, and he had no doubt that all of his religious knowledge came from his parents and grandparents, whom the young man adored. Sheppard recalled that when the team had been sucked into that weird all-in-your-mind world that the aliens-in-the-mist had created for them, Ford had been enjoying downtime with his grandparents. He had good, strong family ties, and Sheppard wondered how they were taking Ford's absence, thinking that he was in the war-torn Middle East, and not knowing he wasn't even on the planet anymore. He bet that Ford's family did Christmas with all the trimmings. Huge turkey, big Christmas tree, presents, hugs all around and just a general warm fuzzy time. He hadn't spent Christmas with his own family in ages… his mother was gone, his relationship with his father was … 'prickly,' to say the least, after the incident in Afghanistan, so he'd spent virtually every Christmas on some base somewhere, usually working. And McKay? The man never even mentioned family, but Sheppard did find out from Ford that the scientist had a sister with whom he didn't keep contact.

The Serians were fascinated by Ford's tale of Christmas, even when he went off track and started talking about traditions such as sledding and Christmas cards. Explaining the commercialism of Christmas was tough, but it was obvious that Ford still believed in the true meaning of the holiday. Too bad they weren't back on base right now. Ford could lead the party games. Even though the party was going to be meager, mostly due to lack of supplies, it would still be nice to spend Christmas at Atlantis. Who knew if they'd have a chance a year from now?

All the freezing cold from the wretched weather outside had finally vanished from his bones. He'd never had a hot toddy before, but Sheppard had said, 'this is what one tastes like,' and McKay wasn't about to argue the point. The drink was delicious, packed a tiny bit of punch, but most importantly, it made him feel warm, all the way down to his toes. He'd had to back away a bit from the fire or else he'd overheat.

After Ford had finished explaining the meaning of Christmas, he had, at Leya's urging as well as prodding from his own teammates, described what Christmas had been like for him. If anybody had had a normal Christmas time, one torn from one of those sappy It's a Wonderful Life type movies, it had been Ford. His family hadn't been well off, but they were comfortable enough. They'd bickered, but always made up, and Christmas was a holiday that they always enjoyed, and everybody was happy, even if the gifts weren't anything special or there were years that were lean. McKay was very grateful that they'd stuffed themselves on the Serians' meal or else Ford's description of his mother's stuffed turkey could have sent McKay into a spasm of agony from an empty stomach.

Teyla couldn't describe Christmas to their hosts, as the Athosians didn't have such a holiday, and didn't even have creators or a religion that McKay could recall. They did have some seasonal festivals, one of which Teyla described in great detail which did sound like fun, but it still couldn't do justice to Ford's through-rose-colored-glasses remembrance of Christmases past.

"—about you?"

"What?" McKay looked up from the mug, which he realized, desperately needed a refill.

Sheppard was eyeing him curiously. "Your favorite Christmas memory, Rodney? You gotta have one that doesn't include naqada reactors," he suggested.

"Oh, har har," sniped back McKay, angling his cup for a refill, which Leya gladly obliged.

Great, they wanted a schmaltzy Christmas story from him. It hadn't escaped his notice that Sheppard had gladly pushed the next story-telling session on to him, which made McKay wonder if the Major had had just as many miserable holidays as he had had. It wouldn't amuse anybody to say that as the years went on, the holidays just got worse for Rodney McKay. The same relatives came, or didn't come, which would result in arguments about how relatives were snubbing each other, or how nobody appreciated his mother's cooking, or how Rodney didn't measure up to his father's expectations, or his mother's. His sister just stoically took it, and as she got older, found various means to escape Christmas. Holidays with friends, even if they were only just school acquaintances, and such. Even after he'd gone to school and left home for good, Christmas just never measured up to what everybody always promised - hanging around peacefully, eating, drinking, exchanging gifts, and having a good time.

"Oh, come on, Dr. McKay," egged on Ford cheerfully. "Surely you've got one good tale to tell us."

Ugh. The cheerleading committee was at work, and now everybody was looking at him. Christmas? Family arguments, his aunt always bringing orange-glazed something even though she knew he was terribly allergic to citrus. No, the dinners sucked big time. The gifts always had to met with cheery fake smiles because his parents never got him what he really wanted. In fact, the only—McKay smiled as a memory long forgotten surfaced from the depths of miserable Christmases past.

"Ah, see, he didn't spend every Christmas making A-bombs," snorted Sheppard.

McKay decided for once to just ignore Sheppard's snide remark. "I was eight, and we'd had a decent snowfall this year. We didn't always get decent snow," he said, looking directly at Sheppard. "Dinner was over so I went out to play. It was Bobby, no, Billy Jenkins. He had a sled. He and a bunch of his friends were taking the sled off to Bloodshed Hill."

Sheppard looked astonished. "Bloodshed Hill? Are you sure this is about Christmas?"

"Yes, it is," said McKay imperiously. "Can you not interrupt?"

"Uh, yup, sure." Sheppard held his hands out in mock defeat.

"Anyway, that hill got its name because every year some kid would sled down it and ricochet off a lamp post or hit a rock or something. So, a little blood got shed. There were always rumors that some kid got decapitated on the fence but nobody could ever dig up hard evidence on that, so every year kids would sled down it if the snow got deep enough. You see, half of the hill on the way down was covered with rocks, so if you didn't have snow, it could be a rough trip."

"I'll say," agreed Ford readily.

"So a couple of kids went down first, then Billy. Everybody managed to stop short of the lamppost, the fence, and all that stuff. Then it was my turn. And…" McKay saw a slight shift in Sheppard's eyes, as if to say 'well, not that I expected Rodney to go through with it.'

"And yes, I went," said McKay with a cocky grin. "In fact, I went all the way down the hill, missed the lamp post that Gilbert had smashed into the year before, went under the fence, over the highway, into the railroad yard."

"I'm impressed," said Sheppard, and it seemed, he truly was.

Not that McKay was going to let on that he really hadn't willingly gone, but was pretty much bullied into it and Billy Jenkins and his cronies had tossed him onto the sled and pushed him off, that he'd been so terrified he'd fallen flat on the back of the sled, which made it easy for the sled to go under the fence and not sheer off his head, and when he'd finally come to a halt in the railroad yard, he'd been so paralyzed with fear that he hadn't had time to run away from the burly railroad foreman who snatched him up by the collar of his jacket, shook him about like a rag doll, yelling at him for his stupidity. From there it went to being handed over to a policeman, who read him the riot act like some common criminal, and then to his parents. His mother had shrieked at him for being a disappointment and his father had spanked him so hard he couldn't sit for days.

But, it had all been worth it. Grounded for two months, but until the snow thawed three long months later, he'd been the king of the playground - the only one to break the barrier of Bloodshed Hill and live to tell the tale. And then the snow had thawed, his triumph was quickly forgotten, and the bullies were back on him like mosquitoes to a blood bank.

"Earth to Rodney," came Sheppard's voice.

McKay snapped out of his daze, remembering those months of unadulterated hero worship, especially from the students in lower grades, and saw Sheppard studying him with a grin.

"So, what say we find you a sled and hill tomorrow?" suggested Sheppard. "Certainly enough snow out there now."

McKay took a long sip of the hot drink, and then shook his head quickly. "Um, I think not. I'm reigning champion of Bloodshed Hill, in a record that's never been broken. I'm afraid I'm retired," he said rather spectacularly.

Sheppard regarded him for a moment, and then raised his cup in a salute. "To the reigning champion of Bloodshed Hill. Retired, of course."

"Here, here," cheered Ford, and Teyla and several of the other Serians toasted him.

McKay grinned like a kid on Christmas morning opening his gifts. Despite the terrible weather and lack of trading success, this was actually turning out to be a good mission. He had totally forgotten about that incident from his childhood, a memory that gotten him through much of the bullying he'd had to endure in school. "And what about you, Major. Any memorable Christmases?"

Sheppard got what McKay could only describe as an evil grin.

"One that's suitable for all ages," reminded Teyla. Sheppard look a bit crestfallen as he realized some kids had crept into the room.

"Ah, okay, let me think a second then," he muttered, which earned a few knowing laughs from some of the Serians.

"Afghanistan," said Sheppard. "Our chopper went down in the desert. I got a doozy of a concussion, my co-pilot broke his leg. Rest of the crew fortunately just sustained a ton of bruises, but the chopper was toast."

McKay nearly sputtered out some of his drink. "This is your best Christmas??"

Sheppard held up a finger, almost imitating how McKay had shushed him not long ago. "I'm not done," he warned lightly. "Uh, for Leya and her people, a chopper is a helicopter, a machine that flies and carries men." Several heads nodded. "And Afghanistan is just one of many countries on our world, and well, unfortunately, we don't always get along. We have some wars." More nods, but sad faces.

"Anyway, we were basically in a bad mess, it was freezing cold, no shelter, and to top it off, we were behind enemy lines," continued Sheppard, losing himself in the memory. "So we decided to haul it out of there under cover of darkness. We ran into a farmhouse and the farmer, and his sons. All of them were armed. We all figured, well, this is it. They could have easily shot us, or turned us in, but instead they took us in, fed us, and the next day, sent us on our way. Luckily our troops were looking for us so we were rescued."

"Wow." Ford studied his commander in near awe. "You've never mentioned that before."

"Just never came up," shrugged Sheppard.

McKay watched carefully, recognizing that the nonchalant attitude Sheppard was exhibiting belied what the man truly felt about the memory.

"The farmer just told us it was Christmas, and that was his gift to us," said Sheppard softly. "We didn't question it, but I'll never forget what he did for us."

The mood had sobered a bit from that emotional recollection, until McKay noisily slurped down the rest of his drink. "Uh, refill, please?"

Sheppard arched his eyebrow. "I had no idea you were a lush, Rodney."

"There's not much alcohol in this," said McKay. He paused, furrowing his brow. It did make him feel pretty warm and happy inside, the same reaction he got to alcohol. "Is there?"

Svetsaf just laughed at McKay's concerns and when Leya refilled his cup, he didn't mind the ribbing he got from Sheppard about hangovers from hell. He'd deal with it in the morning.

McKay cracked open an eye. It was still dark, but he was warm. Warm and very comfortable, the kind of feeling he never wanted to go away, but… he felt sort of … smothered. He shoved the thick comforter off his face, and was immediately struck by sunlight streaming in through the tiny windows that lined the top portion of the structure. Leave it to him to pick the bed that would focus a beam of sunlight straight into his eyes first thing. He yawned, stretched, and then sat up.

Everybody had gone to bed in their uniforms. It wasn't like anybody had brought pajamas on this excursion and they always had to be prepared for the worse. Or to run like hell from the Wraith or somebody else who didn't like them. What he found odd is that nobody had woken him up for his turn on watch. Although Sheppard felt the Serians were to be trusted, he still couldn't break the military pattern of taking watch. McKay recalled Sheppard saying he'd take the first turn, and after that, he'd just fallen asleep.

Teyla was already awake, chatting quietly with Leya, who had come into the room at some point in time. Ford wasn't even in his bed, let alone the room, leaving McKay to wonder where the lieutenant had gotten. Sheppard was still asleep, totally buried under a comforter, with just a hand and foot sticking out to indicate his presence underneath.

Okay, now was the time for the litmus test. He turned his head, slowly. Nothing. Okay, step two. He shook his head. Nothing. He repeated it just in case. Incredible. No hangover. He was right. If there was alcohol in that drink, it was in miniscule quantities; so much for Sheppard's dire predictions of pounding headaches and bloodshot eyes. It wasn't as though Sheppard hadn't drunk as much as McKay had over the evening.

Shucking his comforter, McKay found the facilities that were fortunately located in a small room just off the main room. It was basic, and he could wait for a shave and shower until they got back to Atlantis later in the morning.

"Good morning," Teyla said with a smile as he came back into the room. "I see that you are doing well."

"Never better," he admitted, realizing it was the truth. He'd never had a more relaxing evening. "What happened to my watch?"

"The Major took it," said Teyla. "He said it was Christmas."

"Oh." That was all he could manage to say after such a gesture? It was a surprise that he'd had a full night's sleep. He was so accustomed to someone – usually Sheppard – rudely shaking him on the shoulder and rousing him from a peaceful slumber that this was totally unexpected.

"Will you be staying for our morning meal?" asked Leya.

"Two eggs, over easy, bacon and hash browns," murmured a sleepy voice from underneath a comforter. "And coffee."

"I believe that is a yes," said Teyla.

An hour later and breakfast was done. Ford had been the first one up, McKay found out. He'd risen early just out of habit, and had helped Svetsaf and the others clear paths in the snow. Over three feet of snow had accumulated during the 'mild' chilling, but it was crusty enough on top for the walk back to the Stargate, which was good as none of them were dressed for slogging through that much snow.

Bacon and eggs weren't available, Leya apologized, and McKay had the feeling that the woman had no idea what bacon or coffee was, but she had served up another delicious meal of baked goods and aged cheese accompanied by a spicy brewed beverage. McKay managed to wheedle a large wedge of cheese out of Leya for the trip back, as real cheese was as rare as a gold egg on Atlantis. Leya in fact insisted that they all take back something for the trip back through the gate as they always stored way more than they needed for when guests arrived.

Sheppard and Teyla had spent a considerable amount of time talking with Svetsaf and some others about potential alliances with Atlantis, and so far, the talks seemed quite promising. When spring came about, the hunting and agricultural resources were abundant, giving promise of potential future foodstores for Atlantis.

Unfortunately after breakfast McKay had found himself dragged outside by a number of the children, all whom had been informed of the 'champion of Bloodshed Hill' by some of the children who had snuck in for the evening meal the previous night. Several of the children had questioned that Rodney could indeed be that champion as he looked 'awful old' for such a task, making McKay wonder why children on all worlds in the Pegasus Galaxy seemed to delight in mocking him. As usual, Lieutenant Ford was of no help, grinning like a fool as some of the smaller children used McKay for snowball practice. He managed to return the volley, but as always, the kids dodged his snowballs easily. One of these days some kids would make Ford's life hell and then he could turn the tables around. Alas, that day seemed a long time in coming.

Sheppard managed a psuedo-rescue by announcing that it was time to return to Atlantis. Although they'd managed a call back to base the previous evening to inform Weir that they were stuck in a blizzard, but in good company, McKay knew that Elizabeth would worry. There was a time difference between the two worlds, so while it was morning here, he knew it would be early evening there. In fact, if they made good time, they could get back in time for the party. For the first time in his life, McKay was actually looking forward to a Christmas party.

The trek back to the gate had been more arduous than McKay had thought it would be. It was his first time on snowshoes and every time he sunk an inch or two through the top crust, it seemed to take more energy to extract himself. Sheppard kept ribbing him about being from Canada and 'don't all Canadians have snowshoes and muskrat hats?' McKay normally would have zinged back a biting remark or two, but Sheppard was having too much fun and honestly, so was McKay. This was how he'd always wanted Christmas to be when he was a kid; having fun outside in the snow with friends.

It had taken an hour, but they'd made it to the hill above the Stargate. The air was chilly and so clear that the ice atop the snow sparkled like millions of perfectly polished diamonds. The sky was the gorgeous deep blue he recalled seeing over Niagara Falls after strong storms had passed through. A beautiful winter wonderland, but McKay honestly did want to get back to a warmer environment.

Sheppard, meanwhile, seemed to thrive in the cold. Of course he would, mused McKay. The man had spent nearly two years in the Antarctic. He had to love cold to do that. Sheppard readjusted his sunglasses, no doubt noticing McKay squinting terribly in the sun.

"You know, McKay, you should get some sunglasses," he suggested. "Helps immensely in the snow."

McKay nodded. "Of course, I'll run down to the 7-11 on our way back."

Sheppard just grinned. Sort of like an idiot, McKay realized, but then they were all in a pretty happy mood. For once, a mission turned out to be almost like a vacation, and they got some decent food out of it to boot. He patted his jacket pocket, making sure that the cheese wedge was still securely in place.

"It's been a pleasure meeting with you, Svetsaf," said Sheppard. "When the weather's a bit better, we'll be back to do some trading."

"Agreed," replied Svetsaf. "Leya and I and the others have enjoyed your company during this chilling." Leya beamed broadly, while others who had come along were chatting with Ford and Teyla about items they had brought along on a sled. McKay wondered why the woman wasn't freezing her ears off in the nippy cold, but was also curious about what was on the sled.

"So, is this anything like your Bloodshed Hill?" quipped Sheppard, eyeing McKay.

The hill down toward the gate was steep, but there were no obstacles. A child's sledding dream, no doubt, unless you couldn't stop at the bottom, hit the angle and then continued on to plow into the Stargate or the DHD. "Eh," muttered McKay in a bored tone. "It's a beginner's slope."

"Uh huh," said Sheppard. "Well, unfortunately we don't have time to test it out." He turned to Svetsaf as he eyed the slippery slope. "What's the best way to get down?" He tested the slope with one foot. "It is ice or—"

Sheppard never finished his sentence as his foot instantly slid out from under him and for a split second, he grabbed frantically at McKay to maintain his balance. He missed and fell backwards, sliding down the icy slope on his back.

"Major!" screamed McKay. A strong hand held him back. "You'll be fine!" Svetsaf called out in a strong voice. McKay realized that others had held back Teyla and Ford as well. Fine? At the rate Sheppard was accelerating, he'd hit the bottom, then slide along that ice. Deceleration wouldn't be quick enough to stop him and he'd plow into that gate like an out-of-control car would hit a phone poll when skidding on ice.

"Don't worry," said Svetsaf, as if reading McKay's troubled thoughts. "The ice stops abruptly at the bottom. There's geothermic activity through the valley below, and it never freezes. The Major will land in several feet of very soft snow. The only danger is perhaps inhaling some snow upon stopping, but Major Sheppard seems like a smart enough man to avoid that."

McKay still couldn't help but watch in horror as Sheppard spun out of control, yelling something incoherent, then sailed headfirst off into the snow. A powdery burst of white flew up from where his body drove in. McKay held his breath as the snow settled like dust falling to ground in a car accident. A moment later, a totally white-covered figure popped out of the snow and staggered for a second, before wiping the clingy substance from his face. McKay could just make out Sheppard doing the thumbs-up signal to indicate that he was all right.

"Our children enjoy sliding down this hill every chilling." McKay jumped slightly when Leya spoke those words from behind him.

"And that is also the way we get to the bottom," clarified Svetsaf. "Climbing back up in a bit more work, but you will not have to worry about that," he said. With that, the large man sat down at the top of the hill, uttered "See you at the bottom," and pushed off. He flew down the hill with a lot more grace, and none of the panicked yelling that Sheppard had done on his descent.

"Ataf will go down with the sled last," explained Leya. McKay looked over to where the younger man was pushing some sort of anchoring devices off the rear of the sled. He realized those rake-like devices would slow down the heavier sled and prevent its cargo from sliding down in a dangerous fashion. "We have had an overabundance of belee this season, so since you all enjoyed it so much last night, we felt you may wish to take some with you."

"Belee?" McKay was puzzled.

"The evening beverage." Leya looked over at the large container, which McKay realized was the size of a beer keg that college students were always carting around to parties.

"Why yes, we'd be glad to take some back." They'd have to roll the barrel or keg or whatever it was back through the gate but it would be worth the effort. There was no way they were leaving that item behind!

"Isn't anybody else coming down?" yelled Svetsaf from below. McKay looked down the long hill to where Svetsaf had made his way over to Sheppard, who was still trying to dislodge all the snow off his person.

"Incoming!" yelled Ford, who dove headfirst down the slippery slope, yelling joyously all the way down until he executed a quick turnaround at the bottom and went feet first in the soft snow. He popped up a couple seconds later, jumping up and down like a kid enjoying his first snow, and waved for McKay and Teyla to follow.

Teyla came over to stand beside McKay. "Is the screaming a requirement?" she asked.

"You've never done this before?" said McKay.

She shook her head. "We have snow on Athos, but not hills such as these."

McKay thought about her question. Well, you could scream in sheer terror as he had done when he was eight years old, or yell a bit in panic as Sheppard had done just a few minutes ago, or holler in joy as Ford has done, but when you thought about it, it was pretty hard to tell the difference, so….

"Yes," he finally replied. "It seems to be part of the 'experience.'"

"I see," she said, staring down the steep hill.

McKay realized that Teyla was actually experiencing some apprehension about sliding down the hill. Fighting the Wraith was one thing, but sliding down perhaps one hundred feet of steep ice-covered hill was something else entirely. Everybody had his or her own little phobias, and lord knew he wasn't perfect. He wasn't looking forward to the descent himself. "Maybe we could down together?" he suggested.

Teyla's face brightened. "I would like that. After all, you were once reigning champion."

McKay felt a surge of pride go through him. "Yes, I was, wasn't I?" He studied the hill and the figures below. Sheppard was now busy digging into the snow for something like a dog trying to find a lost bone. A second later, he was ordering Ford to help. To find out just what the heck was going on, he had to get down there.

"Um, I think the seated position is best," advised McKay, "otherwise you'll end up like the Major, with snow down your neck." Teyla grinned. "I'll just follow your lead."

"On the count of three." McKay grabbed Teyla's hand and they both sat down, then on 'three,' they both pushed off. He was amazed at how slick the hill was and how much speed he was picking up. His mind began to extrapolate the velocity they were attaining, and what would happen if something went wrong if they did hit undiscovered ice and headed for the gate, but suddenly Teyla's scream of joy blotted out his senses and he looked to his right, just in time to see her reach over with her other hand to pull him toward her, causing both to spin wildly out of control. The screaming continued, and McKay heard his own yells, until they plowed into an ungainly heap in the soft snow at the bottom.

His heart was beating wildly in his chest, like when he been just 15 feet away from a killer Wraith. It took him a second to realize he was still buried in the snow until a laughing Teyla help yank him up to his feet. She looked just as elated if not more so than Ford had upon popping out of the snow. The whole terrifying ride had been – fun! He could not believe how much he had enjoyed it once he'd been able to shove away the terrified memories of his childhood.

"We should do that again," said Teyla, grabbing his hand.

"Don't we have to go?" said McKay.

"Ford, search over there for my sunglasses," filtered a voice from beneath the fluffy snow.

"Sir, this might be hopeless," sighed Ford. "Couldn't we wait for the spring thaw?"

"I'm not leaving without them!"

"We have time," said McKay with a wide smile. He turned to Svetsaf. "Just how long does it take to get back up?"

"Not too long," replied the larger man. "Just go up the path that Ataf makes when the sled comes down. It will be much easier over there."

"We should go before the Major realizes we are here," whispered Teyla.

McKay nodded.

They were halfway up the hill when Sheppard's voice rang through the crisp air. "McKay, what the hell are you doing?"

McKay shared a conspiratorial look with Teyla as they stopped in their tracks. "Teyla thinks you might have dropped them up on top. We're just checking," McKay shouted back. Sheppard yelled, but his words were lost in a sudden gust of wind that blew up a flurry of snow eddies down at the bottom, swallowing up all the people. Once it settled, all the snow had been rearranged, and one solitary but not very nice word of Sheppard's evident dismay echoed up the ridge.

Once on top, McKay and Teyla quickly mapped out a strategic plan that would give them the most bang for their buck. He wasn't about to let his scientific knowledge go to waste, and it was mere child's play to determine the correct path which would send them diagonally across an entire patch of pristine snow, and add at least fifty feet to their ride. McKay and Teyla both screamed like rowdy children as they spun wildly out of control down the icy slope.

The Christmas party was well underway when Weir was notified that Sheppard's team was coming back through the gate. While Sheppard had assured her that they had found shelter for the evening, as well as potential allies, memories of what had occurred with the Genii and the Menareans could not help but surface in her mind. In both those cases, the situation had looked good – until it had deteriorated beyond all control.

And Sheppard and his people were marooned on a world being ravaged by an intense blizzard. If something went wrong and they couldn't get back through the gate… Despite the joyous festivities in the common area, in which Atlantis personnel and some of the Athosians now mingled, Weir hugged herself as she waited for Sheppard's people to step through the iridescent event horizon.

Yet she couldn't help but smile when she turned to Dr. Peter Grodin, who had a makeshift and rather silly faux set of reindeer antlers on top of his head. "Lieutenant Ford's IDC is confirmed," he said.

Seconds later, Teyla came through the gate, looking happier than Weir had seen her in ages. She was also dusted with a liberal coating of snow. Sheppard and the rest of his team came through a moment later, rolling in a large barrel, which Ford, who was in front of it, stopped from going off on its own.

Weir came down to the area in front of the gate as it shut down. By then, Sheppard had ordered several of the guards to roll away the barrel. To where, Weir wasn't sure, but she was certainly going to find out.

"Major," she walked up to the group. Sheppard was busy stripping off his vest and jacket in an obvious attempt to get rid of snow. "Is the blizzard that bad?"

"Oh, that ended last night," said McKay.

"Then how did you all get covered with so much snow?" she asked.

"Sliding down the hill to get to the gate," replied Teyla. "It was really quite exhilarating."

"Yeah, so much so that you and McKay kept doing it for half an hour instead of helping me find my sunglasses," groused Sheppard.

"He lost his sunglasses in the snow when he spun out of control on descent," McKay said with a grin.

Sheppard took those sunglasses out of his pocket and was examining them carefully. Probably for scratches, thought Weir. She was amazed that with all Sheppard had been through since arriving at Atlantis, that the glasses hadn't been lost or destroyed yet. "Yeah, and for being the reigning champion of Bloodshed Hill, you certainly didn't have much control," Sheppard remarked.

"Bloodshed Hill?" Weir said in puzzlement. "Do I really want to know?"

"Unlike the Major, Teyla and I made carefully calculated descents down the hill," said McKay, ignoring her question. "Well, I think it's time to join the party, don't you?" He held out his elbow and Teyla hooked her arm in it and they both went off, followed quickly by Ford.

Weir walked up to Sheppard, who shook some wet snow off his tousled hair.

"Euuu, even my dog never splattered me like that," said Weir, brushing off the snow that landed on her.

"Sorry about that." Sheppard smiled in apology. "Everything went fine. The Serians seem like pretty descent folk. Put us up, fed us, even gave us some of their favorite drink which will be great at the party." He gestured in the direction that the barrel had been taken away. "Once spring rolls around, it looks like we can do some trading for food, and if anything goes wrong here, we can set up some tents there."

Weir watched as McKay and the others vanished around the corner. "Just what happened with Rodney? He seems like a different person."

"Just getting in touch with his' inner child,' I suppose." Sheppard removed his boots and dumped out more snow. He pulled off his socks, noticing they were pretty damp. "Look, I'm going to change, get into something a little warmer and definitely drier. The party is still going on, right?"

"Yes, and I suppose it will until someone decides to explain this Bloodshed Hill thing to me," she said with a mirthful smile.

"Oh, you won't believe it." Having shucked most of his snow, Sheppard headed toward his quarters.

No, she probably wouldn't believe it, but then much of what she saw in the Pegasus Galaxy was unbelievable.

"Oh Elizabeth, got something for you," Sheppard's voice echoed from across the huge room.

She turned, wondering what he could have brought back, when a big snowball exploded on her shoulder.

"Sheppard!" she yelled, but her assailant had already fled.

Normally she might have ticked off by this action, but instead, she just brushed the remaining snow off her shirt and smiled. It was Christmas, and all that mattered was that all her people – her new family – were back safe and sound on Atlantis.


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